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Posted on April 20th, 2012, by

The development of the Civil Rights movement in the USA marked the apogee of the struggle of African Americans and other ethnic minorities in the USA for their human rights. In fact, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s was led by African Americans, such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others, who attempted to gain equal rights and opportunities for African Americans compared to white Americans. At the same time, the Civil Rights movement did not raise spontaneously. Instead, it was the result of historical development of civil consciousness of African Americans since the epoch of slavery through abolition of slavery, racial discrimination and the permanent struggle of African Americans for their rights, which affected not only their social position in the American society but also their financial well-being. In such a way, the Civil Rights movement resulted from the growing civil consciousness of African Americans and activities of leaders of the movement, especially Martin Luther King and the movement contributed to the consistent change of the state as well as the American society at large not only to African Americans but also to other minorities.

The abolition of slavery was a turning point in the American history. However, the abolition did not bring immediate and consistent improvement of the life of African Americans. Nevertheless, in a long-run perspective, the abolition played a crucial role in the history of the USA. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that slavery persisted throughout many centuries and survived since the ancient epoch till the present days. On analyzing the effects of the abolition, it should be said that they were highly controversial. On the one hand, it is really possible to speak about a consistent change in the position of African Americans, former slaves. They were liberated, they got freedom and formally they got equal rights. At any rate, they got basic human rights as all citizens of the USA did. In such a way, African Americans could have had an opportunity to start an absolutely different, better life compared to the life they normally led as slaves. Moreover, the Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist former slaves in transition to freedom (Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, 2007). Hence, the state attempted to facilitate the transition of African Americans from slavery to citizenship and normal life.

In addition, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that during the Reconstruction, which followed the Civil War and the abolition, many important African American institutions were established. In this respect, it is possible to name African American churches, colleges, businesses and other important organizations which apparently contributed to the improvement of the life of African Americans and assisted to the improvement of their socioeconomic position in the American society. For instance, between 1870 and 1880, 23 African American colleges were founded (Slavery and Abolition in the USA, 2008). In such a way, African Americans got larger opportunities to get education and get better job. The foundation of other organizations and businesses by African Americans also contributed to the steady improvement of the position of African Americans in the USA allowing them to become equal to the rest of the US society.

However, the equality of African Americans and white Americans in the post-Abolition period was illusory. In stark contrast, there existed a huge gap between white and African Americans and this gap persisted till the 1950s, while even today it is hardly possible to speak about the total elimination of the inequality of whites and blacks in the USA.

As for the aftermath of the abolition, the seeming benefits and advantages of the abolition confronted a number of challenges and difficulties African Americans have to cope with to survive being free.

For instance, the emergence of African American organizations, such as the foundation of African American colleges, did not lead to the consistent improvement of the educational level of African Americans since colleges were accessible to few African Americans (Slavery and Abolition in the USA, 2008). In fact, only 20% of African Americans could read and write in the post-Abolition period (Slavery and Abolition in the USA, 2008). In such a context, they could not find good jobs and, therefore, they were doomed to poverty and permanent struggle for survival. Hence, even though some African Americans became owners of farms and land, they could not manage it effectively because to develop their farms they apparently needed education and trade skills. To cultivate crops did not mean to sell them, while the latter defined the extent to which farming could be effective. Being uneducated and inexperienced, African Americans were in a disadvantageous position compared to the whites.

However, the economic inequality was substantially backed up by Jim Crow laws which actually restricted economic and civil rights of African Americans. According to these laws, all public places segregated and African Americans were intimidated (Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, 2007). As a result, the freedom of African Americans was annihilated by the lack of human rights and equal opportunities. In fact, it is mainly Southern states that were particularly active in the introduction of Jim Crow laws and Black codes, which restricted rights of African Americans. In actuality, these legislative restrictions created two separate communities: white and African American which lived in one and the same country but were separated from one another, but the whites occupied the superior position while African Americans suffered from inferiority of their position in American society at the epoch.

For instance, it is worth mentioning the fact that Black codes placed taxes on free blacks who tried to pursue nonagricultural professions, restricted the ability of African Americans to rent land or own guns (State of Blacks, 1998). In addition, African Americans were deprived of basic political rights and, what is more, they were terrorized by radical, extremist organizations, such as Ku Klux Klan, which actually terrorized not only blacks but also whites who supported African Americans, namely, in 1870 Klansmen murdered 16 Republicans and whipped at least 121 (Sandon, 2006).  In such a way, the abolition did not really bring a considerable relief to the life of African Americans. Instead, it increased the tension in relations between whites and blacks.

The discrimination of African Americans persisted in the late 19th and in the first half of the 20th century. As a result, the segregation of the entire American society was the unexpected effect of the abolition since African Americans being free still were treated as second class citizens and they did not have equal rights and opportunities compared to the whites. In such a situation, African Americans could not remain inactive. In this regard, the long-run positive effect of the abolition of slavery was obvious since a few educated and strong leaders of the African American community managed to launch the Civil Rights movement which united all African Americans and marked the realization of their civil rights. In this respect, it is worth mentioning activities of Martin Luther King, who appealed to the equality of African Americans and white Americans. In his public speeches, such as I Have a Dream, he developed his concept of the new American society, free of discrimination and segregation. In fact, the one of the most significant changes that occurred in the 1950s was the US Supreme Court decision to eliminate school segregation which was declared unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ruling in 1954 (The Civil Rights Movement, 1997). Next year, as Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus as required by the city ordinance, boycott followed and bus segregation ordinance was declared unconstitutional (The Civil Rights Movement, 1997). These events marked the growth and strengthening of the Civil Rights movement, which was backed up by legislative changes, such as Brown v. Board of Education. Also, it is worth mentioning the Immigration and Nationalization Act of 1952 which removed ethnic and racial barriers to naturalization (The Civil Rights Movement, 1997).

On the other hand, the conservative part of the American society attempted to resist to the Civil Rights movement. For instance, in 1956, the coalition of Southern Congressmen called for massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation rulings. However, such resistance, evoked the strengthening of the Civil Rights movement since more and more African Americans started civil action against segregation and violation of their civil rights. Eventually, the Civil Rights movement led to the change of the position of African Americans, since segregation was eliminated and they got equal rights compared to the whites. However, similarly to the abolition of slavery, desegregation also failed to bring immediate positive effects to African Americans and they had to keep their struggle in the 1960s and even today they need to protect their rights and struggle for equal opportunities.

Nevertheless, the recognition of the equal rights of all Americans regardless of their race and ethnic origin was an important victory of the Civil Rights movement. This victory was achieved due to the civil action, which used different tactics. For instance, M.L. King promoted his ideas in his public speeches and he attempted to maintain the public dialogue with his opponents. Rosa Parks and many other African Americans openly refused to obey to segregation ordinances, while some African Americans participated in protests and boycotts which forced the authorities to recognize the rights of the African American population.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said the Civil Rights movement originated from the epoch of the abolition, which was the first significant victory of African Americans in the struggle for their rights. However, the abolition of slavery failed to bring the long-expected improvement of the life of African Americans. Even though they were liberated and formally they were free, in actuality, they could not exercise equal rights compared to whites. Moreover, Jim Crow laws contributed to the introduction of restrictive legislative measures which not only discriminated African Americans but also deprived them of basic human rights. As a result, African Americans were doomed to poverty and discrimination. Nevertheless, in a long-run, the abolition opened larger opportunities for African Americans to struggle for their rights and they used these opportunities in the 1950s to improve their position in the American society.

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