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Civil Rights Movement

Faced with increasing segregation and more Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century, black Americans began to protest for dignity and equality. The Niagara Movement, formed by black teachers, editors, and professionals in 1905, insisted on "manhood rights, industrial opportunity, and spiritual freedom." From this group and a conference of whites protesting lynching came the impetus to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), always in the forefront of legal battles for equality. Founded in 1910, the National Urban League sought improvement in industrial and living conditions of urban blacks and broader occupational opportunities. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in1941, endorsed nonviolence and attacked racial discrimination by means of sit-ins and freedom rides.

Southern students using sit-ins and voter registration drives to break discrimination and the further equality were supported by CORE, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, was the largest civil rights demonstration in history. The "March for Jobs and Freedom" was conceived by A. Philip Randolf, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, coordinated by Bayard Rustin, and supported by all the major civil rights groups, labor, and many churches. One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 250,000 black and white citizens gathered to petition the government for racial equality and listen to speeches by such black leaders as John Lewis, James Farmer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Protest marches such as the 1963 March on Washington and the 1966 Mississippi March Against Fear brought a response from the government to the demands of black people in the form of a civil rights law, the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, and equal accommodations laws.

During the 1960s, more militant groups and approaches arose, born of disillusionment with the pace of civil rights progress, frustrations that nonviolence had not brought complete freedom, and indignation at the violence used against them. Dynamic, articulate, and magnetic leaders such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers emerged. Though their approaches differed from those of earlier groups and leaders, all had as their goal the dignity and freedom of black Americans.

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 76.


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