US Civil Rights: African Americans - Factors

Federal government

Overall, more progress when federal government was supportive of CR

Compare attitudes eg. Plessy v Ferguson (1896) vs Brown v BoE (1954)

Generally reluctant to act without pressure from protesters

CR could be seen as making progress ahead of federal government because grassroots protest (and, in the post-war period, a more sympathetic climate) were essential prerequisites to legislative change

The huge economic and social changes brought about by the Depression and WW2 undermined the ability of the southern states to resist change

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Actions of CR campaigners

March on Washington 1963 - Civil Rights Act (1964)

  • Media coverage and MLK's iconic speech significantly increased the pressure on the federal government to pass substancial legisaltion which advanced AA CR

Mississippi Freedom Ballot in 1963 and the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964 demonstrated that AAs would vote if they good, pressuring the government to pass voting legislation

  • The march from Selma to Montgomery further increased this pressured Congress into passing the Voting Rights Act (1965)

Could be viewed that the decline in significant federal legislation supporting black CR at the end of the 1970s is linked to the deline of a strong black CR movement

  • HOWEVER the 1970s also saw a decline of presidents who strongly favoured the CR movement (eg. Reagan), which the most sympathetic being Carter (who was limited due to lack of experience in a federal setting)
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Quality of leadership of AA campaigners

Good leadership (eg. MLK) = most progress

In the absense of any significant unifying leader advancements were limited

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The role of the media

(+) Police brutality towards peaceful protesters during the Birmingham protest was broadcasted in living rooms across the country, and drastically increased public support for CR

(+) Allowed MLK to have maximum impact (except in Albany where Laurie Pritchett didn't react - no coverage)

HOWEVER

(-) The media portrayed AAs as stupid and untrustworthy eg. Jim Crow - led white Americans to have a negative view of AAs work ethic - only 10% of defence industries would employ AAs in 1940

(-) During the Cold War, the media portrayed a negative view of socialist programmes (linked them to Communism) - these programmes supported AAs, who suffered when Reagan withdrew welfare funding

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Societal shifts

Depression - federal government began to implement policies that were helpful to AA economic development during the New Deal

The Cold War pressured the federal government to act on black rights in order to get the moral high ground (eg Voting Rights Act 1965, Nixon's affirmative action)

Changes in the attitudes of society following the broadcast of CR protests contributed to a change in public mood that AAs were able to take advantage of to further their own agenda - created an environment in which change was inevitable 

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