African American: Civil Rights Movement

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Social movements are large individual groupings or organizations whose focus is on particular social or political issues. The movements may either be informal of formal depending on its structure. The movements are a form of action involving a group of people. The main agenda of a social movement is to change or challenge the existing state of affairs in the society. The members, therefore, engage in various practices and discourses of change.

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Social movements started arising in the 19th century as a result of urbanization and industrialization in different societies. Economic independence, education, and freedom of expression were the primary contributing factors to the rise of the social movements. The factors meant that people had the freedom to demand and fight for the change they want in their societies. Social movements have several features including ideology, strategy, and tactics.

Ideology is a system of theories and beliefs held by a group of people or an individual. It refers to the things that people say or think about various issues. Ideology usually forms the basis of political theory and economic policy of the members. The ideas in the ideology are coherent and interconnected in a particular way. The doctrine states the preferable state of affairs and, therefore, becomes the objective of the movement.

A strategy is a plan or method designed to achieve a desired future/goal or overall aim. It is the plan that the social movement has for making their targets become a reality. The plan, however, depends on the ideologies and the nature of the society that the movement operates. A strategy is not a fixed entity and can change depending on various circumstances. Examples of strategies are the formation of political parties and armed insurgencies. A tactic, on the other hand, is a skill or activity applied to achieve a particular goal/objective. It is a special technique for attaining the set goal. Tactics are more flexible as compared to strategies. The primary hallmarks of the black political ideologies were the development of black poetry performances and theater groups that had close ties/relationships to community issues.

One example of a social movement is the civil rights movement in the United States of America. the movement began in the 1960s CITATION Joh13 \l 1033 (Kirk). The demands/goals of the movement were to bring to an end racial discrimination and segregation of the African Americans in the country. The movement also demanded federal protection and legal recognition of citizenship rights as set out in the constitution. The grievances of the movement were the racial segregation of African Americans in schools, workplaces, application of voting requirements, and in public accommodations. The whites were superior and received all the favours whereas the African Americans continued to suffer. They could not get equal opportunities with the whites due to the racial discrimination.

Historical Context

Years before the Civil War in America took place, an approximate population of four million blacks lived as slaves in the South. Only the whites were allowed to participate in the voting process hence, the blacks had no say on the leadership of the country in which they lived. To make matters worse, there was the passage of the naturalization act that granted USA citizenship to the whites only. The existing conditions necessitated the need for a movement to challenge and change the state of affairs in the United States of America. The current government was doing little to deal with the grievances and concerns of the African-American community in the USA especially those in the urban areas. There was, therefore, increased violence and hardship in the slum and ghetto environments. The living conditions in the areas became unbearable, and there was a need for action.

Organizational Structure: Martin Luther King was the leader of the movement together with other African American leaders who shared similar ideologies. The movement had a membership consisting mainly of the African Americans who lived primarily in the south of the United States of America. They were mainly from the states of Alabama and Mississippi CITATION Jam13 \l 1033 (Wilson). They felt that the existing system was unfair to the blacks and, therefore, changes were essential.

The movement received much of financial and political support from religious denominations and labour unions. Democratic politicians namely Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey also provided significant support to the movement. Walter Reuther led the labor unions. I was difficult for the movement not to continue its operation considering the enormous support from all the above sources.

Political Ideologies

The primary objective of the movement was to bring to end racism and obtain social justice among all American citizens. There were different beliefs and approaches in the movement on the ways and methods of achieving the set goals.


Martin Luther King, the leader of the movement, believed in peaceful protest. He felt that success would come through the use of peaceful resistance to the existing laws and policies. Martin was very much against the use of violence CITATION Joh13 \l 1033 (Kirk). He was a Christian and the teachings showed him that they must conquer the enemy with love but not the use of violence. King also drew teachings and ideas from Gandhi, who was an Indian leader who believed in non-violence. Gandhi had previously become successful in winning Indias freedom from colonialism using non-violent means.

Black nationalism

Black nationalism was another ideology of the civil rights movement. The ideology is the idea that social justice among black population can only be achieved through segregation from the whites. The black population should have their state in the American country. The ideology, therefore, meant cultural and economic independence of the black population. The ideology had the focus on the black community having pride in their heritage and discarding European culture. Black nationalism did not in any way advocate for violence, but it was a crucial tool in case the black people came under attack.


The movement had one common slogan namely black power that was like the source of inspiration of the movement. Martin Luther King was the founder of the slogan and was referring to the voter intimidation and exclusion of black people in Alabama. The local blacks then started a voter drive to campaign for their rights of inclusion in the voting process. Another slogan was that of King namely, I have a dream. The slogan was reiterating the vision that Luther King had for the future American country. The vision was that all citizens of the USA would have equal rights and access to equal social justice regardless of the race CITATION Joh13 \l 1033 (Kirk). The slogan was a motivating factor among many members of the movement in the fight for equality.

Strategies and tactics

The civil rights movement used the tactics of peaceful protests through campaigns of massive civil resistance. The period between the years 1955 and 1958 saw the increase in civil disobedience and nonviolent protests. There was an emergence of a crisis and productive dialogues between government and the activists. Communities, businesses, local governments and state, had to offer a response to the crisis and that highlighted the injustices of the African Americans. There were various boycott protests such as the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycotts involved boycott of public buses by the black people. There were also peaceful and non-violent marches, for example, the one from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama CITATION Joh13 \l 1033 (Kirk).

Black students also staged peaceful protests in schools to protest the racial segregation in schools. They were not being offered equal status to the whites. Black could not be enrolled in particular schools set apart for the whites only. Martin Luther King and his civil rights movement mobilised the students into staging peaceful demonstrations against the schools administration. The country was, therefore, full of demonstrations from the African American population and a solution was necessary.

Effectiveness and Significance

The civil rights movement was of great importance to the struggle for equality in the United States of America. It was effective in addressing the concerns and grievances of the African American people in the country. It was after the frequent riots, protests and boycotts that the government authority started considering the needs for change. It was time to accept that the African Americans were citizens of the USA too. Failure to address the grievances of the African Americans would only drag the nation backwards. There could be no development of the current state of protests and riots everywhere.

Following the activities of the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King, various laws and constitutional amendments started taking place. One great law was the Civil Rights Act. The act was passed in the year 1964. The law banned any discrimination by color, sex, religion, race, and national origin. There was also banning of racial segregation in public accommodations, schools, workplaces and in the voter registration application requirements.

The year 1965 saw yet another passage of law. The Voting Rights Act protected and restored the right to vote of the African Americans. The Immigration and Nationality Services Act also came into existence in the same year. The act granted entry into the USA of immigrants apart from the traditional Germanic and European groups. In the year 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed. It banned discrimination during the process of rental or sale of housing. The African Americans in the South finally joined politics and thus had a say in the administration of the country. The young people too got inspiration to take action in the political activities of the country.


The civil rights movement is one of the social movements that has had an impact on the society and changed the world as a whole. It is as a result of the action that Africans too believed in themselves and hence started resisting colonial rule in their countries. The movement was successful in achieving its goals since racial segregation, and social injustice came to an end. African Americans became citizens of the USA and their rights protected by the constitution. The movement also gave a good example that change is possible without necessarily engaging in war. Peace can also be a tool of change.

Works Cited

Kirk, John A. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Routledge, 2013.Print

Wilson, Jamie J. Civil Rights Movement. california: ABC-CLIO, 2013.Print

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