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Scene 6

The Civil Rights Movement

While the issue of civil rights has been significant throughout America's history, the period historically recognized as the peak of the American Civil Rights Movement occurred between 1954 and 1965. And while slavery had well been abolished by this time, discrimination against African-Americans, mostly in the form of segregated public facilities such as schools, buses, and restaurants, was widespread across the country, particularly in the South. However, in 1954, the United States Supreme Court reached a decision that, according to many historians, marked the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. In the court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court determined that the segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Following the Court's decision, the Movement rapidly gained momentum over the coming years. In 1955, the arrest of Rosa Parks for her refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, led to city-wide bus boycotts and the eventual desegregation of buses in 1956. In 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as an organization devoted to achieving civil rights through non-violent protest. As a result, forms of protest such as sit-ins and marches became synonymous with Civil Rights activism. Students took part in sit-ins at lunch counters across the South during the early 1960s, and student volunteers known as "Freedom Riders" took bus trips throughout the South to test out desegregation laws of public travel facilities. In 1963, more than 200,000 people marched to Washington, D.C., as advocates of civil rights and listened to Martin Luther King give his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The protests, and the publicity given to random acts of violence against African-Americans during this time period, fostered even more support for the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This piece of legislation prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin, and gives the federal government power to enforce desegregation.

Mass protests were common in Georgia throughout the Civil Rights Movement as well. In March 1960, students representing Atlanta's historically black colleges formed the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights to lobby for the desegregation of the city's lunch counters. On March 15th of that same year, the All-University Student Leadership Group initiated a series of carefully orchestrated sit-ins at ten lunch counters and cafeterias throughout the city. In 1961, a coalition of students and well-known activists like Martin Luther King, formed the Albany Movement in the city of Albany to protest the practice of segregation. In Savannah, a strong civil rights campaign forced city leaders to desegregate public and private facilities in 1963—months before federal civil rights legislation was implemented. Other cities including Macon, Rome, and Brunswick also had varying degrees of success during the Movement as black leaders threatened protests to force city officials into action in order to prevent social unrest.

Non-Violent Protest

Nonviolent protest is the practice of achieving social, economic, or political goals by using nonviolent methods such as boycotts, marches, sit-ins, or other forms of civil disobedience. The strategy of nonviolent protest is to reduce the moral legitimacy of those who justify the use of discriminatory and/or violent strategies to enforce their own ideas or policies. The success of nonviolent protest generally requires two interrelated things: building a coalition of supporters whose reasons for protest are based on widely supported moral principles; and ensuring that the immoral and violent methods of one's opponents are publicized to as many people throughout the world as possible. Far from being weak or cowardly, nonviolent protest requires exceptional courage, discipline, patience, and a willingness to endure pain. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged the use of nonviolent protests that included writing letters, giving speeches, and organizing sit-ins and marches, to raise awareness of discrimination and racism. While many of these protests were met with violence from both government authorities and ordinary citizens, Dr. King and his supporters were able to call even greater attention to their cause by not fighting back.

Additional Reading

The Civil Rights Movement (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Black Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (New Georgia Encyclopedia)
Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement (Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education)


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