The Civil Right Movement in American History

The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. was the most significant social event of the past 60 years. It changed life conditions for Blacks as well as directing the general attitudes of the entire population regarding race relations on a progressive, humane course. It began with the integration of the troops by necessity in WWII and Major League Baseball in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. In the 1950’s, the movement gained a massive ground-swell of support initiated from the act of a defiant Black woman. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery Alabama, a violation of existing Jim Crow laws. This act of civil disobedience became the spark that ignited the masses during the 1950’s and 1960’s in protesting the racial inequalities.

The subject of segregation became a much discussed topic during World War II. The nation that hailed itself as the symbol of freedom sent its young men to fight and die in a war to make the world safe for democracy. An embarrassing aspect of this high idealistic struggle was that U.S. blacks were subjugated within the very armed forces that were supposed to stand for freedom of all nations. The black soldiers, of course, very much resented this lower class distinction as they bled the same color red as the white soldiers. The heroic actions by many black soldiers during the war began a change of direction in the attitude of whites throughout the country regarding race relations. People, both black and white, were now willing to violate absurd, archaic local segregationist laws because they believed they were abiding and defending a ‘higher law,’ the Constitution. The original objective of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), headed by Martin Luther King, was to build upon the success of the Montgomery bus demonstration by launching similar boycotts in other cities, but this effort had few successes. (“Jim Crow,” 1998).

The Civil Rights movement seemed stalled until 1960 when a ‘sit-in’ movement initiated a novel and more aggressive yet still non-violent chapter of the civil rights battle. The now famous first sit-in occurred at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina when four black students sat down at a ‘whites only’ establishment and requested service (“Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education” 2004). The strategy quickly spread to ‘wade-ins’ at segregated city swimming pools and beaches, ‘pray-ins’ at segregated churches and ‘stand-ins’ at all-white theatres. These activists braved the threat of being beaten and jailed in order to advance their cause of racial justice. The movement’s struggle for civil rights and liberties was based on lawful civil rights and had its roots in moral motivations. The righteousness of the cause was personified by King whose character and courage was applauded and supported by an increasing number of American citizens of all colors. On August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. approximately 200,000 people joined the March on Washington which ended at the Lincoln Memorial where those gathered heard King deliver his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. (“I Have a Dream Today” 2002). King appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1964 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.

The battles fought and won in the name of human dignity were enjoined by true American heroes who were willing to risk their jobs, homes and even lives to win the rewards of equitable civil liberties. This high-profile and historic quest for human rights achieved world notice and also inspired the Woman’s Movement in the 1970’s. Were it not for the sacrifices of blacks and their white supporters, it is very improbable that majority viewpoints regarding discrimination and laws based on color or ethnicity would have altered much in the U.S.


“Jim Crow Laws.” (1998). Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. Web.

“I Have a Dream Today.” (2002). University of Hawai’i Maui Community College Speech Department.

“Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education” (2004). National Museum of American History, Behring Center. Web.

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