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The Civil Rights Movement, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Abstract

This paper focuses upon the Civil Rights movement in the USA and the field of ethnic/racial relations.  The paper will be split into four distinct parts:  (1) Introduction and Background to the civil rights movement, the historical perspective  (2) The purpose and objectives of the movement and the aims it seeks to achieve  (3)  The relevance of the early movement today and the importance of civil rights in today’s society  (4) Concluding remarks, racial tensions today and the need for harmony in the context of the global economy.  How far have we progressed today from the early civil rights activists?

Introduction and Background

The Civil Rights Movement was considered to be at its peak in the ten years from 1955-1965. “Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, guaranteeing basic civil rights for all Americans, regardless of race, after nearly a decade of nonviolent protests and marches”  (Cozzens, 1988).  The African community in the USA suffered the indignity of many decades of second-class citizenship.  It was in the 1940s and 1950s that leaders within the black community began to rally the people  and fight back.  Not until  after the end of the Civil War did  the black community start  to enjoy some privileges i.e. the right to vote, the right to schooling and the right to hold public office.  Despite some progress,  life for blacks in the southern states remained a dismal prospect.  In some regards there  was even a continuation of the old practice of slavery.

There was really a catalogue of events in the 1950s that fuelled the civil rights movement.  In 1954 in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared school segregation as unconstitutional.  In 1955 in the town of Montgomery, Alabama, a certain ‘Rosa Parks’  refused to sit at the back of the bus, as required by the city ordinance.  A boycott followed and  ultimately this resulted in  bus  segregation being declared as unconstitutional.  In 1956 Southern congressmen formed a coalition  and tried to challenge the rulings of the Supreme Court.  In 1957, the Arkansas government Little Rock attempted to use the National Guard to prevent nine black students from attending the Little Rock high school.  This involved intervention from the president and the dispatch of federal troops to ensure legal compliance.  Essentially, a decade of unrest.

Objectives of the Civil Rights Movement – Dr Martin Luther King

In the 1960s, the most noted civil rights leader was the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King.  It was King who promoted a nonviolent approach to the civil rights movement; having spent time in India, with the followers of Gandhi.  He believed that dialogue was the most powerful weapon in order to end the oppression of the people in their struggle for freedom.  Dr. King compiled many leading academic works on the civil rights movement, but his most famous “I have a dream” speech inspired a nation. (Chew, 1995).

It was in 1963, that Martin Luther King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail, reached out to the growing civil rights campaign.  His goal being to end once and for all time.  The segregation of black people in every aspect of American public life.  In the same year, King led a huge rally to Washington DC.  It is here that he delivered his famous “I have a dream”  speech.  He inspired a nation and placed the civil rights movement clearly at the forefront of the nation’s national agenda.

On April 4th, 1968 King was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Memphis Tennessee.  King was 39 years of age, and he never wavered in his belief that one day African-Americans would attain equal rights in the American justice system.  The real aim of the civil rights movement was to convince the federal government to act against the oppressive Southern states.  The segregationists who controlled the southern states had brutally oppressed any who stood against their views.  This position, had stood firm for over 50 years.  Although the civil rights movement was essentially violent nevertheless, it was an insurgency designed to bring about reform and change.  The key issue being ” significant change was never going to occur within the political system: To be forced”  (Scheier, 2009).

In the 1960s civil rights movement moved into more gender related issues.  The feminist movement focused upon equal rights and number of key importance :  education, social welfare, equality and rights of the female minorities.  The movement carried on through the 1960s to the late 1980s but really came to a head in 1963.  It was here, the activities of Betty Frieder [who later became known as the mother of the movement], formed a female action group, that in 1966 became known as ‘the national organization for women’.  The feminist movement achieved a significant amount of its objectives, and the passage of new laws.  In particular, title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, equal pay act of 1963 and the Supreme Court ruling in 1965.

Not all of the civil rights movement, agreed with the nonviolent philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King.  A group that called themselves the Black Panthers believed that King’s nonviolent policies have failed.  The Panthers introduced a more violent stance to their  arguments and they argued in favour of a revolutionary war.  They advocated violence in order to meet their demands.  They were not without structure and stated for clear goals: equality in education, housing, employment and civil rights.  They had a 10 point action plan delivered from a party platform.

The Black Panther movement was particularly active at the time of the Vietnam War.  They became the target of the FBI, who was successful in destroying the movement.  It was the then head of the FBI.  J. Edgar Hoover, that described the black panther movement as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”.  In 1996 the Chairman of the Black Panther movement Bobby Seale stated :  “They came down on us because we had a grass-roots, real people’s revolution, complete with the programs, complete with the unity, complete with the working coalitions, we were crossing racial lines. That synergetic statement of “All power to all the people,” “Down with the racist pig power structure” — we were not talking about the average white person: we were talking about the corporate money rich and the racist jive politicians and the lackeys, as we used to call them, for the government who perpetuates all this exploitation and racism.”  (Williams, 1968).

The early movement and relevance today

In 2003 author Todd Boyd stated that music and hip-hop culture in the youth were perhaps more relevant in civil rights actions today. ”  I think what black power did and what hip-hop would pick up on later, was a move away from the more passive sense of suffering :  we shall overcome.  Hip-hop is more active, more aggressive, more militant”  (Simon, 2003).  Boyd says that the youth are using the language of hip-hop as a weapon.  Not a violent weapon but that of a thought provocative weapon.  They want people to stop and think about their actions.  He references the derogatory word of ” Nigger” rooted in racism and slavery and how the late rapper ‘Turpah Shaku’ turned the word around to that of n-i-g-g-a ( never ignorant, getting goals accomplished).  So now the word becomes one of powerful affirmation.

The civil rights movement has come a long way in the USA since the 1960s.  Nevertheless, it still remains a lot of work to accomplish in today’s modern society.  Millions of Americans still live in substandard housing.  They are forced into a poverty trap, because they cannot afford to improve the lives or discriminated against.  Although it is against the law to deny someone a house on racial grounds, we still see them was being manipulated in favour of the whites.

Although segregation is being made illegal in the USA.  School attendance is often based upon where you live.  As both black and white communities are often a apart,  it means that there is less opportunity for mixed education classes.  Even when  mixed races do  occur there’s a tendency towards the black kids hanging out with their own kind  and similarly, the white kids staying in white groups. ” If Michael Jackson thinks it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, he should visit my school – Brian Jarvis (16).

The African-American community have made significant progress in leadership positions.  There are a lot more serving as governors, elected officials, mayors and politicians.  In 1963 or 535 members of the U.S. Congress were white.  Today the numbers of black representation have increased but not significantly.  The concept of racism has not gone away, but is considered to be more persuasive and widespread than previously imagined. ” Since the 1960s, the struggle continues.  Today not only blacks, but many other groups — including women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, people with disabilities, homosexuals and other minorities are waging civil rights campaigns.”  (Wilmore, 2010).

Kevin McNair, award-winning journalist and educator living in Atlanta, stated — since our arrival in this country are black people have to deal with numerous contact is whilst trying to retain their sense of dignity.  We need to understand the civil rights movement as part of our history, and that in 2008 we did not simply just arrive here.  McNair feels that since the civil rights movement we have been living in a political Ice Age, where society has fostered hatred of stereotypes, who are different from the majority.  He went on to say, the good news is that the ice is beginning to melt and that there is optimism for the future.

Gavin Wright an  economist at Stanford University, states that the civil rights movement was an economic success.  The southern states have benefited considerably in terms of economic improvements and infrastructure.  The success has been somewhat limited to the launch of Metropolitan  areas in the south.  Regrettably, there are still many rural black communities living in poverty.  It was unfortunate that the breakthrough of the black community into the labor market impacted at a time of economic decline; giving rise to a fall in unskilled wages.  Wright considers that we need a new revitalized robust economic growth pattern, if the goal of racial justice is ever going to be a realistic option for the majority.

Today’s civil rights movements are somewhat muted compared to the leaders of the 1950s and 1960s.  With Pres. Obama having the highest office in the land, it is considered that the manifestation of the civil rights dream has been realized.  In some regards.  There are no big battles to overcome, and as such.  There is a lot of relevance in what is becoming a globalized society or village of all the nation communities.  The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was focused on the plight of the African-American community.  Today the racial landscape is changed far more Latino Americans and Asians entering the community.  In addition, the USA is having to deal with a large number of illegal immigrants entering the country.  Most of these people do not speak English and in addition, exist outside of the normal system.  This means that they cannot get or obtain the benefits of US citizens, i.e. denial of social welfare benefits, healthcare, voting rights, employment entitlements, etc.

Concluding remarks

Whilst in general terms, the civil rights position in the United States is improving.  There is still a lot of work that needs to be done with minority communities and other ethnic groups.  The situation on an international basis is considered to be far more serious.  We are still witnessing the likes of ethnic cleansing.  Even the Western democracies have failed to prevent this from happening within their society, i.e., consider the recent events that took place in Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In Africa we have witnessed similar persecution of the people in countries like the Congo, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.  Oddly enough, the situation in Zimbabwe was almost a complete reversal with the persecution being against the white population of the former Crown colony of Rhodesia.  In the other countries it has been a question of denial of human rights in addition to that of civil rights.  The concept of tribalism and rogue governments denying basic rights of the people.

It is important to recognize the work of the international charities, like Amnesty International, that bring aid and relief to areas suffering civil and human rights abuse.  These organizational provide a world  lens of what is taking place in other international countries around the world.  We have all witnessed the plight of the people in the Sudan through the world media.  What is less known is the amount of refugees that have moved into the neighboring country of Chad.  Some 260,000 Sudanese refugees, mostly women and children with an additional  180,000 displaced people.  Most of these people have been suffering appalling human rights violations i.e., violence, rape and humiliation from rebel forces.  The government of Chad has not been able to provide adequate forces to protect them.  Many of the perpetrators of such crimes have never been brought to justice.

Works Cited

Chew, Robin. Dr Martin Luther King jnr. 1 12 1995. 3 3 2010 <http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/96jan/king.html>.

Cozzens, Lisa. The Civil Rights Movement 1955-1965: Introduction. 22 6 1988. 2 3 2010 <http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/civilrights-55-65/>.

Scheier, Bruce. US Civil Rights Movement as an insurgency. 15 12 2009. 3 3 2010 <http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/12/the_us_civil_ri.html>.

Simon, Scott. Hip Hop: Today’s Civil Rights Movement? 1 2003. 3 3 2010 <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1178621>.

Williams, Shirley. MIA: History: USA: The Black Panther Party . 25 10 1968. 3 3 2010 <http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/workers/black-panthers/>.

Wilmore, Kathy. Civil Rights: How Far Have We Come? 1 2010. 3 3 2010 <http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4794>.

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