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The 1950-60's Black Civil Rights Movement in America

The actions of the 1900's black civil rights movement, and a brief outline of the events that occurred.

America is advertised as the world's greatest democracy, the land of freedom and equality. However, as little as 40 years ago this slogan was far from the truth. African-Americans were discriminated against constantly, tortured and killed for no other reason than their skin color. This was the period of the Black Civil Rights movement, which saw the birth of many modern-day heroes such as Martin Luther King. MLK was looked up to due to his non-violent protest based on the teachings of the Bible and Mahatma Gandhi. Martin used the media to protest in events such as Little Rock, Sit ins and in Birmingham 1963. These protests were the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement, a noble and just way to protest. However, this method did not last. By 1965, the black youth had found a much faster and direct approach: Violence. Gangs such as Black Panther were formed, whom utilized the sword instead of the pen. The idea of "Black Power" was embodied, and the United States of America was plunged into a whole new movement.

The first real success of the Black Civil Rights movement was the attempt to desegregate primary schools in a case called "Brown vs Board". A child named Linda Brown had to walk past a railway track in order to get to her all-black school which was inferior in both equipment and staff. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) took the problem to the supreme court, the highest in the land. Their case was that the statement "Separate but Equal" was not in fact true, and that blacks had inferior education. The case was won, and Linda was allowed to attend all white schools, because segregation of primary schools was made illegal. However, the southern states did not obey, and by 1964, 91% of blacks still attended segregated schools. Although not a huge success, this case showed that the supreme court court could be used to fight segregation. The NAACP took the movement a step further by attempting to desegregate high schools. Little Rock Central High School refused to desegregate for 3 years, until they finally admitted 9 Negro students in 1957. These 9 students were met with over 1000 white protestors, and even 100 state troopers armed with guns, commissioned by the Governor of Arkansas. The 9 were not allowed entry into the high school. In response to this disobeyance of the supreme court's law, President Eisenhower sent in 1,000 federal troops to protect the 9 black students. Through this, the students were allowed to go to high school, and this resulted in another step forwards in the civil rights movement. And while this desegregated high schools, a man named James Meredith wanted to go to an all-white university. James applied to Ole' Miss University like a normal white person, but did not attach a photo. His application was accepted, however once they found out he was black, the people at Ole' Miss denied him entry. The NAACP again took this to Washington DC, and this time John F. Kennedy himself ordered Ole' Miss to accept Meredith. So the first university was desegregated, and all education facilities were non-racial by law.

In 1st December 1955, a national hero was introduced whom would prove to be a very big component in the Black Civil Rights movement. This figure was Reverend Martin Luther King Junior. Martin brought the idea of non-violent protests into the movement, and this was introduced with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. A woman named Rosa Parks was asked to stand up on a bus for a white man, and she refused. She was taken to court and fined $10. This sparked an outrage in the black community. Martin and the civil rights groups encouraged blacks not to take any buses until the issue was addressed. The next day, all 50,000 of the the city's blacks boycotted the bus, choosing to either walk or take a taxi. Negro-owned taxi companies supported the movement by reducing their fares to the same as a bus fare, meaning black protestors could still get to work on time. However, the state passed a law which stated a minimum taxi fare, effectively stopping black-friendly taxis. To keep the movement going, both white and black car owners volunteered to act as car-poolers, giving blacks free rides into town. The car pool was effective, and in the end, the supreme court ordered that bus segregation was to be made illegal. Blacks no longer had to give their seat to white passengers, and the Civil Rights Movement got a considerable boost in power.

Non-violent protests were starting to gain in power, due to the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. The next step in the movement was to desegregate lunch counters and milk bars. Blacks had to sit in their own section, and were served poorly. So on the first of February, 1960, 4 college students (3 whites, one black) sat down in the whites only area. The racists in the bar saw this as out of line behavior, and poured flour, juice and other things on the 4 while they sat and did nothing. The next day, the number grew to 30 and the same abuse followed. These were called "Sit ins" , and the first of many occurred in a Woolworths in Greensboro. These events were broadcast nationally by media, and the whole country saw how badly blacks were treated. In the end, stores like Woolworths had such bad publicity that they were forced to desegregate. Non-violence again proved it's worth, and many methods were being used as a form of protest. One of these were a group called "Freedom Riders". These people went on road trips using the Greyhound bus system, using white-only facilities on the way such as restrooms. Freedom Riders were also treated violently, and racist whites would burn their buses and beat them up. Their mission was to desegregate bus terminals, and 1,000 white and black protestors were involved in this protest. All protestors of both Freedom Riders and Sit ins were trained in non-violence, trained not to retaliate and to act Civil and Polite. This was to contrast them with the savage behavior of the whites, and to gain nation-wide sympathy due to media coverage.

In 1963, MLK decided on his new target: Birmingham. This city was one of the most racist cities in the south, led by one of the most obnoxious characters in US History: "Bull" Connor. King's tactic was: "Bring the Oppressor into the Open". This meant to let the world see how badly blacks were treated, and to get good media coverage. So Martin led the protest in Birmingham in the aim of achieving total integration. However this phase failed, and less and less people kept caring about the event. King was put in jail, and the protests died out. The civil rights leaders met and re-devised their strategy, and decided to put High School students in the marches. This idea was a huge success. Bull ordered police to control the protestors with fire hoses, blasting teenagers with lethal force. Meanwhile, the rest of the country were shown horrid pictures of young students being treated cruelly and started to feel sympathy for the protestors. In the end, the plan succeeded. All facilities were desegregated, "White" and "Colored" signs were removed, and MLK was elevated to the highest positioned black leader in the country.

1965 was known as "The Turning Point" in the civil rights movement. Young blacks were beginning to see non-violence as a waste of time, and that MLK had gone mad. This change in the movement became apparent during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, encouraging blacks to vote. King was stopped by a line of policemen not allowing the protestors passage. Because King had promised the president JFK he wouldn't challenge any authorities, he simply turned around, knelt down on the road, and prayed. After he had finished, MLK walked off. This portrayed Martin as a crazy person, and the youth started to mock him and left his movement to join a new, faster and more direct approach to civil rights: Violence. This movement was also called "Black Power". This was the idea that blacks were superior to other races, in both appearance and cultural aspects. All whites were removed from the civil rights movement, as  new leader was elected: Stokely Charmichael. This man was very young, yet a great orator and a riveting figure. Charmichael led the civil rights movement now, and he chose to do it violently. Groups dedicated to black power were also formed, such as Black Panther. Black Panther was a violent group, and their form of protesting was shoot outs with police. Members of this gang were armed, with massive Afros to identify them as proud Negroes. Another key figure was Malcolm X, with his famous line: "By Any Means Necessary". All of these people encouraged blacks to retaliate in direct ways, using violence and strong protests. An example of this was the 1968 Mexico Olympics protest, in which Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised a clenched gloved fist during the national anthem, the signal of Black Power. Black power was a strong move in Civil Rights, and it shall never be forgotten.

The period of change was fierce and eventful, but obviously successful. Today we live in a world where people are treated equally, for the most part anyway. This was achieved with desegregation, non-violence and even those strong violent protests. Whatever the reason, we owe it all to heroes like Martin L. King and Malcolm X, whom fought for what was right.

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