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Since the end of World War II there have been many issues that helped to shape our society. One of these that has perhaps had the most impact is the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement in the United States was a political, legal, and social struggle by black Americans, and other marginalized groups to gain equality. Several citizens of the United States felt that marginalized groups lacked equal opportunities. All Americans deserved to be treated fairly. This meant equality for all citizens regardless of race, national origin, color, or gender. Many believe that this movement began as a fight against segregation. During this movement, individuals, as well as, organizations began to challenge segregation and discrimination by staging protests, sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and refusing to abide by segregation laws. It is unclear where the beginning of this movement is, many believe that it started with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. Some will say that it ended with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This may be true; however, many will argue that this movement has not yet ended. There are still many people today who feel there are still too many injustices in our society. The Civil Rights movement, although helpful, has not closed the gaps in education, employment or other discrimination for people in marginalized groups.
Several individuals were instrumental in fighting discrimination. For many when the Civil Rights movement is discussed the first person who comes to mind is Martin Luther King, Jr. He gained national attention when in 1955 he led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama (Weisbrot, 2006). King also organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was a network of nonviolent civil rights activists, this was to try to encourage new civil rights initiatives (Weisbrot, 2006). Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that by opposing racial segregation by non-violent means, the cause would win sympathy and ultimately create a racially integrated society (Alvah, 2003). Perhaps his best and most well-known moment was the March on Washington in August 1963. This was the largest-ever march on Washington, DC. It was here on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. Another person who was sometimes referred to as the mother of the freedom movement was Rosa Parks. On December 1, 1955, she refused to give her seat to a white man, the Montgomery police arrested her. After this incident Parks decided to fight this law of segregation in court (U.S. History, n.d.). Rosa Parks received support from a group of African American female activists, they helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott. In April 1960 Ella Baker, the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, also helped student activist form the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee. These activists staged sit-ins in many public accommodations, because of these sit-ins dozens of lunch counters and other accommodations had been desegregated. This group remained active and by 1964 they had organized and helped the rural black voters in Mississippi, helping these Americans have a political voice. These were just some of the individuals who were active during this fight for equality. Many more were involved in the struggle to achieve equal rights.
In the political arena President Kennedy had continued the fight for rights that many felt had begun with Roosevelt and the New Deal. Kennedy believed the everyone should have the right to vote, he also felt it was important to enforce school desegregation. He was responsible for sending the U.S. Army and National Guard to Oxford, Mississippi to curb the riots that had broken out when African-American James Meredith had attempted to enroll at the University of Mississippi (U.S. History, n.d.) After similar violence erupted when 2 more African American students attempted to enroll at the University of Alabama, Kennedy introduced a bill to give the government greater power to enforce school desegregation, prohibit segregation in public accommodations, and outlaw discrimination in employment. He would not live to see this bill pass, however (U.S. History, n.d.). After the death of Kennedy, then vice-president Lyndon Johnson assumed the presidency and declared that he would continue to push for passage of the civil rights legislation. Johnson more than any other President before him succeeded in supporting civil rights organizations and created a common front against the segregationist politicians. His knowledge of legislative procedures and his experience as a Congressman, Senator, and Vice President had great influence on his actions as President. Civil rights legislation was one of his main successes as President. Johnson devoted himself to the passage of strong and important civil rights laws because he believed that civil rights could be a constitutional problem, that needed a legal solution. The result was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This bill was not, however, easy to get through congress. There were serious political problems which involved several southern Senators. They attempted to obstruct the bills passage. Several Senators from southern states would speak without interruption, attempting to delay or at least discourage voting on these laws. This was referred to as a filibuster and would allow this group of Senators to prevent a vote on the bill (History, 2008). The measures taken by the southern senators managed to delay much civil rights legislation. In fact, between 1955 and 1965 of the more then 122 civil rights measures that were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, only one was reported back to the full Senate for consideration (History, 2008). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was filibustered by southern Democrats for 83 days (Civil, 2006). In the end this stall tactic did not stop this act from passing. It was overwhelming passed by both houses of Congress. The act was passed to protect Americans from race and gender-based discrimination. This act mandated desegregation in all public schools and approved federal power to enforce it: desegregation of all public venues. The act, also, prohibited discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin” as well as sex (Civil, 2006). Another part of this legislation was greater worker protection, which helped African Americans, and women to gain legal standing in court when faced with labor discrimination. It had finally become criminal to discriminate in government, education, employment, public accommodations, and housing. Of course, the laws were passed but it would take years for society to adjust. The fight for equal rights received a big blow when in the 1980’s President Ronald Reagan promised to trim federal authority in racial matters (Weisbrot, 2006). From 1981 to 1985 his administration reduced the number of lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 210 to 57 (Weisbrot, 2006). He also tried to disband the United States Commission on Civil Rights. His acts set back the civil rights movement. Even today it appears as if some are still fighting these rights. It may not involve the same people who fought for equality in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but still involves the rights of people. There are still inequalities in our society. The law passed by Arizona in 2010 shows there are still prejudices in America. This law was an anti-immigrant law against Latinos (Campbell, 2016). A professor of History at the University of Alabama, the late Raymond A. Mohl, described the true nature of motivation behind passages of laws against immigration. Professor Mohl states “nativist fear of large numbers of ethnically different newcomers, especially over job competition and unwanted cultural change, sometimes referred to as ‘cultural dilution’, proved political cover for politicians who sought to control and regulate immigration within state borders, but also to push illegals out” (Campbell, 2016). Perhaps this was also the feeling of those who opposed the passage of civil rights laws as well. Fear of differences, competition in employment, and mostly fear of change.

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