To what extent was the Montgomery Bus Boycott the most important turning point in civil rights for African Americans 1865-1992?

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To what extent was the Montgomery Bus Boycott the

The Montgomery Bus Boycott (social/legal change)

  • Segregation on transport was one of the major issues in the South- African Americans were dependent on the transport system for employment and were continually discriminated against
  • Was the first example of direct and effective protest: the black community was united in their cause
  • Achievement: buses were desegregated in Montgomery
  • Highlighted the success of the NAACP in bringing the case to the Supreme Court- Browder v.Gayle 1956 ruled that segregation on public transport was unconsitutional.
  • Highlihgted the power of the black community upon businesses: the bus companies went bankrupt.
  • Such a success allowed the civil rights movement to gain momentum and contined to win great successes through the 60s
  • Martin Luther King emerged as a great leader who maintained motivation, inspiration and to involve less educated blacks into the movement, not to mention win the sympathy of many with his exploitation of the media.
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Montgomery Bus Boycott

However, although this certainly marked a change in attitudes of the Federal Governmentm demonstrated the power of a united black community and gave the civil rights movement the push it needed to succeed, it could be argued that this was not necessarily a turning point but was just a manifestation of the build up in tension as a result of other turning points:

World War 2

Brown v. Board

14th & 15th ammendments

Death of JFK

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World War 2

  • Economic opportunites for African Americans increased with the outbreak of the war: they had the opportunity to serve in the armed forces (though in segregated units) and many jobs opened up in the North in urban cities in industry.
  • Huge migration north of African Americans into the cities
  • In the aftermath of the war membership of the NAACP soared
  • The attitudes of African Americans changed significantly after fighting against racism and discrimination in Europe they began to really question their treatment at home
  • Establishment of the Double V Campaign
  • Beginning of black consciousness
  • Phillip Randolph proposes a "March on Washington"- precursor to MLK's in 1963
  • CORE is founded
  • Truman desegregates the army in 1948
  • Wave of progressive legislation supported by the Supreme Court (though limited) Shelly v. Kraemer, Sweatt v. Painter, Smith v. Allright.
  • Quest for civil rights begins.
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Brown v. Board

  • Landmark Supreme Court case in which the legal precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson was overturned- segregation deemed unconstitutional
  • Government can no longer hide behind past legislation
  • Marked a change in government attitudes- Earl Warren as Chief of Justice liberal
  • Went further than just deeming segregation unconstitutional but insisted on the psychological need to integrate as blacks were certainly separate but unequal (presented by sociological research from the NAACP) morally and objectively dealing with cases.
  • Attitude change in African Americans: had faith in the American system, could use the Supreme Court to their advantage in years to come.
  • Start of a new era

But...Hard to implement: "you can change laws but you can't change hearts and minds". Huge white resistance, unclear on when desegregation should take place stated it should with "all deliberate speed".

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14th and 15th Ammendments

  • Gave African Americans their full set of rights:
    • Able to vote
    • Freedom of movement and employment
    • Equality under the law
    • All the rights of citizenship

However this was not a continued change, after the end of the Reconstruction era in 1877 any rights African Americans were given were reversed. Black codes were put in place, segregation was made legal in the South (state's rights) and white supremacist groups continued to discriminate.

Then again, if it weren't for the ammendements and their lack of implementation, perhaps the quest for civil rights would have taken even longer.

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Thank you .. Really good info :)

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