By May , the first interracial freedom rides from Washington, DC, to New Orleans were underway, designed to force southern officials to honor a recent Supreme Court decision that had called for the ending of racial segregation in interstate bus terminals. Violence quickly followed, as one bus was firebombed in Alabama and its riders were injured. The Kennedy administration sent federal marshals to Alabama to restore order, but the bloodshed did not end until the governor, anxious to rid his state of both the freedom riders and the federal marshals, brought in state troops to end the fighting.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy then struck a deal with Mississippi officials that resulted in the riders being arrested without violence in Jackson, the next stop. These bloody confrontations attracted considerable public attention.
They also revealed that the Kennedy administration, concerned mainly with Cold War issues, was reluctant to jeopardize its political strength among whites in the South and southerners in the Congress. Kennedy was slow to recognize the moral passion of civil rights demonstrators or to employ force in order to stem the implacable resistance and rage of many southern white people, police, and politicians. It took two deaths and almost injuries at Ole Miss before Kennedy sent in federal marshals to end the violence on the campus.
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In early , Martin Luther King Jr. Eugene "Bull" Connor, the local police chief, ordered his men to fire blasts of water against demonstrators and unleashed vicious dogs on the resisters. Television captured a host of striking scenes, some of them showing assaults and arrests of black children, and relayed those images to a stunned national audience. As a result, many northerners became aware of the plight of African Americans in the South.
As much as any single event in the history of the modern Civil Rights Movement, the violence of whites in Birmingham forced the American people to consider serious federal action promoting civil rights. When Kennedy was assassinated in November, his civil rights bill seemed stalled on Capitol Hill. But Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who succeeded Kennedy in the White House, proved to be both a masterful strategist and a dedicated champion of a strong bill.
Though school segregation remained pervasive until the early s, the Civil Rights Act of was a landmark measure by any standard, ending segregation in a host of public accommodations. Civil rights activists now turned to voting rights as a goal. Their Freedom Summer in Mississippi brought some volunteers to the state to promote citizenship-training workshops and voter registration.
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The focus on voting rights in Selma, Alabama, led to further attacks on civil rights activists in The violence against the men and women who joined the fifty-mile march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery was widely televised and President Johnson won increased support for strong reforms. A high point of the Civil Rights Movement, the law supplemented the Civil Rights Act of and further guaranteed black legal equality. Passage of the law also encouraged Johnson, King, and other advocates to think seriously about tackling other pressing issues—notably of social and economic inequality—that badly divided Americans along racial lines.
But support for federal social programs did not prove as strong as Johnson had hoped. By , the Civil Rights Movement was growing fragmented, less interracial, and less committed to nonviolence. Other urban riots followed. These outbreaks exposed the rage of blacks outside the South, but many Americans were appalled by them, blaming them on lawless radicals and revolutionaries. Equally harmful to the movement was its rapid splintering along racial lines.
In , black militants, led by Stokely Carmichael, advanced calls for Black Power. They also distanced themselves from the emphasis on nonviolence that King had championed. New groups, notably the Black Panthers, adopted militaristic poses that alarmed whites. Other blacks, including members of the Nation of Islam, rejected integration entirely. White financial support for these groups, which had been vital, dried up. By , both organizations had collapsed. The Vietnam War also damaged the political coalition that had enabled the President to secure a host of other landmark legislative victories—Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to public education among them—in Political conservatives, who had been routed by LBJ in the election of , grew increasingly powerful by The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Assessing the movement is difficult. It produced unexpected policies, such as the establishment of affirmative action, especially in the areas of employment and higher education admissions. It benefited blacks in other ways, too. As they acquired confidence in their ability to organize and to effect political change, they gained greater pride in their cultural strengths and accomplishments, notably but not only in the fields of music, dance, film, and sports.
The work of black artists, such as photographer Gordon Parks, painter Jacob Lawrence, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and novelist Toni Morrison, received widespread notice and critical praise. In popular culture—films, television shows, ads—ugly stereotyping of black people and black culture became far less widespread. The movement also helped to increase the numbers and percentages of African Americans in middle-class jobs, and the armed forces took steps to end discriminatory recruitment and promotion procedures and to develop integrated forces.
Yet the Civil Rights Movement did not achieve as much as dreamers had hoped for in the mids. The desegregation of schools, which moved ahead in the s and s, has fallen back, and gaps in educational test scores between black and white students, always high, have widened. In the early s, rates of poverty and unemployment among African Americans remain roughly twice as high as those of whites. For a variety of reasons, including relatively low levels of access to health care, the longevity of African Americans is less than that of whites.
Black median income is approximately 70 percent of white income; black median wealth is a tiny fraction of white wealth. Many black inner-city areas feature very high rates of students dropping out of high school, violent crime, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, family breakups, and drug addiction. Rates of arrests and imprisonment of African American men far exceed those of white men. And the Civil Rights Movement, still suffering from the blows that afflicted it in the late s, lacks power. In , Martin Luther King Jr.
James T. New York: Routledge, Parris, Guichard, and Lester Brooks. Boston: Little, Brown, Weiss, Nancy J. The National Urban League, — New York: Oxford University Press, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Pfeffer, Paula F. On Brown vs. Board of Education and the Eisenhower era: Ball, Howard.
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New York: Crown Publishers, Burk, Robert Fredrick. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, Williams, Juan.
Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary. New York: Times Books, Rosa Parks. New York: Viking, Fairclough, Adam. Athens: University of Georgia Press, Garrow, David J. New York: W. Morrow, Kohl, Herbert R. New York: New Press, Peake, Thomas R. New York: P. Lang, Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn, ed. Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, Wolff, Miles. New York: Stein and Day, Zinn, Howard. Freedom Riders and the Kennedy administration in Arsenault, Raymond.prod.golftoday.pbc.io/24087.php
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Freedom Riders: and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Brauer, Carl M. John F. Kennedy and the Second Reconstruction. New York: Columbia University Press, Niven, David. Stern, Mark. Murder in Mississippi: United States v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, Cagin, Seth, and Philip Dray. New York: Macmillan Pub. Morris, Willie. New York: Random House, Nossiter, Adam. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Loevy, Robert D.
Rosenberg, Jonathan. New York: Norton, McWhorter, Diane. New York: Scribner, Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbonna Green. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, Davis: co-produced by Gene Davis Group, Inc.
Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Pivotal Moments in American History)
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