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Essay: Martin Luther King’s Role in Achieving Civil Rights for African Americans: A Century-Long Fight for Equality

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Within the context of 1865 to 1968, the part played by Martin Luther King in achieving Civil Rights for African Americans has been over-estimated. Although he was certainly a catalyst and a driving force in the speed of the movement. It is important to look at the breadth of the timescale; a century of which King was only involved in the last 15 years of. Many people associate King as being the sole reason that Civil Rights had been achieved for African Americans. However, much preceded him and much followed him, and there were many other factors involved. The Federal Government was by far the more significant force in achieving Civil Rights. However, I will note on other factors, which, like King, sped up and pushed the Federal Government to act in the campaign, this includes: individuals, groups, war and the overall use of media throughout the period.

The two distinct phases of change in the Civil Rights movement were the First (1863-77) and Second (1950s and 60s onwards) Reconstruction periods. The First Reconstruction period is an important example of Federal Government action early on in the movement. I am also going to discuss how other factors worked to achieving these rights. The first thing to look at is what the Civil Rights movement achieved. After a century long fight for Civil Rights, and after huge events published in the media all around the world by influencers such as King, the Federal Government were forced into acting. This was the beginning of the end for laws such as Jim Crow, and the passing of legislations in the Second Reconstruction period which would help turn potential rights into actuality. Eventually, after 100 years, there were Civil Rights legislations passed in 1957, 1960, 1964 and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Although the change had taken a long time, the rulings by the federal judiciary were extremely important in this. The ‘separate but equal’ overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education, the Bus segregation ruled unconstitutional by Browder v. Gayle and the Interracial marriage legalised by Loving v. Virginia in 1967 passed by the federal law were the three ground-breaking moments in achieving a political, as well as a social change. Social attitudes needed to change in order for the Federal rulings to be effective, and arguably, King is amongst those responsible for this change in attitude. Alongside others, the mental attitude of white Americans, changed. Particularly in the South by campaigning and fighting for equal rights.

The Federal Government is the most important factor which lead to improvements in achieving civil rights for African Americans. The change in attitude in the Federal Government can be seen in the changes made from the beginning of 1865 to 1968 in the First Reconstruction period. The Federal Government consisted of establishments which were crucial in bringing about changes to the law, and it was where all the power was. Amendments made by the Federal Government have to be followed by all of the states, no exception being made to the ones made from 1865-1968. These changes in the law at this time meant that the path had been laid for major social change in the future. The Federal Government contains the congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidency. This means that any forms of change that were to happen in the future was down to these three things. All of the States had to abide by legislation created by the Federal Government, but they do get to create their own local governments, under which state laws are enacted. This created problems come in with Civil Rights after the Civil War, as the divide between the Northern and Southern states on views on race split. In 1865, the Freedman’s bureau was created by the Congress to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South after the Civil War.

The First Reconstruction period is extremely significant in granting equality to African American citizens. Lincoln, president from 1861-65, passed the 13th Amendment. It formally abolished slavery in the USA. It declared "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." This meant that under law, slavery was illegal, and this significant in American history as theoretically it was abolished. However, there was still a flaw in this amendment. It said that slavery is illegal, except for criminals. This clause, or loop hole, in constitutional language acts as a tool which could be abused by the Southerners at the time. African Americans faced mass arrests at the time and created America’s first ‘prison boom’, particularly in the South. There was a return in America to the mythological black criminality. Newspapers were writing about how the new freed black people were out of control, and that they were a danger to women and children. The accusations of black rapes were used to stir up lynching mobs, the ‘black brute’ stereotype was certainly the motivations behind the Southern lynching. Castrations were also used during lynching to symbolize the destructions of the black man’s sexual nature. The Jim Crow laws were thus deemed necessary as they claimed it would help keep white Southern women safe. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan helped spread this ideology, and this is exemplified in D.W Griffith’s ‘Birth of a Nation’.

The 14th Amendment was ratified by the Federal Government in 1868 and it stated that citizenship was granted to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States", this included former slaves. The 15th Amendment in 1870 gave "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." These Amendments made by the Federal Government were still ‘theoretical’ which meant that they could certainly be exploited. From this, the South retaliated to the Amendments with a new series of straight anti-black laws called Jim Crow. Jim Crow was a fictional character seen as dimwitted and stupid and these set of laws effective meant that Southern United States could get away with segregation. By 1900 the term was now commonly used for racist laws and actions which deprived African Americans of their civil rights. The public facilities for blacks were underfunded, they created huge social disadvantages for black Americans. The Plessy vs. Ferguson Case in 1896 Louisiana ruled the legal doctrine “separate but equal” in the USA, and it was decided that there was nothing wrong with separate facilities. The Southern racial segregation was by far worse than Northern racial segregation, the Federal Government were now faced with lots of general upset as the belief that a huge change with black rights had been flattened. However, there was certainly more change that needed to take place under the Federal Government to furtherance the movement.

The Federal Government faced a period of unrest during the period of 1929-45. The Federal Government began to act out of need to change the position of African Americans as they needed their help World War Two. It could be argued that they were acting partly of self-interest and necessity as they realised they needed more men, but it cannot be argued that this was the only reason. Members of the Federal Government such as Roosevelt saw that the African Americans deserved rightfully to have their own rights. The Great Depression and World War Two created a new desperation for jobs and any form of income. Roosevelt needed labour, money, industry and workers in order to fight in the war. The New Deal was a series of programs and projects which were instituted it is a good example of how the Federal Government began to finalise the full completion of civil rights, as some parts gave African Americans hope that the government was on their side. The Fair Employment Practice Committee  was created in 1941 by Roosevelt and it was aimed to help blacks and women to have equal work opportunities. The Executive Order 9346 is a good example of a source which shows of Roosevelt and the Federal Government were acting out of a need to change the positioning of African Americans in society.

The provenance of Executive Order 9346  is extremely important when seeing how influential it was when it was issued in 1941. It was issued at the end of Roosevelt’s presidency as an amendment to Executive Order 8802. Comparing this Order to earlier ratifications passed by the Federal Government, such as the 13th Amendment, we can see a clear change in attitude, and the change of rhetorical, potential equal rights to actual ones. Although it can be argued that the Order was passed as industry for war was needed, the desire to improve African American rights were still a factor as Roosevelt saw that it could please Civil Rights workers. The war, along with individuals such as Booker T. Washington made this possible, and the legislation was passed.  

We can see in the content of this Order that Roosevelt makes it clear using a tricolon ‘race, creed, color’ that he was trying to appeal to African Americans directly. He says that he wants to ‘reaffirm the policy’, potentially trying to insinuate that there were legislations passed previously which meant that there were meant to be equal opportunities in the work place anyway. He says that the workers which were being deprived of work based on race were ‘available and needed’ which made African Americans content as they had had their cause recognised. In the next sentence he then mentions that they had been ‘barred from employment in industries engaged in war production solely by reason of race…’ Thus, stating that the Federal Government had notices that African Americans had been banned from the war effort, and saying that it is unacceptable to do such based on race. Rightly stating that this fact had led to the ‘detriment of the prosecution of the war’. This Order meant that there had been a furtherance of support for African Americans in the war effort and the work field and helped tremendously for the achievement of Civil Rights.  

For the Federal Government, the years between 1954-60, were the years where the battle for Civil Rights took up a faster pace. The Federal Government took up far greater action in support of African Americans in this period. The effect of Brown V. Board of Education in 1954 was certainly ground-breaking in creating equal Civil Rights. Due to this court case, schools in the United States were desegregated. This court case was a landmark Supreme Court Case in the Federal Government. It was a huge triumph for the NAACP and the outcome inspired blacks as they knew now that the Supreme Court was almost fully on their side. It allowed a new branch of better education for black children in some states. Although there was some white backlash, it showed what new tactics could be used that would be effective for Civil Rights. Fairclough said they realised it “needed new tactics, broader support and deeper commitment to push the struggle forward” . From this, Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren, who was a liberal Republican, to the Supreme Court. This greatly helped the NAACP’s campaign too and strengthened the ties between the Federal Government and Civil Rights groups. The white backlash only meant that many more people opened their eyes to the inequality, and as Badger says “eventually brought about federal intervention in the 1960s” .

Martin Luther King was critical to the achievement of Civil rights for African Americans. Whilst his impact was only apparent in the 1950’s and 1960’s, this was a period of real and significant improvement for African American civil rights. Martin Luther King’s leadership was essential to coordinating the actions of numerous groups and individuals in order to put pressure on Federal Government to change the law. The relationship between King and the Federal Government is certainly a symbiotic one. King enabled the theoretical laws made by the Federal Government into real ones, along with the help of the media, the message and the importance for the need of change was rapidly spread, especially in the period of 1945-65. The boycotts, sit-ins and freedom rides, along with other forms of campaigns rapidly increased.

King acted as a catalyst which brought greater attention to the achievement of the Civil Rights movement, and made the Federal Government move faster in eventually passing, for example, the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He was an amazing speaker, which motivated thousands. But alone, King would not have been able to gain complete rights.

King was extremely motivational. His famous ‘I Have a Dream’   speech at the march on Washington  gained international media attention. It turned the March on Washington into a march for equality. Looking at photos, articles and newspapers from the time are full of footage and quotes from King. There was a three-mile long procession at his funeral . He had certainly made a huge impact on the fight for civil rights. Upon evaluating his extremely famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, we can gain evidence which shows us how calculatingly and structured it is, it is a useful source to show us how King managed to get a reaction which would make the Federal Government act.

The tone of the speech is extremely motivating and seems to be that King is delivering a sermon to the masses. Words King uses such as ‘together’, ‘today’, ‘nation’, ‘justice’, ‘still’ and ‘freedom’ make the tone of the speech to be inspiring.

The content of the speech would rouse up extreme emotions in the crowd of over 250,000 people at Washington. King mentions various Southern states his speech, he mentions Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee and most importantly Mississippi. Mississippi is mentioned on four separate occasions, which would certainly bring up the strongest feelings and images for the audience as Mississippi represents the epitome of Southern segregation. Open racism, open members of the Ku Klux Klan and the open prejudice of the Mississippi courts was rife at the time of King’s speech. A great example of Mississippi racism which involves the true story of the murder of three Civil Rights workers in 1964: Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner is the film ‘Mississippi Burning’. Killed by the KKK, I would say this is a good example of how the Civil Rights activists were feeling about the South. Furthermore, King uses anaphora, which emphasise the phrases which he wanted the listeners to take away. These phrases include “I have a dream”, “now is the time”, “we must”, “let freedom ring” and “with this faith”. He also mentions the word ‘freedom” twenty times, the word “dream” eleven times and “we” thirty times. All of these literary techniques make the speech even more impactful and powerful as we are able to see how much of an amazing speaker King was. Perhaps, he even managed to sway the feelings of members of the Federal Government.

The provenance of the speech is also vital to understanding why his speech was so impactful. The speech was delivered in the shadow of Lincoln memorial. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 which freed the slaves in the South and was certainly the beginning of the Civil Rights movement in terms of the importance of the Federal Government in the achievement of Civil Rights. King alludes to Lincoln in his speech saying “five score years ago…” which refers to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address speech. This was extremely fitting as he was standing in front of the memorial. Furthermore, the importance of religion to the black and white Christians involved in the Civil Rights movement was not to be underestimated. King alludes heavily to the bible in his speech. He alludes to Psalms 30:5 mentioning a “joyous daybreak” which ends black “captivity” and also to Jeremiah 2:13 “let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred”. These are just two of the references made by King. Religious thought brought spiritual motivation, and cases such as Brown v. Board of Education further prove the importance of the Church. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, it says “for we are all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body- whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free…”, during a time of huge hatred and violence from the white Americans, the Church gave African Americans a safe place, and hope for a better future. The provenance furthers the value of King’s speech as it adds to the sense of urgency and the need for change which King helped instil into the Americans. Which arguably meant that the Federal Government had to up the pace of change.

This speech in particular is extremely significant due to the critical timing of the speech and the direct relationship to subsequent legislation introduced by the Federal Government. The support built after this march meant that it was easy for Johnson to pass the Voting Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which were huge landmarks in the achievement of Civil Rights.

After he was assassinated in April 1968, he became an almost saint amongst those struggling in America. His legacy meant that other people and individuals were inspired and driven to continue to gain Civil Rights. After his death, riots broke out all across the country, the National Guard troops had to be deployed in Washington DC and Memphis. His death ultimately made him a famous figurehead and a martyr.

However, as mentioned before, King’s efforts were not enough alone, and it was merely a catalyst in the grand scheme of the century of Civil Rights, eventually achieved by the Federal Government. It is notable that since King, along with a few other individuals, the pace of change did pick up. Professor Antony Badger would agree with my argument. He uses the examples of King’s manipulation and use of the media, for example as mentioned above the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. It is also evident that he joined other individuals at events like Selma and his refusal to stop the second march, which led to the achievement of the Voting Rights Act. In his ‘Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement’  he says plainly that ‘Historians have also criticised the emphasis on King’. This stems from the fact that there was so much coverage of King at the time that it was hard to ignore his presence.

However, although educated at Cambridge, he was a specialist in areas such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, rather than on King, and he spends lots of time writing on these factors, therefore meaning he may not have researched and taken into other factors such as individuals and groups.

Augustus Meier would agree with Badger that the Federal Government was the most important factor in the achievement of Civil Rights for African Americans. In his critical work ‘On the Role of Martin Luther King’ he writes that King was simply a controversial character which gained the attention of the media. He says that he was overstated and was given credit to actions that weren’t his: “for example, King did not supply the initiative for the bus boycott in Montgomery but was pushed into the leadership by others”. This supports my argument that King was influential, but it was mainly down to the changes made by the Federal Government. Although he did help catalyse and sped up the pace of change, he is not solely responsible for the rights when reflecting upon the 100-year span of the Civil Rights movement.

Claybourne Carson in his ‘Major Problems in African American History’ agrees that King was not the most significant factor in the Civil Rights era. However, he disagrees with Badger in certain aspects as his views seem to be disjointed. In ‘Major Problems in African American History’ he does mention ideas similar to those of Steve Lawson, that King was the most significant after all. Carson’s opinion is certainly useful, as an American and a personal friend of King, meaning that his criticisms and opinions of King are valid because he was close enough to him that he could ‘discredit’ him.

Carson could be seen as unreliable as he could be seen as too sensitive to the movement as he was around in America at the time of it. But he could also be seen as more reliable than Badger for this reason, because he is a specialist on King and has devoted his academic life to him. But this also means that he is not as well versed in other areas of the movement such as the Federal Government’s role.

Therefore, I would say that I find Badger to be a more reliable source that the Federal Government was responsible for the creation of hope by passing various legislations, for example the vital passing of the Amendments. An example of the power of this was the impeachment of Johnson, whereby Johnson was removed after attempting to veto some of the legislature. The decisions of the government were influential as backlash such as this meant that the whole country was taking steps forward.

The immense pressure from other key individuals and groups inspired change both socially and politically to join the fight to achieve Civil Rights. It put stress on the Federal Government to make crucial changes. There are certainly vital people who helped spread the urgency of the need for change, who perhaps, didn’t receive as much credit as King. These people made small differences in terms of scale but inspired each other to stand up to white prejudice. Associations between various radical groups and the Federal Government were also key in the achievement of Civil Rights.

Badger, whose opinion on the reason for the achievements of Civil Rights was also the Federal Government too, speaks about in his ‘Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement’ the importance of various individuals and groups around at the time of the achievement. He says that once individuals were able to start standing up for themselves that they were able to implement rights at ‘the local level’. He places the job of the NAACP and their ‘legal challenge to segregation’. This dissatisfaction was what led to ‘Montgomery in 1955 and in Greensboro in 1960’. From this, it is important to look at what these individuals did to get the attention of the Federal Government. Badgers ‘Different Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement’ proves itself to be a very strong source.

As a secondary source, Badger is an outsider observer who has “no skin in the game”. Meaning he has no reason for bias, it is very likely that he has come to a highly reasonable conclusion as to who was responsible for the achievements. Furthermore, he is less likely to be influenced by racial and cultural feelings, as he is English, and did not have a personal experience with the movement.

However, it is important to note that he does tend to focus on Roosevelt and Carter, and not purely Civil Rights. Technically, he doesn’t provide a full answer to other factors such as war, but I would still argue that it is extremely reliable.

By far, the NACCP was the most significant group in the Civil Rights movement. Still around today, their impact on the Federal Government using propaganda and newspapers to recruit members was extremely effective. It was founded in 1909 by Web du Bois and Ida Wells. WEB founded the NAACP newspaper ‘The Crisis’ which was used to campaign and spread against the Jim Crow laws, sexual inequality and lynchings. However, there was a huge divide in-between the groups, for example, Booker T Washington and WEB did not agree. Washington wanted a non-violent and passive way into equality, whereas the members of the NAACP wanted faster and more aggressive ways of gaining equality. This shows how the groups were divided in methods used to gain equal rights. This rendered the groups less effective as a united effort against the inequality would have made them much more significant.

In 1944, they published a poster  which could be evaluated to give us an accurate view of what the NAACP thought of the Jim Crow laws in the South. In this poster, the crow, labelled ‘Jim Crow’ is being held round the neck by the hand of the NAACP.

The poster seems to have a violent tone which makes the source highly effective. Its appearance is visually disturbing. The crow is being held over a fire and has been killed by the NAACP group. This shows exactly how the NAACP thought ‘total peace’ could be achieved, through violence. It is effective as it shows to what extent the NAACP were going to take the fight for Civil Rights. It shows authority, and a clear aim of crushing the Jim Crow laws. Furthermore, the poster has effective content as it shows how you could join the NAACP, giving the address and the date of a ‘Monster Mass Meeting’. This shows how easy it was to join, and how willing there were for members to join, which is appealing to the public.

The provenance of the source is also important in its significance. Around the ankles of the bird, there are two flags; one bearing a swastika, the emblem of the Nazi government in Germany; and the other the Japanese sun flag. These flags are present as the NAACP are trying to show that even though the African Americans fought bravely in the Second World War, they are still being treated with a sense of suspicion as if they are the enemies of America, as Germany and Japan were at the time. Even though the NAACP were not ‘violent’, this shows that they used posters such as this to gain an emotive and personal response. The war affected all of America in the fight for freedom, and this poster comparing African Americans to the enemy countries might gain support for the movements as they could see how unfair that is.

As for the individuals and groups involved in the movement, there were certainly a few which famously helped change the tide in America whilst working with the Federal Government. Individuals and groups either managed to create such an impact on the Federal Government that the pressure they caused meant more action had to be taken.

Booker T, Washington, who was born a mulatto slave had an important impact on the movement, particularly on the Federal Government. He was educated by a man called Samuel Armstrong who had been a commander in the Civil War and believed in the importance in giving freed slaves a practical education. He went on to higher education, and he gained a lasting philosophy on the importance of providing African Americans a proper, practical education. Practical education was popular amongst the white Southerners as they saw it as African Americans accepting in-superiority. Nether-the-less, it was better than no education at all. He was a lecturer in the White house and had tied to the presidents at the time, Roosevelt and Taft, he was their adviser. His message focussed on urging blacks to accept discrimination at the moment and try to elevate themselves through education and hard work. He also secretly funded court cases amongst the Federal Government supporting Civil Rights, for example Giles vs. Harris. He had huge ties personally to the Federal Government and certainly helped inspire change as he showed that it was possible to be a successful black man.

Thaddeus Stevens was a white Radical Republican leader who was one of the most powerful members on the House of Representatives. He had a long relationship with a woman called Lydia Hamilton Smith, who was his housekeeper of African American descent. He focussed on his career mainly on Civil Rights and he helped draft the 14th Amendment in the Federal Government after seeing that it had defiantly not been enough to abolish discrimination of African Americans. He also proposed the impeachment of Johnson after dominating the White House during the Reconstruction period. He also had huge ties to the Federal Government and helped inspire more change.

Rosa Parks, possibly one of the most famous individuals for her famed bus boycott, who was part of the NAACP which was a group which worked with the Federal Government. She is called the ‘mother of the Civil Rights movement’. Her arrest after she refused to give her seat up for a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was made up of 17,000 black citizens. The events in Montgomery had international coverage and vastly impacted the pace of change in the movement. Martin Luther King was leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association which led the protest, this meant that the boycott had even more coverage as the media loved King. Black people had decided that they were not going to let white intimidation stop them, and they used Parks as a role model, she showed that passive resistance was a good tactic to have. Fairclough points out “if Brown was the legal turning point in the struggle for black equality then the Montgomery Bus Boycott was the psychological turning point” . Parks was also involved in the NAACP, at the time of her boycott, she had been secretary of the local NAACP for twelve years. The NAACP played a very important part in the movement, during the war they had campaigned for African Americans to be allowed to be officers in the army. They also helped blacks win court cases and the support of the Supreme court, which was vital in changing the positioning of the Federal Government.

After this came the ‘Black Power Movement’ in the 1960s. Malcom X was the black leader of the Nation of Islam. He launched bitter attacks on white America and had lots of support from urban black ghettos, it is estimated that he had 250,000 supporters by 1969. The newspaper also had a weekly audience of 600,000. They also set up many black businesses in ghettos in an attempt to create more work for them. Malcom X was an idol for many young people. He thus inspired the next generation of black leaders of groups such as SNCC and CORE and inspired the new and more confident black power movement which arguably made the Federal Government act. The new black power movement were more violent, and the threat of violent protests meant that the Federal Government saw the balance of society diminish and were more likely to act fast.

From these individuals, we see a new role taken on by the presidents in the 1960s, the pivotal time for the Civil Rights movement. Kennedy and Johnson ultimately created the new Civil Rights legislations.

Kennedy’s campaign in 1960 was based on a promise to help blacks if elected and called racism immoral, he claimed that he was committed to advancing Civil Rights. He also had a powerful appeal to the white poorer working class. He was slow moving at first, but after the 1963 Birmingham protests and King’s Washington march he was forced to act with stronger legislation as he realised he had to fulfil his promises. This was a hugely impactful as at this point there was a president in power of the Federal Government and he was willing to enact change. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was ground-breaking, whether it was passed due to JFK’s assassination or due to Johnson’s will is irrelevant, it was still passed by the Federal Government due to pressure from activists and groups at the time.

The Federal Government had an extremely advanced role in the four different American-involved wars in the 100-year span from 1865 to 1968. From the Civil war which ended in 1865, WWI, WW2 and to the beginning of the Cold War, there was certainly a widespread idea amongst black people in America of ‘Fighting for Respect’. In terms of war, they united all Americas, despite colour, in the search for victory and freedom. Ultimately, the intense courage and bravery shown, even in the face of the inequality amongst regiments, in my opinion certainly attributed to helping blacks achieve Civil Rights. In particular, the change in attitude from the Federal Government towards coloured troops from the Civil War to the end of the Second World War is especially significant. If anything, the change we see in the attitudes towards black troops hi-lights the change in the Federal Government. In the Civil War, President Lincoln was very wary of the border states seceding if former slaves were allowed to fight. Until 1863, black Americans were not allowed to fight, the North realised that they needed more men, and thus the first Black Regiments were formed. The first official black unit in the U.S armed forces was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. These men did not have equal pay, nor equal training. Courageous battles such as Fort Wagner and the Battle of Fort Pillow defiantly played a key role in helping bring around the end of slavery in 1865. The Battle of Fort Pillow, was reported by the media as a massacre and a stem on Southern anger towards the North’s use of black soldiers. The 54th regiment was led by Nathan Forrest, who was a slave dealer and a member of the KKK. The media attention gained from this was extremely significant, only 35% of the African Americans survived, this put immense pressure on the Federal Government as the media coverage caused outrage, words in headlines reading ‘slaughter’ and ‘massacre’ proved the distinction between the treatment of black and white regiments.

World War Two became a Two-Front battle for African Americans. Over 2.5 million African Americans registered for the draft, a large number of black women included. Blacks were still being seen as unfit for combat and were not allowed to fight in the front lines and were mainly given positions of support. Up until 1941, when Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which banned discriminatory hiring practices for the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Federal Government realised they had enrolled in a war which they were grossly underprepared to fight, they needed hands of all colour to fight. In 1942, Roosevelt continued to issue decrees which properly enabled opportunities for black enlistment in the armed forces. Doris Miller  was the first black man to be awarded the Navy Cross, this is an example of how there was some acceptance of black bravery in the war. However, without the Federal Government there would not have been change. Fairclough says, “they had chalked up gains, but had achieved no great breakthrough ”. But, the Executive had won the war, and this made it “difficult for [Roosevelt] to ignore black demands for equal treatment” .

In the context of 1865 to 1968, the Federal Government played the most significant part in achieving Civil Rights for African Americans. Although King, the war and other individuals put immense pressure on the Federal Government, it was that that had to change in order for it to come around. My factors I chosen have proven my argument as they have put across how exterior influences caused the Federal Government to have a political change, allowing the rest of society to have a social change in their mentality of not just theoretical equality, but actual equality for all African Americans.

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