African Americans spent well over a decade during the 1950s – 1960s fighting for the rights that white Americans took for granted, and this movement should never have needed to happen in a modern, and considered civilised, intelligent society.
In the 18th and 19th century slavery was a legal institution in the United States of America, that originated from British Empire’s colonial territories from the early 17th century when Africans were kidnapped and taken to America. In 1776 when America announced the Declaration of Independence, all thirteen colonies considered slavery a legal requirement. Is this what people mean when they claim America was born from Christianity, as slavery was common in the Bible?
It wasn’t until 1865 slavery was abolished and declared in the thirteenth amendment.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Just because slavery was now illegal, it doesn’t mean that the predominantly white citizens of America were going to show African Americans any respect, or treat them as equal. Racism has, and no doubt always will be prominent in certain corners of America, and no amount of education is going to change their prejudice. Despite ‘all men are created equal’ it was many years before any progress towards ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ was achieved.
Rosa Parks is one of the most famous civil rights activist and her actions ignited the Civil Rights Movement, and she became a significant role model for young African Americans. Rosa was sat in the coloured section of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, and because the white only section was full, the driver of the bus ordered her to relinquish her seat for a white man. She refused to budge, and the driver called the police, and when she also refused to move for him, she was arrested for Civil disobedience.
She wasn’t the first person to do this, but her actions quickly became iconic and with her already being an activist, she became a face of the civil rights movement.
September 9th, 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights act of 1957 which would kick-start the civil rights legislative programme, which would lead to further changes in the future.
“No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, presidential elector. Member of the Senate, or Member of the House or Representatives, Delegates or Commissioners from the Territories or possessions, at any general, special, or primary election held solely or in part for the purpose of selecting or electing any such candidate.”
Many sceptics believe that Eisenhower did this to gain votes from African Americans rather than doing it as his moral duty. I guess we will never know, but it encouraged more people to vote, and the predominantly racist southern states couldn’t prevent them from voting.
In 1963 the March on Washington became synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement, which saw 250,000 people gather by the Lincoln memorial in Washington D.C, America’s capital city. The world’s press were there, who took note of the various speeches by activists, and most notably the speech that made Martin Luther King, Jr infamous.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” – Martin Luther King, Jr
In 1964 the United States of America created a landmark moment when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 essentially made discrimination illegal. There’s just too much to quote as it’s an extremely lengthy that I read as I began this article, but to put it simply, it outlawed public segregation, and made employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or sex against the law.
Unfortunately the Civil Rights Movement came at a cost, and two of the most significant activists were assassinated within several years of each other.
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – Malcolm X
Malcolm Little, who became known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz after he discovered Islam, became famously known as Malcolm X. His relationship with Islam became sour and he announced his separation in 1964, but remained a Muslim.
In February 1965 he held a rally in New York that’s aim was to unite others for the human rights movement. As he began his speech in front of the small crowd, a man stepped forward brandishing a Sawn-off shotgun and shot Malcolm in the chest. He was then shot another 14 times by other assailants representing the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim movement in America. His death led to the prominent Black Power movement.
“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing. – Martin Luther King, Jr
In Memphis, Tennessee, April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr was staying at the Lorraine Motel. James Earl Ray fired a rifle containing a .30 bullet at King when he was stood on the balcony of the second floor of the motel.
“The bullet entered through King’s right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord, severing his jugular vein and major arteries in the process, before lodging in his shoulder” Wikipedia
He was rushed to the local hospital, but surgeons were unable to save his life and he died just over an hour after he was shot.
King instantly became a Martyr to the Civil Rights Movement across the world, as he died for his passion and his beliefs.