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Successes of the Civil Rights Movement
When one thinks of the Civil Rights Movement, one initially thinks of non-violent demonstrations against segregation and prejudice forty years ago. This revolution to desegregate society took hundreds of lives; thousands of people were brutally beaten; churches and homes were firebombed. Thousands marched in protest; hundreds of others took part in boycotts against restaurants and other public establishments. Nightly on television news those removed from strife saw the National Guard protecting black students trying to integrate Southern schools. Viewers watched police dogs attack children, and Southern policemen use high powered fire hoses and clubs to disperse non-violent demonstrators who were exercising their right to assemble. The path of the movement in America is marked with important milestones. From the boycott of the Montgomery bus system to the civil rights march on Washington, the visions are forever implanted in the mind of most Americans. The struggle of African Americans to claim basic freedoms and to end legal segregation provoked fierce white resistance and challenged the moral sensibilities of a free nation. The Civil Rights Movement had a positive effect on American society.
Although the Civil Rights Movement brought significant advances to American society, the struggle for equality for African Americans continues in America. The legacy of slavery, segregation, and discrimination continues to press on African Americans. The question often arises as to whether the struggle for civil rights has actually benefited the descendants of many who sacrificed jobs, properties, reputations and even their lives. Many may ask the question: Has the American civil rights movement become irrelevant? Although these problems still exists among African Americans, the answer to this question would have to be no, for if not for the movement, many rights and freedoms African Americans have today would not exist.
The first major success of the Civil Rights Movement was desegregation of public schools, which occurred with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the case Brown vs. Board of Education. Chief Justice Warren delivered the court s opinion stating that segregated schools are not equal and cannot be made equal and hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws (Brown 1). The decision of the case was a great stride taken by America in favor of civil liberties (1). The case broke down the wall of segregation in schools and changed public education forever.
With the success of school desegregation came many positive effects. School desegregation meant no longer being forced to attend a school of a particular race but being free to go the school of ones choice. Roger Wilkins, a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University, states, My child would not be at that school [an expensive school segregated as late as 1965] if not for the impact of Brown (Brown 4). In nearly forty years since Brown, African American youth have made enormous progress in high school completion, in better test scores, in increased college enrollment, in obtaining college degrees and careers. In 1967, the U.S. Census found that 54 percent of African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 had completed high school. By 1987, this number had risen to 83 percent (3).
Along with the desegregation of school facilities, another success of the Civil Rights Movement was the recognition of civil rights and liberties. Civil rights and liberties are constitutional guarantees for protection against an unjust government, including protection against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment. President Lyndon Johnson supported this recognition with the passing of The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act dismantled Jim Crow Laws in states where less than 50 percent of the voting age population had been registered to vote (Sowell 4). The Voting Rights Act gave African Americans the right to vote and after three decades of enforcement, the act has begun to give minority populations a voice in government
(Branch 79). Peter Grier, a reporter for Christian Science Monitor, comments:
The good that came out of all of this [the Voting Rights Act], is that thousands of Negroes were flocking to register in the nine counties in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi where the government posted federal examiners to uphold the voting law. In four days, 6998, Negro voters were added to the rolls in counties where there had previously been only 3,857. (Grier 3)
With the increase of African American voters came the increase of African American elected officials and officeholders. According to Andrew Young, Atlanta s former mayor,
The old battles to register blacks to vote are behind us. Certainly registered black voters have made their presence felt. Over 2 million black people were registers to vote between 1980 and 1984, an increase of 24 percent. In a short period, Americas moved from a country where people where killed for exercising their constitutional right to vote to a land where, in 1988, the Reverend Jesse Jackson was the runner-up for the Democratic presidential candidacy, triumphing over six white candidates and capturing twice as many white votes as he did in 1984. (Kosei 95)
Twenty years ago, it would not haven been predicted that any African American could have made a credible run for the presidency. I would not have predicted such a large number of black mayors the big cities, that a black man would become the head of the Budget Committee [… .], states Eleanor Holmes Norton, former head of the Equal Opportunities Commission (Kosei 96). If these results were not astonishing enough, today, Congress has a critical mass of 40 African American members who comprise the influential Congressional Black Caucus, and nearly 5,000 African Americans hold elective offices across the south.
Along with the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Movement was successful in ending discrimination based on race, religion and national origin. The Civil Rights Act protected all African Americans against arbitrary or discriminatory treatment. For blacks, this represented a dramatic improvement in those states where law and public policy mandated racially separate institutions and highly discriminatory treatment (Sowell37). The issue changed from no longer being allowed to check into a hotel, but whether or not one could afford it.
Increased job opportunities was another positive effect and success of the Civil Rights Movement. Affirmative action was implemented with this idea and hope that America would finally become equal. The tensions of the movement had made it very clear, that the nation minority were not receiving equal social and economic opportunity. The implementation of affirmative action was America s first honest attempt at solving a problem, discrimination among employers, that was being ignored (Branch 26). Since the 1960 s the area of law enforcement witnessed the greatest increase in minority applicants and in job offered to minorities, African Americans in particular. This is viewed as a positive effect because before affirmative action these jobs were almost completely closed off to minorities (African Americans). Progress has been made. For example, African Americans made up 1.1 percent of employees at IBM, and 7 percent of its managers. Certainly, this is enormous progress since the 1950 s when IBM first began aggressively to recruit African Americans.
The Civil Rights movement not only positively effected African Americans but it effect the rest of American society as well. It [Civil rights Movement] changed not only the way we saw others, but how we saw ourselves (Kosei 15). Out of the fight for civil rights came the Women s Movement and the Gay Rights movement. Women and homosexuals also saw themselves as a class of people shut out of the American system, just as African Americans had been. Women and homosexuals wanted equal treatment and equal opportunities in all aspects of life. As former congresswoman Barbara Jordan pointed out the Civil Rights Movement challenged the way blacks were treated in this country, so, logically, other groups raised the same questions about their civil rights (Kosei 71).
Advocates for the disenfranchised (such as American Indians and Hispanic farm workers), and for the elderly have also followed the path blazed by those in the
Civil Rights Movement. While some issues are unique to a specific advocacy, a common principle is shared by all-equality, in terms of employment, housing, access to education, and all those aspects of life that white males had taken for granted so long.
Tremendous strides were made by the Civil rights Movement. The movement would forever change America; its rallying cries of freedom went far beyond race. It dismantled segregation, brought recognition to civil rights and liberties, and inspired various other movements. The effect of the movement is felt and absorbed by America today. In the words of Rep. Cynthia Mc Kinney, this is a turning point in America s history. We can either move forward, together, or we can move back, divided.
Branch, Taylor. Parting waters: America in the King Years. New York:
Brown vs. Board of Education: An Interactive Experience. 6 Nov. 1999
Kosei, Byanna. The Civil Rights Movement. New York: Franklin Watts, 1989.
Grier, Peter. Youth s Shifting Attitudes on Race. Christian Science Monitor.
18 Aug.1999.36-38. 28 Oct.1999
Harvey, Samuel, Jr. New Challenges in Minority Education. Interview.1993
Sowell, Thomas. Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality. New York: Morrow, 1984.