Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Civil Rights

In the decade 1955 – 1965 the civil rights movement gained momentum. Systematic racial pride and unity began to be achieved. Black Americans formed groups to assert their rights for equality. Since the earliest white settlement African Americans had been discriminated against and denied legal freedom and the rights granted to all men under the declaration of independence. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were actively denied to Black Americans.

In 1955, Montgomery, AL had a law, which required black citizens to ride in the back of the city’s buses. On December 1st of that year, Mrs. Rosa Parks boarded a bus and sat in the first row of seats in the black section of the bus. When some white men boarded the bus the driver ordered her to give up her seat and move back. She refused and was arrested.

Leaders in the Montgomery black community decided to stage a protest against the cities segregation laws. On December 3rd and 4th Reverends Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jnr met with members of the women’s political council and the NAACP to plan a large scale boycott against the cities bus lines. 40 thousand handbills were given to the black community and Black ministers conveyed the message from their pulpits.

Beginning on Monday, December 5, and it was an immediate success. According to the bus company 90% of the blacks that usually rode the buses joined the boycott and found other means of transport. The bus company would go broke if the boycott continued too long. Martin Luther King Jnr got his first leadership role during the boycott as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association.

The boycott continued into 1956 and King and other leaders in the MIA were arrested on conspiracy charges based on state anti-boycott laws. Finally in November of 1956 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional, and the boycott was brought to an end.

In 1960 black students sat in the “whites only” section of a lunch counter and were refused service, but they stayed till closing. This is an example of non-violent direct action. Soon many students got involved in “wade-ins” at segregated swimming pools, “pray-ins” at white only churches, the media heard about the story and the idea spread all over the country, a lot of businesses quickly removed their restrictions on blacks while others treated blacks violently and had them arrested for trespassing.

From this a new organization was formed, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC.)
April 3rd, 1963, Martin Luther King Jnr arrived in Birmingham to celebrate the centennial of the emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery by marching through what he considered to be the most segregated city in America. All lunch counters, buses and hotels were still segregated.
On the 12th of April Martin Luther King Jnr and SCLC began to protest a. Stores boasting “Jim Crow” laws were boycotted and sit ins were held at lunch counters. The person upholding these laws was police chief Bull Connor, he vowed that “blood would run in the streets of Birmingham” before he’d desegregate the city.

Several marches were held on City Hall with numerous numbers of marchers being arrested. Connor got an order saying the demonstrations were banned. King continued anyway. After being squirted with high-pressure hoses, attacked by police dogs and beaten by police for over a month thousands of marchers took to the streets and Connor gave the signal to turn on the hoses but nothing happened. Protesters were beginning to wear down the racist whites.

In mid-May of 1963 protesters and officials reached an agreement to end segregation in lunch counters, fitting rooms, fountains and rest rooms within 90 days and employment put on a non-discriminatory in 60 days in return for the protests ending.

This didn’t end the violence though, Kings headquarters were bombed starting a mass riot. Federal troops were sent in to control the situation and threatened to take over the Alabama National guard in order to preserve the law, which settled the town, and desegregation was accepted.
The events in Birmingham convinced President Kennedy to face the issue of civil rights. He addressed the nation on June 10, 1963, demanding congress pass new civil rights laws. This bill would end all segregation and outlaw discrimination in any state program that used federal funds and give the justice department power to bring legal cases against non-integrated schools.
When a young NAACP official was murdered African Americans came together to support the civil rights bill. They decide to organize a mass march on Washington to encourage public support of the bill.

On August 28, 1963, the turnout was more than 250 000 people from all round the country in Washington to try and pressure congress into passing the bill. It was the largest demonstration yet and was broadcast on TV around the world.
Congress debated for more than a year before the bill was finally passed, but in the mean time President Kennedy was murdered and the new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the inaugural document.

Martin Luther King Jnr was one of the major leaders involved in the civil rights movement, he united people in one cause, he had a way with words that allowed him communicate freely and easily with people. His determination and resilience were inspiring to those around him, his letters from a Birmingham Jail speak in such a tone that they captivate the reader, he was so honest without being crude or prejudicial allowing people an insight into how African Americans were really being treated and a chance to look at it from their point of view. His speeches had much the same effect on those who heard them. People were drawn to him and his cause because he talked with such passion, enthusiasm and hope which was something that had begun to dissipate in the years before the civil rights movement.

The civil rights movement achieved desegregation in all public facilities and employment put on a non-discriminatory basis. The government offered opportunities for cheaper housing. Blacks were always united in purpose and cause but somewhat divided in approach. Malcolm X and the Black Muslims supported violence and believed white men to be the devil. Martin Luther King Jnr and his followers believed in the non-violent direct action taken by Mahatma Ghandi who said, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Martin Luther king once said about him "Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward world of peace and harmony. We may ignore Gandhi at our own risk."

Although the Law said that African-Americans were equal this did nothing to change community attitudes. Laws can change overnight but when people were raised with hate and ignorance towards blacks they become set in their ways. All those feelings don’t just disappear at once but people can become more accepting with time. And in time things would change and Blacks would truly be equal.

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