What was the impact of Back Americans fight for Civil right, 1955-80?

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The Montgomery Bus Boycott

  • Black passengers had to sit at the back of the bus and stand if seats were full. 
  • In 1954, the WPC warned that major local organisations were considering a bus boycott
  • Two women were arrested for refusing to give up their seats in 1955 but were rejected by the NAACP because of the use of the opposition might make of their circumstances.Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old, was unmarried/pregnant & Mary Smith was a poor 18-year-old
  • Rosa Pars, a respected NAACP member, was arrested for sitting at the front of the bus and the NAACP lawyers took her case. The MIA was formed to organise the boycott and MLK was chosen as their leader. The MIA held meetings to publicise the arrest and the boycott
  • The boycott began on 5 December and 90% of bus users stayed away from buses. The boycott lasted for 380 days and King was careful to keep the media informed about events
  • The homes of King was firebombed and the city government imprisoned King for conspiracy
  • The supreme court had to act and on 13 November 1956, they ruled bus segregation unconstitutional. On 21 December, over a year after the boycott, black people began riding buses again 
  • MLK became the face of black American civil rights. He got media attention over other civil leaders. In 1957, he set up SLC and refined the non-violent protest rules e
  • He stressed Black Americans should get arrested publicly, accept white people on protests, and make it clear who was the oppressor and never give the media the image of a violent black American
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Campaigning in the South (part 1)

  • Little Rock Arkansas 
  • Arkansas had a racist governor, Oval Faubus. In 1957, 9 black students were selected to attend Central High School
  • On the first day of school, Faubus sent a National Guard to prevented children going in for their safety. 8 of these children went by car but Elizabeth Eckford went on her own and was turned away by the guard. 
  • She was surrounded by a  screaming mob, many of them shouting lynch her, and photographs of the incidents shocked the world. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to guard the children after a meeting with MLK. 
  • The Greensboro Sit-In 
  • In 1960, 4 back students went into a Greensboro department store and waited to be served at a segregated lunch counter. They kept waiting until the store shut. The next day about 30 students joined them 
  • White youths came to heckle and the media filled with images of calm well dressed black students sitting waiting to be served while a crowd of white louts yelled at them. The shop finally shut due to a bomb scare
  • The SNCC
  • It was set up in North Carolina in 1960. It was a racially integrated organisation of young people and they believed in non-direct action.The SNCC took Kings ideas a step further by taking protest to places where they expected violence
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Campaigning in the South (part 2)

  • Freedom rides 
  • In 1961, CORE & the SNC carried out a series of freedom rides in the south, organised by James Farmer of CORE
  • These rides were to test whether bus restroom facilities had been desegregated and they knew that desegregation was unlikely in the deep south. Farmer said they planned the rides with the intention of provoking a crisis 
  • The first 2 buses were attacked and blacks and whites were beaten up. One of the buses was firebombed in Alabama and media coverage showed shocking levels of violence. 3 freedom riders were killed 
  • Birmingham,1963
  • Birmingham was nicknamed 'Bombingham' as black homes and churches were regularly firebombed. In 1963, King and SCLC wanted to desegregate the whole town and the protested leaflets made specific reference to the American dream
  • One tactic was to get arrested and fill the jails and Policeman like Bull Conner ordered men to use fire hoses on them 
  • Kennedy was ashamed and sent in federal troops to restore calm. Following that the city was desegregated. 
  • Freedom Summer, 1964
  • In 1963,the SNCC encouraged black people to register to vote & train them to pass the voter registration test. By the end of the summer,there had been 6 murders & 35 shooting incidents.Only 1.6k black people were accepted
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What was the impact of Black Militancy?

Black power

  • In 1965 the Lowndes Country Freedom Organisations led by Stokely Carmichael used the panther symbol & the slogan 'Vote for the panther,then go home' In 1966 James Meredith led the March 'Against Fear' in Mississippi
  • Carmichael said that non-violent protest wasn't working and wanted the NCC and the CRM to radicalise and exclude white campaigners. He suggested 'Black Power' & its symbol of a raised arm was used in the Olympics
  • From 1965, the movement split and there were no marches where all CRMs worked together. 
  • The black power movement wasn't a coherent force and the panther symbol was adopted by the Black Panthers
  • The Panthers, set up in 1966, worked in black communities and organised community projects 
  • Their ten point programme included decent housing and black history courses at universities  and pressed for more black staff and courses on black history. They got attention from the government  for carrying guns 
  • Black power workers set up radical trade unions to pushed for black jobs and equal pay. 
  • Black Power radicalised established civil rights groups like the NAACP. If these groups didn't radicalise they became more pragmatic, seeking local solutions. 
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Riots and Northern Crusade


  • In 1964, there were riots in NY, Chiraq and Philly each set off by brutality.
  • These riots, up to 1971, took place in the summer when facilities were at their worst
  • Government intervention to calm the violence was seen as acceptable but media coverage of the riots meant that the image of burning cities and a non-violent black people assaulted by white was replaced by the image of burning cities & young black man with petrol bomb 

The Northern Crusade 

  • After 1964, King began to focus on the North and visited overcrowded black ghettos. King announced a Northern Crusade to improve slums b setting up tenant unions and teaching young people about violent protest
  • He began with Chicago where over 800,000 black Americans lived and focused on it 
  • King claimed significant gains but other felt it had been a failure.
  • Kings relationship with the media turned sour and accused the of trying to make non-violent campaigners make militant statements 
  • In 1967, he took up issues of poverty in general, beginning to plan a poor people's campaign with a march. He supported a strike of Memphis Sanitation workers in 1968 
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The impact of civil rights legislation

  • The 1964 and 1965 voting rights act were two major pieces of civil rights legislation passed.
  • These legal changes came decades of struggle. After 1955, it became more likely that campaigners would be arrested or killed.
  • Even if places were forced to desegregate, it didn't mean that black Americans were welcomed.
  • Black children and adults were interested in schools had to face hatred and violence.
  • The NAACP pushed for busing black children to schools in other areas.
  • In 1971, the supreme Court upheld the idea of busing.
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Achievements and Limits to success


  • Legally in 1980 black Americans were full citizens, just as they were in 1917. In 1980, there was more pressure from Federal government to make equality happen. Since 1961, there have been a series of presidential executive orders to introduce 'affirmative actions'
  • A black Upper class and middle class had developed and they tended to be based in cities such as NYC and Washington. They were proof of equality and black professionals had significant access to work in the higher levels of society. 
  • Black American had several routes to success via sport or entertainment, as well as through professions. Black people features more on television and in cinema 
  • More Americans voted though voter registration slowed after in 1968. In 1966, government census figures show 58.2 percent of black Americans were registered to vote. In 1980, this was 60%

Limits to success. 

Although significant upper-class & middle-groups emerged, the poor were getting poorer and more of them were falling below the poverty line. Gang culture had begun to dominate the ghettos in big cities like Los Anges. In 1980, 75% of high school dropouts aged 25-34 had criminal records 

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