Describe the history of the American Civil Rights Movement, including the major people, places, and events surrounding the movement. Also, why was the movement formed?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since this question is very broadly worded, I will trace the civil rights movement from the 1930s through the 1960s. Many significant and critical events happened during that time period. This movement was formed to try to eliminate the discrimination and the inequalities African-Americans faced.

In the 1930s and the 1940s, there were a few major groups that worked to deal with issues relating to civil rights. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used the courts to fight segregation. There were several court decisions that impacted civil rights. One decision was Norris v Alabama that said African-Americans couldn’t be excluded from juries. Another court decision, Boynton v Virginia, made it illegal to have segregation on interstate buses.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) also worked to fight segregation. This group, founded by James Farmer, used the sit-in to protest segregation. CORE also was involved in some of the protests in the South in the 1950s and in the 1960s.

A. Philip Randolph also protested the discrimination that existed in hiring workers at federal defense plants. He threatened President Roosevelt with a march on Washington, D.C. if he didn’t take action. President Roosevelt didn’t want any form of protest because he feared it would allow the Axis Powers to believe that Americans were against the war. Thus, he issued Executive Order 8802 that banned discrimination in hiring people at federal defense plants.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were many events highlighting the inequalities African-Americans faced and the segregation that existed. The Brown v Board of Education case in 1954 ruled that separate but equal schools were illegal. In 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the section of the bus that was reserved for black people. This boycott, which lasted 381 days, led to an end of segregation on buses. It also brought Martin Luther King, Jr. into leadership of the civil rights movement. His message of nonviolence was used in many future events.

Desegregating schools remained an issue. The Little Rock Nine needed military protection to attend high school at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. James Meredith needed military protection to register at the University of Mississippi.

Many protests occurred to highlight segregation. The Freedom Riders went into the South to protest the segregation that existed there. White people who were angry that they came to the South often met them with violent actions. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference formed to protest segregation. There were many sit-ins at restaurants to show the country the inequalities that African-Americans faced in the South. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was often involved in these sit-ins. Jesse Jackson was an active participant in this organization. African-Americans protesting segregation in Birmingham, Alabama were met with fierce resistance by the police of Birmingham, led by Bull Connor. Fire hoses and dogs were used to attack the protesters. The March on Washington in 1963 was also used to highlight the inequalities facing African-Americans. This event encouraged Congress to pass a strong civil rights law. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned segregation in public places. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to monitor possible cases of job discrimination.

The Selma March in 1965 was held to protest the lack of African-Americans that were registered to vote. When the marchers began to walk from Selma to Montgomery, the police attacked the marchers. This was captured on television and outraged many people. Two weeks later, the march was successfully held. This event helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Poll taxes and literacy tests couldn’t be used to deny people the right to vote. Federal workers also registered African-Americans so they could vote.

There was a growing concern that the lack of change would lead to more aggressive and possibly violent actions in the civil rights movement. Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam focused on self-defense and separation from whites. Malcolm X later modified his views as he came to believe the races could live together. This change occurred after he took a trip to Saudi Arabia and saw different groups of Muslims living together.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Later in 1968, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed. This law banned discrimination in the renting of apartments and the selling of homes.

Between 1930-1970, there were many events and actions in the civil rights movement. These events brought about some changes in American society. While some people felt the changes came too slowly, there were many things that changed during this time period.