Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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How did the Civil Rights Movement inspire other reform movements by minority groups?

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It should come as no surprise that the fight for racial equality in the United States led to a number of other movements for reform by various minority groups. This Civil Rights movement showed the country that minority rights could be advanced through organized political and social efforts. Several other...

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It should come as no surprise that the fight for racial equality in the United States led to a number of other movements for reform by various minority groups. This Civil Rights movement showed the country that minority rights could be advanced through organized political and social efforts. Several other minority groups used their blueprint of success to forward their own agendas.

For instance, many women who had been part of the civil rights movement founded their own movements aimed at advancing women's rights. These included the Younger Women's Liberation Movement and NOW.

The Civil Rights movement also had a significant impact on the LGBT rights movement. During the 1960s, homosexuals were often regarded as mentally ill or immoral degenerates. Seeing the successes of the fight for racial justice, many homosexual activists found inspiration to challenge the stigmas they faced.

These, and other minorities such as Latinos and Native Americans, looked to the Civil Rights movement as inspiration for their own organizational forms. They realized that large public marches and protests in Washington, state capitals, and other high profile locations could be effective. Just two years after the 1963 March on Washington, the first organized protests outside the White House and Philadelphia's Liberty Hall for gay rights occurred. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, there were numerous massive marches in Washington, all inspired by the earlier Civil Rights marches.

In sense, the Civil Rights movement signaled to activists that the federal government could play the role of the protector of minority rights. The legacy of Jim Crow in the southern states made it clear to Civil Rights activists that lasting and meaningful change could best happen on the federal level. Other minority activists learned that they should focus their attention on Washington. As a result, many reform efforts took to the national stage and fought for change at the federal level.

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The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond) fostered the idea that minority groups deserve protection from the federal government and from fellow citizens. The movement also pioneered the use in the United States of non-violent techniques, inspired by Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, to foster change. Other groups, such as the women's rights movement, the lesbian and gay movement (now the LGBTQ movement), and the Native American rights movement, followed the grassroots organization and strategies of the Civil Rights movement.

For example, women's rights activists pushed for legislation to create an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (which was never passed) and to create legal and economic equity for women, just as the Civil Rights Movement had pushed for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and for economic equality for African-Americans. Women marched and held demonstrations to promote their agenda through peaceful means. The first lesbian and gay rights demonstrations were held outside the White House two years after the 1963 March on Washington (held by Civil Rights activists). In addition, AIM (the American Indian Movement) was formed in 1968 and was supported by Civil Rights leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. AIM held demonstrations, such as the 1971 takeover of Alcatraz, to protest the abrogation of their treaties and other human rights and economic issues that affected them. In addition, similar to the Civil Rights movement, each of the groups followed a grassroots organizational strategy that involved raising the consciousness of their members about human rights and other issues. 

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The Civil Rights movement was one of the most significant movements in 20th century United States history based on ethnic identity. Although it focused on African Americans, many other ethnic groups such as Latin Americans used some of the tactics of the African American Civil Rights movement as precedents and models for their own movements.

Native American activists were also, to a degree, encouraged by the success of the Civil Rights movement, but their essential situation is somewhat different. Native Americans lived in the United States before either Europeans or Africans arrived, and most tribes wanted their national sovereignty acknowledged, and land returned, rather than simply integration into the society of the people who stole their land.

Although feminist and LBGTQ activists use some of the language of civil rights, gender issues have don't real map onto ethnic ones, as they  involve such issues as marriage and reproductive rights. Africana and Chicana feminists often argue that their double oppression as women and minorities makes their situation somewhat different from that of either black or Chicano men or white women.

Jewish groups have also fought anti-Semitism, but there were significant conflicts between African-American and Jewish groups in the 1960s, and the issue of Israel as a homeland is somewhat sui generis.

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The African American Civil Rights Movement inspired other reform movements by minority groups because of its success.

Scholars of social movements tell us that social movements arise when a group of people which has been oppressed to some degree starts to have hope that its lot can be changed.  During the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in improving the situation of African Americans.  When other minority groups (Chicanos and Native Americans in particular) saw this success, they started to think that they too might be able to improve their situation.  In this way, the successes of the movement for African American rights inspired other groups to try for more rights as well.

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