History of the Civil Rights and Feminist Movement
After World War II, the Nuremburg laws that had segregated Jews from non-Jews were overturned. This progress contrasted heavily with the United States who, compared to the rest of the world, held on to archaic laws enacting the segregation of “colored” and non-colored people. This segregation continued for some time until it ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a victory that could not have been accomplished without the Civil Rights Movement.
After World War II, many blacks returning from war had experienced expanded rights in the other countries they had visited. Blacks serving as soldiers in Europe and Asia visited countries were segregation did not exist and were therefore treated with more dignity and respect than they were used to in the U.S. Upon returning to the U.S., black veterans felt less compliant to return to the status quo of segregation.
This post-War awareness started a movement with challenged segregation. This would later blossom into the Civil Rights movement, but at this point it time, it focused on school segregation. This area of concentration was vulnerable due to the fact that the segregated schools were separate but not equal, resulting in the subpar education of colored students.
The NAACP took up the case of Brown v Board of Education, a case which later went to the Supreme Count and featured Thurgood Marshall, an African American, as the lead lawyer. This court ruling ended school segregation, resulting in an order to desegregate schools. This was met with resistance, with some political officials even refusing to follow the desegregation orders. President Eisenhower even had to send National Guard troops to protect black students attending high school.
The Civil Rights Movement then sought to point out the United States’ hypocrisy. They used the anti-communist movement as a tool to fight for the end of segregation and disfranchisement. The U.S. was heavily involved in fighting against communism and claimed to be fighting for democracy. The Civil Rights Movement pointed out that if the U.S. was so passionate about their great democracy and the fight for democracy abroad, then why did they treat black people as less than human? This put the U.S. political system in a bit of a bind.
For a while, U.S. politics didn’t pay much attention to the rising movement. President John F. Kennedy was ambivalent about the Civil Rights Movement and its influential leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy did not support segregation but to maintain power, he relied heavily on the Southern vote. This meant that he had to cater to white Southern voters to a certain extent, who supported segregation. The Civil Rights Act was eventually passed under his administration, showing his eventual support of the Civil Rights Movement. His successor, President Lyndon Johnson, ended up being much more committed to civil rights. The actions of Democrats Kennedy and Lyndon supporting civil rights ultimately led to the beginning of Southern whites transitioning their support to the Republican Party.
The Civil Rights Movement continued to gain momentum. Blacks refused to give up seats on the bus, violated segregation laws with lunch counter sit down strikes, refusal of segregation in public places, and a march on Washington D.C. with over 250,000 people attending during August of 1963. It was during this march that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It became clear at this point that the Civil Rights movement would not go away.
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 but this did not quiet civil rights. Racial discrimination continued and many would argue that it continues to this day. Riots occurred, with the most substantial being the Watts riot of 1965. The riot began over the confrontation between racist and violent Los Angeles Police and the Watts residents. President Lyndon Johnson had to send the National Guard to stop the riot. This riot highlighted the fact that racism and discrimination existed beyond just the south, but also occurred in liberal “north” states as well. Riots broke out in cities across the nation.
There are still riots breaking out across the U.S. due to discrimination and violence towards black people from the police. While the Civil Rights Movement made massive gains with the Civil Rights Act and ruling of Brown v Board of Education, the full scale of their goals has yet to be realized. In certain ways segregation still exists, but not under that label. With the organization of our neighborhoods and the school’s children attend based on their neighborhood, segregation between people of color and whites is essentially still happening.
A movement with similar aspirations of equality that are still yet to be fully realized is the feminist movement. Similar to the Civil Rights movement, the feminist movement gained momentum in a post-WWII U.S. During the war, men were leaving the U.S. in large numbers to fight as soldiers, which left women to pick up the jobs that they left behind. During this time, women experienced a sort of liberation from their typical gender roles as housewives. After the war, they were expected to leave their jobs and return to their roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers. This prompted women to desire more for themselves than just the subservient, matronly role as a housewife.
The 1950s and 60s saw a rise of women in the workplace and single parenting. In 1963, Betty Friedan released her book The Feminine Mystique, which sparked what would later become the second wave of feminism. Her book questioned the mainstream model of women as subservient housewives and showed research that many women were in fact unhappy with their life as a housewife. She argued that women could also find satisfaction in work just as men do. Friedan and other feminists organized the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 which sought to assist in gaining equal access opportunities for women in business, politics, and education.
NOW became more militant in its methods and helped organized the 1970 “Women’s Strike for Equality” which had over 50,000 demonstrators in New York. NOW continued to fight for equal rights for women, equal pay, job opportunities, education, access to politics, and social issues. Social issues such as reproductive rights became big issues and had some major successes, such as the ruling of Roe v Wade in 1973 which legalized abortion.
Despite progress, there were many setbacks. The Hyde Amendment was signed into law by President Carter. It ensured that federal funds were not used to pay for abortions, which heavily impacted poor women. Roe v. Wade also gave rise to the anti-abortion movement which is still active to this day. An effort to establish a national child care system was vetoed by President Nixon. There was resistance towards women entering blue collar jobs and the “glass ceiling” found in corporate America is still in full effect.
Even though all the goals of these movements have not been met, magnificent progress has still been made. The U.S. may not be fully equal, but it is a lot better than it was. The Supreme Court continues to strike down laws that discriminate because of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin due to the Civil Rights Act in place. Progress has been may and although equality has yet to be fully realized, progress towards it will continue to be made.