The Civil Rights Movement achieved a great deal in the 1950s and 1960s Essay

A great number of changes occurred during the 1950s and 60s in the USA, these included education, voting, housing and employment but due to the slow progress some turned to violence which hindered the movement. The sources all provide evidence on both the successes and drawbacks of the movement. Desegregation in education was achieved in 1954 through the Brown vs Topeka case when the Supreme Court ruled segregated education as unconstitutional. Even so the progress was slow as Source A, a table of figures showing the number of black children in white schools between 1951 and 1962 illustrates.

The numbers are reliable as it was put together for a British textbook in 1984 with the sole purpose of informing students and the figures are likely to be accurate. It does show an increase in black pupils but the numbers are very small and varies with each individual state. However even Texas, which had the biggest number of black students, had less than one and a half percent. In other states such as Mississippi and Alabama there were no black students at all. Source B further highlights the difficulties in the desegregation of schools.

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It shows the scene outside Little Rock Central High when Elizabeth Eckford was entering. There is an angry mob of white people surrounding her and there were even National Guards in place to prevent her from entering the school. This was probably taken by a member of the black community for propaganda purposes and portrays Elizabeth in a dignified way and shows the determination of the black people. Even so it does show the truth of what happened at Little Rock as the photo wasn’t staged and it’s a genuine reflection of the attitude of some, though not all, whites in the south towards integration.

It also shows that the attitudes against desegregation existed in all different classes of white people, as in the photo the people shouting abuse range from mothers to respected gentlemen. Therefore these two sources help to conclude that equal education was a major aim of the Civil Rights Movement and was one of the first areas to be desegregated under legislation, but laws could not prevent the segregation which still occurred within the classrooms and the attitudes of a large part of the white population remained difficult to change.

There were improvements in many areas of social life which was what the majority of the black population wanted to see. The changes were achieved by peaceful protests by supporters of the Civil Rights Movement. They staged sit-ins, freedom rides and bus boycotts which gained them great publicity. The government was pressurized and passed laws which gave black people many more rights. The Civil Rights Act was first passed in 1964 banning racial discrimination in employment, restaurants and leisure areas.

The Supreme Court also ruled against laws forbidding inter-racial marriage in 1967 and the Civil Rights Act was extended to include equal housing opportunities in 1968. Despite this racism remained and black people continued to receive lower wages and pay higher rents. Even in the north where integration was much more successful 50% of blacks still lived in ghettos and were discriminated against. The government could only legislate but not enforce these laws and some blacks believed much more still needed to be done. Source C is a great example of how change has occurred but was not complete.

In this source Martin Luther King lists the many achievements in order to highlight the improvements such as the desegregation of lunch counters and inter-state travel. However the fact that he had to make this statement in 1967 to justify his non-violent methods show that the Civil Rights Movement was far from over and there was now a split within the Civil Rights Movement with a number of his followers beginning to seek new, more extreme methods of Malcom X and the Black Panthers as they grew tired of the slow progress.

It’s a lot more useful in exposing the divisions within the movement as the tone is very positive and biased to the successes of the non-violent campaign. Voting was granted to all adult blacks by the Voting Rights Act 1965 which also abolished the poll tax. In some areas black politicians were even elected into government, such as Carl Stokes who became the first black mayor of a major city in America when he won the election in Cleveland in 1967.

Source E provides the official government figures of the number of adult black registered to vote in the south in 1965 and 1971. It’s reliable as it would be reliable of how many registered to vote since governments kept accurate records of numbers registering. It shows a significant increase states such as Arkansas and Alabama, some as by as much as 54%. Some other states like Florida had a increase by just 3% whereas and some others like Tennessee even had a slight drop in numbers.

This shows that changes in voting numbers were not consistent and varied from state to state. Overall it shows that many more black people were registering to vote thought it doesn’t tell us how many of them actually voted or who they voted for. It also shows suggests that most black people wanted practical social changes and were more concerned with issues like housing and employment rather than voting, as after the Voting Rights Act all blacks adults should have been voting but the percentage registered were far from 100%.

Again this was one are where equality was achieved in legislation but not in reality. The Civil Rights Movement was capable of achieving much more than it did, but the growing discontent with the slow speed of change and resulting violence hindered it greatly. The newly desegregated schools led to the emergence of a new generation of young educated blacks who were much more discontent with the existing inequalities. By the 1960s some split from Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests and followed in the violent ideas of Malcom X and the Black Panthers.

It was part of the reason why King made the statement in Source C as riots began to break out in America since many demanded more immediate and radical changes. Source D gives us an idea of the attitudes of some young blacks and their actions as a result. It’s an article from a US magazine aimed mainly at a white audience which was likely to have been used as propaganda to discredit black people. It’s a conversation between three young blacks on a race riot and they are talking about the damage and destruction they’d caused with pride and satisfaction.

This was mainly due the to fact that some of the newly educated young generation of blacks were disillusioned and wanted immediate change as they hadn’t experienced the same hardships as their ancestors who were content with steady progress and knew how much had already improved. The actions of these young people generalised the whole black population as violent and made obsolete the much of the good work of the peaceful protesters. Along with Source C it highlights why the Civil Rights Movement slowed down with many people turning to view the blacks as uncivilised and therefore undeserving of any more civil rights.

Ultimately the sources together prove that the Civil Rights Movement achieved a great deal during the 1950s and 60s, most notably the desegregation of schools, the Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Act. However these were mostly through legislation and it was a long time before they actually occurred in reality. It was this slow progress that frustrated many and led to the split in movement which consequently prevented it from achieving much more than it should have.


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