A history of the US civil rights movement

The civil rights movement was established ensure that black people in America accessed equal rights when it comes to citizenship[1]. The movement can be traced back to 19th century. However the activities peaked in the 1950s. Black and White people led the movement at local and national levels to achieve their set goals. The Dred Scott case marked a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of United States on Constitutional law and US labour law. The court held that Negros that were imported and sold as slaves in the US, of the free slaves did not qualify to be American citizens and had no right to sue in federal court. The court also held that the federal government had no power to over slavery regulation in the federal territories that were acquired after the US was created. Scott black enslaved man attempted suing his owners for his freedom. Chief Justice Taney led the court in declining the request. The decision incited heated rebellion from anti-slavery groups in the North. It is believed that the decision, acted as an indirect catalyst for Civil War. The decision was however, superseded by the 1866 Civil Rights Act and by the 14th Amendment to the US constitution of 1868 that gave blacks right to citizenship (Karson 11). The 14th Amendment gave equal protection to blacks in America under the law.

The 15th Amendment in 1870 gave African Americans right to vote. Many whites however, especially those from the South were not happy that the enslaved people were playing in an equal field. In 1875, the congress passed the Civil Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination. This was in response to the refusal of many whites to avail their facilities to the blacks. The Act also supported equality of public accommodations’ access to all people irrespective of their race. The move made the white supremacists to establish a campaign against black people. In 1896, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson the US Supreme Court upheld the 1890 Louisiana statute that mandated racial segregation but equal railroads cars (Thomson 17). The ruling legitimized ‘’Jim Crow” practices in the South[2]. Black people were not to use same public facilities with the whites neither could they live in same places. Majority of black people could not vote because they failed tests on pass voter literacy. Although Jim Crow laws were not adopted in the North, black people still underwent discrimination in the region where even some states limited blacks’ rights to vote.

In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People was formed. This was the largest civil rights movement ever witnessed in America. Black and white activists formed the organization in New York City mainly due to the violence experienced by black people in the country. The 1908 race riot in Springfield led to the creation of the civil rights movement. The lynching in particular horrified people making the movement to gain support. NAACP aimed at ensuring that black people enjoyed the rights in the Amendments to the constitution of the US. The Amendments promised equal law protection, universal adult male suffrage, and end of slavery. The mission of the organization is to ensure promote economic, political, social, and educational equality for the minority in the US. NAACP seeks to eliminate racial discrimination barriers through a democratic process[3].

In 1945, the US Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in the case Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling that the practice was against the constitution paving way for desegregation[4]. The decision came as a victory for NAACP. In August 1955, a black teenager was brutally beaten and killed by two white men, a case that initiated civil rights movement.In the same year December, Rosa Parks defied a southern custom which led to her arrest[5]. In response the blacks launched a boycott until the buses desegregated[6]. In February 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed led by Luther King Jr. the conference organized civil rights movement based on civil disobedience and non-violence.

In 1957, integration has proven difficult where nine blacks in Central High School were prevented from accessing the school under the orders of the Orval Fabus, the Arkansas Governor. Even with the intervention of the police, the nine black students had to be moved out of the school due to the pressure of the whites. The incident fuelled protests on the issue. Although by this time majority of Americans had the right to vote, the blacks in the South had challenges since they had to undertake misleading and confusing voter literacy tests that were difficult to pass. In an attempt to show support to the civil rights movement in the South, the administration of the Eisenhower put pressure on the congress to consider new legislation of the civil rights. The attempt led to the signing of the Act of Civil Rights of 1957 into a Law. This was the first major legislation of civil rights since Reconstruction.However, black people continued experiencing prejudice. Black people could not be served in segregated lunch counters, leading to peaceful demonstrations in various cities in 1960. The prejudice led to the establishment of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee which aimed at encouraging students to be involved in civil rights organizations[7].

In August 1963, more than 200,000 white and black people led by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr congregated in Washington, D.C. the peaceful march aimed at establishing job equality irrespective of race and forcing legislation of civil rights[8]. In 1964, President Johnson signed 1964 Act of Civil Rights into law[9]. The law promised integration of public facilities, limited voter literacy tests, and equality in employment (Salvatore 76). In March 1965, 600 demonstrators marched peacefully from Selma to Montgomery in protest of a black activist. The group was however, blocked by local and Alabama police while on their way and when they refused ti stand down, they were teargased, beaten, and majority hospitalized, an incident popularly known as the “bloody Sunday”.

In August 1965, the 1965 Act of Voting Rights was signed into a law. This banned use of all voter literacy test. The law also led to the declaration of poll taxes as unconstitutional in the case Harper v. Board of Elections of Virginia State. In Feb 1965, Malcom X one of the leaders of the civil rights movement was assassinated in Manhattan. Malcom was famous for his participation in fighting for the freedom of black people. In April 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was also assassinated. The incident led charged riots and lootings that were emotional forcing the president to sign in more laws on civil rights. After King’s assassination, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law inhibiting housing discrimination based on religion, sex, or race.

By late 1969 on 1% of black students attended public schools with white students in the South. It is in various legal cases that the federal court prohibited segregated schools[10]. The court required schools to establish plans that would bring white and black children in one school under the same roof. In 1971, school bussing was upheld as a means of promoting integration in schools (Hall 1258). After King’s assassination, the civil rights movement started losing momentum. Observers acknowledge that the movement initiated legislation that brought reforms in the American society which opened up social, economic, and political opportunities to black people. However, the civil rights movement are blamed for failing to address black people economic needs.

Today civil rights movements continue to play a significant role in the U.S. the movements recognize various challenges that the country continues to experience including inadequate healthcare, and underfunded schools. Up to today black people are still getting poor educational opportunities. Some states are still making it hard for black people to vote. Also the issue of poverty and economic inequality are among the major issues that the civil rights movements are addressing today in the U.S. Movements such as NAACP are still fighting to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all people irrespective of their race or religion in America. Although there are many positive impacts of the civil rights movements in America including black people serving in leadership positions, the issue of racism still remains a challenge. In response many civil rights have been formed all with a purpose of ensuring that the minority in the society are treated equally and given similar opportunities like the majority.

Work Cited

Hall, Jacquelyn, The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past school segregation, The Journal of American History, 2005, pp.1220-1258.

Karson, Jill, The Civil Rights Movement, United States: Thomson Gale, 2005, pp.1-122.

Salvatore, Susan, Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2004, pp.1-178.

Thomas, Brook, ed. Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.


  • Jill Karson, The Civil Rights Movement (United States: Thomson Gale, 2005), p.12
  • Susan Cianci Salvatore, Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2004), p.14 The Supreme Court ruling legitimized ‘Jim Crow’ rules
  • Salvatore, Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations, p.24. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People was formed in 1909.
  • Karson, The Civil Rights Movement, p.13.Brown The US Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in the case Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
  • Karson p. 14 Rosa Parks defies a southern custom leading to her arrest
  • Salvatore, p. 45 Black people boycotts buses in response to the arrest of Rosa Parks
  • Salvatore, p.59 Establishment of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
  • Karson p. 17 Washington march
  • Salvatore, p.76 President signing of the Act of Civil Rights into law
  • Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past school segregation, (The Journal of American History, 2005.), p.1258.