The Efforts Of The Black Civil Rights Movement
Despite the end of slavery in 1865, even fifty years ago, black people still had fewer rights and were relegated to an almost permanent lower class. However in the 1950s and 60s, African-Americans, along with many white people, mobilized against institutional and societal discrimination and violence on the basis of race. The civil rights movement was good enough to initiate positive change in the political representation, cultural depiction, and economic status of people of color.
African-Americans are no longer invisible politically as they were before. Walker explains that “in the white world I walked, [I felt] less real to them than a shadow; and being young and well-hidden among the slums, among people who also did not exist … in the government” (Walker). She, along with other people of color, did not have their voices heard and political views represented in government, especially compared to white people. Responding to civil rights advocates, President Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1946, which went on to establish the Civil Rights Commission, Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, all of which have protected African-Americans from political violence and helped get rid of barriers like poll taxes and literacy tests (United States, Executive Office of the President [Harry S. Truman]). The landmark supreme court case, Smith v. Allwright, outlawed white-only primaries (The Civil Rights Movement). Political party primaries were forced to integrate, allowing African Americans to finally have a voice. Court cases like Baker v. Carr, Gray v. Sanders, Wesberry v. Sanders, and Reynolds v. Sims helped protect and enforce the voting rights of black people, by upholding voting right’s lawsuits and invalidating unfair elections. As of 1965, there were no black U.S. senators or governors, and only six members of the House of Representatives. However, in 2019, “52 House members are black,” which puts the proportion of black House members equal to the proportion of blacks in the U.S. population (Brown). In addition, ten years ago, the first African-American president was elected, and the proportion of cabinet seats has risen significantly, reaching as high twenty-seven percent under President Clinton’s first term. The civil rights movement forced politicians and judges to finally protect long disenfranchised black voters, allowing for them to finally be politically represented.
Through the efforts of the civil rights movement, African-Americans are not only significantly better represented in the government, but also American popular culture. In the soap operas and shows that Walker’s mother watched, “all these men and women were white and lived in houses with servants, long staircases that they floated down, patios where liquor was served four times a day to ‘relax’ them” (Walker). This is a significant disconnect from the poor oppressed life that Walker lived as a black woman. The only depiction of black people was as servants to their white masters, yet her mother, “a maid for nearly forty years, never once identified herself with the scarcely glimpsed black servant’s face beneath the ruffled cap” (Walker) so even the rare glimpses of African-Americans were inaccurate in the 1960s. However, thanks to shifting opinions from civil rights activism, this is no longer the case. According to TV Time, the world’s largest television tracking app, “for characters of color, there was a 20% increase, jumping from 15% of the overall favorite characters in 2015, to 18% of the favorite character vote in 2017” (Ramos). Although this percentage is still lower than the nonwhite share of the US population, this is a drastic improvement in the depiction of nonwhite people on the screen. The roles that these actors and actresses play are also much different, as movies like Black Panther openly defy and challenge old racial narratives like those seen in Walker’s mother’s shows. White people are not “‘jest naturally smarter, prettier, better’” (Walker) when Shuri, a young black girl, runs intellectual laps around Iron Man, an adult white male (Lawson). T’Challa is not a servant to a wealthy white family, he is the king of a rich, technologically advanced African nation, who also has superhuman strength. Although much more change can still be made, the civil rights movement has been successful in changing society’s view of black people.
In addition to political and cultural change, the civil rights activism acted as a catalyst for the financial improvement of black people. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most prominent activists, said that African-Americans should have “ a right to live anywhere in this country we chose, and a right to a meaningful well-paying job … the right to become whatever we wanted to become” (Walker). He was trying to equalize the playing field so that all Americans had access to the same opportunities to join the middle-class and attain a level of financial security, and his push for new legislation helped achieve this. The passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, banned the discrimination regarding the sale, renting, or financing of housing on the basis of any protected class, including race (History of Fair Housing). This bill allowed black people to finally have the same access to real estate equity, an important component to net wealth, that white Americans had and protected them from unjust practices like redlining from banks. This law is still heavily enforced to this day, with major actions against lenders as recent as 2015 when Associated Bank paid the Department of Housing and Urban Development two-hundred million dollars in fines for complaints that they purposely rejected mortgage applications from black and Latino applicants (Lane). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which enforces a federal ban on employer discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (United States, Executive Office of the President [John F. Kennedy]). With the protection of the federal government, people of color have new and equal access to the same middle and upper class jobs that had been almost entirely the domain of white Americans. All of this has led to the major improvement of African-American’s financial status. From 1966 to 2017, the black poverty rate was cut nearly in half, from 41.8% to 21.2% (Orsagos). Although this is still double the white poverty rate, it is much better than before. Overall, the gap in economic opportunities available to black and white people is notably smaller.
The civil rights movement has helped make people of color visible politically, culturally, and economically. It has helped in increasing the representation of nonwhite Americans in politics and breaking down stereotypes, while also elevating many to a financially stable life.
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