Beginning in the 1950s a number of organizations began to crop up that strove to put an end to segregation and discrimination. Some of these were the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Individuals such as Thurgood Marshall, Ralph Abernathy, and Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., along with many others worked along side these organizations to change the laws through nonviolent resistance. They adopted many of the nonviolent teachings and techniques that Mohandas K. Gandhi used to free the Indian people from the rule of the British.
In 1954 the first real step toward ending segregation in America happened in the form of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the famous case called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In this ruling segregation in the public school system was deemed unconstitutional. Brown signaled to many people a hope that segregation might end soon. Southern lawmakers, who were all white because of Jim Crow laws that limited the number of black people eligible to vote, resisted desegregation. Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all areas of public life. Blacks and whites had separate schools, trains, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants,
parks, restrooms, and even water fountains. Public facilities for black people were often inferior and not as well maintained as those for white people.
In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to follow
an Alabama law that required black
passengers on city buses to give up their seats for white passengers. After she was arrested, Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to organize a boycott of city buses until they treated black and white passengers the same.
The sit-ins and boycotts that followed applied economic pressure where change was most needed. Freedom Riders - black and white Americans -took bus trips throughout the South to test federal laws that banned segregation. Black students enrolled in segregated schools. Protest marches and demonstrations continued to make headlines. Civil rights workers carried out programs for voter education and registrations. The goal to create tension and provoke confrontations peacefully in order to force the federal government to step in and enforce the laws was beginning to work. Inspired by these successes as well as others, more and more people believed the time was near when black Americans would be granted the civil rights they deserved as citizens of the United States, the rights other Americans took for granted. Even people who didn’t agree had begun to pay attention to the growing numbers of those who were willing to protest against segregation.
Unfortunately, the goal of nonviolence was not always met.
Gunshots, fires, and bombings often answered the trials and tribulations of the movement. These attacks were not only directed against the brave people who so heroically fought to achieve change. Despite the danger, the civil rights movement grew stronger, gaining support all over the country. On May 2, 1963, almost a thousand children joined what some called the Children’s Crusade, a march from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church into the center of Birmingham. The entire city was shocked, even the police, who were too surprised to do anything. Inspired by the success of the demonstration, the marchers returned the next day, but this time the police were ready for them. They came with their dogs, and the fire department came with their hoses. As the rest of the country turned on their televisions that night, they watched the police
and their dogs abusing the blacks, they watched the dogs bite and chase the children. They watched as the water knocked down men, women, and children.
Many people who had never thought about civil rights
before began to think about them. On August 28, 1963,
more than 250,000 people from all over the country
marched on Washington, D.C. to pressure Congress to
pass the Civil Rights Bill - to demand equal rights for
black Americans. It was there, in front of the Lincoln
Memorial, that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his
famous “I have a dream” speech. However, the hatred
and the evil continued. A few weeks later a black church
in Birmingham was bombed and four little girls, ages
eleven and fourteen, were killed. Then, finally, a little
less than a year later, on July 2, 1964, President Lyndon
Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill.
Selman, R.L. and Elizabeth, T. (2013). An Educator's Resource for The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963. Zaner Bloser, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.walden.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/The-Watsons-go-to-Birmingham-Educational-Resource.pdf, September 21, 2016.
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