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Civil Rights movement (engl.) - Referat

Civil Rights Movement

The Pain of African American people and their longing for justice and equality, yet exists for many centuries.

Already in 1619 the first 20 Africans were brought to work as slaves in Virginia, a former English colony.
In 1861, when Abraham Lincoln became President of the USA, the number of slaves reached 4 million, although there was a law, even though only valid in the northern states of the USA, declaring the import of slaves illegal. Anyhow this law was obviously ignored.

Lincoln intended to change this inhuman misery by planning the abolishment of slavery. The southern states refused to accept the president’s intentions and vehemently protested against them, which finally led to the civil war between north and south.
After 4 years, in 1865, the south was defeated and all slaves throughout the USA were freed.

3 years later Blacks became American citizens. As a start they gained the civil right and the right to vote and black politicians were elected in all parliaments of the USA. Unfortunately, the situation only improved as long as troops of the union seized the southern states. After the union’s retreat the so called “Black Codes” were introduced, allowing Blacks to merely work as badly – paid farmers and depriving them from their permission to vote unless their grandfathers already participated in elections.
In Cooperation with the in 1865/66 founded Ku – Klux – Klan black voters became even more intimidated and their representation in the government was hardly possible.

In 1896 the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be in reach when the Supreme Court declared Blacks and Whites have the same facilities as long as they are ‘separate, but equal’. This meant separation in almost every social aspect of life. There were separate schools, theatres, restaurants, hotels, taxis and even seats in buses.
As you can imagine this so called “separation on an equal basis” was only a glorification for a still way to big chasm between races still far away from being narrowed. So, institutions for Blacks always have been worse then those for white people. That is why many people, in the further progress of what is today known as the civil rights movement, tried to find a solution to improve the Black’s situation and thus get rid of racial discrimination once and for all. Some people believed that becoming equal is a matter of time and they have to accept it and practise patience until the situation will get better. Others were of the opinion that emigration to Africa would be the remaining alternative and gave the advice to leave the country, which was rather common at the time of the 1st world war.
The most successful solution besides the other two ways of dealing with the prevailing circumstances, was the concept of the NAACP (national association for advancement of coloured people) founded in 1909. The organisation’s main goal was to effectuate the equality of Blacks and Whites as quickly as possible.
The NAACP attempted to beware the rights of Blacks and achieved that in 1915 in Maryland and in 1939 in all other southern states, every black person had the right to vote no matter whether their grandfather already had the permission to vote or not. Nevertheless many Blacks migrated to northern cities. The NUL (National Urban League) supported the improvement of their living – and working conditions.

This was the evident precursor of the civil rights movement in America from 1955 – 1968. In the 1940’s and ‘50’s the fight for equal rights of Blacks went on. The NAACP won several trials, proving that black people’s education opportunities were not as good as those of white citizens.
In 1954 the Supreme Court declared the law ‘separate, but equal’ from 1896, at least for the aspect of separation at schools, to be illegal. Surely this caused happiness among all affected Blacks, but the majority of Whites, especially in the south, disagreed and reacted with anger.
In 1957 for example a crowd of people in Little Rock, Arkansas, and even the gouverneur, denied the entrance to the former White Central School for 9 black students. When President Eisenhower took notice of this he forced the national guard of Arkansas to protect the students to guarantee their safety and to make sure that they can attend school.
The events, we in nowadays refer to as the civil rights movement, actually began 2 years ago with the Montgomery Busboycott. Before I go into any details about this historic moment, I would like to give you some information about the probably most important man of that time Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15th 1929. At the age of 15 he went to the Morehouse College and 2 years later he ordained to a Baptist pastor, as his father did. In 1951 he passed his exam at the Crozer Theological Seminary to study at Boston College. During his studies he became more and more interested in Mohaudas K. Ghandi’s science of resistance without violence, which has been content of his own philosophy. In 1953 he married Coretta Scott. In the following year King became pastor in the Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Due to a very special event Martin Luther King Jr. came into the center of attention and thus well – known: The Montgomery Busboycott in 1955/56 resulting in the abolition of segregation in public busses of Montgomery. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, a black member of the civil rights movement and the NAACP, who refused to give her seat in the bus to a white person. The Blacks boycotted the bus enterprise for 13 month until the supreme court agreed to the NAACP and segregation in buses was abolished. The responsible Blacks were pushed into the national spotlight, especially the leader of the boycott Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.
Martin Luther was also the founder of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) another important organisation for the civil rights movement.
Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior the civil rights movement achieved the abolishment of segregation. By means of non – violent resistance King and his fellows above all gained influence on the southern states again, which meant positive changes in the different institutions
for black people. This non – violent resistance strategy in political actions including peaceful protests is comparable to Gandhi’s fight for independence of India.
In North Carolina for example students first began with resistance excluding / without violence in 1960. With their sit – Ins in restaurants being exclusively for Whites they became pioneers for a nation – wide movement against segregation in all public institutions. These students even formed a organisation know as the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).
In 1961 so called “Freedom Rides” took place, which were bus tours across several states in order to show / demonstrate that segregation was still existing and a matter of national concern / interest. Blacks were maltreated by white racists and the national indignance increased so that segregation on interstate bus tours was forbidden in 1962.
With actions such as the ‘Freedom Rides’ the non-violent civil rights movement proceeded in a smart way, making the media report about the cruelty of Whites. This putted a fairly strong pressure on the government and a solution was of urgency [had to be found as soon as possible / immediately].

For instance in Birmingham, Alabama students were able to assert their demands, because the government was afraid of a massive reputation loss in the public due to TV broadcasts showing vivid pictures of ‘police officers beating / hurting children at demonstrations’. Even president Kennedy and the majority of the American population finally started to support King’s movement for equality.
Kennedy, owing his election to many black voices, made the promise to introduce a civil rights law for Blacks to the congress. To underline the necessity of a change in the constitution to reach equality and to support Kennedy’s bill all civil rights organisations arranged ‘The March on Washington’ in August of 1963. 250.000 Blacks and Whites participated to listen to the events and probably the civil rights movements climax: Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech.


As you have seen and heard he speaks out loud what the majority of Blacks bear deep inside themselves. Many of their dreams, hopes and thoughts have been mentioned by King, giving people the strength they needed. Above all he is convinced that the integration of coloured people in America’s white society is possible.
When in 1964 the civil rights law was passed all the ideals Martin Luther King and his fellows fought for seemed just to be around the corner. In the same year he received the Noble – Prize for peace, for his engagement and politic of non-violence. (virtually) 1964 was the climax of the entire civil rights movement because many of the aims seemed close to be reached and a main thought had been fixed in the heads of the people experiencing the movement.

As a result of growing violence against black people the movement disintegrated from the mid ‘60’s. A variety of voices grew louder that the Blacks need more radical leaders to finally set landmarks and make changes that last. One of these leaders was Malcolm X.
In 1966 the SNCC with its new controversial leader Carl Michael ended the cooperation with King and demanded ‘Black Power’.
This extreme attitude split the civil rights movement even more. The with peaceful oriented methods working NAACP and the NUL ceased to work together with the SNCC and even with King, because he did not go conform with the radical ‘Black Power’ attitudes, but asked for the people’s commonsense and sympathy.
After this era of peaceful protests and non – violent political actions a new movement, mainly influenced by the new Black Panther Party, came up / formed. Black nationalists, not shying away from the use of violence, fought against social and racial discrimination by any means needed to assert their goals, if necessary even with armed forces / the power of weapons (Waffengewalt). The indifferences in their concepts and social problems were so big and hard to be solved that due to the agglomeration of complications the civil rights movement and Malcolm X broke down .

In the meantime riots in the ghettos grew and till 1967 poverty and social inequality even increased in northern cities. Unfortunately, King’s campaigns failed, but he realized that racism is not a political problem of the South, but is inherent in the economical and social structures of the USA. That’s why he wanted a revolution of the American system of values and an re – allocation of power and capital. Regrettably, King was killed on the 4th of April in 1968 by an escaped white prisoner. Many people came to his burial and said ‘good – bye’ to a great personality and pioneer in the civil rights movement, whose aims have unfortunately not been reached even today due to still existing racial discrimination,
even though the constitution declares ‘all people equal’ regardless of their skin colour or religion. Nevertheless, Martin Luther King will always be remembered as a great and influential man changing the cause of history and touching the feelings of many people on his way to fulfil his dream of equality in America.

In 1983 the third Monday of January was made a national holiday in memory of King. Today his house of birth and grave in Atlanta are national monuments.
King will always remain a good example for all [black] people in the world, who wont let the system bring themselves down and fight for their freedom and justice.

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