Civil Rights Or Civil Liberties At The Center Of Civil Rights Movement

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What caused the Civil Rights Movement to slow and splinter in the mid-to-late 1960s? This historical movement changed the United States and was at a point where it could no longer be ignored. But, with all good things coming to an end, this important movement and its effects are still prevalent today. As the country and current political climate today are hostile and divided, it is important to look back and see where things took a turn for the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement splintered in the late 1960s due to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a lack in strong leadership, and due to the movement becoming more militant. The Civil Rights Movement is a historical event I learned about growing up. Today, students such as myself can obtain an education with sometimes never thinking about my presence in a classroom. As a young African-American man, I can easily vote in elections in the United States without considering my right to do so. Unfortunately, the path to my privilege would come at the cost of many brave soldiers from the past, and it all started with the Civil Rights Movement. Author (Litwack, 2009) states “Activists, seeking to change the way things were, found themselves beaten in the train and bus stations, in the streets and parks, in the jails and prisons; churches, homes, schools, and buses were bombed and burned to the ground; in the rural South, ‘nigger hunts,’ murder, terrorism, racial cleansing, and eco nomic coercion and exploitation took their toll in black lives” (p. 3). The United States in the 1960s was in high tension. 

African-Americans were tired of unfair and harsh treatment received to them through physical, verbal, and legal abuse. Activist gathered in record numbers to begin protesting and marching with strong leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. at the frontlines. Even so many years after the Civil War, where the Emancipation Proclamation was passed, slaves would be freed, but also found themselves in a new kind of bondage. The racial inequality stuck in the United States and was still massively a detriment to African-Americans. The Civil Rights Movement gained its spark after World War II, which became a turning-point. African-Americans would lose something, but this time, their lost would be their uprising. After the war, African-Americans lost their fear of whites. ‘I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was” (Litwack, 2019). The Civil Rights Movement began with African-Americans challenging laws by sitting as they wanted and where they wanted in segregated establishments. Before, some brave African-Americans would make this decision alone, but then a comradery ensued, and the movement grew as the fear lessened. For all it accomplished, the Civil Rights Movement slowed and split as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. African-Americans had raised their silent voices and began a movement that could no longer be unnoticed. This would lead to legislation being passed and a legal end to businesses refusing or discriminating against a citizen due to their race. With such a notable accomplishment, the movement began to slow/split, but not so much due to the accomplishment but the lack of result the accomplishment provided. 

African-Americans were obtaining jobs in politics, but nothing significant was accomplished. “Black politics did not provide jobs for the jobless, adequate housing and health care for the poor, or quality integrated education. Nor did black politics alleviate the plight of black agricultural workers, still toiling in the fields of the South for less than subsistence wages” (Litwack, 2009). While blacks were legally equal, the sentiment of equality still didn’t resonate with African-Americans. The scholar (Litwack, 2009) stated ‘is like Whitey holds you by the belt at the starting line until everyone else is halfway around the track, then gives you a big slap on the rump and says, ‘Go, baby, you’re equal’ (p. 11). This would lead to a more radical approach for the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement slowed and split in the mid-to-late 1960s due to it becoming more militant. African-Americans began to feel as though the Civil Rights Movement had failed to recognize certain issues such as isolationism and those, such as white business owners and police officers who aided such conditions. A turn from the traditional peace marches and protest came just days after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. The author (Litwack, 2009) stated “the most destructive racial uprising in more than two decades broke out in Watts, the largest black ghetto in Los Angeles. Between 1965 and 1968 nearly three hundred racial uprisings and disturbances shattered the peace of urban America” (p. 12). 

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America would see the rise of new radical leader who opposed the peaceful strategy the Civil Rights Movement was known for. That radical leader would be Malcolm X. Many African-Americans began to question just what civil rights meant to them as they still dealt with unfair conditions even with the law stating otherwise. African-Americans questioned why they should work so hard and to what benefit would the effort be to obtain equality to someone who was given at birth the justice they would bleed for. Blacks felt there was a certain powerlessness they held even when obtaining equality. For example, James Forman stated, “If we can’t sit at the table, let’s knock the fucking legs off” (Litwack, 2009, p. 10). This would split the Civil Right Movement between those who held peace values and those who felt a more radial and powerful approach was needed. The Civil Rights Movement slowed and split in the mid-to-late 1960s due in part to a lack in strong leadership. With some African-Americans, following the footsteps of Malcolm X, and taking a more radical approach found themselves more isolated than before. With messages of Black Power in the mainstream media and violence prevalent; the movement received negative perceptions by many Americans. 

The process of obtaining white support would be hindered as the Black Power message became perceived, some argue misrepresented, in the media. Researcher (Murphree, 2004) stated “Although this television coverage certainly added to Carmichael’s notoriety, it is difficult to determine if such appearances helped him garner white support. By this time, the Black Power message had such negative connotations among whites, Carmichael’s fiery remarks likely kept them at bay or even alienated them further” (p. 13). Civil Rights Movement organizations such as The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) would find themselves losing support in areas such as press in the mainstream media and support from the public via emotionally and financially would extenuate. Those powerful and unifying leaders who led the Civil Rights Movement (in their own ways), such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, had been murdered. The organizations left behind, such as SNCC and movements such as the Black Power movement, would find itself spiraling without proper leadership; being misrepresented in the media and lacking effective direction or strategic moves. 

The Civil Rights Movement created significant success for African-Americans in the 1960s and proved to have longstanding success as I am given the opportunity today to write this essay. With significant leaders and organizations bravely and frustratedly fighting peacefully and violently to obtain civil rights as equal to those a shade lighter than them. When reciting the history of this movement, one must consider where the falling action for this story began. What caused the Civil Rights Movement to slow and splinter in the mid-to-late 1960s? It is my opinion that what led to the split would be the loss of powerful leaders. What led to the split would be blacks who felt justified with gaining rights already through the movement with passes in legislations such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, the morality of its members who didn’t want to fight fire with fire, and rejected the idea of moving from a non-violent movement, would prove to be detrimental and lead to a split or decline of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. But, as it was then, so it is now. Today, in the United States, there is division that hasn’t been seen for many years. Like with the Civil Rights Movement, citizens should open their minds to the adversities others may face that we unconsciously haven’t questioned with privileges those before us fought/died to obtain. 

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