Who started the civil rights movement?

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leabc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great 'thinking' question.  Interesting to see who the poster will finally choose.  I would guess that the teacher is expecting someone from the 1950s or 1960s, but there are some great arguments that could be made for earlier activists.

I would throw in Harriet Beecher Stowe - her novel 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' may not have sparked the Civil War as Lincoln claimed, but it did have an impact on the outcome.  Europe might have sided with the South (as they expected) had she not written the book.

Also, you could take a look at John Brown from the pre-Civil War era.  He may have been an extreme radical, but he did inspire abolitionists in the North.

Finally I would add in Linda Brown of Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  Probably more accurate in the time period being asked about.  She was not someone who was pounding the streets for equality like Randolph or King, but a quieter symbol more like Parks.  It was just as essential to have the Browns and Parks in order to for the movement to progress as it was to have the Kings.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Absolutely true, and you could also give some credit to President Truman, arguably the first President to do something definitive about civil rights when he integrated the military by executive order in 1948.

Or you could give a shout out to A. Philip Randolph, who pressed for, and received, equal pay for blacks who were working in defense industries in World War II, again by executive order of the President at the time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Or even the artists of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920's, including Langston Hughes, who helped to define African-American culture outside the constraints of slavery or segregation for really the first time, and gave blacks a sense of identity and self worth.

Lots of fine candidates for you to choose from, and I don't think you can go wrong with any of them, actually.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am in agreement with the previous posts. The idea of "Civil Rights" and the movement that swelled in the process could not be attributed to one specific person.  An argument can be made that the thinkers in the 1950s who sought to create the movement were inspired by others who articulated similar ideas in prior time periods.  Abolitionist thinkers like Frederick Douglass advocated the ideas of equality and the abolishment of institutional barriers that advocate the preferential treatment of one race at the cost of another.  The Harlem Renaissance thinkers of Hughes and Hurston helped to bring the issue of consciousness of race and the social conditions that bring about much in way of mistreatment because of it into the forefront of American social and political thought.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no way to answer this question definitively.  I suppose you could say that the civil rights protest movement of the late '50s and early '60s was started by Rosa Parks.  But that's really not accurate because it's not as if she was acting alone or unexpectedly.  You could say, though, that she is the first well-known name to be associated with this phase of the movement.

You could argue that Charles Houston and Thurgood Marshall and the rest of the NAACP's legal team started it by bringing the cases that eventually led to the Supreme Court overturning Plessy v. Ferguson.

You could go farther back and say that WEB DuBois started the movement.  He was the first high-profile black leader to push for equal rights and he was the one who started the NAACP.