Describe advances and setbacks for African Americans during the 1950s.

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The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which made segregated schools unconstitutional, reinvigorated the Civil Rights movement. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregated buses (set in motion after an African American seamstress named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat). The boycott ended over a year later when the Supreme Court made segregation on public transportation illegal.

However, groups such as CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) still fought against segregation on interstate transportation. In addition, southern states resisted school desegregation. In 1957, Little Rock's Central High school was the sight of a massive battle as 8 brave African American students tried to desegregate the school in spite of widespread white resistance. Eventually, President Eisenhower had to call in troops to desegregate the school. While the Civil Rights movement had some gains during the 1950s, African American people in the South would not largely start to acquire the right to vote until the 1960s, and so, schools in the South largely remained segregated.

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The state of African Americans in the 1950’s was a bleak history, especially in the south. After Reconstruction ended, southern blacks were slowly disenfranchised through legal means and intimidation. The Democratic Party, which favored segregationist policies, held sway in the south and parts of the Midwest.


It was this Jim Crow system that the Civil Rights movement sought to address these inequalities through legal action and Civil Disobedience. Successes included;

-       The Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregation in schools.

-       The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King Jr. and sought to target segregation on public transit.

-       The 1960 sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.

-       Integration of the Mississippi state college system.

-       The 1963 March on Washington which was most notable for the large turn out and the “I Have A Dream” speech performed by Martin Luther King.


Despite it’s overall resounding successes, there were some moments, which seemed to be steps backward for African Americans. Some of the mot notable ones include;

-       Conflicts of leadership between he different movements and organizations. Sometimes Civil Rights organizations were fragmented and had different goals or opposing views.

-       Failure to address poverty and education. In some states, schools have been desegregated, but there is still issues revolving around performance as it related to poverty. It is true colleges have been desegregate, but kids from poor neighborhoods, many of whom are black, can’t get in them anyways thanks to poor performance in K-12 ed.

-       Many of those involved in the early movement became bitter or resentful of the lack of progress and left the movement around the 1968 mark. Some moved over to the more militant Black Power movement, which was highly divisive and resulted in a huge schism in the Civil Rights community.

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There were two major gains for African Americans in this decade.  First, there was the Brown case in which segregation in public schools was declared to be illegal.  Second, there was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was the first time that African Americans had been able to take direct action to overcome segregation or discrimination in the South.

The major setback, if one could call it that, was simply a lack of fast progress.  There was a great deal of resistance in the South to the idea of civil rights, as can be seen in the case of the integration of Little Rock.  Overall, desegregation went very slowly.  As far as specific negative events, perhaps the most prominent was the killing of the teenage boy Emmett Till for violating the unwritten rules that kept African Americans subordinated to whites in the South.

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