Battles for equal access in America had begun for both the women’s movement and African Americans long before the 1950s, with major influencers like W.E.B. Du Bois, a founding member of the NAACP and Booker T. Washington pushing for African American civil rights, to Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul who fought for a woman’s right to vote. This fight started in the 1800s and continued to grow into the 1900s.
The Civil Rights Movement picked up speed really after WWII, in fact the first sit-in was in 1943 at a Jack Sprats Coffee. It started with the groundbreaking Supreme Court Decision, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) which outlawed the segregation in public schools and overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decision which had established separate but equal laws.
With the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, we can talk about President Kennedy’s lack of worry with the movement in itself. Having waited long enough, the interracial Congress of Racial Equality organized groups of white and black activists that were to enter segregated bus depots together throughout the South. Known as Freedom Rides, these boycotts began on May 4th, 1961 with the idea from CORE leader James Farmer; “we felt we could count on the racists of the South to create a crisis, so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law.” The bus boycotts tended to end in violence from members of the Ku Klux Klan who would wait for the activists at bus depots, where they would brutally attack them when they tried to exit the bus.
Trying to help, President Kennedy’s brother Robert, who served as the Attorney General at the time, sent some 600 federal marshals to protect the riders as they exited the bus. Instead of helping, however, the marshals would escort protestors to jail where they would serve time for breaking the segregation laws. Kennedy urged protestors to call off the rest of their bus boycotts after a firebomb severally traumatized riders of one bus. Instead of quitting, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee joined in on the protests by taking the places of those who could no longer participate.
All the bus boycotts lead to the Birmingham campaign, with more economic boycotts and sit-ins than ever before in the South. Backed by coverage from the press, civil rights activists were able make their famous March on Washington on August 28, 1963. The nation, already fueled with rage by watching innocent protestors being beaten, called for a change. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson passed Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act that banned segregation in businesses and places open to the public, as well as prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or sex.
Starting in the 1960s, women began to leave the Civil Rights Movement feeling that it focused more on racial discrimination rather than gender equality. Feminists of the 60s started their own movement known as NOW that focused on picking up where recent influencers left off. Activists like Alice Paul got the 19th Amendment passed, but 60s women felt that they were still being discriminated against economically and educationally. These feminists saw women as being more than just stay-at-home mothers, because society just assumed that women would just take on this role. Women were denied certain jobs and were paid less for the same job than that of men.
These two successful movements helped spur the movements of Mexican-Americans and Native Americans in the 60s, as well as the famous Gay Rights Movement in the 1970s.
In my humble opinion, the civil rights movement has been the most successful. They’ve won multiple legislative and Supreme Court victories, which not only impacted their cause, but impacted the causes of other minority groups. That being said, these individual groups are still fighting for full equality. Examples would be the Black Lives Matter Movement for black activists who feel they are still being discriminated against, the Me Too Movement that allows women to have a voice, and the Obergefell vs Hodges court case in 2015 that legalized and allowed same-sex marriage, while still seeing inequality. Although all these groups have seen dramatic change in our society, they haven’t seen enough and are all waiting for the day when everyone is seen as equal.