The Issue of Civil Rights 1941-1970

The Issue of Civil Rights 1941-1970

World War II and Civil Rights (1941-45)

  • World War II marked a key point in the Civil Rights Movement as African Americans made significant societal contributions that started to challenge racial prejudice.
  • The segregation of African Americans in the armed forces highlighted the contradiction of fighting for a ‘free world’ while discrimination remained at home.
  • Unrest at home over inequality led to the Double V Campaign - victory against fascism abroad and racism at home.
  • In 1941, President Roosevelt issued an executive order (Order 8802) to prohibit racial discrimination in national defence industry jobs.

The Cold War and Civil Rights (1945-60)

  • After the war, Civil Rights became a prime issue due to the Cold War context. The USA’s global message of freedom and democracy conflicted with the racial discrimination seen within the country.
  • The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) played a key role in campaigning for equal rights, most notably in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case (1954) which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
  • The murder of young black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi (1955) and the subsequent acquittal of his white murderers caught national attention and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56), spearheaded by figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., marked a key point in direct action campaigning.

The Height of the Civil Rights Movement (1960-70)

  • Nonviolent protests, such as the sit-ins in 1960 and the 1961 Freedom Rides, were organised to challenge segregation in public places.
  • The profound March on Washington (1963) witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and pushed for comprehensive civil rights legislation.
  • In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, making discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin illegal.
  • Despite significant progress, divisions emerged within the movement over ideologies and methods, such as between the peaceful approach of King’s SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council) and the militancy of groups like the Black Panthers.
  • Civil Rights advocates faced violent backlash, highlighted by the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham (1963), leading to the deaths of four young black girls, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.