Strugle For Black Equality Essay, Research Paper
The civil rights movement started in the end of the 1950s and through various protests broke the pattern of racially segregated public facilities in the South and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation for blacks since the Reconstruction period (1865-77). The Struggle for Black Equality by Harvard Sitkoff offered an extremely detailed overview of the movement and went through every phase of the struggle. The book made it clear that the black struggle has been worse than the media has ever admitted.
Many different people and organizations were involved in the movement. Some of the most known people were Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, although all of the people that took part in the movement are important. Several organizations that participated in the black struggle include the Black Panthers, the CORE, as well as SNCC and SCLC. Even though all these organizations worked to achieve the same goal, they did not always agree on the tactics that should be used. In the beginning of the movement – non-violent tactics were the most popular; however, after seeing very little results from non-violent protests, some people felt that violence would be a more effective method.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an eloquent black Baptist minister who led the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his death by assassination in 1968. King believed in the non-violent approach and constructed his strategies based on Gandhi s insights. King felt that passive acceptance of evil could only perpetuate its existence (43); however, he believed that the best way to reach their goals would be persistent non-violence.
On Dec. 1, 1955, a black woman named Rosa Park had refused to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger and as a consequence had been arrested for violating the city’s segregation law. Under the leadership of King, a boycott of the transit system began which lasted one year and a few weeks. In the course of the 381-day action King was arrested and jailed, his home was bombed, and many threats were made against his life. Nevertheless, he continued to lead the boycott until their goal of desegregation of the city’s buses was achieved. Recognizing the need for a mass movement to capitalize on the successful Montgomery action, King set about organizing the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences (SCLC), which gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform from which to speak. King lectured in all parts of the country and discussed problems of blacks with civil-rights and religious leaders at home and abroad.
In the first official declaration, SCLC called upon blacks to understand that nonviolence is not a symbol of cowardice and that it breads courage in the face of danger. Before the SCLC, the northern elite was mostly responsible for the racial equality struggle; however, the Southern black church soon became dominant in leading black resistance. For the next few years, the SCLC failed to spark the mass direct-action movement needed to alter the South. Although the black protesters stood by their non-violent tactics, the Southern Regional Council calculated over two hundred acts of violence tat were committed against black protesters in the years 1955-1959. Many began to feel that King s civil-rights offensive was a retreat from racism.
Nevertheless, King was more convinced than ever that nonviolent resistance was the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom. In 1960, he agreed to support the sit-in demonstrations undertaken by local black college students. In late October, King was arrested along with 33 young people protesting segregation at the lunch counter in an Atlanta department store. Charges were dropped, but King was sentenced to Reidsville State Prison Farm on the pretext that he had violated his probation on a minor traffic offense committed several months earlier. This case received national attention, and encouraged other sit-ins across the country.
After having been refused service at the lunch counter of a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, a Negro college student returned the next day with three classmates to sit at the counter until they were served. They were not served. The four students returned to the lunch counter each day. When an article in the New York Times drew attention to the students’ protest, they were joined by more students, both black and white, and students across the nation were inspired to launch similar protests. That was one of the signs that they were ready to rebel.
During the period from 1955 to 1960, some progress was made toward integrating schools and other public facilities in the upper South and the border states, but the Deep South remained adamant in its opposition to most desegregation measures. In the years from 1960 to 1965 King’s influence reached its zenith. The tactics of active nonviolence (sit-ins, protest marches) aroused the devoted allegiance of many blacks and liberal whites in all parts of the country, as well as support from the administrations of presidents Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. However, the results were not as great as were needed.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was organized in 1942, used direct nonviolent action to challenge Jim Crow. In 1959, Core members in Miami, Florida, sat-in at a W. T. Grant s lunch counter and also started a drive in an attempt to disintegrate the beaches. Unfortunately, those actions did not attract national press coverage. In May 1961 CORE sent “Freedom Riders” of both races through the South and elsewhere to test and break down segregated accommodations in interstate transportation. The nonviolent protest, however, was brutally received at many stops along the way. By September it was estimated that more than 70,000 students had participated in the movement, with approximately 3,600 arrested; more than 100 cities had been affected. The movement reached its climax in August 1963 with a massive march on Washington, D.C., to protest racial discrimination and demonstrate support for major civil-rights legislation that was pending in Congress.
In 1960 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed at a meeting called by Martin Luther King, Jr. Many students, both black and white, joined the movement, which conducted sit-ins against segregation, encouraged blacks to register and vote, established cooperatives and health clinics, and taught rural blacks to read and write. After a split in the mid-1960s, SNCC became increasingly militant, urging black power and denouncing the principle of nonviolence on which it had been founded. SNCC dissolved after May 1970, when its leader, H. Rap Brown, became a fugitive from justice.
On the other hand there was Malcolm X. He was a black militant leader who articulated concepts of race pride and Black Nationalism in the early 1960s. In 1946, while in prison for burglary, he was converted to the Black Muslim faith (Nation of Islam); this sect professed the superiority of black people and the inherent evil of whites. Malcolm X was sent on speaking tours around the country and soon became the most effective speaker and organizer for the Nation of Islam Speaking with bitter eloquence against the white exploitation of black people. Malcolm developed a brilliant platform style, which soon won him a large and dedicated following. He mocked the civil-rights movement and rejected both integration and racial equality, calling instead for black separatism, black pride, and black self-dependence. Since he advocated the use of violence (for self-protection) and appeared to many to be a fanatic, most civil-rights leaders, who emphasized nonviolent resistance to racial injustice, rejected his leadership.
The Black Panther Party was a black revolutionary party founded in 1966 in Oakland, Calif., by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale to combat police brutality in the ghetto. Originally a kind of community action club for the self-defense of black people, the Panthers urged blacks to arm themselves. The Panthers called for the arming of all blacks, the exemption of blacks from the draft and from all sanctions of so-called white America, the release of all blacks from jail, and the payment of compensation to blacks for centuries of exploitation by white Americans. According to Sitkoff, the Panthers initiated free breakfast programs for schoolchildren and free health clinics, however, most whites, dependent on what the media reported, only heard their revolutionary bravado and only saw their bloody shootouts with the Oakland police. (204). At its peak in the late 1960s, Panther membership exceeded 2,000 and the organization operated chapters in several major cities.
In the late 1960s, US authorities embarked on a campaign against the Panthers, who were suspected of terrorist acts and ties to alien powers inimical to US interests. Conflicts between the party and other violence-prone groups were fomented, and in 1969 police in Chicago killed two party leaders under circumstances that remain obscure. Several other confrontations led to shoot-outs and deaths. In February 1968, people learned that SNCC and the Panthers were merging. The party split in 1972.
During the Civil Rights Movement, different parties and organizations used different tactics. Some believed in non-violence, while others felt that without violence they wouldn t be able to reach their goal. I feel that it is unfortunate that it seems that violence brought about better results in the black equality struggle rather than peaceful protests.
In the last chapter of The Struggle for Black Equality, and the most current one, Sitkoff shows that few strides have been taken to improve the lives of blacks. The living conditions for blacks in 1998 are definitely a lot better than in 1968, and even though there s still some racism – in most cities, blacks are treated the same way as whites. It is obvious to see that times have definitely gotten better, but it is important for people to be aware of the past and to realize that all people should be treated equally no matter their color, race, religion, etc.
+ Sitkoff, Harvard. The Struggle for Black Equality 1954-1992. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993