Fear is one of the strongest emotions that drive human beings. It has helped to generate some of our most devastating atrocities, and yet it also seems to spawn some of our most glowing achievements. I believe that there can be no more pertinent example of this effect than the struggle for Civil Rights in America during the 1950s and 60s. After the Second World War, America—along with much of the world—was leaving a time of global unrest. Men motivated by the power of fear had used conspiracy to control the minds of the masses and they nearly destroyed all of Europe in the process. However, the world would prove that the power of those willing to sacrifice for justice was stronger than the hand of Nazism and Fascism. The Allie’s victory against the Axis Powers would create a new sense of hope and prosperity for the future in America. The environment was ripe for change. New advances in technology, science, sports, and the arts appeared partially due to the indirect influence of fear. A backlash against the evils of ignorance and intolerance was on the rise in America. One of the areas most heavily affected by this new surge in thought would be the American South.
Almost anyone who has lived in the South for a while can testify to how slowly time passes here, as well as to the even slower acceptance of social change. Things seem to hold on here like ghosts in a house long-deserted. In the South, tradition is law and things are often done the way that they “have always been done”. This quality is both the beauty and the bane of the South. I believe it is this tendency toward a resistance to change—specifically in matters concerning race—that created the volatile environment associated with some the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation had been a way of life for the southern states. Many laws had been enacted to keep black and white society segregated in the years following the Civil War, but it was the unspoken code of racial separation created by decades of fear and ignorance that strengthened the law. In the days before the Emancipation, the role of the white masters and the black slaves was clearly outlined. There was little question as to who was in charge socially, politically, and economically. There was also little or no question as to who was actually human based on the law, for that matter. However, in this new society decades after slavery, blacks were beginning to realize their own importance in the stake of American affairs. As mentioned before, World War II was one of the key instruments in this realization and also in the move toward a social revolution.
“The whole nation, black and white, male and female, majority and minority, worked and served and sacrificed together to win the war. When the war was over, they all went back to civilian life, but the war had changed many people. Black soldiers had fought and risked their lives, and died just as white soldiers had. Blacks had helped to save America—their country—and had helped democracy triumph over fascism and nationalist socialism in Europe and Asia. When these black veterans returned, they were ‘hit in the face’ with the old patterns of segregation and discrimination. Many of them were not going to take it!” (Noble 56).
I do not make these points to say that the entire south was in opposition to dismantling the system of segregation; nor am I implying that the rest of the country was in favor of it. There were white people in the south allied with the black community against segregation. Likewise, there were blacks who believed in the system of racial separation.