After World War II, African Americans demanded changes in American society. African Americans fought in World War II for their country, but they returned home to discrimination and inequality. In the late 1940s and 50s American society started to overturn some official discrimination against African Americans. In 1947, Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball (891) and in 1948, Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. In 1954, the Plessey decision of 1896, which created two societies, one for whites and one for blacks, was overturned in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, creating integrated schools (894).
Although the Supreme Court ruled that official school segregation was unconstitutional, blacks still faced many discriminatory laws and attitudes, especially in the South. At the beginning of the 1960s, the goal of the Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. , was to end legal segregation and to integrate society. His strategy to achieve these goals was non-violent protest. By the end of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement moved from integration to black separatism, and the strategy of the movement changed from non-violent methods to a militant style of protest.
Don’t waste your time!
Order your assignment!
This change in strategy had a deep impact in the opinions and support of white people for the Civil Rights Movement. King’s goal was to create a more equal and just society, where people of all different races could live together and have equal rights (Doc B). He wanted blacks to be able to eat at the same restaurants as whites, to ride on public buses equally and to attend the same universities (917). The Civil Rights Movement at this point emphasized using non-violent direct-action to achieve its goal of integration.
The statement of purpose of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) advocated a non-violent strategy of protest based on religious ideals (Doc A). King, co-founder of The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had similar ethics as SNCC. While campaigning in Birmingham, Alabama, the SCLC conducted peaceful sit-ins, where they demanded service at whites-only restaurants (895). Most important of all non-violent protests was the “March on Washington” where over 200,000 supporters gathered to oppose racial discrimination and to hear one of the most famous speeches in history, King’s “I Have a Dream” (918).
Another example of non-violent protest were the Freedom Riders, who tried to integrate interstate bus services (916). In reaction to non-violent protests, white Southerners used violence of their own to try and stop the movement (Doc C). The mass movement of civil rights activists captured the attention of the federal government and eventually gained its full support for integration. President John F. Kennedy publicized the injustice of American society and stated in a national message that he stood against injustice and segregation (Doc D).
In addition, the majority of whites in the country supported King’s efforts of integration because it was morally right. Televised and newspaper reports of racist violence convinced the people that it was time for the government to end segregation (917). The growing support from the federal government and from the majority of white people led to important civil rights laws to be passed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 issued by President Lyndon Johnson prohibited racial discrimination in public places (920).
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave the federal government permission to intervene when there is racial discrimination in a federal election (924), leading to significantly greater participation by blacks in national elections (Doc G). However, the changes did not satisfy all of the black community and violent riots broke out in 1965 in Los Angeles and other big cities (925), and 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King (936). This violence began a new era of civil rights protests.
In contrast to legal segregation in South, in the North blacks and whites were in separate communities because of poverty. The poverty of blacks in the North led to an angry and more militant style of protest. Northern blacks lived in urban ghettos and with high unemployment, poor housing and lack of services. The lives of the African Americans did not improve much because of legal integration. Cities exploded in riots due to the harsh conditions affecting their lives. Black Power came alive in the late 1960s (925).
Black Power was a more militant alternative of fighting racism that persisted despite the efforts of black activists during the early 1960s. The Black Panthers, who originated in Oakland, California, promoted Black Power and black nationalism (925). Many people felt threatened by the Black Panthers and their militant approach even though they were more of a self-defense group. Black people had been victims of police brutality and the Black Panthers tried to fight for their protection and their rights (Doc F).
But poverty was so bad in black neighborhoods that blacks still felt anger although legal segregation was eliminated. Malcolm X, like the Black Panthers also aggressively demanded equality. He and Stokely Carmichael rejected integration and favored building up of black neighborhoods economically by encouraging blacks to buy and support black businesses (Doc E)(926). Unlike King and others, the Black Power movement did not want to be integrated with people who hated them and they thought that black people could not advance in a society dominated by white people.
White people feared black violence from these black nationalist groups. As a result, white people did not support the demands of these groups. Throughout the 1960s, the goals and strategies of the Civil Rights Movement changed from integration and non-violence to black separatism and militancy. Although white society opposed the views of black activists of the late 1960s, they still supported the ideals of racial equality and justice. Martin Luther King’s goals and ideas became part of basic American society.