Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights

By David Brown; Clive Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

A DREAM UNFULFILLED:
RACE IN THE CONTEMPORARY SOUTH

During the late 1960s, the civil rights coalition collapsed under the strain of numerous political pressures. The rise of Black Power, the shift of political protest away from race relations towards the Vietnam War and the conservative white backlash to urban rioting in northern cities all contributed to the decline of the movement. Although at a national and regional level the civil rights movement ceased to exist, the struggle for racial reform continued in local communities across the South. Much was still needed to be done to improve the lives of millions of southern blacks. Schools continued to resist the enrolment of black schoolchildren, many adult blacks had not taken advantage of the political opportunities created by the Voting Rights Act and poverty afflicted thousands of families. Efforts to secure change have continued in the decades since the decline of the civil rights movement. While African Americans have overcome many obstacles, racial and class barriers continue to impede their progress towards equality.


THE DECLINE OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

'There is no more civil rights movement,' SCLC strategist James Bevel proudly proclaimed to news reporters after the Selma campaign. 'President Johnson signed it out of existence when he signed the Voting Rights Bill.'1 The riot that erupted in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles on 11 August 1965 brutally exposed the complacency of civil rights activists like Bevel. The riot was the worst outbreak of urban unrest since the Second World War. In its wake, thirty-four people lay dead, nearly 400 were injured and a further 4,000 were under arrest.2

The riot forced movement leaders to refocus the direction of their protest. While activists had invested enormous energy in the struggle to secure the constitutional rights of African Americans in the South, the plight of northern blacks had been largely overlooked. In contrast to the South, northern

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