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Civil Rights

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The 1960's were one of the most significant decades in the twentieth century. The sixties were filled with new music, clothes, and an overall change in the way people acted, but most importantly it was a decade filled with civil rights movements. On February 1, 1960, four black freshmen from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College in Greensboro went to a Woolworth's lunch counter and sat down politely and asked for service. The waitress refused to serve them and the students remained sitting there until the store closed for the night. The very next day they returned, this time with some more black students and even a few white ones. They were all well dressed, doing their homework, while crowds began to form outside the store. A columnist for the segregation minded Richmond News Leader wrote, "Here were the colored students in coats, white shirts, and ties and one of them was reading Goethe and one was taking notes from a biology text. And here, on the sidewalk outside was a gang of white boys come to heckle, a rag tail rabble, slack-jawed, black-jacketed, grinning fit to kill, and some of them, God save the mark, were waving the proud and honored flag of the Southern States in the last war fought by gentlemen. It gives one pause" (Chalmers 21). As one can see, African-Americans didn't have it easy trying to gain their civil rights. Several Acts were passed in the 60's, such as Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was also, unfortunately, the time that the assassinations of important leaders took placed. The deaths of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all happened in the 60's.

Slavery in the United States existed from the early seventeenth century until 1865. It was put to an end by the combination of the Emancipation Proclamation, 1863, and then the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution. Although blacks may have been freed from slavery, it didn't mean that they were treated the same as everyone else. In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court defined separate but equal standards. Rarely was anything equal though. Segregation went on until the landmark case, Brown vs. Board of Education, declared that separate schools based on race was unconstitutional (Microsoft). This case "...became the cornerstone of sweeping changes (Chalmers 17)" because the decade following the Brown decision "...witnessed a complex interplay of forces between black citizens striving to exercise their constitutional rights, the increasing resistance of southern whites, and the equivocal response of the federal government (Robinson 2)."

From 1955 to 1965, boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, and community organizing raised black people's spirits and expectations, and greatly hurt legal segregation. The weeks that followed the Greensboro sit-in more; sit-ins occurred throughout the country. Thousands had taken place by the end of 1960 and many people had often gone to jail for it (Chalmers 21). The Kennedy Era, 1960 - 1963, saw many important events. In 1961, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were the first African-Americans admitted into Wayne State University (Adams 6). The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, was a huge gathering of two hundred thousand people who gathered at the nation's capital to show their support for civil rights for blacks and hear Martin Luther King, Jr., speak. It was here that King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. It was the March on Washington that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964(Microsoft). The Kennedy Era came to an abrupt halt with the result of his assassination on November 22, 1963 (Chalmers 25).

With the death of Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency and then was reelected in the next election of 1964(Chalmers 25). Johnson won the '64 election by a landslide. His plan was to extend black suffrage and pass the Civil Rights Act in memory of Kennedy (Chalmers 43). It was during the Johnson Era that blacks gained most of their civil rights. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation in public places, proscribed discrimination in employment, and established enforcement machinery for school integration. The only thing that this legislation failed to address was voting rights (Robinson 4). The twenty-fourth amendment was put into law January 23, 1964 and struck down the poll tax. In recent years, a poll tax was to be paid in order for citizens to vote in the South. This kept most African-Americans from voting because they didn't have enough money to pay the tax. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed which gave every citizen the right to vote regardless of intelligence, race, or any other reason. Also, in 1965, the Economic Opportunity Act was passed. This act aimed at calming riots and providing job training and employment for the poor and colored people (Bogal-Allbritten 12-13). By 1966, the mood and phase had changed. Street marchers were no longer effective and the civil rights movement was breaking up (Chalmers 44).

One of the most horrid days in the 60's would have to go down in the books as March 7, 1965. It was a Sunday and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference planned a march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital, Montgomery (Microsoft). Also, there to help organize the voting rights March was Martin Luther King, Jr. (Robinson 5). This was a distance of about fifty miles. Over five hundred marchers were stopped just outside of Selma by state troopers and were told to go home. The marchers refused and as a result the police then attacked. They beat and tear-gassed the protestors. Seventy people went to the hospital that day. Luckily there were television cameras on the scene to record the bloody incident and show the United States viewers what was really going on. The scenes shocked everyone and Lyndon Johnson was prompted to deplore the violence. This day would be called Bloody Sunday. SCLC petitioned a federal district judge for an order that would allow them to march again without any interference from the police. Two weeks after Bloody Sunday, the march was redone with over three thousand people protesting. This march created the support needed to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law (Microsoft). Although the march to Montgomery was successful, the trip back was not for one white housewife who was driving marchers back. On the way back to Selma, some Ku Klux Klansmen overtook her and she was shot. State juries found the Klansmen innocent on the murder charge, but were eventually convicted in federal court for violating her civil rights (Chalmers 29).

Martin Luther King, Jr., was an important figure that worked hard throughout the 60's



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