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Goals And Strategies Of The Civil Rights Movement

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African-American Civil Rights Movement

Throughout the 1960’s, the widespread movement for African American civil rights had transformed in terms of its goals and strategies. The campaign had intensified in this decade, characterized by greater demands and more aggressive efforts. Although the support of the Civil Rights movement was relatively constant, the goals of the movement became more high-reaching and specific, and its strategies became less compromising. African Americans’ struggle for equality during the 1960’s was a relentless movement that used change for progress. In essence, the transformation of the Civil Rights Movement throughout the 1960’s forwarded the evolution of America into a nation of civil equality and freedom.
In the late 1950’s – early 1960’s, the Civil Rights Movement was a peaceful, relatively low-key fight for equal rights. The movement had moderate goals, and generally did not aim to overcome prejudice in a swift and aggressive manner. At the start of the movement, many African Americans were outraged with the clear ineffectiveness of President Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act of 1957. This political action intended to provide suffrage for blacks in Southern states; however, with the prevalent racism in the South, it was ignored. In response, black leader Martin Luther King Jr. would often deliver idealistic speeches about the triumphs blacks could achieve politically, socially, and economically. This is evident in Dr. King’s famed “I Have a Dream Speech,” which he made in 1963. As indicated by its title, the speech merely stirred the souls of countless blacks for no particular political action or specific demand. This is evident in one of the most famous lines from the speech, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” Though Dr. King is speaking in the name of African American civil rights, he discusses no specific set of goals to accomplish to gain equality. The people are, therefore, inspired without a means to advance their campaign. For this aimless idealism, King was nicknamed “De Lawd” (a derivation of “The Lord”,) implying the man preached of magical things happening to the black people. In the Statement of Purpose for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of 1960, which reads, “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.” Here, we find no declarative statement on what the committee aims for, but rather a vague remark on a society that may one day be enriched with kindliness and equality. What is supposed to be a statement of purpose is essentially a description of the non-aggressive nature of its purpose. As its name implied, this band of Civil Rights Activists was established in 1960 in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the interest of civil disobedience to achieve freedom. This group was responsible for a number of sit-in demonstrations, and many members were also Freedom Riders (which is discussed further on in this essay.) However, this group eventually changed its name in light of the changing forms of the civil rights movement. Therefore, the transformation of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement is indicated in the change from Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to Student National Coordinating Committee. The passive connotations of the word Nonviolent disappeared just as more assertive motions were made throughout America, with a clear set of goals. These more specific goals are outlined in “What We Want” by Stokely Carmichael, a prominent black leader of the very same committee mentioned above (SNCC.) The following excerpt is taken from 1966, six years after the initial statement of purpose was made for SNCC. This document is clear in its goals, as shown in it’s title “What We Want,” and reads the following, “We want to see money go back into the community and used to benefit it. We want to see the cooperative concept applied in business and banking. We want…” The excerpt reads further as a long dissertation of specific goals of the organization, which include black participation in government and economy, defiance against profiteers of slums, and the overall shift to a socialist America. In the socialist train of thought, society is invested in the integrity and economic participation of its people, and, therefore, blacks become almost invaluable to America. Here, each individual is seen as vital to the nation, because, if not, then the whole foundation of the socialist philosophy collapses. And so, it is implied in this document that a change for a new system of government in a new America is needed, which greatly contrasts from simply making people aware of a perfect world with guaranteed civil rights.
Another significant transformation took place in the Civil Rights Movement in terms of its strategies. In analyzing this facet of the movement, we notice a great shift from nonviolent demonstration to forward, forceful action. Specifically, at the start of the Civil Rights Movement, lunch counter sit-ins were evident throughout the nation, as were Freedom Riders. Starting in Greensboro, North Carolina at a luncheonette called Woolworths, young black citizens would seat themselves at lunch counters reserved for white customers. When asked to leave, the sit-in members would refuse to yield, defying society’s prejudice without using violence. Freedom Riders were another breed of nonviolent civil rights activists, who exploited the transportation system as their form of reform. Specifically, under the notably liberal provision of the Warren Commission, the Supreme Court Case of Boynton vs. Virginia concluded in favor of civil rights, ruling that, in accordance with the stipulations of the Interstate Commerce Act, segregation in public transportation was illegal. This ruling was made on December 5, 1960, and the year that followed was used by civil rights activists to celebrate this desegregation. These �Freedom Riders’ would, in masses, board interstate buses that traveled to Southern states (where racism was prevalent) often displaying signs that read �Freedom’s Wheel’s are Rollin’. The nonviolent manner of reform is also evident in a famous letter written by Martin Luther King Jr; “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” After being sent to the Birmingham prison for violating an injunction that prohibited public demonstrations, Dr. King thought it necessary to write of Birmingham’s injustice. He writes in this letter "Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Dr. King believed that without direct and non-violent actions such as his, no progress would be made. In this famous letter, King parallels his mission to those of the 18th century B.C. prophets and the Apostle Paul. He felt an obligation to “carry the gospel of freedom” outside his hometown of Atlanta, and out into the streets of America. “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose…and the manner of our action.” This statement suggests that nonviolence is a powerful force to use for progression of civil equality. Nonviolence is later glorified in the excerpt, which reads, “Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear, love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice.” Here, nonviolence is seen as essential to obtaining civil rights, for any other form of reform is swiftly struck down by whites. The history of the country showed, at that time, that black people could come together to do only three things: sing, pray, and dance. Any time they came together to do anything else, they were threatened or intimidated. However, Stokely Carmichael, a major leader of the SNCC during the 1960’s, grew less compromising by 1966, as he stated in his socialist vision, “The society we seek to build among black people, then, is not a capitalist one. It is a society in which the spirit of community and humanistic love prevail.” It is evident in this line that the civil rights activists were no longer satisfied with mere tolerance at a lunch counter, but rather a complete integration into a socialist-American society. This America, which Carmichael sees as within the realm of possibility, holds no prejudice to any contributing member of the nation, and opposes the preexisting traditionalist bureaucracy (which restricts blacks with its stringent policies.) A major symbol of the more aggressive strategies of the African-American Civil Rights Movement is the formation of the Black Panthers, a black pride organization that developed in October of 1966 in the interest of African-American civil rights and self-defense against prejudicial brutality. Of the Ten Points by which the Black Panthers lived out their duties, the number one statement of the list read, “We want power to determine the destiny of our black and oppressed communities' education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society.” Clearly, these young black men were impatient with the slow-paced change that was taking place for civil rights, and eager for black power in society. A statement made by the Black Panthers Minister of Defense in May of 1967, reads the following, “The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense believes that the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.” Here, we find that the Black Panthers saw themselves as a defense unit that must retaliate against white oppression before the lion is released from the cage once again. Therefore, according to the Black Panthers, the Civil Rights Movement did not mean striving for the best for blacks, but rather, preparing for the worst. Not only were the Black Panthers indicative of the intensification of the Civil Rights Movement, but progress was also witnessed in the change in the American voting registration census. Specifically, in a country founded on democracy, an individual is only as meaningful to the nation as the vote he/she casts to change it. And so, voting is representative of power. Therefore the “Estimated Percentage of voting-age African Americans Registered in 1960 and 1968,” suggests that, in the period between 1960 and 1968, blacks had obtained greater power as American citizens. Specifically, this shows the African American portion of voters in Southern states between the two years, and it is clear that the percentage rises significantly, with the Mississippian percentage jumping from 5.2% to 59.4%. This form of fighting for equality allowed for blacks to win civil rights, complying with the laws of the nation and, at the same time, refusing to submit to the pressures of white supremacists.
Lastly, the support of the Civil Rights Movement had remained constant throughout the 1960’s. This is indicated by a distinct correlation noticed between circumstances of the early 1960’s and the later 1960’s period. President John F. Kennedy strongly advocated the nationwide campaign, as outlined in a radio and television address from Mr. Kennedy, regarding civil rights. The excerpt reads, “We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives…” Here, at the start of the Civil Rights Movement, Kennedy seems more than willing to provide rights to African Americans, despite all of the countermeasures that were made to prevent the act. As president of the United States, Kennedy symbolized the American government in this address, indicating that the provision of these rights was well within reason. However, the Southern citizens had views that differed from Kennedy’s. Southern states, which were predominantly governed by white traditionalists, were against the civil rights movement, considering the idea outlandish and threatening to the threat of Negro power. This was used as a propaganda technique of the Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacist organization forged originally created in 1865 that oftentimes lynched innocent black people) – the �protection’ of the nation from the horde of African Americans. A photograph taken in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, also depicts southern hostility towards black citizens. The photo shows a black man in the street with a grisly police dog attacking from behind. Birmingham, once nicknamed by Martin Luther King Jr. as the “city whose fathers never heard of Abraham Lincoln,” was among the most segregated cities in the country. Therefore, the police dog attack can be considered no surprise, and it is without doubt that there is a severely low chance of civil rights in a place where police dogs attack those people who wish for the rights. Blacks were susceptible to police searches, and during protests, there were cases in which police would not only attack with police dogs, but also spray the protestors with fire hoses. And so, by the end of the 1960’s decade, the south was still strong with its segregationist beliefs, as indicated in a chart cataloging the 1968 presidential election’s electoral votes for certain states of the country. Hubert Humphrey, the democratic runner of the election had continually promised civil rights for African-Americans; however, only the northern states, such as Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania found this fitting to elect him. Most of the rest of the voters sided with Republican Richard Nixon, who proposed, instead, a �benign neglect’ policy towards civil rights. This involves decreasing the military and political interference with the movement in order for the blacks to better unify with other Americans. Nixon won 14 electoral states, while Humphrey won six. Therefore, there is no apparent change in the movement’s support, with government only considering the issue, and the southerners in disgust of it.
To conclude, the African-American Civil Rights Movement intensified with its changes in goals and strategies, which were used to progress the campaign. However, support of the movement had a different case, with no change in terms of Northern and Southern U.S. Essentially; the Civil Rights Movement prevailed throughout this nation, and has given birth, in many forms, to a nation of freedom and civil equality.


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