1960s and Civil Right Movement
In the 1960s, there were several civil right movements across the United States. In April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter addressed to the clergymen who were opposed to the course of action Negro leaders had chosen to fight injustices. Martin Luther King, among other Negro leaders, had organized for several non-violent direct-action programs especially in Birmingham. The demonstrations were aimed at conveying their disapproval of the white power structure. They argued that Birmingham was probably the most segregated city in the United States, and all efforts to resolve this problem seemed futile. Clergymen were opposed to these demonstrations claiming that negotiations were the best solution to solving contagious issues. However, Negro leaders accused political leaders of being unwilling to engage in negotiations. They argued that non-violent demonstrations were the only way to force other leaders into negotiations. Non-violent direct-action programs aimed at creating a crisis and tension throughout the country to force reluctant political leaders into negotiations. The main issue civil rights activist wanted addressed was racial prejudice.
Civil right movements argued that some states in America had not taken necessary measure to desegregate their communities. They had enacted unjust laws that encouraged racial segregations in their states. For example, some counties allowed some areas to be marked ‘whites only’, which restricted accessibility by other racial communities. Civil right activists demanded that Negros be allowed to access all public utilities that were by then allowed for white people only. Furthermore, they accused white law enforcers of police brutality towards black people. The police were accused of harassing and even killing black people because of their racial disparity. Civil rights movements also purported that white people who were campaigning for equal rights for all Americans, had been subjected to the same police brutality. Negro leaders conveyed their displeasure regarding unresolved bombings of black homes and churches across the country. Between 1957 and 1962, seventeen Negro churches and homes in Birmingham had been bombed by racists from the white community (Frazier and Lincoln 92). Black people were complaining of unjust treatment in the courts regarding these grievances.
The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helped popularize the concept of ‘black power’ especially in the southern states. Even though a huge number of SCNN members were white college students, they preached love as the best tool for fighting racism since it promoted brotherhood between racial groups. They also echoed the sentiments of other leaders that the white community had excluded the black community from participating in power decisions that governed the society. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other civil right movement leaders suggested that the only way to empower the Negro community is to allow them to participate in the elections. The summer of 1964 later became known as the Freedom Summer since it was an election year in the United States. Most eligible black voters, especially in the southern states like Mississippi, were not allowed to exercise their democratic rights because of the inappropriate federal voting-rights legislations (Rush 72). Martin Luther King Jr. alleged that some states like Alabama had all sorts of deceitful methods to prevent black people from registering as voters. He argued that even though Negro populations constituted the majority in some states, it was usual to find that no single African-American was registered as a voter. In his speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm X echoed the same opinion as Martin Luther King Jr. adding that Negros had the power to determine the next administration, which would govern the country. The Selma march in Alabama, led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965, focused on achieving equal voting rights for all Americans, black or white. The Voting Rights Act was later signed into law by President Johnson in August 1965. This bill allowed the government to supervise voter registration and elections in all states within the country. It also outlawed the discriminatory literacy test thereby improving the voting rights of non-English speaking Americans. According to Mao (50), before passing of the voting bill in 1965, out of 15,000 eligible black voters in Dallas, Alabama, only 383 African-Americans were registered voters. After the signing of the bill, the number of registered Negros in Dallas County increased to 8,000 (Mao 50).
Civil right movements also expressed their disapproval of the social imbalance that existed between the white and black communities. Martin Luther King Jr. conveyed his sentiments on how Negros were languishing in poverty, as their white counterparts comfortably dwelt in the most affluent societies, in the country. He also echoed his disappointment on second-class black people who had become insensitive to the problems of the other African-Americans, and in some ways made a profit by segregating fellow Negros. Malcolm X’s economic philosophy of Black Nationalism aimed at addressing the unequal opportunities faced by Negro entrepreneurs in white communities. He argued that whites had successfully established their stores in black communities while Negros could not move their stores in white communities. The philosophy of Black Nationalism discouraged Negros from purchasing from other communities. Malcolm X believed that every time a person spent money on an outside community, their own community would continue to get poorer while the other community where the money was spent on will continue to get richer (Kramnick and Lowi 1325).
Frazier, Edward and Erick Lincoln. The Negro Church in America. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. Print.
Kramnick, Isaac, and Theodore J. Lowi. American Political Thought: A Norton Anthology. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. Print.
Mao, Zedong. Statement Calling on the People of the World to Unite to Oppose Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism: And Support the American Negroes in Their Struggle against Racial Discrimination. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1964. Print.
Rush, Mark. Voting Rights and Redistricting in the United States. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998. Print.