Civil Rights Movement was a time when young people from ethnic and mainstream groups in various parts of the country sought to express their hopes for the liberty. In the history of the U.S., no other era embodies the rise of youthful self-conscious idealism. The period produced a generation that questioned the premises and values sacred to their parents. Young white Americans, usually middle-class and living in large urban concentrations, participated in a process, which they expressed in art and in politics. The most visible representatives of the movement were known as hippies. But the fighting culture contained more than love peace proclaiming flower children whose Mecca was the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco (Branch, 34-38). For the first time, young Americans felt confident in themselves and liberated from the ideological constraints which had constrained free development since the end of World War II, a period dominated by the Cold War. In their liberation, many turned to a unique brand of American radical politics. This paper, by referring to concrete actions taken by minorities to defend their rights, discusses and analyzes Civil Rights Movement as it occurred in various places of the United States, outlining the key participants in the movement and its implication on the modern civil liberties.
The seeds of the Civil Rights Movement were partially sown by the prominent individuals of the 1950s, such as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and Allen Ginsberg (Branch, 34-38). These intellectual rebels defined a uniquely American anti-establishment ground. They had accused a silent generation of Americans whose race for the good life resulted in unquestioning conformity. They believed that Cold War politics silenced free expression, which did not conform to all-American models. This 1950s phenomenon grew into a huge movement in the subsequent decade. One of the first indications of this movement emerged at the University of California-Berkeley in a storm called the Free Speech Movement. Led by Mario Savio, an undergraduate student at the time, this activity questioned the premises of the conventional curriculum in mainstream institutions of higher education (Branch 45). Savio and his associates attracted hundreds of Berkeley students to teachings designed to raise consciousness and stimulate free thinking. The Black civil rights movement also challenged the system. It served as a catalyst to the unrest of young people who wondered how the ideals of democracy and equality, for which the nation supposedly stood, could exist alongside the repression of racial minorities. In the university environment, the civil rights movement encountered a more comfortable environment in which to conduct its work.
Civil Rights Movement was particularly powerful in the South, where minorities were often mistreated, often in light of the traditional beliefs that were unchanged since the times of the Civil War. Texas did have a civil rights movement, and the minorities who participated in it from the 1930s to the 1950s were in the forefront of the ongoing national struggle by Americans of all races to end racial injustice, discrimination, and repression. African Americans in Dallas made the 1930s a watershed not only for the local version of the civil rights movement, but also for the movement throughout the South. After they formed a political organization and an active state part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), minorities won two of the landmark civil rights cases in the South (Aldon 45).
Yet the movement in Dallas did not fulfill its promise. In the 1960s, African Americans in that city never used tactics of direct action or violence to win the more substantial gains of political and economic power that the movement brought to African Americans in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Birmingham. Mass demonstrations and violence that characterized the civil rights movement in other parts of the South did not occur in Texas because the state is not really a part of the Deep South.
Allegedly, race relations were moderate in Texas. Therefore, minority groups in various communities throughout the state had only to work with moderate white leadership to negotiate changes in unequal treatment. According to this view, when minority groups began to confront white supremacy in cities throughout the state, they did not have to confront the White Citizens Councils and Ku Klux Klan theses that were the main sources of resistance to change confronting African Americans in the Deep South (Aldon 47).
The historical record indicates that minorities in California confronted a racial ?environment as rigid as that in other parts of the Deep South - a system of racial violence and segregation? that was not much different from that which they experienced during earlier times (Garrow 88). Immediately after the Civil War, white Californians used violence and terror to establish a new relationship between African Americans and whites in the state. The violence against all minority groups in California continued after Reconstruction and into the twentieth century.
At the same time, Mexicans throughout the country had maintained some political and economic self-determination in the nineteenth century, a leverage that weakened as modernization changed the face of the US economic and race relations. Inability to counter justice abuses such as lynching sadly demonstrated this lack of influence. It is unclear if the lot of US Mexicans changed because of this historic meeting, but certainly it became a building block for future mobilization. Organizing appears early in Arizona as well because, like Texas, the state absorbed the initial immigration waves from Mexico (Kluger, 45-49).
Another pressing issue was abuse of civil rights in the judicial system. This provoked informal resistance such as withholding information from the police or even intervening directly to prevent arrests of countrymen. In 1908 two Mexicans beat Los Angeles officers to stop them from arresting a drunken female. In Los Angeles during May of 1914 one hundred Mexicans rioted to foil a compatriot?s arrest during a labor rally (Kluger, 45-49). That same year in December one hundred fifty Mexicans attacked the Oakville, Texas, jail upon learning that white citizens had threatened to lynch Ysidro Gonzalez and Francisco Sanchez. In Elko, Nevada, during March 1925 a mob besieged the local jail in order to lynch Guadalupe Acosta, who had confessed to the shooting death of a policeman. About seventy-five armed Mexicans surrounded the jail and prevented the lynching (Montejano, 64).
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Mexicans also challenged police hegemony by resisting arrest. So intense was police abuse that, in the killing of a policeman by a Mexican during an arrest situation, compatriots generally interpreted the incident as self-defense and stood by the cop killers. Most informal defense efforts by Mexicans in the judicial system were less dramatic, however. Mexicans resorted to spontaneous efforts in colonies too small or young to have immigrant organizations.
In the twentieth century, the NAACP continued to pursue the school desegregation action. NAACP lawyers had to overcome six years of appeals and delaying tactics by the school board to resist integration. The school board was aided in its resistance by a new state law requiring school districts to hold integration votes to determine if local residents favored school integration. According to the state law, if Texas school districts did not hold the referendums, they would lose state funding for education (Aldon 56).
The current conflict over the access of African Americans and Hispanics to political and economic power in the country is another sign of the failure of negotiated racial change. Nevertheless, the whole generation of minority leadership played what they thought was their best hand. The mass organizing in other cities not only broke down the barriers of racial segregation, but also mobilized African Americans at the grass-roots level to participate in the political process.
To continue, the effects of the Civil Rights Movement were felt throughout the whole territory of the United States. For instance, angered by the exclusion of minorities from the building trades, the Coalition of United Community Action (CUCA), a federation of sixty organizations, shut down scores of construction sites throughout Chicago in 1969 (Anderson and Pickering 78-82). In many ways these protests seemed a replay of the 1966 demonstrations. The 1969 movement was not, however, the natural descendants of 1966 direct action. The later protests were neither markedly interracial nor grounded in nonviolent principles. Instead they were carried out by blacks and relied heavily on intimidation and the underlying threat of violence. When gang members marched in 1969, they brandished walking sticks. When a CUCA leader confronted a foreman at a construction site, he warned of potential bloodshed if the white laborers did not stop working (Anderson and Pickering 84). The nonviolent protest ethos of the first half of the 1960s had been replaced by anger, bred ultimately by frustration over the slow pace of progress. No longer did protesters carry placards with the ?End Slums? emblem, which resembled a peace sign; instead they held signs with messages such as ?You own the trades--We own the match--build or burn? (Garrow 67).
Such difference in attitude was matched by another rising black organization in the late 1960s, the Black Panthers. Founded in 1966 in Oakland, the Black Panther Party soon represented the most dynamic black radical force in the country. In late 1968 Fred Hampton and Bobby Rush established an Illinois division of the party, which quickly attracted much attention from both Chicago's blacks and law enforcement agencies (Garrow 67). Energized by the Fred Hampton, the Panthers mixed a rather traditional social service program with the flaming ideas of a coming armed revolution. The Panthers' prominence in Chicago was short-lived, however; in early December 1969 the twenty-one-year-old Hampton and a follower were taken during a police raid organized by the State's Attorney office. The Coalition of United Community Action protests and the Black Panthers' rise in Chicago, clearly demonstrated the extent to which the protest universe of King and the Chicago Freedom Movement??with its emphasis on nonviolence, brotherhood, and redemption--had passed away? (Garrow 27-30).
In addition to new styles of black assertiveness, changing times brought a gradual, though fundamental, change in the political orientation of black America. This shift first became evident in the 1966 fall elections, when two black independents were elected to the Chicago state senate. Then in early 1967 two more black independents bested Daley machine-backed candidates for seats on Chicago's City Council. These political pioneers, the founders of the modern black independent political movement in the United States, won because of hard work in their own areas, but they also profited from a general backdrop of black dissatisfaction, shaped in large part by black dismay at the white anger and violence of the summer of 1966. ?The civil rights movement and the inspiring presence of Dr. Martin Luther King in our midst over the past year,? claimed a civil rights enthusiast in 1967, ?have changed forever the machine's stranglehold on Chicago's Black population? (Qtd in Aldon 65). Many Civil Right Movement leaders strongly believed that the results of the fall 1966 and spring 1967 elections signaled ?a development of increasing political strength and independence for the Black community? (Qtd in Aldon 67).
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Historians note that these early black independent victories did cause a significant shift in the voting patterns across the US. Just as middle-class whites began after 1966 to identify more closely with the Daley machine, blacks moved in the opposite direction. For example, by the early 1970s Chicago Mayor Daley could no longer count on the heavy black support that had moved him to victory in the 1950s and early 1960s. In the aftermath of the civil rights movement, race, accompanied by deep despair, was a more dominant issue in the public life of this traditionally race-conscious city than it had been in the earlier part of the postwar era. A large chunk of Chicago's black electorate gradually became disconnected from the Daley Democratic machine, ready to pledge its loyalty to a new leader (Montejano 12).
It should be noted that the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on fundamental social patterns proved to be limited; the campaign did not revitalize the many ghetto neighborhood in the country. Yet this result cannot be fully understood without referring to the many powerful forces that spun these communities into a downward spiral. Housing discrimination, inadequate public schools, and employment barriers disabled inner-city communities and made them vulnerable to catastrophe. But the ghetto's striking deterioration was also part of a massive shift in the cities? economies. As different industries shut down or left the inner city for the suburbs, the sunny South, or overseas, ghetto dwellers lost their traditional jobs (Montejano 15-17). Fewer jobs and less income destabilized the already weak social structure of the ghetto. As the black middle class fled these declining regions, the impoverished became packed together, isolated from the mainstream. This process, similar in America's northern cities, was not touched by city-level reform. Even true followers of the movement, despite their good intentions and the considerable power they had, failed to reverse these trends. Ironically, perhaps the most fundamental contribution of the Civil Rights Movement to this broader process has been to accelerate the opening of more communities to blacks, which ultimately hastened the flight of the black middle class from inner-city neighborhoods.
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The rise of local leaders marked a number of important developments, rooted in individual states, but with national consequences. Yet when Martin Luther King and his followers launched the Civil Rights Movement, they strived for a more immediate impact on American race relations. They hoped to spur a full-scale assault on enduring and pervasive racial injustice, ?now less the product of the law than of custom and institutional arrangements? (Aldon 77).
Their hopes remained unrealized, but not, as too many commentators have argued, because of the fundamental incapacity of southern activists, armed with nonviolence--a strategy shaped in the South--to operate in a northern big city. To be sure, King and his followers found Chicago unforgiving. Unfamiliar with the city's dynamics, they stumbled in applying nonviolent direct action to their new theater of action.
As the Chicago project became a memory, King himself privately second-guessed some strategic decisions. He wondered whether the civil rights movement should have selected a more practical goal than ending slums. ?We don't want to make the mistakes we made in Chicago by promising to solve all their problems in one summer,? King told one of his advisers in the summer of 1967 (Qtd in Branch 98). King also, on occasion, expressed regrets for not having gone to Cicero. These were thoughtful criticisms--as was the argument that movement should have first gone to some smaller northern cities instead of Chicago--but they were also based on the prejudice and downplayed the powerful imperatives that drove the movement leaders to select Chicago as its target, to focus on ending slums, and to endorse the Summit accord.
In the end, debate over the mistakes of civil rights leaders should not overshadow what King and his followers accomplished. Ultimately they hit upon a strategy that worked. Civil Rights Movement had proved that ?
large numbers of people in a northern city can be mobilized for nonviolent direct action in the face of mass violence? and had exposed the myths ?that a black person can live where he wants to in the North? and ?that the opposition in the North is always too subtle to dramatize the issues? (Qtd in Anderson and Pickering 33).
By 1966, however, the temper of the times and the targets of the movement had changed and, in turn, the potential positive resonance of civil rights protest had declined. After Selma, black America was more divided over questions of leadership, goals, and tactics than at any time in the previous few years. It seemed incapable of rallying behind a compelling cause as it had in Birmingham in 1963 and Selma in 1965. Nationally, meanwhile, white sympathy toward civil rights protest-never great, even in America's most generous moments--had rapidly decreased. Alarmed by the radical ideas of some black leaders, scared by the ghetto rioting, and reluctant to come to grips with their own resentment that blacks still demanded more after the advances of the first half of the 1960s, many whites gave up their support for black movement. They became especially disturbed when civil rights fighters guided the traditional quest for equality of opportunity into more private zones of American life.
Whites across a broad spectrum had applauded the southern black drive for basic political and civil rights. But when activists turned to combat housing discrimination, they attracted far fewer supporters. Even though fair housing was a plea for equal treatment (just as the cry for access to public accommodations and for the right to vote had been), whites everywhere dismissed it as an illegitimate demand that threatened their right to basic, private decisions about the disposal of their property and, even more menacingly, threatened the quality of their neighborhoods. If challenged on fair housing, as in Chicago in 1966 and in Louisville and Milwaukee a year later, whites angrily expressed their deeply felt convictions (Montejano 15-17).
By no means, of course, were progressive impulses entirely blocked. As the cries of dismay over white hostility to open-housing fighters demonstrated, many Americans condemned all forms of discrimination against blacks. To an extent, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, with its prohibition against housing discrimination, reaffirmed a national commitment to equal opportunity. The 1968 legislation lacked the spirit of the landmark 1964 and 1965 rights laws, however. The passage of the 1968 act came almost as a surprise, and many viewed it as more a commemoration of King in the wake of his assassination than a response to a national call for reform. Moreover, the inclusion of an antiriot provision in the act was a stark concession to white dismay over racial trends (Garrow 27-30)
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In March 1966, Martin Luther King declared that the civil rights movement, which had accomplished so much in the South, had now begun ?the last steep ascent? to an America where ?social and economic justice? prevailed (Qtd in Anderson and Pickering 35). Six months later, however, the battle for racial justice had reached an deadlock. The old formulas applied to new problems did not work. In an ironic fashion, the Civil Rights Movement contributed to the broader flow of events that was changing the initial successes of the movement. Signs of this shift were present everywhere. In Chicago, whites declared their firm opposition to fair housing. In Washington, President Lyndon Johnson and liberal members of Congress watched helplessly and apprehensively as conservatives, joined by moderates, defeated a civil rights bill for the first time in the 1960s. Yet, the first steps in providing equal treatment to all were made and the nation has changed. Despite the initial limited success of the movement (compared to its goals), black population and minorities gained fundamental rights and the United States was transformed forever in terms of its civil and economic liberties.