The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1980 Questions and Answers
by Harvard Sitkoff

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What are the themes in The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1980 by Harvard Sitkoff? This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please clearly identify at least 3 themes and devote a separate paragraph to a discussion of each one

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The Courage to Fight Back

Sitkoff makes the point that the modern civil rights movement started with the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. This decision, handed down in 1954, made school segregation in illegal. However, as Sitkoff notes, Southern politicians led a campaign of resistance against the decision, and, even by 1960, less than one percent of black children in the South attended desegregated schools. Therefore, the Brown decision had very little practical impact at first. However, it inspired black people, making it seem possible that they could use the power of resistance to fight against discrimination. The Brown decision gave them the courage to fight against oppression and the hope that they might achieve the goals of the civil rights movement.

The Wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.

Sitkoff writes about how Martin Luther King began to shape the civil rights movement. King realized that black people had been held back in fighting for their civil rights by two things: their very real fear of white retaliation and the idea that resisting segregation was unchristian. King turned this equation around and made it a sin not to fight back and resist oppression. His wisdom lay in knowing how to motivate average black citizens of the South to join the civil rights campaign.

The Power of Student Protest

Sitkoff writes about the power and courage of black college students who launched the first sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. The movement started with McNeill and others in Greensboro, North Carolina. Students were tired of the slow pace at which desegregation was proceeding and the way in which Southern states were resisting having to desegregate. The students, some of whom went on to be part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), refused to accept "tokenism" (86), such as having one black student in a formerly all-white school. Instead, they wanted to pursue racial equality and to reform all aspects of society and formal law.

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