Zinn states that the federal government responded to the question of Civil Rights in the 20th century by doing very little to protect the people risking their lives in the movement. For example, during the Freedom Rides to New Orleans, the buses were torched in Alabama, and activists were savagely beaten. However, state police and the FBI did not intervene. SNCC, or the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, asked for protection from the Department of Justice for their ride from Nashville to Birmingham, but they were denied this protection. However, after they were attacked in Montgomery, Alabama, the government wanted to avert further violence. District Attorney Robert Kennedy agreed that authorities in Jackson, Mississippi could arrest the protestors in return for preventing a mob from developing.
By passing civil rights laws in 1957, 1960, and 1964, Congress promised voting and economic equality but did not necessarily enforce these laws. As Zinn writes, the federal government was trying to control the explosive conditions surrounding civil rights by channeling people to the voting booth, to petitions, and into polite demonstrations. Even Martin Luther King's speech during the march in Washington in 1963 lost some of its punch when he was required to remove sections critical of the government. In short, the government prevented a full revolution by trying to channel the movement in ways that they felt were safe. In addition, the government largely did not address the issues of endemic poverty and unemployment in African American neighborhoods.