How effective was the early civil rights movement in advancing black civil rights in the period 1880-1990? Essay
Before, 1880 the black slave was part of the American culture. It continued to be part and parcel of life beyond the 19th century and into the 20th. However, the need for change became more apparent and the rise of black Civil Rights grew. Progress, at times rapidly advanced but was mainly slow and many suffered great hardships for the cause, such as Martin Luther King. He is quoted as saying “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live”; highlighting the willingness to the movement.
The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments are often grouped together, known as the “reconstruction amendments”. The intention was to end slavery and give former slaves some Civil Rights. However, due to the creation of “grandfather clauses”, “literacy tests”, and heavy opposition, particularly in the South, slowed the progress and advancement of Civil Rights. After the 13th amendment was passed by the Senate in 1865, slavery was abolished and the advancement of Black Civil Rights began. However, in the South “black codes” were quickly established to keep Black Americans inferior.
The attitudes of the South were strong throughout the period of 1880-1990, but as the Civil Rights movement advanced particularly form 1945, they were forced to stop and listen. The war, presidencies and changes in politics all influenced the pace and eventual success of the movement. Progress was very slow and many suffered for the cause; “Between 1865 and 1965 over 2400 African Americans were lynched in the United States. ” The severity of these crimes showed that something had to change, but who would help and how would the Civil Rights Movement succeed?
Segregation was very apparent throughout American society, and the “Jim Crow Laws” are a prime example of how racism and discrimination was widely accepted. The Laws brought about the idea of “separate but equal”. Blacks were unable to mix with whites; “between 1881 and 1915 many Southern States passed laws… separation of white from black in trains, streetcars, stations, theatres, churches, parks…” In 1896 Homer Plessey challenged these ideas, buying a ticket for a white only compartment on a train.
In the State Court he claimed on the grounds of discrimination but the Court and Judge Ferguson judged that the law was “justifiable and legal”. The case was appealed and taken to the US Supreme Court where Plessey would again find himself fighting a losing battle. The Court came to a decision under the idea “separate but equal” justifying the Jim Crow Laws. The racial social climate did not help progression of Civil Rights and no significant change was reached during the period of 1880-1945. As seen above the Supreme Court did little to aid Blacks and Southern State Courts always supported the white man. Grandfather Clauses” were established after the 15th amendment; blacks were allowed to vote, if your grandfather had previously had it. Of course no son of a slave could vote. Furthermore, there were many radical groups throughout the South, the largest being the KKK. The Ku Klux Klan was a heavily racist and devastating group. They initially wanted to scare blacks, stopping them from voting and keeping social balance; however, when they found that this did not work they turned violent. Blacks lived in fear, many were lynched, raped, robbed, shot and humiliated.
Even with the publicity of all this inhumane activity “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men” There was however, great opposition and the emergence of Civil Rights Leaders became more apparent. The NAACP was one such organisation, founded in 1909, helping black people to reach racial equality. Possibly there greatest achievement was not reached until 1954 “separate and unequal”, the Court finally ruling that segregation was not equality.
Other leaders such as; Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and WEB DuBois established themselves as leaders at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. Washington inspired Blacks to look for education, mainly in skilled manual labour. He supported Black enterprises and became and gained access to the top political leaders in America. DuBois was not a supporter of Washington labelling him as “the great accommodator”. DuBois demanded change, and longed for an American society that was not underpinned by segregation. He was influential in the 1905 Niagara Movement but in truth achieved very little and was less influential than Washington.
Marcus Garvey in affect initially took over from Washington, sharing similar beliefs. However, “as his popularity and power increased, Garvey grew away from BTW, becoming a black nationalist who believes African Americans should develop their own institutions and minimise contacts with whites”. However, his movement began to buckle; he was convicted of fraud, resulting in a prison sentence and a later deportation back to Jamaica. Overall, these groups and new leaders, despite their failures and the minimal advancements of the movement at the time, they were able to pave a path for future leaders to exploit.
Segregation was clear during the 1st World War, as black and white soldiers were accommodated separately, doing different jobs and not working together in units. They would mainly dig trenches and build roads, supporting the front line or be sent to Europe. Once the war had finished, returning veterans were not greeted as heroes and they were unable to affect the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement. “In fact, a fearful wave of lynching and anti-black violence swept the nation”. During the war 1. 4 million blacks moved to the North because they felt life would be easier.
There was less intimidation from whites and fewer lynchings. They were granted more freedom, gaining employment and better pay. Large black communities began to develop, helping them to feel safer however; the migration caused great resentment amongst whites. Race riots and violence soon broke out and in many ways blacks were susceptible to the same treatment as previously seen in the South. Also Blacks still lived in the poorest areas, sometimes paying up to treble the rent of a white man. In October 1929 the USA went bust; 24. 9% of the labour force was unemployed and people were forced to live in slums.
African Americans were the most affected. Their cities were badly hit and the levels of unemployment in some reached 60%. The State decided to cut back on spending for education for blacks, also blacks became the last to be hired and the first to be fired. On 4th March 1933 Roosevelt promised a “New Deal” for all. Blacks did feel some benefits of this, gaining jobs and entering into various fields in the Federal Government. Also the Black vote in the North became more influential. On the other hand, racial attitudes continued and the overall impact on Black lives was insignificant.
The “New Deal” should have been seen as an opportunity by the Federal Government to provide a change for Black Americans; “during the New Deal years the Democratic Party found it best to retain black votes by providing economic benefits rather than by advancing the cause of Civil Rights” The outbreak of WW2 initiated a key change in the way whites thought about blacks. The war was a major turning point in the progress of the Civil Rights movement. Defence industries became very important, therefore more workers were needed and so more and more blacks began to migrate North.
Cities populations rapidly increased “Chicago’s black population rose from a quarter of a million in 1940 to half a million in 1950”, this meant that blacks felt less vulnerable and more secure as they could be less easily intimidated by white supremacists. Nonetheless cities became overcrowded and racial tension began to build particularly in the work place. This was not only the case in labour work but also within the armed forces. Over a million blacks served in the Second World War, trouble became visible to all as hostility towards black soldiers began.
In Alexandria, Louisiana military base a riot broke out resulting in the death of 13 blacks. Furthermore, “NAACP numbers increased from 50,000 to 450,000” during the War. The organisations work with trade unions allowed for greater collective action, increasing black consciousness and activism. They called for freedom and equality, many Americans began to realise that what they were asking for was non to similar to the situation in Germany under Hitler. Yet Roosevelt did still refuse to segregate the armed forces but did the Committee on Fair Employment Practices, promoting equality in defence industries.
The changing attitudes were also influenced by the Supreme Court and President Truman. Truman set up the Civil Rights committee to investigate violence against blacks; through this research he proposed the use of Federal Power for the elimination of segregation, thus securing black voting rights and the creation of further legal powers to protect Civil Rights. On the other hand, many “Historians have attributed many of Truman’s acts and initiatives in civil rights to ulterior political motives”, these could have been to gain a political edge, for example gaining the black vote through black voting constituencies.
Also he may have been seeking a propaganda victory in the Cold War; slavery could not have a place in society with the reality of segregation and exclusion in the U. S. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was less productive but inadvertently helped blacks by appointing Earl Warren (liberal Southern Republican) to the Supreme Court. This did not help in the case of BROWN. The victory of Brown v the Board of Education showed a ruling by in Supreme Court in defiance of Eisenhower’s wishes. BROWN II ruled that integration of schools should proceed in 1955.
Eisenhower refused to use Federal Power to implement the decision, until the events of Little Rock. The events that occurred forced the President to intervene. He sent in Federal Troops in order to control the riots at the High School as Blacks had been kept out by the Arkansas National Guard. The event showed that ruling such as BROWN were ignored and were met by huge resistance, “as late as 1964, only two to three per cent of the US’s black children attended de-segregated schools”. In order to win the black vote in 1956, the Eisenhower administration drew up a Civil Rights bill, aiming to give all citizens the right to vote.
Another Civil Rights Bill was granted in 1960 again trying to help blacks vote. Both were unsuccessful and only added 3% of black voters to electoral roles. The cold war both helped and hindered the civil rights movement. This was because it was very difficult for the likes of Truman and Eisenhower to fight against communist, when blacks at home were treated so unfairly. The U. S. did not want to appear undemocratic and racist. At the same time decolonisation inspired Black Americans due to the newly emerging African Nations, more foreign black leaders began to come to the USA such as, Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King.
The situation led to great embarrassment for the US Government, resulting in an improved situation for Blacks. The Civil Rights movement adopted Martin Luther King’s idea of a non-violent approach. Most would agree that he was a key figure in the progress of the movement; his inspirational speeches attracted many to the cause encouraging them to carry out the necessary action to achieve black rights. Rosa Parks inspired King, she refused to leave her seat which a white man wanted, while travelling on a bus home. She was arrested and charged under the laws against segregation.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott began, black people refused to use the busses. This resulted in a loss of 65% of business and so had to cut services. It inspired similar successful boycotts on 20 Southern Cities. In January 1957 King with 60 Black ministers and leaders formed the SCLC. The organisation campaigned of unequal treatment of Blacks in Birmingham, Alabama. They used non-violent methods and actions to defy unfair laws. His ideas were publicised when he wrote his “letter from Birmingham jail”. During the protest infants were attacked by police dogs and with water hoses.
Kennedy realised he had to intervene and ended segregation in areas of everyday life. The March on Washington also made a powerful appeal to white Americans and helped with the passing of Civil Rights. Due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 not bringing about any great improvements, King turned to Selma. The SCLC and SNCC organised a march from Selma to Montgomery to publicise the need for a Voting Right Act. There were attacks on the march which caused sympathy towards those involved. The movement forced President Johnson to push forward the second piece of legislation.
The event is described by historian Stephen Oates as “the movement’s finest hour”. The number of African-American voters significantly increased after the passing of the Voting Rights Act “within a year there were more than 230,000 new black voters”. However, it can be argued that King was made by the movement. He was criticised for glory seeking and was not always truthful. Furthermore, due to the events in the North, turning towards a more radical policy he isolated the votes of potential white supporters. After 1965 it can be assumed that the Civil Rights Movement lost pace and some direction. Non-violence was abandoned