22 July, 2014
The Importance of the Civil Rights Movement Arguably the most controversial event in recent history, the Civil Rights Movement has not only revolutionized race relations in the U.S., but also set a working model that still inspires political movements, leaders and discourses worldwide. It has been neither the first nor the last attempt to root out racial discrimination in the country, which persists to some extent to this day. However, it has led to a dramatic, bottom-up shift in the legal and social legitimacy of discrimination and has shown that nonviolent protest is not only moral, but also highly effective. This paper reviews some of the main events that have led to this success, with an emphasis on the occurrences during the early days of the Movement. Racial discrimination, segregation and inequality seem to have been constant areas of debate in American history, with a clear leaning towards suppression of blacks (McNeese 17). This phenomenon persisted despite comprehensive changes in many other issues, most notably the abolishment of slavery. This approach evolved into the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine – a legal framework, which facilitated strict racial segregation while adhering, at least in principle, to the equal treatment stipulations of the Fourteenth Amendment and other post-Reconstruction laws. This doctrine underpinned the so-called ‘Jim Crow laws’ – a juristic approval to racial segregation in the provision of public and private services, under the condition that blacks will be offered identical services to those of whites. (Seperate but Equal: The Law of the Land) However, this framework brought about discrimination, as the services for ‘colored’ were almost inferior to those of whites in terms of both quantity and quality. This trend spread to exclude blacks from merely every aspect of communal life, from housing and education to churches and taverns. Similar segregation also took place in the U.S.
Becker 2 army, including during World War II. Segregation became the norm and was accompanied by disenfranchisement of black voters and an abundance of lynching cases (McNeese 31,35). All of these and other events implied that racial inequalities in the U.S. are not a matter of specific pieces of legislation or bounded to several states. They rather reflected a common belief in the inferiority of blacks and required an appeal to the heart of the American population, not only to its courts and governments. The 1909 establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was the first major attempt to bring about such a change in an organized manner. (NAACP Legal History) Led by W. E. B. Du Bois, the NAACP focused on litigation efforts and indeed managed to dismantle some areas of segregation in cases such as Guinn v. United States and Buchanan v. Warley. The most celebrated case backed by the NAACP was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas), which deemed school segregation as unconstitutional and practically diminished the Jim Crow laws. These victories were a major breakthrough and laid the foundations for the next stage in the course of the Civil Rights Movement’s history. While the NAACP focused on top-down strategies through courtrooms and lobbying, a new generation of community leaders offered an alternative way to protest and influence. They identified specific types of discrimination – typically providers of public services such as buses and gas stations, as well as municipalities – and organized nonviolent acts, mainly boycotting, rallies and acts of civil disobedience. The logic for such acts was clear: service operators were dependent on their black clientele, and so were politicians on black voters, given that the latter would organize themselves as pressure groups at the local level. On the other hand, more deliberate and policy-oriented activities, including violent actions would