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The Civil Rights Movement

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The Civil Rights Movement in the United States was a political, legal, and social struggle by black Americans to gain full citizenship rights and to achieve racial equality. The Civil Rights movement was first and foremost a challenge to segregation. During the Civil Rights Movement, individuals and organizations challenged segregation and discrimination with a variety of activities, including protest marches, boycotts, and refusal to abide by segregation laws. Many believed that the movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended with the Voting Rights act of 1965. However, there has been debate about when it began and whether it has ended yet. The Civil Rights Movement has also been called the Black Freedom Movement, the Negro Revolution, and the Second Reconstruction. There were three main tenets to the Civil Rights Movement, the Post Civil War Period, the Educational Period, and the Social Movement.

Following the Civil War, the 13th 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed. The 13th amendment made all blacks citizens of the United States. The 14th amendment granted them equal protection under the law. The 15th amendment gave black citizens the right to vote.

After the outlawing of slavery, a new form of slavery developed in the South called sharecropping. This Debt Peonage tied the sharecropper to the land. By this system a black family farmed the land owned by whites. The blacks were allowed to keep about 10-15% of the profit and the rest went to the landowner. The blacks were kept in debt through their purchases at a General Store owned by the landowner. The blacks purchased things on credit, which kept them in debt. The story To Praise Our Bridges, by Fanny Lou Hamer, depicts the life of sharecroppers. It explains how the sharecroppers were kept in debt, and how they were sabotaged if they started to come out of debt.

Black Codes or Jim Crow laws, were put in place to limit the movement of blacks' rights and to enforce segregation. Many of these laws were put in place specifically to hinder black voting. This was done because the blacks outnumbered whites in the South and they feared that given the chance, the blacks would attempt to take control. These laws included such things as the Grandfather Clause. This stated that if your grandfather was able to vote in 1864 than you could vote. This was very effective because at that time no blacks would have been allowed to vote. Also Poll taxes were passed. These were taxes for the right to vote and had to be paid in the February prior to voting. The rationale was that the people would either not be able to afford the tax or they would lose their proof of payment by November. Also literacy tests were required in many areas before one could vote. This was effective because prior to 1864 it was illegal to teach black slaves to read and write. To Praise Our Bridges reveals how effective the White Power Structure of the South was at keeping blacks from voting. It was not until 1962 that the author even learned that she could vote. Most of these practices came to an end with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1896 came the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court, in this case, upheld the legality of racial segregation. At the time of the ruling, segregation between blacks and whites already existed in most schools, restaurants, and other public facilities in the American South. In the Plessy decision, the Supreme Court ruled that such segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. This coined the phrase "Separate but equal" and set the way of life for almost the next sixty years.

The second phase of Civil Rights Reform came about through the educational system. The public schools were funded by property taxes. Since few blacks actually owned property, and that which was owned by blacks was of little value, the schools in black neighborhoods were always of lower quality than those in white neighborhoods. The banking industry hindered advancement. The industry engaged in what was called redlining. Where they would draw red lines on a map around black neighborhoods and colluded not to give loans in those areas.

In 1909 W.E.B. Dubois founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With financial support he attempted to change discriminatory laws and practices through the legal system. In 1954 the NAACP led by attorney Thurgood Marshall challenged the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in the famous case of Brown v. the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education. Linda Brown was a young black girl who lived in the transitional part of town between school zones. However, because she was black she was bussed to the black school. Challenging that it violated the 14th amendment Marshall eventually argued the case before the Supreme Court. In very unusual fashion all 9 judges voted unanimously in favor of Brown. In his ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren elated that the school board's actions had been unconstitutional and immoral. He went on to say that the practice of cross-town bussing and "Separate, but equal" caused psychological damage leading black people to feel they were inferior. He would also say that desegregation should "commence with all deliberate speed."

In response to this came the Seven Manifestos. This was a document signed by 101 national senators and representatives. In it they claimed that the Supreme Court had exceeded its judicial authority, and encouraged school districts to subvert the decision. As a result of this by 1966 less than 1% of Southern schools had actually desegregated.

In show of his opposition, in 1957 Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus defied a federal court order, and with the aid of national guardsmen, attempted to prevent the admittance of nine black students to Little Rock's Central High school. President Dwight Eisenhower sent 1,000 federal paratroopers to enforce the desegregation and protect the "Little Rock Nine" for the entire school year. The national media event dramatized the seriousness of the desegregation for many Americans. Similar events occurred on September 30, 1962 at the University of Mississippi and in 1963 at the University of Alabama under President Kennedy's administration.

The third tenet of the Civil Rights Movement was the Social Movement. It started on December 1st 1955 with Rosa Parks, a member of the Montgomery, Alabama branch of the NAACP. Parks, a seamstress returning home from a hard day's work, was asked to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person. When Parks refused to move, she was arrested shortly there after. The city's black community had long since been angered by their mistreatment on city buses and almost overnight organized



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