Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement refers to the organized efforts of African Americans seeking racial equality in the United States, primarily in the middle decades of the 20th century and primarily in the segregated South.
The issue of Civil Rights resurfaced in the United States after World War II. The United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948. The climate of confrontation which marked the most active years of the movement was triggered by the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.
One of the first organized resistance actions was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, during which Martin Luther King, Jr emerged as an eloquent voice for racial justice and an ideological leader for the peaceful movement led by his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The movement grew and spread throughout the South, but notable victories were slow in coming. Sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina sparked similar actions across the region and led businesses in some cities to accommodate Black patrons. Other attempts to challenge segregation laws resulted in arrests, which were fought in the courts by the NAACP and others.
Meanwhile these efforts faced a growing backlash by anti-integrationists across the South. Ku Klux Klan members exercised influence in local governments and police departments and assisted in violent acts meant to terrorize African Americans and white sympathizers.
The confrontation between these groups reached its climax in the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights/Southern Christian Leadership Conference "Birmingham Campaign" in the Spring of 1963. Fred Shuttlesworth helped plan numerous marches, boycotts and demonstrations against the white economic and political leadership of Birmingham.
Nationally-televised images of youthful protesters under attack by Bull Connor's police dogs and firehoses created the "crisis of conscience" hoped for by King in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. King's August 1963 speech ("I Have a Dream"), delivered before a quarter of a million listeners at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. stirred national sentiment, as did the September 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four girls.
The Kennedy administration eventually rose to the occasion by proposing new Civil Rights legislation. The immediate result was the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 which opened the door to integration of public services throughout the United States. Unresolved issues with voting rights and access to housing continued to motivate protests, such as the Selma to Montgomery marches and the rise of Black Power and other activist movements against social and economic discrimination. Many American cities saw race riots in the late 1960s as the organized movement of peaceful demonstrations faded from relevance.
The history of these important events is now enshrined in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham's Civil Rights District surrounding Kelly Ingram Park.
- African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) at Wikipedia
- "Unseen. Unforgotten." - a collection of previously unpublished photos related to the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham from The Birmingham News.