It was an ordinary day on 1st December 1955, when a woman named Rosa Parks was travelling on a bus, returning from work. When a white man couldn’t find an empty seat, the bus driver told Rosa to give up her seat, a seat assigned specifically for the ‘Black’ people. She refused to give it up. This was an act of staunch resistance against a system that had been fundamentally racist to people of her community since centuries and is considered to be one of the key events in the Civil Rights Movement led by Black People of the United States.
Timeline of Events
The movement to end racial segregation and discrimination against Black people included multiple events spanning many years and wasn’t the result of an isolated occurrence. It began approximately after the Civil War when slavery was officially abolished but the centuries’ old menace of prejudice and racism against Black people continued to persist in various parts of America. The Jim Crow laws were introduced in the late 19th century, which advocated equal accessibility to public facilities for both Black and White people. However, these facilities were far from ‘equal’ as stated by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. Many states didn’t allow Black people to vote unless they passed voter literacy tests. Interracial marriage was banned and they kept facing incessant discrimination when it came to getting a proper education, employment and even buying a house. The Rosa Parks incident is just one out of many such displays of racism by the White population against the Black Community.
After the then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed an executive order providing national job opportunities to every citizen regardless of their colour, caste and creed, the Black community chose to serve in World War II, not knowing that they’ll once again be subjected to prejudice at the hands of white supremacists. This segregation faced by the African-American veterans led them to fight for equal citizenship rights. After observing the resistance shown, President Harry Truman passed an executive order seeking to abolish all kinds of racism and segregation in the military. This was a huge win for the Black community; however, much was still left to be done.
The setting up of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909, an organisation aimed at seeking enactment of laws and legislations for the upliftment of the Black community, led to a major shift in the legal and constitutional system of the USA. Brown v. Board, a landmark case wherein a man named Rev Brown fought for his right to send his child to a ‘white’ school, was another major victory for the community. The first mass movement in the Civil Rights era took place in the year 1955 in the form of a total boycott of the Montgomery Bus after the Rosa Parks incident. The leader of this non-violent demonstration was Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister and one of the key members of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). The widespread protests from the masses rattled the centuries-old systematic racism Black people were subjected to, placing accountability on all those complacent in perpetuating it. After noticing major discrepancies in the voter literacy tests that Black people were made to take to be able to vote, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Law in the year 1957, which advocated for the prosecution of those repealing the right of Black people to vote.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, most famous for the “I Have A Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr., is the largest civil rights protest in the history of the USA with over 250,000 participants. The mass movements and direct action undertaken by both Black people and some White supporters led to some monumental constitutional changes in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. These legislations were however questioned and met with resistance by many white supremacists, which led the Black community to believe that a stronger opposition was imperative to fight for their rights. The increased participation of White people in the movement was met with scrutiny, based on the opinion that White people are once again attempting to impose themselves on their community. One of the strongest proponents of this argument was the Black religious leader, Malcolm X. He propagated the idea that their movement must be one of self-defence, self-reliance and maintaining cultural pride. His words resonated with many and were coined with the name of “Black Power”.
Where does the Black community stand at the present?
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1900s has been monumental in completely revolutionising and dismantling many inherently racist systems in the US. However, achieving complete social and economic equality is something Black Americans still strive to achieve even in the present-day. Whether its disenfranchisement due to past convictions or probation, police brutality, exclusion from equal and accessible resources of health and education, racist and stereotypical portrayals in pop culture, Black people still continue to be subjected to systematic racism and prejudice at the hands of white people and other communities. Racist sentiments are still harboured by many non-Black people and hence a need for extensive introspection, learning and un-learning is extremely essential. We cannot truly call ourselves a progressive world if people continue to be discriminated against for their skin colour and culture.