The Most Impactful Era For African Americans: Black Civil Rights

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The mid 20th century was a dramatic and impactful era for African Americans. It was a time where they had enough and challenged segregation, white supremacists and the federal government. Debating the Civil Rights Movement was written by two dedicated historians, Steven Lawson and Charles Payne who did everything to use primary sources in order give an honest clarification and idea how the civil rights movement started. The way they organized this debate for us to fully understand how this all began, we must hear from different voices, stories, and point of views from those participated in this movement. One of the articles that caught my attention was Payne’s article “The View from the Trenches”. He explained how our nation’s history should be approached and argued that people who made a difference get to write history according what they went through. I personally agree with Payne’s view. I believe that if it weren’t for African Americans taking action there could have been a chance of segregation in our country today. Civil rights activists were the ones who made this movement a historical landmark by forming influential organizations, risking their lives for better rights, and having the power to take lawsuits mostly without any federal help.

Civil rights activists were wise on how they used their power to send a message. Groups like NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and SCLP (The Southern Christian Leadership Conference) were well known for fighting legal battles. These organizations developed a sense of confidence and leadership skills for African Americans so they would have a better understanding of what was going on in our government. Many were too scared to vote or get themselves involved in this chaos. Throughout our educational history we have always seen Martin Luther King as the face of the civil rights movement but like Payne explained there was more activists whom names we’ve never heard of doing the impossible like Ella Baker, Septima Clark, and Charles Hamilton Houston. I believe these organizations took a long time to build due to fear and acceptance. Why acceptance? Many African Americans would’ve never imagined eating in the same restaurant as white person and our government made it seem impossible. One well known activist was E.D Nixon, who led the Montogomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Payne quoted “…Nixon along with Myles Horton at Highlander…. made sure Alabama Blacks got their fair share of benefits from federal programs. In 1940, he helped organize the Montogomery Voters League; he led a march of 750 people on the registrar’s office…and from 1951 to 1953, the state conference” (Payne, 127) This shows that this man had the power and loyalty of his brotherhood without full support from the government. E.D Nixon also educated those who wanted to vote. If these organizations didn’t, I don’t think the government would. Lawson mentioned main historical events that helped colored people be where they were yet failed to say the reality and suffering it took to convince leaders of our nation to draw the line. The way I see it, he was trying to justify the federal government’s actions. I do think with full support of federal leaders this movement would have been a faster process and could’ve avoided major loss.

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During the civil rights movement, colored people had to make sacrifices like sabotaging careers and putting their families in danger. It was not easy for those who were involved in these associations, but at this point people grew desperate since they didn’t see any action from our government leaders. One thing that left me shocked from Payne’s article was that women were more involved than men. Payne quoted “It was also a movement of women… it was woman going door to door, speaking with their neighbors, meeting in voter-registration classes, organizing through their churches that gave the vital momentum and energy to the movement, that made it mass movement.” (Payne, 140) Septima Clark was a civil rights activist that sacrificed her career for this movement. This isn’t something many of us were aware of. It is incredible that black women grew a sense of independence from this. Not only were they fighting for equal rights but women power as well. Another group of people who participated were the youth. They volunteered in protesting rallies knowing they were risking their life where violence would break off. There was a lot of hate crime like we see today in current society. One popular organization during the civil right movement was the KKK (Klu Klax Klan) ran by white supremacists. This group were unhappy with colored people gaining control. Payne quoted “The fact that the most most dangerous defenders of racism were hiding behind bombs in the night rather than rallying…” African Americans were using different strategies for change like non-violent protests unlike many white rebels. It is hypocritical saying the government took a huge role when most of these federal leaders supported white supremacists.

During this civil rights reconstruction racism affected African Americans in society specially when it came to its justice system. It took a lot of sacrifices to build a voice and take lawsuits to court. A famous case in this era was the Brown v. Board of education. It was one of the first steps for desegregation. If it wasn’t for Oliver Brown claiming equal education African Americans would still be fighting for better quality education. Payne quoted “Blacks ask for small adjustments in the system, the authorities refuse, Blacks then make more radical demands…the Black community decided to launch a fight for the complete equalization of schools” Basically people from the trenches were running out of patience. The NAAP had lawyers that used their education to file cases to courts. These people had the knowledge and voices to overcome legal battles.

In the 1950’s, African Americans had to go through many phases to accomplish what we all have today like equal education and socio-economic rights. “Debating the Civil Rights Movement” provided both opinions from Steven Lawson and Charles Payne. Lawson argued that the federal government did everything in its power during the civil rights movement while Payne argued saying people in the trenches did it all. I definitely agreed with Payne. African Americans made this process faster by forming organizations, sacrificing their lives, and using their knowledge to file sue cases. This matters because it improved the life of African Americans as many of them were promised for better things after slavery was abolished. It should help us reflect our current problems in society. In his article, he mentioned how most of American history is only glorified one side of the story. I found it crazy how this book explained the background of our country because many people think Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were the faces of the civil rights movement. Black communities had great loss in order to live the American dream. Change of freedom did not just happen with government choices but with other courageous social activists.  

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