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The Civil Rights Movement was the struggle of Afro-Americans in the US in the 1950s and 1960s to attain civil rights like their white counterparts. These civil rights included equal opportunities in education, employment, voting rights, the right to the equal access to public services and housing. The main objective of the movement was to re-establish the right of citizenship for Afro-Americans as assured by the 14 & 15 amendments in the Constitution. These rights were distorted by segregationist laws on the South, especially by the Jim Crow laws. The rights of Africans altered the cordial relationship that existed between the states and the American federal government, as the national government had to implement its laws and safeguard the rights of the Afro-American society. The civil rights also spurred the return of the judiciary; Supreme Court had to play its key role as the defender of individual liberty against the majority power. The greatest advantage of the movement is that it not only prompted gains for the African Americans, but also the rights of people with disabilities, women and others. This paper will try to highlight some of the key players in the movement and the events that took place during the struggle.
Some of the major players in the movement were Rosa Parks, Dr. King Jr. Malcolm X, and Thurgood Marshalls. The genesis of the movement began on December 1955, when Rosa Parks was taken under arrest in Montgomery, Alabama after her refusal to bequeath the seat she was sitting on in a bus to a Caucasian man. The news of the arrest of Parks quickly spread within the Afro-American society. Parks worked for the local branch in Alabama as a secretary of the National Association for the progression of colored people. She was a respectable and dignified member of her society; therefore, her arrest was the genesis for the Africans to no longer tolerate racial discrimination laws. The group of African American women in the women’s political council decided to boycott the city buses as a sign of their reaction on the arrest of Parks. This suggestion soon spread to nearly all African Americans, including the influential black clergy. On the 5th of December, the African community congregated in large a church, Holt Street Baptist Church, in Alabama and rallied in solidarity to unanimously conduct a boycott. This soon paralyzed the transport system as blacks were the major users of the city buses.
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Another event that took place during the Civil Rights Movement is the famous protest organized by Martin Luther King in 1963. The march took place in Washington D.C., and thousands of Americans, both blacks and whites, attended. Lincoln Memorial was the place where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famed speech “I have a dream.” This march was a success in that after President Kennedy’s death in the same year, the American government passed the Civil Rights Act that gave blacks the same rights as the whites. The law also extended opportunities to blacks in work, education, and gave the right to vote.
Another event that took place during the civil rights struggle was the Million Man March. This was one of the most significant and well attended rallies in the history of Washington, D.C. It was organized by the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, on the 16th of October, 1995. Thousands of African American men gathered for a day long rally on the Mall in Washington, DC. The purpose of the rally was to promote racial solidarity and personal responsibility to each other for the task that each one of them undertook in the struggle. The rally deliberately recalled the 1963 Washington march as the high point of the Civil Rights Movement. The gathering in 1963 was when the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Reverend Jesse Jackson also expounded on the need of repentance in that march. He called on men in the black community to be accountable for their families, to end drug use and violence in their domiciles and societies and to make certain that their young ones went to school.
Civil Rights Movement Still Continues
During this time women were inspired to to fight for their rights as well. The women’s rights struggle started in the 1960 and gained momentum as the years progressed. The pursuit of the rights of women, among others, fostered legal challenges in the areas of domestic relation, criminal law, reproductive rights, education, and employment. After many years of struggle, Congress finally approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in March 1972. This move was seen to pave the way for an easy and quick adoption of the amendments by the states. 30 states had already ratified the amendment within a year of the congressional approval. The supporters of ERA saw it as a tool to advance the economic standards of women. However, opponents saw it as a means of undermining the traditional cultural values, particularly those concerned with what women are supposed to do in the society and their role in the family. Some cases in the Supreme Court affected the ratification effort. An example is the Roe V. Wade case that legalized abortion. This was seen as an added legal basis for women’s rights for abortion by the Emerging Right-To-Life movement.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, fierce lobbying took place in the states that were in view of the ERA. Opponents warned that passing of the ERA would lead to the abolition of gender based segregated facilities like toilets: it would lead to unisex public toilets. They (opponents) also saw the ERA as a way of removing criminal laws that dealt with homosexual acts. Even though the ratification deadline was extended, the supporters of ERA were not able to gain more states for ratification.
The Civil Rights Movement is not yet over in America. Over the years, we have got the right to equality for African Americans, the right to vote for the black society as well as for women, and many others. However, still there is more yet to be achieved. Some of the rights that still need to be enforced are an equal pay for the equal work done by women as compared to that payed to their male counterparts. In America, the issue of salaries and wages for women still persists till now. Men earn a higher income as compared to women in the same field. Till the time we are all seen and felt to be equal, the struggle will continue.
Another issue that still makes the civil rights movement persist is the rights of homosexuals to live a life free from discrimination in all quarters of the American society. The right to adopt children is so bureaucratic in America for gays and lesbians rather than for heterosexual couples. Until we all realize that we are equal, the modern civil movement will continue for years to come.
The Roles Played by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Kennedy in Addressing Inequality
Kennedy tried to reduce inequality in the society, especially that related to poverty, by the Area Redevelopment Act of 1961. By doing this he gained support of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in his attempts to eradicate poverty in urban and rural areas.
Another instance where Kennedy tried to end inequality was in 1963, when he sent US troops to escort James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi, where he was prevented to take his studies. The troops stayed there until when he got his degree.
Lyndon Johnson called on the country to not only move towards “the rich society and the powerful society, but upwards to the Great Society.” This was the society that he defined as one that would end racial injustice and poverty. During his term in office, the national government set policies and established minimum standards for state governments to meet, and he provided additional funding for this goal to be accomplished. His programs aimed at bringing aid to the unprivileged Americans, protecting American consumers and regulating the U.S. natural resources. He addressed inequality in education by investing vast amounts of money in colleges to fund some students and projects. He also provided federal aid for secondary and elementary education in providing remedial services for poor districts. As a senator, he was a moderator on race issues and played a part in the efforts to warranty civil rights to Blacks. When he took office, he was an heir to Kennedy’s commitments and passed the Civil Rights Act, thus ending segregation in public facilities.
Both presidents expressed their desire to help the Civil Rights Movement. Kennedy did play a part during the movement, but his actions were more rhetorical. It seemed that he wanted to please the senators who never approved African rights. The president at first did not approve of the Lincoln march by Dr. Martin Luther King; then after accepting that the march would continue, he wanted to limit the number of its members. Later after the march was over, he claimed to support the Civil Rights Movement. I think he failed to do what the movement expected of him. President LBJ, on the other hand, was successful in ending segregation and uplifting the lives of the less fortunate, including both blacks and whites. In my opinion, he was the most successful president to help end black discrimination in America.