As discussed in class, racial inequality effected many aspects of life in America including whom we ate next to in restaurants, sat next to on a public bus, or with whom we shared a restroom or even a drinking fountain. The housing market, as a further example, was not exempt from prejudice. Desirability of home locations and home values were effected by proximity to African-American or immigrant neighborhoods and schools. Housing was considerably cheaper and rated less desirable when located in or near areas populated by African-Americans or immigrant families, or even if there was a nearby school that was predominately non-white (Doc 4). This inequality and systematic segregation kept groups of people apart. After the eradication of laws that allowed these behaviors to occur, African-Americans still pushed towards areas that were less than ideal and where they have largely stayed. Escaping the grip of racial prejudices is nearly impossible when continually and culturally enforced for generations.
Fortunately, this country has had strong individuals throughout our history who have been effective in driving the American civil rights movement forward. At times, the fight has been a dangerous one and it has only been through brave leadership that systematic changes have been made. One such figure was Fannie Lou Hamer. Fanny Lou Hamer not only fought for the rights of African-Americans, but she also fought for the rights of women, specifically, she fought for voting rights and a political presence for African-Americans. She became the first African- American to take a seat as an official delegate at a national-party convention, and was the first woman to do so in Mississippi. Subjected at times to torture tactics and discrimination, she succeeded through her strength and courage (Doc 8). Hamer embodies what it means to be an American who stands for what is right even in a time when it was dangerous to do so. As a role model, she has undoubtedly inspired future women to be courageous and persevere in their fight for positive societal changes.
As in the case of racial prejudices, there is no doubt that women in this country have been the victims of unfair and unequal treatment, as well. Until fairly recently in American history, women were not even viewed as citizens of this country. This largely meant they were treated unfairly under existing laws and had no say in the democratic system of government making laws that should have been made for the people and by the people, regardless of gender and race. This disparity overlooked more than half of the country’s inhabitants and the unequal treatment of women continues to be felt to this day. The fight for equal treatment of women has been largely influenced by the civil rights movement, after all, equality for race and sex have been linked throughout all of history. Women fought for the rights of African-Americans and vice versa. Figures like Crystal Eastman and Eleanor Roosevelt defined the emerging role of women, even before the time of the civil rights movement. Eastman spoke of women’s autonomy and what was necessary to achieve it (Doc 1), and Roosevelt spoke of the political presence of women and outlined what the government should do for women to make it easier for them to carry out their everyday tasks (Doc 3). It is clear to me that Eastman fought for what modern women today continue to focus on while Roosevelt, even though she talked of feminine political powers, intended for women to continue in a submissive role. Women today continue the fight to break the chains of a patriarchal society in order to achieve autonomy and fairness under the law. Today, women’s peaceful protests and marches continue, much like the early twentieth century civil rights movement, fighting for such things as equal pay for equal work and reproductive rights.
Ethnic and sexual differences were not the only sources of inequality in this country. Another group of people that was historically treated unfairly was physically and mentally handicapped people. This group encompasses all classes and groups of people and effects men and women, alike, of all colors and ages. The condition of disability, either physical or mental, has been the recipient of much unfair treatment. As we saw in Patricia Wright’s Lessons Learned from Enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, hundreds of people with disabilities from all over the country came together to fight for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These people fought for inclusion and economic independence, rights most of us take for granted. Even with the improvements made by this Act, there is still more work needed done in order to better level the playing for the disabled (Doc 12).
The fight for equality for disabled people was inspired by the early civil rights movement successes and employed much of the same language and tactics (Doc 12). The civil right movement has helped move society closer to the declared ideal of equality by inspiring groups unequally treated to take a stand, including the disabled. As seen in class, the disabled people that marched in the streets used the same rhetoric used the civil rights movement, e.g., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” as spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King. They participated in demonstrations like chaining themselves to buildings, arranged sit-ins, and organized marches on Washington similar to the civil rights activists.
In many ways, the civil rights movement has helped move American Society closer to its ideal of equality for all. The United States Declaration of Independence states that “…all men are created equal,” but we know that is not exactly true in this country. The civil rights movement may have helped American society become equal, but there is much work yet to be done. Women, African-Americans, disabled people and others still suffer from unequal treatment and a curtailment of their basic human rights. To name a few, women and African-Americans are still paid unequally, compared to that of white men, and there is still forms of segregation that plague this country. Disabled people are still treated unfairly in the educational setting, have unequal public transportation options, and are not given equal employment opportunities. With the turbulent state of affairs in America today, we will surely see continued movements for equality. Although it is largely impossible for everyone to be treated fairly and equally in this country, given our history, today’s generation and generations to come will follow the examples set by the civil rights movement to continue moving our country toward a state of equality for all.
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