The Civil Rights Movement’s Historical Background


The civil rights movement refers to a series of activist undertakings, particularly for the period 1946 to 1968. During this time, African Americans were actively involved in the struggle to be accorded the freedom to enjoy their full political, social, and economic rights. The activism involved the use of different strategies, including legal contestation, direct mass action, lobbying the federal government, and the use of black power. The movement did not just come up but was an escalation of a long-standing struggle dating back to the 19th century (Magnet, 2017). The civil rights movement brought significant gains to the struggle and laid the foundation for the emancipation of the oppressed population.

The Historical Perspective of the Civil Rights Movement

The battle for justice, fairness, and equality is rooted in the long-standing struggle among immigrants in the United States to defeat slavery and racial oppression. The process of emancipation began largely in the 18th century. The process began as an American Revolution, with the abolitionists seeking to terminate racial mistreatment and the establishment of slavery. Subsequently, President Abraham Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation during the reconstruction period. It was captured under the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution and became officially effective in 1865 when slavery was prohibited. The 14th and 15th amendments were ratified in 1868 and 1870, respectively (Bond-Nelms, 2018). The amendments provided legal voting rights, representing additional gains for the African American community.

However, after the civil war, there was widespread racial segregation as most of the new country’s occupants felt their essential rights were being negated. The indentured subordinates, particularly in the South, did not have the consecrated right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Jacques, 2021). This gave rise to the Jim Crow racial segregation in the South. Also, after World War II, African Americans were discriminated against getting well-paying jobs and felt discouraged from joining military actions.

Major Milestones in the Civil Rights Movement

The first attempts to bring liberation focused on using the legal system to defeat inequality and the injustices meted out by white supremacists. The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case resulted in a landmark ruling pointing to the unconstitutionality of the inherent inequality and segregation in public education (Magnet, 2017). However, there was major resistance from the white supremacists in the South who denounced the supreme court’s decision. They pledged to resist its enforcement, pushing for intervention from the federal government to enforce the decision.

The resistance further caused the civil rights movement leaders to change their approach to direct action and non-violent civil rebellion. The move gained prominence and was considered highly effective mainly due to extensive coverage by the media showing non-violent protestors being oppressed and physically whipped by law enforcement officers. The movement realized notable success when it threatened to march on Washington to demand equal employment rights following huge discrimination in military jobs. The threat caused President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941 (Bond-Nelms, 2018). The move unlocked national defense employment and other government opportunities for all Americans, notwithstanding their color, race, ideology, or place of origin.

Additionally, the civil rights movement used the approach during the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, after Rosa Parks declined to relinquish her seat on the bus for a white person. During this boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as a resolute leader of the movement, providing a template for the subsequent activist actions across the country. Magnet (2017) states that the movement organized massive protests that gained support from student bodies led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and religious organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) also participated in peaceful protests to lift awareness and expedite the passage of national civil rights laws.

The movement organized the largest protest in United States history on August 28, 1963. The protest, dubbed the March on Washington, was a struggle for freedom and Jobs and involved over 200,000 protesters of all races (Bond-Nelms, 2018). On this day, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech that bolstered the nationwide civil rights movement and came to be a tagline for freedom and equality. Consequently, President Lyndon B. Johnson ratified the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which were implemented successfully.

The Future of the Civil Rights Movement

The civil rights movement attained major successes that led to the further integration of blacks into the larger American community. Racial discrimination has been reduced, and African Americans attained voting rights and would access better social services, including health care, education, and participation in sports. It also improved and advanced the appreciation for African American cultural heredity and its remarkable contributions to American history. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first African American president (Fleming et al., 2020). Interestingly, he was born out of a Kenyan father and a white mother when the civil rights movement was highly active in 1961. The development indicates the extent to which the struggle for civil liberties has advanced in the United States.

Nonetheless, much remains to be done to achieve a higher level of equity in the social, economic, and political realms. African Americans continue to suffer from some level of discrimination compared to the whites in the country. There is a disproportionately high incarceration rate among blacks compared to whites. Blacks are subjected to rising cases of police brutality, such as the recent case of George Floyd, which resulted in the creation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. In addition, poverty rates and educational attainment among black youths and families are not at the same level as the of whites or Latinos (Dierolf, n.d.). There are prevalent stereotypes against African Americans in contemporary culture. Therefore, a lot remains to be accomplished in the fight for full equality.


The civil rights movement signifies the determination among African Americans to push for justice and equality in society. The movement gained prominence after world war II as the blacks felt they needed to be accorded the freedom to enjoy their full political, social, and economic rights. The movement stemmed from earlier struggles to defeat deep-rooted racial segregation and discrimination among white supremacists. The movement mainly used the legal system to push through its agenda supported by direct action and non-violent civil rebellion. The approach was largely successful and led to unlocking voting rights and more job and education opportunities for blacks. Over seven decades later, the struggle continues to ensure that the black community enjoys full equality, given some cases of discrimination in incarceration, police brutality, poverty, and education.


Bond-Nelms, C. (2018). Key Events During the Civil Rights Movement. AARP. Web.

Dierolf, M. (n.d.). Past, Present, and Future: What the Civil Rights Movement has Accomplished and Left Undone | (Re)Writing Local Histories. Web.

Fleming, L. Fexon, F. & Powers, S. (2020). What Is The Future Of The Civil Rights Movement? Georgia Public Broadcasting. Web.

Jacques, G. (2021). A New Civil Rights Movement, a New Journal. JSTOR Daily. Web.

Magnet, M. (2017). What Ever Happened to the Civil Rights Movement? City Journal. Web.

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