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Civil Rights & Other Movements

In the United States, the 20th century saw a massive social transition in the form of the civil rights movement.This includes legislation and organized efforts to abolish racial and sexual discrimination.

100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Southern states still lived in an unequal world. There were serious ethnicity equity issues in the United States.

The following outlines three of the main issues with ethnic equity:1

  1. Racial segregation. Official racial segregation was upheld  by the United States Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
  2. Voter suppression and disfranchisement in southern states.
  3. Private acts of violence and mass racial violence without interruption from government authorities.

Before 1955, pro-rights strategies included lobbying attempts by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.1 By 1955, many African Americans became frustrated with the gradual approaches. Civil rights groups adopted a combined strategy of direct action with nonviolent resistance known as civil disobedience.1  This includes boycotts, sit ins and marches. One of the most famous marches was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best remembered for the ‘I have a dream’ speech given by Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps the most important achievements in African American civil rights are the post-Civil War constitutional amendments that abolished slavery and established the citizen status of blacks and the judicial decisions and legislation based on these amendments.1

The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of 1954, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 are examples of historical legislation that passed because of the previous constitutional amendments.1

Sexual equity was also a huge problem in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement focused more on equality for women, but the last few decades have focused on rights for homosexual couples.

First-wave feminism worked on enforcing absolute rights such as suffrage. This evolved into second-wave feminism that was concerned with changing social attitudes towards women. The new feminist movement explored economic equality and reproductive freedom.1

Many American citizens risked and sometimes lost their lives for freedom and equality. These men and women are American heroes who literally changed the world and set precedents that still affect us today. Why are these movements important to us today? They redefined conceptions of the nature of civil rights and the role of government in protecting these rights. They also greatly affected the opportunities now available to women, non-black minorities and disabled individuals.

Image: The famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom



1. Civil Rights Timeline. Retrieved from

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