The Emergence Of Civil Rights In The 1950's

4283 words - 17 pages

The Emergence of Civil Rights in the 1950's

The civil rights movement is the title given to the concerted effort
to gain greater social, political and economic equality for black
Americans which, it has been argued, emerged in its most recognisable
form during the 1950s. To many, the civil rights movement was one of
the greatest reform impulses of the twentieth century and its many
victories have included such things as the Supreme Court decision in
1954 which declared segregation in public schools to be
unconstitutional, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956, the passage
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting rights act of 1965
(White, 1991, p.9). Nevertheless, the reasons behind the emergence of
the modern civil rights movement in the 1950s have continued to be a
subject of debate throughout the latter half of the twentieth century
and beyond. Many have seen the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education
decision of 1954 as a watershed in both legal and political terms
which provided the impetus for a civil rights movement to emerge
during the latter half of the 1950s. Indeed, many contemporaries such
as Mary Ellison saw the Brown decision as ‘the avenging angel of a
Gothic tragedy’ (Verney, 2000, p.45) instantly casting aside decades
of injustice. However, whilst this view does, perhaps, hold some truth
and therefore deserves to be examined, what this essay will hope to
show is that the Brown decision can not simply be viewed as a bolt of
lightening from a clear sky and was not solely responsible for the
onset of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. Indeed, an
examination of other Supreme Court rulings which would at first appear
to further the cause for Civil Rights, yet failed to instigate a
modern civil rights movement would seem to suggest that there were
perhaps other, more subtle reasons, underpinning the emergence of the
civil rights movement in the 1950s. What this essay will hope to show
is that that one cannot ignore the impact which international events
such as World War II and the onset of Cold War had on the civil rights
movement. However, whilst it could be argued that the influence from
such sources provided the fever for the civil rights movement, some
would argue that their role perhaps overshadows the contributions of
individual African Americans who took great personal risk in the
challenge to gain civil rights. Indeed, since the 1980s, there has
been a growing recognition by historians of the importance of
grassroots activity during the 1930s and 1940s, which was responsible
for laying the foundations for the later successes of the civil rights
movement in the 1950s and beyond (Verney, 2000, p.37). Nevertheless,
before expanding on these points further, it would be wise to examine
the view that the Civil Rights movement emerged as a result of the

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