How Did the Civil Rights Movement Begin to Change in the Mid-1960s?

Stokely Carmichael transformed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee into a Black Power organization.
... Serena Wadham/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The civil rights movement progressed through various stages in the 1960s. Activists began the decade by focusing on Southern racial discrimination. Because of the sustained protests of the 1960s, President Lyndon Baines Johnson placed his support behind legislation that would end the most visible signs of Southern racial injustice. In response, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Southern states and private citizens could no longer deprive African Americans the rights to equal facilities and to vote without unfair impediments. After these successes, the movement shifted course, transcending the earlier focus on Southern segregation and voting rights.

1 Less Southern

Southern segregation, known widely as Jim Crow, differed from the less formal, de facto segregation found in the North and West. African Americans in these latter regions still suffered racial injustices, having to live in certain areas in less than ideal conditions. Northern and Western activists became increasingly more aggressive about promoting change in the mid-1960s. Inequality in these regions became more apparent once Southern society began to dismantle Jim Crow in 1964. Only a few weeks following the enacting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts Riots engulfed urban Los Angeles as African Americans protested decades of police brutality. Moreover, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., winner of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Peace, began demonstrating in Northern cities. In 1966, King rented an apartment for his family in a Chicago ghetto to highlight the poor living conditions in African-American communities.

2 Militancy

Non-violent demonstrations had been the hallmark of the civil rights movement since the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. As the movement began shifting to areas outside the South, activists in these regions began embracing other resistance strategies. Most notable was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded October 15, 1966, in Oakland, California. The Panthers battled inner-city police brutality with armed force, if necessary. They became a high-profile group in 1967 when they arrived at the California General Assembly carrying rifles.

3 Black Power

Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the first movement leader to espouse black power publicly. He did so during the 1966 March Against Fear in Mississippi. Carmichael used the term "black power" without the consent of older, more traditional leaders, such as Dr. King, signaling a clear shift in the tone of the movement. Black power was never a coherent movement. Various leaders held divergent views of its meaning. Nevertheless, the ideology generally called for African Americans to assume control over their own communities and to challenge white supremacy with violence if necessary. Carmichael and other black power proponents began rejecting nonviolence as a viable strategy for the civil rights movement.

4 Human Rights

There was a greater focus on linking racial discrimination with other forms of human oppression. Activists once concerned with African-American progress linked with anti-war, anti-colonial and feminist movements. Notably, Martin Luther King died in April 1968 while in the midst of planning a Poor People's March on Washington. He had for months been visiting with poor whites in Appalachia who were to participate in the mass protest against economic injustice.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.