Black Americans struggled for racial equality in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Earlier in the century, many states enacted “Jim Crow” laws. Jim Crow laws were named for a song sung by a white minstrel character of the mid 1800’s who imitated crooning and dancing.
Jim Crow Laws
Jim Crow laws were passed by Southern states that created a racial caste system in the American South. By 1914 laws effectively created two separate societies; one black and one white. Blacks and whites could not ride together in the same rail car, sit in the same waiting room, sit in the same theatre, attend the same school or eat in the same restaurant. Moreover, black Americans were denied access to beaches, swimming pools, parks, picnic areas and many hospitals.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court struck down segregation in the nation’s public schools. Rosa Parks refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955 sparked intense protests by blacks and concerned whites. In 1956, a boycott desegregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina, black college students seated themselves in a whites-only restaurant lunch counter. This sit-in resulted in many other similar protests throughout the South. The Civil Rights Movement began in earnest as blacks and whites joined to protest unfair laws and to promote equal rights for all blacks.
1960-1970 Civil Rights Movement
Throughout the 1960’s, bus riding Freedom Riders, marchers, boycotters and other protesters continued their crusade for freedom and were met with fierce white and establishment resistance. Riots, bombings, beatings and shootings were common as growing thousands of civil rights protesters marched throughout the South and in many cases the North as well. Ku Klux Klan members and other whites who believed in white supremacy spread terror all through the South.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
On August 28, 1963, over 250,000 people, including thousands of whites, gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The emerging leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I have a dream” speech. Continued protests, boycotts and marches gradually convinced the American populace to seriously consider major changes to the way blacks were treated in America.
The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968 and the ensuing race riots and protests shocked America and galvanized support for the Civil Rights Movement.