From lunch counter sit-ins to organized marches, the American civil rights movement is an iconic and often volatile part of history. During the 1960s, various groups and individuals participated in the anti-racist civil rights movement. Racial discrimination had permeated American society, especially in the South. Protesters used a variety of tactics, from nonviolent passive resistance to political lobbying, to force societal change. This movement helped create a more inclusive America, where people of all races, ethnicities and genders can strive for equality.
Working Toward Integration
The eradication of racial segregation from Southern society was a central aim of the civil rights movement. These laws forced whites and African-Americans to live separately. African-Americans received second-class treatment throughout the region, which helped prove the nation was, visibly, not living up to its ideal as a democracy based on justice. The movement forced Congress to take action, which it did through the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This law made it illegal to separate people based on race, color or national origin in almost all areas of public life.
Emphasis on Diversity
Prior to the civil rights movement, the nation discriminated against immigrants from certain areas of the world. The government in 1924 had enacted quotas that benefited immigrants from Europe. As part of its desire to end government-sponsored racism, Congress passed the 1965 Immigration Act. This law ended the racial quota system for immigrant groups. Consequently, people of color began entering the nation at rates equal to, or greater than, whites.
The Right to Vote
The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, presumably guaranteed the vote to people of color. Nevertheless, the oppressive and violent racial system in the South prevented African-Americans from voting. Some Mexican-Americans faced similar obstacles when attempting to vote. President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress in 1965 to issue legislation enforcing the spirit of the 15th Amendment. This request came after the savage beating of protesters in Selma, Alabama, during a march to encourage African-American voter registration.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act required districts with histories of extremely low minority voter turnout to seek federal approval before making any changes to election laws. Over the years, voting patterns changed and the Democratic Party began receiving undeniable support among African-Americans and others. These racial minorities have played a central role in national elections, including the 2008 and 2012 elections of President Barack Obama.
Still an Inspiration
The civil rights movement is an inspiration for many people. Chicano activists in Los Angeles claim seeing African-American protesters on television made them understand they too suffered discrimination because of their skin complexion. Martin Luther King Jr., a central figure in the movement, eventually received a national holiday in his honor. King and the movement are inspirational symbols for oppressed groups worldwide.
- National Park Service: Jim Crow Laws
- National Archives: Congress and the 1964 Civil Rights Act
- Cornell Law School: 1964 Civil Rights Act
- NPR: 1965 Immigration Law Changed Face of America
- Library of Congress: 15th Amendment to the Constitution
- Encyclopedia of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement; Matt S. Meier
- Encyclopedia of American Race Riots; Walter C. Rucker, Ph.D., and James N. Upton, Ph.D.
- NPR: New Target In Voter ID Battle, 1965 Voting Rights Act
- Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice; Ian Haney-Lopez
- Liberty and Freedom; David Hackett Fischer, Ph.D.
- Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community; Martin Luther King, Jr., Ph.D.
- Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63; Taylor Branch
- At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68; Taylor Branch
- The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.