By: Amanda Brehm
The 1950s and 1960s was a dawning of a new age. Many changes were occurring within Americas society. Segregation was prominent with the passing of Plessy vs. Ferguson, however, the Jim Crow laws of the south were being challenged. Negroes in the south wanted equality and justice. The nation was in need of an ethic of caring and a solid identity of what it meant to be an American. With the war in Vietnam and the war for equality, people were fed up with all of the hate. The public cried, Make love, not war (Tallulah). During this time of hardship, the Civil Rights Movement introduced us to many influential Americans that helped make equality possible and also made everyone proud to be American. From the famous court case of Brown vs. Board of Education and the refusal of Rosa Parks to the ideas and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Anne Moody, equality emerged in the United States and a positive, patriotic and respectful outlook was placed on what it is to be an American. The Civil Rights Movement was like a time bomb waiting to go off. African-Americans throughout the south looked at each other as if saying, wait, just wait. Surprisingly, the initiation came from a young, black girl who had to travel several miles to attend a segregated school even though she lived right next door to a white elementary school. This famous court case, known as Brown vs. Board of Education, determined that segregation in public schools based on race was unconstitutional. This decision was the result of decades of efforts by black segregationist opponents. With black and white children attending the same schools, having equal opportunities elsewhere became increasingly desirable. It was during this period of waiting that a petite, middle-aged woman named Rosa Parks was the person to officially begin the fight for racial equality in America. On the afternoon of Thursday, December 1, 1995, Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man and was arrested. This simple action of dominance and defiance began one of the most important struggles in American history. As the small yet strong-willed woman was hauled off to jail, word of her refusal spread throughout the country. People of all races and ages were inspired by her actions and the news traveled through telephone lines and word of mouth like rapid fire. Little did Mrs. Parks know that she had just officially started the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks was a very prominent figure in the fight for civil rights along with many other respectable African-American men and women. One of the most influential leaders of the movement was none other than Martin Luther King, Jr. King was a nonviolent protester, preacher and organizer of the Civil Rights Movement. He believed in nonviolent resistance to oppression and led many protests against racism. He challenged the nations fundamental priorities and emphasized the fact that the civil rights laws were empty without human rights (Cohen, Solomon). The laws were hollow toward those who were too poor to eat at a nice restaurant or afford a decent home. Instead of focusing on the racial issue, King Jr. focused on bringing blacks and whites together by fighting the gaps between rich and poor. He called for radical changes in our society to redistribute the wealth and power. Kings main point in his campaign was that true compassion is what this country needed and is what he fought for. Another immensely influential figure in the Civil Rights Movement was Malcolm X. Although his approach was completely opposite that from Martin Luther King, Jr., the two dignified and determined men helped each other in fighting for equality. Malcolm X had a rough life as a child. His father was beaten and killed when he was only six years old and his mother was put into an institution shortly there after. He dropped out of school, got into trouble frequently and ended up as a hustler on the streets of Boston and New York. In 1946, he went to jail for eight years because he slept with a white woman. It was in jail where he became a member of the Nation of Islam and changed his last name from Little to X. He believed that the white man was the devil and preached this belief to African-Americans all over the country. Malcolm X excited something in the hearts of the black population. He spoke his truth about how he felt towards white people, which was unheard of in the early 1960s. He culminated a sense of pride and fear at the same time. His fearless, larger than life attitude challenged African-Americans to follow him in his quest for Black Nationalism. His philosophy was designed to encourage black people to gain complete control over the politics and politicians of their own community. Malcolm X taught African-Americans about their greatness in history and helped them regain a pride that was long lost. After his assassination, it was said of him, Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! (Haley) Anne Moody was a poor, black child who grew up in the south during the 1940s and 1950s. She had a rough childhood. Unlike most children in the twentieth century, Anne was working at a very young age sweeping porches and cleaning houses. She was very mature and intelligent as a child and often asked questions about what she did not know. Despite her need for answers, she was usually shrugged off and given a, because thats the way it is answer. Having been told this all her life, she eventually got fed up and ventured out to find the answers on her own. Because of her determination and willingness to put up a fight, she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She organized and participated in sit-ins, protests and marches. She became a member of CORE and encouraged blacks to register to vote and helped the SNCC get clothes and food to needy families (Moody). During her fight, she was beaten, jailed, ridiculed, and threatened, however, she did not lose hope. Annes determination, strong will, and survival should serve as an American model for years to come. Along with the Civil Rights Movement came several organized protests, boycotts and marches. Each one represented a certain ethic of morality towards African-Americans. One of the first effective protests was the One day bus boycott (Robinson). After Rosa Parks refusal to leave her seat on the bus, many prominent equal rights activists started planning a boycott supporting her refusal. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leader of this particular protest and got it underway. By word of mouth, the black population of Montgomery, Alabama was not to step foot onto a bus on the day of Monday, December 5, 1955. They were to instead get a ride from the Negro taxi drivers that were hired at a reduced rate or from the two hundred private cars that were offered free to bus riders on that day. The city was anxious to see if the Negroes of Montgomery were going to cooperate. They were afraid that it would be a huge failure. However, sure enough, on that cold and snowy Monday morning, there was not one black person awaiting a bus. On this day, history was made. There was a newfound respect between blacks and whites of Montgomery. The blacks were united in their efforts and the whites admired them for their courage. A sense of normality began to form. Soon, everyone sat wherever they pleased on the bus and received a smile or nod from someone of the opposite race. Dignity seemed to prevail with everyone. Another significant act of protest occurred on Sunday, September 16, 1963. This was different from the nonviolent protests put together by the Negroes of the south. This was an act of violence against them by the white people. It was Youth Day at the 16th Street Baptist Church on the ill-fated Sunday morning. The Negro congregation was crowded with about 400 adults and 80 children. Suddenly, a car driving down the road slowed down as it passed the church and someone threw a bomb inside the building. As the church blew up in flames, four little girls were killed while sitting in Sunday school and dozens were injured. Birmingham became a riot. Fires were reported all throughout the city and angry Negroes threw stones at cars driven by whites. When a young Negro boy refused to stop throwing stones, city police shot and killed him. Another young boy was shot and killed while riding his bike in a suburban part of the city. Hate was obviously still prevalent at this time. Negroes were still living in fear (1963). The Civil Rights Movement has proven to have an enormous impact on the United States and the world. Because of Americas most respected and devoted citizens, such as Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., Malcolm X and Anne Moody, African-Americans and all minorities have equal rights to every privilege, law and punishment. We, black and white, attend the same schools, churches and shop in the same grocery stores; we live in the same neighborhoods and swim in the same pools. America is the diverse yet unified country that it should be. As a result of the success of the movement, the rest of the world admires the U.S. and what it stands for. Without the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, who knows where we would be in the world society. I wonder. I really wonder.
Works Cited 1. 1963. http://net4tv.com/color/60/16Bombing.htm Copyright 1997, Iacta IIC, (22 April 1999) 2. Cohen, Jeff and Norman Solomon. The Martin Luther King You dont see on TV. http://www.fair.org/media-beat/950104.html (27 April 1999). 3. Dancier, Tallulah. Dawning of an Age. http://net4tv.com/color/60/60about.htm Copyright 1997, Iacta IIC, (22 April 1999) 4. Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965 5. Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1968. 6. Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. Excerpts from the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women who Started it. Primis.
Word Count: 1601
By: Amanda Brehm