December 8, 2020 in History
Civil Rights


The history of the U.S. consists of many events and personalities. Nevertheless, there is one issue, which has disturbed the society for many centuries and is topical even nowadays. It is civil rights movement of African-Americans. They have undergone the long way of struggles in the U.S, tried achieving equal rights and proper living condition. The peak of this fight coincides with the 20th century. It is the time of the most prominent black organizations and activists. Nevertheless, it is impossible to understand the peculiarity of the 20th century in the history of African-Americans without the analysis of preconditions. That is why for this project I have chosen to analyze the civil right movement of black people in the U.S. in the 20th century through the prism of the events (Civil War, Reconstruction) of the 19th century. In general, the 20th century, impacted by the neglects of legal freedoms of black people after Civil War, was the contrast of great hardships and gains in the history of this race in the U.S.

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Civil Rights Movement in the 19th Century

To understand the peculiarity of civil rights movement in the 20th century, it is necessary to analyze the events, which had taken the place before it. The most prominent of them was Civil War. It started in as an attempt to abolish slavery and provide black citizens with equal rights with whites. On the one hand, it was a successful fight. African-Americans gained the number of privileges. The most significant one was the status of free citizens. The Fifth Amendments declaration, which stated that no person could be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, was enhanced by new Articles. The Thirteenth Amendment indicated that the slavery was prohibited. The Fourteenth Amendment underlined that African-Americans should be provided with citizenship. The Fifteenth one gave them a right to vote. On the other hand, in practice, all these laws were proved nothing more than simple words. Between 1873 and 1883, the Supreme Court nullified the work of Congress during Reconstruction. It handed down many decisions, which implied the second-class status for black people. One of them was known as the case H.A. Plessy v. J.H. Ferguson. Its goal was to provide the segregation with a legal status. For instance, it was stated that separate facilities did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Due to it, it was allowed to separate black people from whites in transportation, public accommodations, prisons, educational institutes, armed forces, and recreational facilities in both Northern and Southern States. The discrepancies between promised freedoms by laws and actual violations of them could not remain unnoticed. They made the significant impact on the civil rights movement in the 20th century.

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African-Americans Hardships during Great Depression

The 20th century brought new struggles for African-Americans. Their unstable position in the society left them unprotected in the face of Great Depression. This economic decline shocked the U. S. in 1930s. It was caused by the stock market crash. The negative consequence of it was job loss by millions of people. The status of second-class citizens made it possible for Black Americans to experience the enhanced vulnerability. In Detroit, they accounted for 25% of the relief cases, disregarding their small population in this city only 4 %. In St. Louis, making up only 9% of the population, black were the victims of 60% of relief cases. In Norfolk, Virginia the situation was even more dramatic. In this city, African-Americans participated in 70% of all relief cases. Although there were some legal attempts to change the conditions of black people for better, they did not achieve the success. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party initiated the set of laws, known as New Deal, to protect the rights of black workers. For instance, the National Industrial Recovery Act prohibited to pay salaries, lower than the living wage. Nevertheless, it made the employees not hire people, who were not worth of the minimum salary. In such a way, many black men were left without any means of survival.

Civil Rights Movement in the 20th Century

Nevertheless, the hardships of the 20th century brought not only negative consequences for African-Americans. They also activated the civil rights movement. The 20th century was known as the period of active struggles of the black organizations. They were divided into two mainstreams. The first one strived to overcome the segregation and integrate black people in the society of whites. Its objective was to protect the freedoms, guaranteed by the Constitution. The example of such a force was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It managed to refute the unlawful decisions of the Supreme Court. One of the achievements was First Texas Primary case. According to it, the exclusion of black voters was regarded as an illegal activity. The second direction followed the nationalist idea. It strived to encourage African-Americans to leave the U.S. and create a powerful country in Africa. One of such organization was the Universal Negro Improvement Association, led by Marcus Garvey. With the help of education and media, it enhanced the national spirit of black people in the U.S. and reminded them that they had powerful roots. In general, the civil rights movement of the 20th century unified African-Americans around national ideas and proved them that they had all the rights to enjoy legal freedoms in the U.S as citizens but not slaves.

Martin Luther King

Active civil rights movement made it possible for well-educated black people to reveal themselves for a broad public. One of them was Martin Luther King. He was the leader of the African-American civil rights movement in the 20th century. On the one hand, he provided the black people with new ideology nonviolent protest. It improved their relationships with whites in the U.S. The vivid example of it was known under the name the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, headed by King. It united 200,000 people of different races around the same idea to make the U.S. the country of decent working and social conditions. In the speech I have a Dream, proclaimed on August 28, 1963, in Washington DC, King indicated that his objective was not to enhance the conditions of only black people but to bring the peace and freedom for all people, disregarding their race. …when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (King). On the other hand, he managed to enhance the rights of African-Americans. In July 1964, Congress supported the landmark Civil Rights Act that eliminated the segregation of the public sphere and racial discrimination at the workplace.

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To sum up, Civil War was the first prominent attempt of black people to protect their rights in the U.S. Although the period of Reconstruction provided them with the desired freedoms, the 20th century showed that these achievements were only the illusions. African-Americans were left to fend for themselves in the face of Great Depression. They were used as slaves disguising under the mask of democratic labor law. Nevertheless, the 20th century brought not only negative experience for black people. It was also known as the period of inspiration. The appearance of many civil rights organization showed for African-Americans that they were a powerful nation with a legal status of citizens in the U.S. Moreover, they gained their spiritual leader such as Martin Luther King, who proved that the black race was not an inferior one.


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