Magazine article Ebony

The Fight for Civil Rights Continues

Magazine article Ebony

The Fight for Civil Rights Continues

Article excerpt

DEFINING the proper role and place of the movement for Civil Rights in America has been difficult because of the shorthand that has characterized the 1960s uniquely as that era. In truth, every generation for the past 346 years has been and is still today engaged in the struggle for full citizenship and equality. In fact, in 1830 the first series of national meetings of Colored men began with a civil rights agenda that stood for an end to slavery, the provision of the vote and education and a stake in the new America as full citizens.

Fighting slavery and its progeny was necessary because it had built the foundation for our social space at the bottom of society. It also distorted the project of American democracy and led almost logically to a civil war, and it would also follow that the Constitution should be amended to create a new framework of racial relations based on equality.

Thus the goals in these amendments defined the task of Black leadership and their allies to make them meaningful for subsequent generations.

This year, we observe the 100th anniversary of the Niagara Movement that, in 1905, led to the birth of the NAACP and the civil rights movement of that era. The success of Southern Whites in solidifying control of the states in that region largely eliminated the implementation of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Instead, they launched an attack on Blacks, marked by lynchings, rigid segregation, cultural inferiorization, exclusion from politics and other negative outcomes.

This framework of social life for Blacks remained remarkably stable for the first 50 years of the 20th century, but was eventually altered by such factors as Black migration to the North, World War II, the humanitarian principles of the United Nations, Cold War competition and, of course, the superb legal leadership of the NAACP.

The 1954 victory of the NAACP in the case of Brown v. Board of Education initiated a new phase in the civil rights struggle, creating the optimistic possibility that segregation could successfully be confronted in other areas.

The following year, 1955, featured other dramatic events such as President Dwight Eisenhower using federalized troops to protect Black youth attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., and the death of the young Emmett Till, killed in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, for "ogling" (eyeing) a White woman that stirred emotions nationally.

Just months later, on December 5, 1955, Rosa Parks sat down and refused to go to the back of the bus.

Doubtless, these emotions of both deep victory and deep defeat, contributed to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which inaugurated another kind of era.

The defense against the discrimination of Blacks in public transportation in Montgomery, Ala., was a flash point for the mobilization of large numbers of ordinary citizens in the South. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose genius was articulating the methods and goals of the mobilization, their marching feet became a powerful movement that not only broke open the segregated bus system in Montgomery, it also started "freedom rides" across state lines and sparked the imagination of millions of young people who used similar tactics of nonviolent protest to open lunch counters, swimming pools and other places of public accommodations all over the country.

The power of this movement at every phase in the 1960s, whether in Birmingham, Selma, Nashville, Greenville or even St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit, shook the structure of discrimination in the social realm that had held Blacks in deep poverty, in rigid ghettoes, in subordinate employment, in inferior schools and away from the voting booth. This movement hit its zenith with the March on Washington, led by Dr. King on August 28, 1963.

The Civil Rights Movement challenged the political system, and political parties in particular, and caused their leaders to respond. …

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