In the American South, where segregation was deeply entrenched, many white people opposed the goals and methods of the Civil Rights Movement. However, large numbers of white people supported the movement. The most fanatical racists stirred up opposition by fueling insecurities over loss of control and inciting anxiety about violence. Racism grows out of a combination of ignorance and inaccurate information and is stoked by fear. Many people are raised to believe that racial hierarchy is natural or divinely mandated, rather than learning that race is a historically based, human-made classification system. When systems of power are based in racial divisions, those who hold the power fear losing it.
The strategies and tactics of the Civil Rights Movement were remarkably effective in creating social and political change at all levels. Grassroots activism fed into legal challenges that were upheld by the Supreme Court, such as the Brown v. Board decision on school desegregation. Freedom Summer helped change voting procedures in Mississippi, bolstering reform efforts in other states. The passage of milestone federal legislation was a significant achievement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
However, passing laws and putting their provisions into practice were two different things. States-rights supporters contested the constitutionality of federal legislation, and smaller units, such as school boards, refused to implement integration mandates. A new generation of activists decried the slow pace of change, and some rejected the predominant methods of passive resistance and civil disobedience.