What caused civil unrest in America in the 1950s and 1960s?

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mkoren's profile pic

mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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There were several factors leading to civil unrest in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. One of these factors was tied to discrimination and segregation in the South. Throughout the South, whites and blacks were not equal. Jim Crow laws segregated the races in most areas of public life. There were separate schools, separate seating sections on buses and trains, and separate drinking fountains, just to name a few examples. These facilities were supposed to be equal but usually weren’t. Blacks were also being denied the right to vote. As a result, black people in the South began to demand equality. There were marches and protests. Many times, these turned violent because of the actions of the white people. Bombings and murders were common. The protest for equality led to civil unrest until changes occurred.

A second factor for the civil unrest was the disapproval of most Americans of our involvement in the Vietnam War. People didn’t support this war, and once they realized the government was not being honest with them, there were many protests. Some of them turned violent. The unhappiness with our involvement in the Vietnam War led to more unrest in the 1960s.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There was much more civil unrest during the 1960s than the 1950s.  However, unrest in both decades was caused by the issues of African American rights and grievances.  In the 1960s, but not the 1950s, unrest was also caused by the Vietnam War.

In the 1950s, there was little civil unrest in the US.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott might be called civil unrest.  So might the actions of anti-integration forces in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.  Both of these came about because of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.

In the 1960s, there was much more unrest and the unrest was much more serious.  There was a great deal of violence against members of the Civil Rights Movement.  There was violence, largely by African Americans, during the “long, hot summer” of 1967 and even more riots after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.  There was the unrest in Chicago at the Democratic convention in that year.  That unrest was largely as a result of the Vietnam War and the “counterculture.”

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gsenviro's profile pic

gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Civic unrest in the US during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s was caused chiefly by discrimination. African American did not have the same rights as whites. For example, people of color were not allowed in schools that catered to only white children, they could not sit in the same restaurant or on the same bus seat. All this led to unrest in the African American community. Actually, the decade of 1950s was much more peaceful and the most prominent unrest was the incident at Little Rock, Arkansas where the president had to intervene to ensure the integration of nine african american students in a white only school. 

The decade of the 1960s saw much more unrest due to the Civil Rights movement and in part due to America's failure in Vietnam. The unrest was reinforced by the assassinations of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King.