An Overview: The Civil Rights Movement | Road Trip

The Civil Rights Movement has been part of an ongoing struggle since enslaved Africans were first brought to America. The modern Civil Rights Movement began in the 1940s and many changes had taken place by the early 1970s, with the major events happening between 1954 and 1968.


In 1896, the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson allowed for public facilities for Blacks and Whites to be segregated, as long as they were equal. Until May 17, 1954, restaurants, water fountains, educational and entertainment facilities, and public accommodations were separate and unequal. In the 1940s and 1950s, virtually all aspects of Southern life were segregated. This was equally true in South Carolina.


There were several civil rights organizations that fought for equality, such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban League, and later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), worked to change the system of racial segregation in the South. Over the next 20 years, they organized strikes, sit-ins, freedom rides, demonstrations, marches and voter registration drive


The first objective was to integrate public schools, in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which stated that separate facilities were inherently unequal and had to be eliminated. This decision not only affected Black schools, but Native American schools, whose facilities were also inferior in comparison to white schools. Across the country, incidences of violence escalated as Blacks tried to attend previously all-White schools.


A high point of the movement came in August 1963, when the March on Washington, led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., attracted more than 250,000 people to the nation’s capital. It was the largest human rights demonstration in American history. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Shortly thereafter Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 


South Carolina played an active role in the national Civil Rights Movement. Several cases were at the forefront of the movement, including the school desegregation cases of Pearson v. Clarendon CountyBriggs v. Elliott and Brown v. Board of Education. These cases helped to bring about the destruction of Jim Crow laws and customs, which in turn, created greater equality and justice for other minorities, women and the elderly.


There is disagreement about when or if the civil rights movement has ended. Major changes occurred as a result of the movement, yet many problems related to economics, education and health disparities as well as racial animosity and violence, still persist in America. Although a great deal remains to be done, the civil rights movement opened many doors for other ethnic and social groups, perhaps the greatest beneficiaries have been women, who have achieved unprecedented gains in the work force.

The hope is that future generations will continue to foster an inclusive democracy for all Americans.