Were the successes of the Civil Rights Movement down to individual heroes?
Many of the historians who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s about the Civil Rights Movement had taken part in it. They focused on heroes of the movement, such as Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks, and the national campaigns which led to the civil rights laws. Many historians see these people as the ones who won rights for black Americans. However, others think that these people were just the figureheads of the struggle. They think that all of those people who did little things to resist discrimination or challenge white supremacy were equally heroes. For example, it was Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her seat which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But it was thousands of people, both black and white, who refused to travel by bus in Montgomery for over a year who really won desegregation of transport there.
Who was the fight between?
Many books portray civil rights as a struggle between the racist white segregationists of the south and idealistic civil rights workers from the north.
While Jim Crow laws and overt segregation did not feature in most northern towns and cities, black people in the north did face racist violence, were subject to discrimination in the workplace, and suffered from unfair housing policies.
It is also worth remembering that there were different attitudes towards change within the Civil Rights Movement, with the passive protest of Martin Luther King Jr contrasting with the more direct and immediate approach of Malcolm X.