The 1950’s through the 1970’s was an everlasting battle for change and equality. Many groups of people had visions of reform, while other groups were in fear of these vast changes. Groups of people such as racial minorities, women, and many others felt that there had long been a need for change and reform. They deserved more rights and better treatment, and it was time to make this happen. Throughout these years there were a large number of battles for cultural reform. As the 1970’s rolled around, the people knew that a lot had changed, but they were unsure if this change was enough.
The 1960’s were the years of the Liberal Movement. Both President Kennedy and President Johnson supported the New Deal, input by the former President Harry Truman. While President, Truman had desegregated the American military and secured federal funds for urban public housing, education, and public works projects. Kennedy and Johnson were all for reforming American society, but many of the American people of the time believed the government had no business interfering with the economy or society.
Although President Kennedy had made progress for the poor and those in poverty, it wasn’t until the leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953–1969, that major change began to take place. Warren knew it was the job of the government to protect those who were powerless against oppression. Warren was able to obtain opinions on a wide range of social justice issues, and with this he was able to permanently altered American schools, politics, the criminal justice system, and cultural norms.
A big improvement towards desegregation happened in 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education began to fight for desegregation in schools. However, President Kennedy took a cautious stance on civil rights, and because of this the interracial Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Freedom Riders. The Freedom Riders took interstate bus journeys by black and white activists who entered segregated bus waiting rooms together throughout the South. Riders rode buses into the deep south, often times being pelted with stones and chased after by whites in the south. Eventually, Kennedy urged the Freedom Riders to call off the rest of their planned rides, but instead they were joined by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They took places of the Freedom Riders who were too traumatized to continue on the journey. Finally in the fall of 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commission required the integration of all interstate travel facilities. After this African Americans kept up the fight for civil rights. They both won and lost many battles, but never gave up the hopes of desegregation.
Another group that fought towards Civil Rights in the 1950’s through the 1970’s were women. Women had different views on how things should be. For example, Helen Gurley Brown and Betty Friedan each wrote best sellers that helped reignite the women’s movement, but both had different opinions on it. Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl, which gave women advice to use their looks to their advantage and to avoid getting married and having children until later years when their looks no longer benefitted them. Friedan, however, felt differently about how things should be taken on. She didn’t think that women should avoid being married or having children, her main belief was that women and men should be able to participate in the same activities. In 1966, Friedan helped found the National Organization for Women (NOW) to secure equal rights for women in employment, education, and politics. These were mainly the fields of men. NOW also aimed to give women control over their own bodies through unfettered access to contraception and legal abortions. They were a relatively small organization, but NOW nonetheless convinced President Johnson to issue an executive order that required government agencies and federal contractors to create affirmative action programs to hire and promote women and minority men.
Many groups continued to fight for Civil Rights and take on the new challenges that it brought. People were unsure of where this fight may take them, but they were sure of the fact that they needed change and were tired of the normal everyday ways. It took people such as Martin Luther King Jr., the Freedom Riders, Helen Gurley Brown, etc., to stand up and support a firm belief they had about rights that every human simple deserved. I believe that all the groups that fought for Civil Rights never gave up, and they are the reason that so many of us our able to enjoy simple freedoms still today. Overall, I would say that each different group had a vast impact, but in my opinion I believe that the African Americans had the largest impact. They were willing to risk their lives to show what they believed in, supported, and what they were going to stand behind, even if it meant dying. This speaks volumes.
Keene, Jennifer D., et al. Visions of America: a History of the United States. Pearson, 2017.