The Civil Rights Movement

Civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was organized in 1909, led the fight to end discrimination by using the courts. While the Brown decision demonstrated their success, other tactics were needed to move the country and the government into action. Civil disobedience, boycotts, and protest demonstrations created a climate of opinion that led to legislative steps to end discrimination.

Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience means testing an unjust law by deliberately breaking it. This approach was championed by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1955, King organized a boycott of the bus service in Montgomery, Alabama, which went on for more than a year until public transportation was desegregated. Cesar Chavez and his largely Mexican-American Farm Workers of America union led a successful national boycott against table grapes produced by nonunion growers a decade later. Sit-ins were used at white-only lunch counters in the South; African Americans who were refused service simply remained in their seats and were replaced by others when the police came to arrest them. Protest marches to publicize the inequities of discrimination were usually declared illegal by local authorities in the South and were sometimes violently dispersed. News coverage of these events dramatically increased the support for the civil rights movement and brought activists, both black and white, to the South to participate.

Civil rights legislation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which survived several challenges in the courts, prohibited employment discrimination by private businesses connected with interstate commerce, authorized the attorney general to begin school desegregation lawsuits if complaints were filed, and cut off federal funding for any program that practiced discrimination. The 1965 Voting Rights Act eliminated literacy tests and, thus, significantly increased the number of African Americans and other minorities who could vote. Discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex was banned in all forms of housing through the Civil Rights Act of 1968. This act has not had as great an impact as other legislation because the ability to buy or rent housing is so directly connected to income level. The civil rights laws of the 1960s have been repeatedly expanded by Congress.

Racial violence

The advance of civil rights was not accomplished without violence. The images of police in the South using fire hoses and guard dogs against protest marchers were powerful and built support for the movement. The nonviolent approach of Martin Luther King, Jr., was not accepted by all African-American leaders. The Black Muslims under Malcom X advocated segregation of the races and were prepared to respond to violence with violence. The Black Panther party called for "Black Power" and, in some communities, began stockpiling weapons. Race riots broke out in cities across the country, first a wave in 1964 and 1965 and then a second one in 1968. Angry minority citizens, purportedly spurred on by black militants, destroyed massive amounts of property (especially in ghetto areas) and occasionally brutalized innocent bystanders.