When did the Civil Rights Movement end? What caused the end of the movement?

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mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The struggle for civil rights in the United States continues to this day, but the height of the movement was in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Declaring the movement dead by 1970 may be inaccurate to some degree, but declaring the momentum of the movement on the decline would be very accurate.  If you need to point to one single year as the death of the civil rights movement, 1968 is a convenient year to use.  The patriarch of the struggle for civil rights was Dr. Martin Luther King.  He was assassinated in April of 1968.  Other civil rights leaders were also assassinated during the 1960’s, the most prolific being Malcolm X and Medgar Evers.  None of the other assassinations had the same effect as King’s.  Pointing towards King’s assassination as the sole cause of the decline in the movement would be simplistic, however.

In a way, the success of the Civil Rights Movement may have led to its own demise by 1968.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 granted African-Americans better access to education and jobs  and ended segregation in public spaces.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to eliminate local and state barriers that existed to prevent African-Americans from exercising their right to votes.  The courts had also decided a number of cases that protected the rights of black citizens.  Brown v. Board of Education was a high profile decision by the Supreme Court to end segregation in public education.  Violence and discrimination in the South was on the decline.  With these victories, momentum was on the decline as many felt that their all of the goals had been realized.

The later part of the 1960’s also saw political disagreements within the movement.  There were disagreements between the nonviolent elements of the struggle and the more aggressive Black Nationalist factions.  Within the Black Nationalist movement, in-fighting was becoming divisive and dangerous.  This drew the attention of governmental organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.  These government operations are suspected of undermining the efforts of civil rights groups, particularly the ones on the political margins. 

Political activism tended to gravitate towards other causes during the late 1960’s.  Protests seemed to center around antiwar sentiment, women’s issues, and labor rights.  While the Civil Rights Movement did not die with Dr. Martin Luther King, the momentum of the movement seemed to coincide with his death.

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