The Interest Groups for the Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement was a crucial force in American history. In the United States of America, the movement paved the way for social, legal and political reform to occur in favor of the African-American community. The Civil Rights Movement was most noted for fighting against segregation and racial discrimination. They succeeded in enacting much needed change in society. However, the success of the movement would not have been possible without the help of interest groups who pushed for their cause. These groups include the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The success of the Civil Rights Movement is the effect of the efforts of the aforementioned interest groups.
One of the most influential interest groups was the NAACP. The contributions of the NAACP proved to be very instrumental to the achievements of the movement. The NAACP is the oldest civil rights organization in the United States; its origins can be traced back as early as 1909 in New York (Jones-Wilson, 1996). The founding members of the NAACP were initially concerned with African-American oppression. One of their first plans was a national campaign to fight violence against blacks. In time, the organization expanded. This expansion came with the creation of The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP. This publication was significant to the Civil Rights Movement because it promoted African-American empowerment (Jones-Wilson, 1996).
However, the most important contribution of the NAACP to the Civil Rights Movement was legal defense. The organization was able to successfully defeat segregation and racial inequality through lawsuits. The first lawsuits presented by the NAACP were against segregation and discrimination of African-Americans as permitted by law (Jones-Wilson, 1996). With the efforts of both white and black lawyers, the organization sought to put an end to segregation in schools. First, the legal team of the NAACP challenged the “separate-but-equal” doctrine as upheld in the Plessy v. Ferguson by proving that African-American students did not have access to the same educational resources as their white counterparts (Jones-Wilson, 1996, p. 314). The NAACP was successful in several lawsuits including Lloyd Gaines v. University of Missouri, wherein the Supreme Court decided that the university should give Gaines legal education (Jones-Wilson, 1996). Afterwards, the organization sought to challenge the Plessy ruling in itself, not only the “separate-but-equal” clause. Through the efforts of Thurgood Marshall, five cases regarding public school segregation was presented to the Supreme Court. The historic victory of the NAACP arrived on May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court nullified the doctrine as applied in public education in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This ruling put a stop to legal segregation for the black community. The year after, the Supreme Court asserted its 1954 ruling in Brown II and demanded that their decision be executed immediately. However, the efforts of the NAACP did not stop after the ruling. They continued to observe segregation practices in the 1970s and filed the appropriate cases against these practices (Jones-Wilson, 1996).
The efforts of the NAACP for racial equality were not limited to education alone. The organization also pushed for other issues. The NAACP fought for African-Americans to have access to the same public facilities as whites (Jones-Wilson, 1996). Members of the organization participated in bus boycotts as well as sit-ins in the 1950s. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the NAACP monitored violations. The organization also fought for suffrage for African-Americans. They had an extensive voter registration campaign and they filed lawsuits about voting rights (Jones-Wilson, 1996).
Another interest group which contributed greatly to the Civil Rights Movement was the SCLC. The organization became well-known due to the prominence of one of its leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Glankler, 2006). The key objective of the SCLC was to organize non-violent demonstrations. This goal was derived from King’s belief that every human being is interconnected with every human being. Such connection implies that all individuals have moral responsibility for one another. The organization was also inspired by Gandhi’s belief in nonviolent resistance. Unlike the NAACP, the SCLC did not seek individual membership; they were focused on organizing local activities such as voter registrations (Glankler, 2006).
While the contribution of the NAACP to the Civil Rights Movement was demonstrated in courts, the contribution of the SCLC was most evident in the streets. King and the members of the SCLC were mostly involved in nonviolent protests. In November 1961, the organization was in Albany, Georgia as part of a demonstration against segregation (Glankler, 2006). This event failed, but it was this failure which allowed King to modify the organization’s strategy. In 1963, the SCLC went to Birmingham in Alabama for a campaign called Project C, which sought to stop segregation in that city. The protesters were greeted with violence, as ordered by the Chief of Police Eugene “Bull” Connor. The violent outcome of what was supposedly a nonviolent protest caught the attention of the media. As a result, the Birmingham demonstration paved the way for desegregation and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In 1965, the SCLC started a voting rights drive in Selma, Alabama; it was followed by a 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. That march was responsible for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lastly, the SCLC was also the organizer behind the march to Washington where King delivered his “I have a dream speech” in the Lincoln Memorial (Glankler, 2006).
The SNCC was another interest group which contributed to the cause of the Civil Rights Movement. Like the SCLC, the fight of the organization for civil rights was demonstrated through protests. The SNCC was established by African-American college students from the South (Carson, 2001). Because racial oppression was most prevalent in the South, these students were deeply immersed in the social injustice that they came to fight against; they were involved in grassroots projects against racism. The main goal behind the efforts of the SNCC was the strengthening of human freedom. In an attempt to achieve this goal, they introduced the lunch counter sit-in campaign in 1960, which was one of their most notable contributions to the civil rights movement (Carson, 2001).
The SCLC and the SNCC began the same way: these groups started with community organization (Carson, 2001). The SNCC initially assembled African-American communities. However, they veered away from such efforts as they turned to a more radical approach. The members of the SNCC started to be inspired by the philosophies of Malcolm X, Karl Marx and Albert Camus. As a result, their activities shifted from focusing on desegregation to focusing on political rights. Soon, they were considered as the “shock troops” of the Civil Rights Movement; this was because the SNCC members were engaged in efforts which were deemed too risky by other groups (Carson, 2001, p. 3). For instance, the SNCC rose to national prominence in 1964 because of their activities in Mississippi. Mississippi was chosen by the SNCC because it was the key bulwark of segregation of the South. The organization was responsible for transporting hundreds of students from the North to the state in the struggle for the right of suffrage of African-Americans (Carson, 2001).
The work of the interest groups for the Civil Rights Movement has positive effects for the movement as a whole. In fact, it was the efforts of the organizations which defined the success of the movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) caused the legislative reform in favor of the black community through lawsuits. Meanwhile, both the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sought to defeat racial injustice through protests and demonstrations. Indeed, the success of the Civil Rights Movement was due to the hard work of the aforementioned organizations.
Carson, C. (2001). In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Glankler, W.L. (2006). Southern Christian leadership conference (United States). In Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Politics (Vol. 2, pp. 529-530). California: Greenwood Publishing.
Jones-Wilson, F.C. (Ed.). (1996). National association for the advancement of colored people. In Encyclopedia of African-American Education (pp. 313-317). California: Greenwood Publishing.