It has been decades since the African-American community began the civil rights movement in the United States. The movement was created to improve the lives of the black people by pushing for just and equal treatment. Many years later, has the movement reached its goal? Can African-Americans of today exercise their civil rights? At present, the plight of African-Americans in society is better compared to the situation of blacks when the civil rights movement began. Nonetheless, some of the problems which troubled the African-American community in the past remain unaddressed. There is still much improvement to be made.
Civil rights refer to the assurances of “freedom, justice and equality” granted by the state to its citizens (Dorsen & Lieberman, 2008). It is the responsibility of the state to guarantee that all of its citizens has “equal protection under law” as well as “equal opportunity” to enjoy the benefits of their citizenship (Dorsen & Lieberman, 2008). A citizen’s sex, race or religion must not prevent the state from carrying out its responsibility (Dorsen & Lieberman, 2008).
In the United States, the civil rights movement began when people of color were deprived of their civil rights; African-Americans were discriminated and were unjustly treated as inferior to their white counterparts (Norrell, 2008). Initially, the movement was a response to the prevailing system of racial segregation—the separation of whites and blacks—which began in 1877. Segregation affected all aspects of society. There were laws which promoted this system, designating some places as exclusively either for whites or blacks. These included schools, parks, restaurants and even public transportation. In addition, segregation did not only mean physical separation. It also meant that there was discrimination against people of color as some opportunities were only granted to white people. For instance, blacks were deprived of their right to vote. Other fields in which African-Americans were treated with inequality include job opportunities, housing, accommodations in hotels or restaurants, and education. Even in times of war, members of the black community were still discriminated. They were also deprived of any chance to lead (Norrell, 2008).
The beginning of the civil rights movement is still a subject of debate until now, but many sources affirm that it started in 1955 (Norrell, 2008). One night in December 1955, a 42-year old woman named Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama (Dove, 1999). Segregation was in effect; blacks and whites sat in different areas in the same bus. At that time, Montgomery legislation required African-Americans to give up their seat to the white passengers if the exclusive area for whites was already fully occupied. That night, Parks did not leave her seat (Dove, 1999).
That simple act changed history. Parks was arrested for her refusal to give her seat to a white passenger (Dove, 1999). A few days after, the African-American community boycotted the Montgomery buses. This served not only as a protest to Parks’ arrest, but also to the segregation laws in general. Later on, the Supreme Court prohibited segregation on all means of transportation because segregation was deemed unconstitutional (CNN, 1997).
The progress of the civil rights movement continued. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed by U.S. Congress (CNN, 1997). A year later, a Voting Rights Act was signed. African-Americans were also elected in key positions in U.S. government. These include Thurgood Marshall, the first man of color in the Supreme Court; Army General Colin Powell, the first black Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman; as well as L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected governor (CNN, 1997).
The situation of African-Americans today is drastically different from the situation in the past. Opportunities that were not accessible to people of color before are now a thing of the past. Today, African-Americans are now successful in the fields of sports, entertainment and even finance (Muhammad, 2008). These include AOL-Time Warner head Richard Parsons and former Merrill Lynch Chief Executive Officer Stanley O’ Neal. Black people have also secured spots in government; Condoleezza Rice, a black woman, is the Secretary of State. Black Senator Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. He might actually be the next American president (Muhammad, 2008).
While it cannot be denied that the African-American community today leads a better life than the ones that came before them, one is forced to ask, “how far have we come in terms of civil rights?” The answer to that is this: we have indeed come far, but there is still great distance to travel. Though discrimination against people of color has been dramatically reduced through the years, it has not been completely eliminated. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Jena 6 and the rape and torture of a black woman in West Virginia are incidents wherein racial discrimination still manifests itself (Muhammad, 2008). In addition, the black community is still left behind in terms of employment, education and health. Throughout the country, there are still more unemployed black Americans than whites. There are also more chances for an African-American to be in jail than to be in school. In terms of health, there are more people of color who are known to suffer from AIDS. Nonetheless, the most evident proof that shows the hardships of African-Americans today is violence. Just like in the time of segregation, violence is still prevalent in black communities; many African-Americans are victims of homicide (Muhammad, 2008).
Indeed, we have come far in terms of the civil rights of African-Americans. The plight of the colored people has improved immensely since the time of segregation because of the efforts of the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, some of the past problems remained. Until these are resolved, the African-American people would not enjoy the freedom, justice and equality that the country owes them as citizens.
- CNN. (1997). The civil rights movement. CNN Interactive. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://www.cnn.com/EVENTS/1997/mlk/links.html
- Dorsen, N. & Lieberman, J. (2008). Civil rights and civil liberties. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761555666/Civil_Rights_and_Civil_Liberties.html#s1
- Dove, R. (1999). Rosa Parks. Time. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://www.time.com/time/time100/heroes/profile/parks01.html
- Muhammad, D. (2008). Have we really come this far? Globe Crime Series. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://globecrimeseries.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/have-we-really-come-this-far/
- Norrell, R. (2008). Civil rights movement in the United States. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761580647/Civil_Rights_Movement_in_the_United_States.html#s1