‘Opposition to African-American civil rights remained powerful throughout the period from 1865 to 1992.’ How far do you agree?


Opposition to African-Americans civil rights was present throughout the period from 1865 to 1992, but the strength of that opposition varied considerably and it could even be argued that at certain points, such as during Reconstruction, the Second World War and the 1960s in particular it was limited. Opposition came from a variety of groups, including the Federal Government, pressure groups and ordinary citizens, whose attitudes to political, social and economic equality varied across the period.
The hostility of the Federal Government towards African American civil rights suggests that there was strong resistance to equality. However, although some Presidents, such as Wilson, were opposed to civil rights and even praised the Klu Klux Klan for saving the south from black rule during Reconstruction, others such as Johnson and Carter were more supportive, with Johnson’s presidency witnessing the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the appointment of the first African American, Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. Similarly Carter appointed more African Americans to the judiciary, with the percentage of African American federal judges rising from 4 per cent in 1977 to 9 per cent in 1981. Despite supportive Presidents, there were occasions, as under Roosevelt, when Presidents were unable to do more to aid African Americans, who had been particularly badly hit by the Depression, because of opposition from Democrats in the Senate. However, although not specifically aimed at African Americans, federal aid during the Depression did benefit them as they were among the poorest in America and is further evidence that, even if inadvertently, the Federal Government was not consistently opposed. Kennedy went even further and took unprecedented interventionist action in the Southern states, using federal force and injunctions to get interstate buses and terminals and universities desegregated, but as with Roosevelt, he was also slow in promoting further change, not because he opposed or his party opposed it, but because many Southern whites felt he was moving too fast. Even Presidents sympathetic to change had to tread carefully because of opposition.
The attitude of the Supreme Court, particularly in the early part of the period suggests that opposition was powerful. The Supreme Court did nothing about the Jim Crow Laws that legalized segregation and even argued in the Plessy v Ferguson case that separate but equal facilities were not against the 14th Amendment. Similarly, the court did not uphold the 15th Amendment which said that African Americans should be able to vote, allowing the South to ignore…


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