Brief Review of Civil Rights Movement History

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Emmett Till at Christmas 1954 taken by Mamie Till Bradley

The Civil Rights Movement encompassed various important events and leaders and restructured and redefined American society.

The civil rights movement beginning in the 50s and reaching a culminating and decisive point in the late 60s has paved the way not only for a more tolerant society, but also for an essential redefinition of the notion of human rights.

The tragic case of Emmett Till

Hardly a year after segregation was officially declared unconstitutional the tragic and horrendous case of Emmett Till surfaced in 1955. He was a colored 14-year-old boy who was beaten and killed by two white people, Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam because he had allegedly whistled at Carolyn Bryant, Roy’s wife. After a quick deliberation, the all-white jury of the trial acquitted them. Yet in 1956 during an interview of Look Magazine Bryant confessed that they had indeed brutally murdered Till.

Rosa Parks, the Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement

In the same year, with segregation still in practice, Rosa Parks who was sitting in the colored section of the bus was asked by the bus-driver James F. Blake to vacate her seat to make room for white passengers. She refused to do so and was arrested, and this incident commenced an essential movement where colored people started boycotting the public transportation, the “Montgomery Bus Boycott”, which was led by the reverend Martin Luther King Jr. It was the starting pointing of civil disobedience and non-violent demonstrations, which later included sit-ins in various public places.

James Meredith, Martin Luther King, and Murder in Mississippi

James Meredith was the first colored student to the enter the University of Mississippi in 1961; however, his entry was the cause for violence and riots that made President Kennedy send about 5000 Federal Troops to calm the growing tensions.

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. held his famous speech of “I have a dream” during the March on Washington in front of a massive crowd of supporters in Washington, DC. A year later, he was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end segregation and discrimination, and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, and ethnic and national origin. Yet in the meantime the case of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers by the Ku-Klux Klan in Mississippi caught the public attention and instigated a federal criminal investigation by the FBI.

The civil rights movement did not come to a halt despite the assassinations of Malcolm X in 1965 and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Although the movement has led to various positive changes in society, prejudice, discrimination and racism are still a disheartening reality even in today’s world.