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African Americans: Fighting For Their Rights

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Category: American History

Autor: anton 27 March 2011

Words: 1602 | Pages: 7

African Americans: Fighting For Their Rights

During the mid 1950s to late 1960s African Americans started responding to the oppressive treatment shown to them by the majority of white people in the country. They responded to the segregation of blacks and whites during that time and the double standards the African Americans were held to. African Americans responded to their suppression by participating in boycotts, marches, sit-ins, and trying to get legislation passed so that they could overcome their degrading situation. They were successful in many of these actions and through them brought around more rights for African Americans.

Boycotts were a major way that the African Americans got their voices and wants heard. The most famous boycott was probably the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat to a white man, Martin Luther King Jr., urged the people of Montgomery to boycott the bus system. African Americans didn’t want to be considered substandard to white people, and they didn’t want to be forced to be subservient to them on buses. They didn’t think it was fair that they had to sit in the back of buses and give up their seats to white people. As King put it, “[…] there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression” (King 347). Because African Americans were ready to do something to support their rights they followed King’s advice to “ […] work with grim and firm determination to gain justice on the buses in this city [through boycotting]” (King 348) The Montgomery bus boycott made the public transportation system realize how important African Americans were to the transportation system. The combined effect of loss of money and pressure from around the country created a victory for the African American Civil Rights movement. The boycott lasted 382 days, until the law allowing racial segregation on buses was lifted and white people and African-Americans were able to sit wherever they wished to on buses. There were also boycotts of businesses where the segregation of African Americans was still very prevalent. Many of these boycotts were successful. The boycotts caused enough financial difficulties that the segregated businesses either had to close or integrate. Diners where African Americans had to sit separate from white people or where African Americans weren’t served at all were boycotted against as well until that diner served African Americans and allowed them to sit wherever they wanted and with whomever they wanted.

Diners also faced the difficulty of sit-ins if they refused to serve African Americans. In Greensboro, North Carolina, a black college student named Joseph McNeill was refused service at the counter of a restaurant. The next day he and three of his friends came and sat at the lunch counter waiting to be served. They weren’t served that day. The four of them returned to the lunch counter each day, but were never served. The students were aware each day that they came to the lunch counter that they would probably not be served, but “they were also aware that this form of nonviolent protest could be a powerful method in accomplishing the desegregation of lunch counters” (McElrath 1). Then, an article in the New York Times, brought notice to this sit-in and many other students joined in on the sit-in. This started a chain of sit-ins around the country to protest the ill-treatment of African-Americans. Despite many hardships, including being beaten and doused with Ammonia, more people kept showing up at these demonstrations. The sit-ins were effective in the fact that restaurants either served the African-Americans at the counter, or closed down. In one case a restaurant took out all of the chairs in the restaurant so that no one could be served anywhere, which ended up causing him to have to close down. In addition to sit-ins, there were also kneel-ins at churches where African-Americans were not allowed to worship due to race. Sit-ins and kneel-ins were very effective. As John F. Kennedy said, “[the protestors] have shown that the new way for Americans to stand up for their rights is to sit down” (Kennedy 1).

Marches were also a prevalent way in which African Americans showed their discontent and fought out for their rights. Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. led marches on major cities, trying to voice their support of the Civil Rights movement. One of the first marches in support of Civil Rights was the protest march led by three ministers, including Martin Luther King Jr., in Birmingham, Alabama. The march was met by policemen and dogs and the three ministers were put into jail. This was where King wrote his inspiring, “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” which set forth the need for the non-violent protest against unjust laws. This call for non-violent protests was one of the major factors that induced people to take the path of non-violent protests in order to promote Civil Rights. Perhaps the most famous march in favor of Civil Rights was The March on Washington. Civil Rights leaders, Bayard Rustin and Philip Randolph, were the chief planners of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They wanted “to embody in one gesture civil rights as well as national economic demands.” (Randolph 1). The march was held on August 28, 1963, and more than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Washington Memorial to protest against the ill treatment of minorities, primarily African Americans, and to listen to many speakers, including Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. The march had six official goals, but the major one was the passage of the civil rights law that the Kennedy administration had proposed after the problems in Birmingham. The march gained its purpose, but not without much controversy and struggle. The African American voice could not be ignored though, and many advances for Civil Rights were gained through the March on Washington, a march that would “go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation” (King 1)

Another very effective response to the degradation of African Americans was to try to get legislation passed. One of the landmark cases for Civil Rights was Brown v. Board of Education. This case over-turned the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson which said that schools could be segregated as long as they were equal in education and facilities. Brown v. Board of Education explicitly said that there is no way that separate can be equal and that by having “separate but equal” schools, the government was blatantly ignoring the 14th amendment which states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State […]deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Congress 1). This court case caused the schools to be integrated, which was one of the first steps to racial equality. Another important ruling in the fight for Civil Rights was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that, “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation […] without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origins” (Congress 350) This meant that African Americans couldn’t be turned down from jobs due solely to race, their voting rights couldn’t be taken into question due to race, and they couldn’t be denied service in any public facilities. This piece of legislation had a far reaching impact, and furthered along the Civil Rights movement. Another very important piece of legislation was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This outlawed the use of literacy tests to determine the right to vote. This gave more African Americans the ability to vote and to have a say in the government that was ruling them. The ability to vote allowed African Americans to have a voice in government and to elect people that they thought would further their rights. The ability of African Americans to get legislation passed that supported their rights was a major step in the improvement of the treatment of African Americans and made it so that legally people could not discriminate against, segregate, or deny voting rights to them.

The different responses of the African American Community, including boycotts, marches, sit-ins, and fighting for legislation, changed civil rights in the United States. The African Americans fought out against injustice, just as our founding fathers fought out against the injustice of the British. Their efforts helped create a more integrated and accepting society where race is not the only thing people see when looking at a person. Although the society today is not perfectly accepting of all races, society is much more accepting than it was half a century ago, and that is due largely to the African American movements in favor of Civil Rights.

Works Cited

"Brown v. Board of Education." Wikipedia. Wikipedia. 2 Feb 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_v._Board_of_Education>.

"African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)." Wikipedia. Wikipedia. 29 Jan 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_Rights_Movement_(1955-1968)>.

"Brief Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement (1954 – 1965)." Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement. 29 Jan 2007 <http://www.ags.uci.edu/~skaufman/teaching/win2001ch4.htm>.

King, Martin Luther. "Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Defends Seamstress Rosa Parks, 1955." Major Problems in American History Volume II. Edited. Edited. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

"The March on Washington." The Civil Rights Movement. 2 Feb 2007 <http://www.abbeville.com/civilrights/washington.asp>.

McElrath, Jessica. "African American History." Lunch Counter Sit-Ins. About. 2 Feb 2007 <http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/sitins/a/sitins.htm>.

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