Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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When and how did the Civil Rights movement begin?

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The Civil Rights movement began in earnest in the 1950s, although there were actions that occurred prior to that time that focused on civil rights. As early as the late 1890s and early 1900s, African Americans were debating the best way to get their rights. Booker T. Washington felt African Americans should focus on gaining their economic rights first, and then work to gain their political rights, while W.E.B. Du Bois felt that African Americans should strive for all of their rights at the same time.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formed in 1909 and worked to gain equal rights for African Americans. The NAACP used the courts to sue for equal rights and to fight segregation. The 1935 Supreme Court case of Norris v Alabama stated that African Americans couldn’t be excluded from juries. During World War II, A. Philip Randolph threatened a march on Washington, D.C. to protest the lack of hiring of African Americans in federal defense plants. This threat led President Roosevelt to issue an executive order to ban the practice of discriminating when hiring workers in federal defense plants.

In the 1950s, the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court case and Montgomery Bus Boycott propelled the movement into full action. The family of Linda Brown sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education, saying that segregated schools really weren’t equal. The Supreme Court agreed as its decision banned the “separate but equal” concept. In Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans refused to ride the buses after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus and was arrested. This boycott lasted for over a year until the Supreme Court declared that segregation on buses was illegal. In the 1960s, the movement continued with the March on Washington in 1963 and with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

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I would just like to add that black segregation was already much prevalent when the Civil Rights movement began; that's why there were "designated" seats for blacks in buses. This was the result of Jim Crow laws, a series of laws at the state and local levels that allowed the segregation of blacks and whites in public areas of life. The official government policy for segregation was struck down in 1954 but society didn't follow. I think that the Rosa Parks incident was sort of the tipping point that started the grassroots movements that we refer to as the Civil Rights Movement. This was not the only incident at the time. The movement itself was the result of years of systematic segregation and discrimination against blacks.

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