On May 17, 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered a unanimous ruling, which changed the discourse of racial segregation in America. The ruling of Board vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas constructed a solid path for racial progress in America. Once ruled, this case grew a multitude of media attention around implementing segregation in public schools. This ruling marked the end of the “separate but equal” precedent, mandated by the Supreme Court. Almost fifty years after the Plessy vs. Ferguson case Thurgood Marshall, an attorney for the National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led the charge in fighting for equal rights for African Americans. Marshall argued that segregation of schools violated the 14th amendment of the constitution. Even though, the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education was met by vehement reactions from the southern pro-segregationist, efforts to change this damaging ideology remained consistent. In an effort to change the grounded construct of segregation, civil rights activist employed resistance campaigns which strategically affected the legacy of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
In response to the Brown ruling, pro-segregationist led movements to combat desegregation. Dubbed the “massive resistance movement”, this was a retaliatory effort that declared the Brown ruling an unconstitutional attack on states’ rights. This resistance was so massive, in fact, that several counties, rather than integrate their schools, closed them. Prince Edward County in Virginia, for instance, closed its schools in 1959 and didn’t re-open them until 1964. However, in fact this was a method used to keep schools segregated because many states appropriated funds to pay for white students to attend private academies. Despite surrounding efforts to maintain segregation, in 1957 the Little Rock, Arkansas school board adopted a plan to gradually integrate their schools. Thus, Central High School advertised for volunteers from all-black schools to take part in this effort. “On September 3, 1957, nine black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, arrived at Central High School to begin classes but were instead met by the Arkansas National Guard (on order of Governor Orval Faubus) and a screaming, threatening mob” (history.com). After several failed efforts of integration, President Dwight Eisenhower intervened thus, issuing 101st Airborne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine to class. Intervention by U.S. troops lasted for roughly a year, subsequently the Little Rock Nine still fell victim to racial harassment and racial inequality. Their efforts helped ignite the media attention needed to grapple with the issue of desegregation America ignored. With this historical effort the Little Rock Nine delivered an impactful message that helped re-center their identity from oppressed to activist.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott provided fertile ground for U.S. Civil Rights activist to grapple with the impending issue of segregation. This effort was ignited by Rosa Parks because she refused to yield her seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus. As a result, Parks had been arrested thus highlighting the ingrained systemic resistance to desegregate America. Parks was an active within political circles since the 1930’s, nevertheless; served as secretary for the NAACP. Parks had been a well-established Civil Rights activist, long before the Bus Boycott movement, which catapulted her historical notoriety from a subaltern activist. “The boycott took place from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, and is regarded as the first large-scale U.S. demonstration against segregation” (history.com). Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system. Furthermore, the Bus Boycott also thrust into prominence a young pastor from Atlanta, named Martin Luther King, Jr. King’s contributions to the boycott played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, thus leading to the city of Montgomery surrendering their segregation practices. After Montgomery, King was instrumental in forming the Christian Leadership Conference, a coalition of black civil rights and church leaders who pushed for integration. Due to prolific contributions, and empowering rhetoric this event will always be worthy of remembrance, but also understanding.
While grappling with a shift to structures and political systems, it was prevalent for African Americans to take a new form of action against voting rights. Even though, it was required by law that all Americans had the right to vote, southern states made it difficult for African Americans. Southern states often required African Americans to adhere to difficult literacy test, however; the tests were misleading and convoluted. “Wanting to show a commitment to the civil rights movement and minimize racial tensions in the South, the Eisenhower administration pressured Congress to consider new civil rights legislation” (history.com). As a result, on September 9, 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, thus constituting federal persecution of any individual who prevents a person from voting. Nonetheless, this law also introduced a commission to investigate voter fraud. This law served as catalyst for social change, thus allowing African Americans to break the mold of voter oppression. When observing this historic breakthrough, it is important to explore the racial boundaries that were a significant shift away from the discourse of history. By illuminating these racial issues and understanding the need for economic alterations, the Civil Rights Movement gained traction in combating injustice in America. This traction created a beacon of hope and courage for oppressed Americans.
Exploring the decade of the 1960’s provides a duality that is attached to the past and acts to ensure future remembering. History often implies a singular account of the past, in which ideologies and perspectives are narrowed. Conversely, the 1960’s conceived terms of multiple, diverse, mutable accounts of past events. Through widespread systemic inequality and poverty, this decade shows us just how far we were from living the ideal equal opportunity. Arguing that we have made real progress, and our luxury is a credit to the voices of protest. The 1960’s is an era that requires a cultural analysis to explore the artifacts that mark it’s existence. Thus, creating scholarship that grapples with the breaking silences to recover the historical voices that have been lost.
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