History: What were the main developments in race relations in the US, 1945-1968? #625Lab


Although slavery was abolished in America in 1863, discrimination against black Americans remained prominent throughout society more than a century later. Widespread racism was evident, particularly in many of the southern American states. Most of these states enforced “Jim Crow” laws, which imposed strict segregation laws by forbidding inter racial marriage, segregating public services and institutions such as; schools, libraries, bus services, restaurants and parks, amongst many others. Although black Americans had been given the right to vote under the 15th Amendment in 1870, southern states prevented them from registering through discriminatory practices including poll taxes, literacy tests and widespread intimidation. Countless black Americans suffered as a result of violent and sadistic tactics carried out by the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan. Although this group had been disbanded following World War II, with the emergence of the civil rights movement in the 1950s, it reappeared in the south, and it was active in Montgomery during the bus boycott. The obvious political and social divide between white and black Americans resulted in a series of Supreme Court rulings, boycotts, protests, change in legislation and the emergence of powerful peaceful civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King. 

The first apparent development of race relations occurred following World War II, with a growing demand among black Americans for civil rights. The war focused attention on obvious racial discrimination. Nearly one million African Americans served in the army, all were placed in segregated units and were refused to serve in the Marine or Air Corps. This blatant division resulted in a vital campaign for equality. This campaign for civil rights was initiated by the National Association for the Advancement of coloured People (NAACP). It aimed to effectively utilise the legal system in order to end racial discrimination as well as promote and defend the constitutional rights of African Americans. However, it faced powerful opposition from those who feared that granting full civil rights would endanger the established order. In conclusion, the first major development of race relations began with the NAACP’s campaign for civil rights which would result in the gradual abolition of segregation. 

The NAACP concentrated their efforts on desegregating schools and universities. In 1954, they brought the case of Linda Brown to the Supreme Court. Segregation laws meant that Linda Brown, a young African-American girl in Topeka, Kansas, was not allowed attend a local white school. Instead she was forced to make a long and dangerous commute to an all-black school. A team of NAACP lawyers, led by Thurgood Marshall, argued that separate schools caused psychological damage to African-American children and therefore denied them their rights under the 14th Amendment. The NAACP won the case and the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional. The following year, the Supreme Court declared that public schools should be desegregated. It called on each state to implement this decision by setting up integrated schools “with all deliberate speed.” Despite this constitutional change, in 1957, the US Supreme Court ordered Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, to admit nine black students to an all-white school in Little Rock. Faubus ignored this ruling and ordered the state police to prevent the black students from attending school. He claimed he could not guarantee their safety. Faubus only yielded when President Eisenhower sent troops to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling and protect the black students as they attended classes. The troops remained at the school for the rest of the year. A similar event occurred in 1962, when James Meredith, an African-American student, tried to enrol in the all-white University of Mississippi and was prevented from registering by an angry mob. President Kennedy sent in troops in response in order to protect Meredith. In conclusion, the implementation of desegregation was a key development during this period. With the help of the NAACP as well as government assistance, schools throughout America gradually began to evolve, creating an equal and mixed racial student body. 

In 1955, an event in Montgomery, Alabama sparked off a year long bus boycott. It resulted in a Supreme Court decision that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine and outlawed racial segregation on public buses. The Montgomery bus boycott began a new phase of African- American activism. It marked a shift away from legal struggles to non-violent protests. This became known as the civil rights movement. Local laws in Montgomery stated that blacks and whites must be seated in different areas of a bus, whites towards the front, and blacks towards the back. If the seats were filled in the white section, law dictated that a black person was obliged to give up their seat. However, in December 1955, local secretary of the NAACP, Rosa Parks, challenged this law. Parks refused to adhere to this law by refusing to offer her seat on a bus to a white man. As a result, she was arrested and taken to jail. The NAACP provided her with legal counsel. This sparked outrage leading to the boycott of Montgomery bus services. To their dismay, the African-American population contributed to 75% of their clientele. Car pool services were arranged for those who travelled long distances, the rest of the protesters walked. In November 1956, the US Supreme Court declared Montgomery’s bus laws to be unconstitutional, ending the segregation of public services. In conclusion, the Montgomery bus boycott was a vital development in race relations as it brought about an end to segregation in public services. It also inspired black Americans to actively support the campaign for civil rights. The effectiveness of the boycott convinced the majority of Black Americans to support the use of non-violent action in pursuit of civil rights. 

The introduction of the Civil Rights Act came about following a series of mass protests as well as the refusal of two students to enrol at University in Alabama. In 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King launched a campaign of mass protests in Birmingham, Alabama, which he called “the most segregated city in America.” The local police chief, Eugene “Bull” Connor, used dogs and fire hoses to disband peaceful demonstrations. This event was broadcast worldwide, resulting in widespread support and sympathy for the civil rights movement. In June 1963, Governor George Walker of Alabama prevented two students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. Kennedy responded by sending the National Guard to protect the students as they enrolled and announcing the drafting of a comprehensive civil rights bill. This would end segregation and provide federal protection for the right to vote. The Civil Rights Act would not be passed until July 1964, several months after Kennedy’s death. In conclusion, the passing of the Civil Rights Act was a significant development as it banned discrimination in all public institutions engaged in inter-state commerce, ended segregation in public schools and established an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate cases of discrimination in the workplace. While racist attitudes still persisted, this law represented a major step towards achieving the civil rights movement’s goal of full legal equality 

Using the momentum gained from the Civil Rights Act, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) decided to highlight the problems surrounding voting rights. Martin Luther King deliberately targeted Selma, Alabama as severe intimidation was used there to prevent registration, resulting in less than 3% of black Americans being eligible to vote. The town’s council banned a planned protest march. However, when the march went ahead, the local sheriff’s department brutally supressed it. TV coverage of the violence horrified the American public. By not retaliating with violence, the civil rights movement won the argument. President Johnson was able to force through a Voting Rights Bill in 1965 which became law three years later. In conclusion, the introduction of the Voting Rights Bill was an incredible development in race relations as it put an end to literacy tests that had discriminated against African Americans and introduced government agents to inspect voting procedures. Within a few years, five major US cities had black mayors. 

In 1968, Rev. King was assassinated. His death marked the end of an era for the civil rights movement. During his life, King had played a central role in transforming the movement from a southern pressure group into a broad, national movement. By the tine of his death: segregation was illegal, the Civil Rights Act had enshrined black civil rights in law, and thanks to the Voting Rights Act, black Americans had begun to hold real political power. The emergence of activists during this era, such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and countless others marked the struggle and determination of individuals seeking civil rights in a society pervaded with racism and discrimination. Their resistance marked important developments throughout this period, as without their courage and resilience, society would have remained primitive and the improvement of race relations would have been extended or perhaps unresolved. 

In conclusion, a number of remarkable developments took place during this period. Society’s attitudes and norms towards racial prejudice and injustice were challenged. The Civil Rights movement paved the way for equality and shattered the limitations endured by African- Americans for centuries. It marked a turning point of collective protests and objections towards societal indifferences and discrimination. As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and for the majority African- Americans this time was between the 1950s-1960s, in the midst of peaceful boycotts, protests and legal battles to alter the constitution.

  • This is generally a really strong essay. I would say however, to avoid saying "in conclusion" in every paragraph, as there really is no need. Only say "in conclusion" in the conclusion. 
  • The introduction gives some really key background information and lays out the answer well. The flow of the essay is logical and reads really well. The conclusion is good too because it summarises the essay's points, and then reopens the question with a quotation from Martin Luther King.
  • You may also like: H1 Leaving Cert History Guide

Leaving Cert History: What were the main developments in race relations in the US, 1945-1968?

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