Consequences of the Civil Rights Movement

  • In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr won the Nobel Peace Prize for his use of non-violence and his social justice work for black Americans and oppressed people around the world. The third Monday in January in America is Martin Luther Jr King Day, a national holiday.
  • White violence, such as that seen when peaceful black protestors were attacked by police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama forced the US government to step in to give black people their rights:
  • The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed segregation in schools, public places and jobs.
  • The Voting Rights Act (1965) made it illegal to do anything that might limit the number of people able to vote. Some states had used a literacy test to try and prevent black people from voting as many black people had limited access to education.
  • The Fair Housing Act (1968) banned discrimination in housing.
  • In 2008, a black American, Barack Obama, became President of the United States.

The outcome of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Civil rights did not give black Americans prosperity or jobs. Black Americans – particularly in the 'black ghettos' in the towns – remained poor and angry that they were still subject to discrimination, police harrassment and low standards of living. The basic rights that had been promised to many black Americans failed to be seen. As a result, groups such as the Black Panthers sought to move the Civil Rights Movement to another level by encouraging black communities to become self-sufficient by setting up businesses, housing and education schemes as well as policing their own communities.

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. This led to a wave of riots that destroyed many black communities across American cities. Some of these communities never recovered. To this day, poverty, and violence and discrimination against black people continues.

Question

What did the Civil Rights Movement set out to achieve? Did it achieve it? As a result, would you say that it was successful?

It is difficult for historians to know exactly what the movement set out to achieve because there is no single event which heralded the start of a civil rights campaign. Some historians feel that it began with the legal protection of the NAACP at the start of the century, whereas others believe it began in earnest following the decision of Brown vs Board of Education in 1954. What is more, its ambitions changed slightly when the non-violence of the 1950s and early 1960s gave way to a more confrontational approach and Malcolm X and Black Power became prominent. One ambition, however, stands out against all others: black people wanted to bring an end to discrimination against them. They did not all expect this to happen right away, and some only wanted small changes to happen gradually.

Some black people were even prepared to put up with segregation providing it was done fairly. However, as small steps were made, they saw the prospect of greater steps in the future. When Brown vs Board of Education outlawed segregation in schools, many saw it as time to use the opportunity to get rid of segregation everywhere. By the end of the 1960s, most laws, even in the most racist southern states, had changed for the better. But enforcing those laws and putting a stop to racism was a battle still to be won.