What was NASWs role in the Civil Rights Movement?

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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is indelibly linked to the Civil Rights Movement.  On one hand, its role in the movement is forged by the social change that the Civil Rights Movement forged in American society.  The NASW was formed in 1955 as a consolidation of different agencies and branches that sought to provide social work service to a variety of different segments of the American population.  Given its timing, this represents how the NASW recognized that the Civil Rights Movement was changing American society.  It understood that it could play a vital role in this transformation through consolidation and galvanizing voice.  Similar to the modus operandi of the Civil Rights Movement, the NASW demonstrated collectivity in its need to provide voice to more people.

The NASW recognized its role as being able to help deliver Civil Rights on a small and localized level.  It understood this role because social workers were critical agents in the transformation featured in the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights Movement was simply a group of social workers taking their practice to the next level:

Many of the architects of the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty were social workers. Social worker Whitney M. Young, Jr. promoted a “Domestic Marshall Plan,” and is widely recognized as the co-author of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative. Social Worker Dr. Dorothy I. Height worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Whitney M. Young, Jr. She continues her important work for children and families today.

Social workers played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement.  The NASW took such an example and made it a critical aspect in the organization's practice.

In another sense, the NASW's role in the Civil Rights Movement was to carry out its mission in such a disseminated manner that it would impact the overall purpose of the movement.  The Civil Rights Movement was predicated upon the need to give voice to  individuals who might have lacked.  It was designed to ensure that individuals would be heard.  This is a critical aspect to the social movement behind Civil Rights.  It is also reflective of the historical background to the NASW, formed by individuals who took the mission of Civil Rights and sought to ensure that it would be applied to all people.  The NASW was and is comprised by individuals who sought and seek to change "the lives of America’s disenfranchised while, underscoring that the effects of intolerance and discriminatory practices violate the essence of democratic principles. As witnessed throughout history, social workers seek to make the American dream a reality for everyone without regard to race, religion, sexual or national origin." This mission becomes critical to the NASW and is reflective of the role that the NASW played in its support of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the function it serves today. 

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rachellopez's profile pic

rachellopez | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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NASW stands for National Association of Social Workers. The NASW fought for social justice and equality and played a large role in the civil rights movement. Their goal was to make "the American Dream a reality for everyone without regard to race, religion, sexual or nation origin." Social workers inspired others and made it possible for

  • The civil rights of all people regardless of gender, race, faith, or sexual orientation are protected.
  • Workers enjoy unemployment insurance, disability pay, worker’s compensation and Social Security.
  • People with mental illness and developmental disabilities are now afforded humane treatment.
  • Medicaid and Medicare give poor, disabled and elderly people access to health care.
  • Society seeks to prevent child abuse and neglect.
  • Treatment for mental illness and substance abuse is gradually losing its stigma.

Even now they still make a difference by raising money for the LEGACY project. Since 2001, the NASW Foundation has raised more than $63,000.

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