Civil Rights Movement – Civil Rights Act

Civil Rights Movement – Civil Rights Act

Passing the Act

GCSE History Revision - Civil Rights Act SigningIn 1964, a large step towards ending racial equality was taken when, in July 1964, Lyndon B Johnson’s Civil Rights Act was passed. The law banned racially discriminatory laws (not just segregation, but laws that were designed to make it more difficult for non-white people to be eligible to vote), and outlawed denying public services to people based on their race. Reflecting the fact that a large proportion of whites in the South still opposed the idea of racial inequality, Republican and Democrat politicians from the South combined forces to try and stop the bill, but eventually had to admit defeat.

Continued Racism

But this isn’t the end of the story. Racism still persisted in everyday life. The civil rights movement continued to fight against it in cities across the South (such as in Selma to Montgomery March, described below), and continued to experience violence as they did.

Some people within the civil rights movement started to become frustrated at the discrimination that black people continued to suffer, in spite of changes in the law.

A minority of the civil rights movement had opposed the marches and sit-ins on the grounds that they were a waste of time. According to this viewpoint, blacks needed to confront racists more directly, using violence if necessary.

At the same time, they also thought that the movement was helping to encourage black people to conform to the dress and cultural styles of white people, rather than embracing their African roots and being proud of their identity as African-Americans.

The key figure of this school of thought was Malcolm X, who was murdered in 1965.

Black Panther Party

GCSE History Revision - Black Panther PartyHowever, in the second half of the sixties the ideas of figures such as Malcolm X became more popular. The Black Power movement began to gain momentum. That year, the militant Black Panther Party was created. The Black Panthers took a much more provocative stance when dealing with racism. Rather than attempting to work with the politicians in Washington, the Black Panthers argued that America was institutionally racist, from the local police and courts to the President himself, and would never help black people. Moderate civil leaders worried about this wing of the movement, as they feared it amounted to black nationalism and would only alienate people rather than encouraging them to forget racist ways of thinking.

And it was clear that the aggressiveness of the black power movement had much less public backing. At the Mexico Olympics, held in 1968, two African American athletes used the black power salute (a raised fist) whilst receiving medals on the podium. Whilst some people considered the gesture to be courageous, others associated it simply with anger and aggression.

* The Washington March, 1963 – Different civil rights groups came together to organize a massive demonstration in Washington DC, which took place on 28th August. Approximately 300,000 people, the majority of who were African-American, but were joined by a significant minority of white, Hispanic and Asian people. The march was designed to demand the introduction of civil rights laws, a guarantee of the right to vote (which was still being denied to minorities in some states), programmes to create jobs and provide better education and homes. The iconic moment of the day was Martin Luther King delivering his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

The enormous number of people in attendance – no protest on this scale had been organized in the US before – meant that the event could not be ignored.