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Development of Civil Rights in the United States in the Period 1877 to 1981 Essay Sample

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Development of Civil Rights in the United States in the Period 1877 to 1981 Essay Sample

At the beginning of the 1870s Blacks had caught a glimpse at the end of the tunnel for the development of Civil Rights. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 followed by the 13th and 14th Amendment freed slaves could now travel freely, own property and become educated, some of the most fundamental of civil rights. However after the release of three and a half million slaves into American society it would be some time before this declaration would become reality. In the south slaves continued to work for white landowners under new share cropping scheme, education and political activism remained low resulting in not a single senate holding a black majority. Blacks remained, in the eyes of many southerners ‘a perfectly stupid race’ that ‘can never rise to a very high plane’ President Thedore Roosevelt. However over the following centaury Civil Rights changed dramatically with the Spanish – America War, First World War, Second World War, Cold War and the War in Vietnam. Further change was also due to the rising support for Negro rights groups and the pushing by congress for an increase in Civil Rights.

The Spanish American war of 1898 was the first major conflict after the Emancipation. Twenty five thousand troops were used with two thousand five hundred ‘Buffalo Soldiers’. Blacks sought to prove their bravery to the nation and in doing so strike a blow against the Jim Crow laws forced on them in the south. These segregated whites and blacks in all aspects of political and social freedom, although meant to be treated with equality to all other citizens a second rate race. Black soldiers marching across Northern America were greeted by mixed cheering crowds but when crossing the south by train they were spat on and insulted showing the huge divide remaining after the civil war. The African-American community showed strong support for the rebels in Cuba and the black cause gained awareness after 33 Blacks were noted to have died in the Maine explosion. Booker T Washington explained that his race was ready to fight ‘to render service to our country that no other race can’ as they were accustomed to a dangerous climate.

Blacks thought that service for their country would lead to rewards of further civil rights with ‘at least ten thousand loyal, brave, strong Black men in the south who crave an opportunity to show their loyalty to our land, and would gladly take this method of showing their gratitude for the lives laid down, and the sacrifices made, that Blacks might have their freedom and rights.’ Gatewood. However after the war very little changed, in fact the blacks situation went into decline as aggression came from Rifle Clubs, Red Shirts and the Klu Klux Klan. There were 2734 lynching’s from 1885 to 1917. In 1900 a literacy test was introduced to gain eligibility to vote, with only 35% of the southern black population literate by this time only 3% of the Black population qualified to vote. However the war provided an opportunity for Blacks to realise the injustice of fighting for a nation who at the same time suppresses your race provoking the beginnings of the Civil rights movement. The First World War was to affect the entire American nation.

During the war workers unions gained better rights under the National War Labour Board guaranteeing the maintenance of working conditions and an eight hour day, in return for a no strike policy. Membership increased from 2.7 million in 1916 to five million in 1920. In the armed forces 350,000 Blacks served with only 40,000 seeing active service and 1,300 holding an officer rank. While in Europe Blacks were surprised by the welcoming attitude of the French colonial troops they fort alongside. At the same time in America the Great Migration was underway. The movement of Blacks from the south up to the North doubled most major cities populations and caused critical housing shortages. When the veterans returned home many Black workers were fired from their jobs to make way for returning white solders. The continuously growing population and competition between whites and blacks for jobs culminated in the 1919 race riots in 25 cities. In Illinois a 15 year old black boy crossed the dividing line between the black and white beach and was stoned by whites. After Black who complained were arrested thirty eight were killed and five hundred injured in the resulting riot.

A report commissioned by the Governor of Illinois concluded that the riots were the fault of segregation, inequality within the police, ghetto living conditions and the growing ‘race consciousness’. The Poindextor Survey conducted in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi from 1929 to 1937 found that ninety percent of all cases of hookworm, malaria and syphilis were black; similarly seventy percent of black homes had no electricity or water supply. On the other hand Ghetto’s gave birth to the Harlem Renaissance and ‘jazz age’. A growing number of writers, poets and musicians and middle class developed in this increasing black culture. One of the first leaders to successfully grasp these post war tensions was Marcus Garvey who called for black education and pride in their culture. His Universal Negro Improvement Organisation attracted the support of the working and middle classes, His ‘back to Africa’ and Black Star Line came close to mobilising mass black action. However with the fall of racial tensions after the war so did his support. But this initial success set the stage for later Black Power movements and the progression of civil rights. World War One did act as a strong catalyst in conjunction with the Great Migration and saw a marginal increase in Blacks civil rights but it was most important for the development of black culture and producing leaders of future civil rights campaigns.

Dr Stephen Tuck saw the Second World War as the ‘absolute key’ in bringing about change in American civil rights. Black urban migration continued and Chicago’s population increased from 0.25 million in 1940 to half a million in 1950. This higher concentration of Blacks gave them greater political and economic power as they could not be bullied by white land owners. Pressure for housing continued and escalated into race riots in 1943. Detroit suffered nine white and twenty five black casualties with another eight hundred injured. City authorities seemed unsympathetic and in Washington DC several hundred black’s homes were destroyed in the expansion of the Pentagon. Job competition was high; in Alabama Dry Rock Company in Mobile blacks were granted employment in 1943 after federal pressure. White attacked the new workers injuring fifty. Later that year in New Orleans a black soldier was ordered to sit at the back of the bus when 24 passengers complained they were all jailed.

The proximity of black and white competition remained a problem for civilians and the army. One point two million blacks served in the armed forces and clashes between white and black segregated troops were common. At the southern military base in Alexandria, Louisiana a drunken black soldier was arrested. In a two hour riot which followed involving black troops, military police, local police and civilian’s thirteen blacks were shot dead. Segregation and a disproportionately small amount of black officers led to low morale and frequent racial violence. These clashes resulted in a massive increase in membership of organisations similar to the NAACP whose support went from 50,000 to 450,000 during world war two. Black workers had greater bargaining power; Randolph threatened to bring Washington DC to a standstill unless there was equality for workers and the armed forces. Roosevelt refused to desegregate the army but did create the Committee on Fair Employment Practices with a resulting two million blacks finding employment. However two thirds of the eight thousand job discrimination cases were dismissed and only a fifth of southern cases were successful. After 1937 lacking funds its effectiveness decreased but it showed the coming change within the federal government.

The NAACP were successful in the Missouri vs Gaines Supreme Court case of 1938. This found that a black law student should be provided equal facilities in the state of Missouri and not sent to another state. In 1944 southern black politicians rights were increased after the Smith vs Allwright Supreme Court case and NAACP campaign in Texas. The exclusion of Blacks from primary schools was declared unconstitutional and thus desegregation began. D.C Hine saw this as ‘the watershed in the struggle for black rights’. During World War Two the number of black votes increased in the south from three percent in 1940 to twelve percent in 1940. Actions of other black run civil rights groups were also effective; CORE organised sit-ins and boycotts with the aim of gaining desegregated interstate transport. Although some blacks saw these actions as unpatriotic and irresponsible during war time prosperity the majority of the blacks became far more proactive in politics and protesting for civil rights.

The Second World War was to a great extent the push which black culture needed. With civil rights groups membership soaring and the progressive Supreme Court rulings a watershed had indeed been reached by 1945. The Cold War, although playing a huge role in American history and covering the larges time frame, had mixed results on the progression of civil rights. The subversion of the Federal Government led to accusations of communist sympathisers. The Red Scare meant that intellectuals such as Paul Robeson, Adam Clayton Powel and W.E.B Bois were all affected. Even the NAACP secretary White was suspected regardless of his strong anit-communist views. This in some respects slowed down the political progress made by civil rights groups however the phrase ‘the whole world is watching us’ meant that America had to appeal to the new Third World countries as a ‘leader of the free world’. Therefore progress had to be made in black civil rights and this came from the Federal Government and Supreme Court.

In the 1950 Sweatt vs Panter case the southern democrats were forced to remove their primary elections which were intended to benefit white candidates and thereforediscount the black vote. Later that  year in the McLaren vs Board of Regents Case a law school was forced to fully desegregate in both facilities and social interaction after McLaren had been forced to eat alone and sit separately during class. Fergal Marshal ‘a badge of inferiority which affects McLaren’s relationship with both his fellow students and to his professors’ is unacceptable. This victory proved that civil rights were not just equal facilities but social status and opportunity as well, paving the way to full desegregation in the south. The next case, Brown vs Board of Education, in 1954 saw this thesis applied to the education sector. The constitutionality of segregation was challenged as it gives blacks a feeling of ‘low self-esteem and feeling of inferiority’ Marshal. The Chief Justice Earl Warren, one of the most progressive of his generation, said that ‘we conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal’.

This was a huge turn around in the method of dealing with whites and blacks and led on to the large developments for civil rights during the Vietnam War. Vietnam was America’s first integrated conflict but this did not mean that there would be less racial confrontation. The fact that soldiers were fighting side by side meant that there was no excuse for them not to be treated differently ‘back home’. ‘..for once let the Black man get up in his person the brass letters, U.S; let him get an eagle upon his button…bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth…which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.’ In 1956 the Attorney General Bronwell presented a four part civil rights bill however it did not have full cabinet backing and the Justice Board had no power to prevent segregation. Therefore by 1962 no extra blacks had been added to the electoral roll and the lack of pressure on southern reform meant very little progress had been made. Individual southern states transferred the responsibility for education to school boards. At Little Rock, Arcinsaw black children were prevented from entering the school and spat on. Local guards also prevented their access ‘for their own safety’.

Embarrassed Eisenhower called in the National Guard to protect the children and allow them entry. Felix F. fears had become true as he said ‘nothing could be worse than for this court to make an abstract declaration that segregation is bad and then have it evaded by tricks’. The seeming lack of progress combined with the assassination of Medgar Evens in Mississippi rallied black protest. A march on Washington in 1963 of two hundred thousand blacks and whites ending in front of the Lincoln Memorial saw the publication of the civil rights act in 1964, bringing an end to de jure as it barred discrimination in all public places and employment. The following year a similar march from Selma to Montgomery took place under heavy government protection and media coverage. The Voters Rights act was passed the following year allowing blacks in southern states to register as voters. Apart from this progress, military drafting highlighted new areas of racism. In 1966 the qualification standards were lowed to encompass far more blacks and ironically poor white workers. Out of the 246000 servicemen sent to Vietnam from 1966 to 1969 41% were black.

From the 58,000 dead 22% were black and on top of this 40% of black veterans had post-traumatic stress compared to only 20% of white veterans. This disproportion was recognised by Lance Corporal William l. Harvey ‘Vietnam is a white man’s war. Black men should not go, only to return and fight whites at home’ and Muhammad Ali “They want me to go to Vietnam to shoot some black folks that never lynched me. Never called me nigger, never assassinated my leaders.” Martin Luther King also urged people to seek the status of consciences objector rather than support the war. A 1969 Time Magazine interview with 400 men ‘from the Con Thiem to the Delta’ found that 45% of black G.I.s would take up arms to fight for civil rights when they returned to the US and a further 64% believed race relations were worsening in Vietnam. The army responded well to these growing tensions with a Mandatory Watch and Action Committees who used the slogan ‘Racism can cost you your career’. Mixed military councils were set up as racial sensitivity training was given. This did improve race relations in the armed forces by the end of the war.

Civilian civil rights were also improved with mass black and white protest now common in the search for greater civil rights but the question was still asked; why fight for a democracy abroad when you don’t have one at home. On balance war acted as a catalyst for the development of civil rights to large extent from the period 1877 to 1981. The first and second World Wars as well as the Vietnam War showed the greatest progression in Civil Rights. The Spanish and Cold war did have positive impacts on the development of civil rights but not to the extent of the greater conflicts. The First World War shows increased speed in gaining civil rights within the workers unions as the war demanded a reliable workforce.

The Second World War also provoked a large increase in membership for the NAACP who successfully pursued civil rights in political and law based methods which proved to be extremely effective. Finally the Vietnam War showed the greatest turnaround in civil rights within the armed forces in a fully desegregated force. However other factors also pushed the development of civil rights; the various black run civil rights groups although benefiting from war continued to campaign and make progress for civil rights during times of peace. The Federal Government also played a strong role in the development of civil rights gradually during the time period 1877 to 1981. However these factors for change are not mutually exclusive, it was the conglomeration of Black civil rights groups, the pressures of war and the Federal Government who are responsible for the substantial development of civil rights over this century.

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