Development of Civil Rights

Dulce Melgoza Rodriguez

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Civil Rights: Power to the People

The seeking of civil rights is a seemingly endless fight that is still experienced in the United States on a daily basis. Since America’s early years, there has been a struggle for people of color to have as much rights as Caucasians. Skin color has determined privilege, and despite the fact that there has been progress, there has also been regress as well. When the idea of civil rights was in the early stages, not all were conformed to the thought. Some even took matters into their own hands, such as with the infamous group formation of the Ku Klux Klan. Even with the supposed protection under the law, blacks still came under the harassment and hate crimes that came from the KKK and typical discrimination under the Jim Crow Laws that followed them; even with the elimination of those said laws, people still refused to accept the minority race as an equal. An evident racism and reaction to civil rights seen today mirrors the past and holds true to the fact that civil rights have isn’t just one battle, and that it to be continuously sought after.

Civil Rights are, by definition, the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. Minorities in the United States have individually worked to gain their rights that weren’t given to them since birth as it was with the non-minority race. It is a lot easier to be white than to be a minority. For whites, they don’t typically deal with racial profiling because their skin color doesn’t make them look like the enemy nor are they reduced to a stereotype. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence it is written that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights […]”, however those rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were only to men who were white, and not to any other race or ethnic group.

During the Civil War, a major tension between the north and south dealt with the topic of if blacks should be kept as slaves. North said no and the South said yes. After the loss of the Confederacy, and the establishment of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, blacks were happy, but the wealthy and plantation owners were not. African Americans exercised their new rights at first, but black codes were established that stripped them of their freedoms and reduced them to a level of indentured servitude. At this time as well the Ku Klux Klan rose to power to intimidate blacks so they wouldn’t attempt to gain more of their rights. The method was effective and fear and panic was spread throughout as members of the KKK could have been anyone from the average man to law enforcement officials. The period of Reconstruction in the South that was meant to be a prosperous time for blacks in America, didn’t prove to have as much progress as originally intended.

Influential black activists who fought for their rights rose up at this time and made themselves known. Some looked for gradual methods to gain their freedoms and others demanded immediate equal rights. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 by W.E.B. Dubois. With the use of courts and legislature, the NAACP would fight for the Civil Rights of African Americans.

Despite the Amendments established in the Constitution, Southern states imposed voting restriction laws to disenfranchise African Americans through the use of literacy tests, poll tax, and the grandfather clause. The South went even further by passing the Jim Crow Laws that instituted segregation between blacks and whites in public facilities.

These laws came to be challenged in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson where Homer Plessy, a part black and part white man who could technically use both white and black facilities, was told to move to the end of a train, and ended up suing. Plessy lost the case and out of it, the doctrine “separate but equal” was established and ruled that the fourteenth amendment only ensured political equality and that segregation was not the same as inferiority, which made segregation legal for the next sixty years.

Civil Rights had a long ways to go at this point, and the discrimination against blacks was followed into both World Wars. In World War II, American troops told the French to treat the white troops better than the black troops and they bunked in segregated facilities. After WW2, Blacks fought alongside NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality to eliminate the Jim Crow Laws. In 1954, Congress declared the “separate but equal” rule to be unconstitutional, with the court case of Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated schools and began to apply the 14th amendment to its full extent, though it would be eleven more years until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and fourteen years until the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Since the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act, there has been change in the public policy towards the issue of racism and discrimination; however, it is still present despite the legislation passed to combat it. No matter how much America has gone forward in it’s advancements in Civil Rights, but just like it was in the 1860s, not everyone is willing to follow suit in the idea of equality for all races. The NAACP and other civil rights activist groups are still around today just like the KKK is. The need for civil tights is still prevalent today, and not just for blacks – but for all minority groups such as Hispanics, Native Americans, or Asians who have also benefitted off the legislation passed. In a typical election, most minorities would rather vote Democrat rather than Republican because the Democrats are those whose policies like Affirmative Action which seek to advance those who have been at a disadvantage throughout history. Liberal standpoints favor Civil Rights while Conservatives have opposed them. When it comes to future policy-making issues, no minority wants to vote for an official who wouldn’t care about the importance of their rights and whose actions could lead to something simple as ignoring the fact discrimination exists and that it occurs to their constituents or to going out of their way to make the minorities the less represented group. This could go from anywhere such as gerrymandering, where district lines can be drawn up in a way to favor one party representation over another which actually has to be approved by Congress when done by the South to actual passing of legislation such as in Arizona’s Immigration Enforcement laws passed in 2010 that allowed for anyone who remotely looks “illegal” to a law enforcement official to be questioned and detained. Though it is a law that isn’t supposedly based on the color of one’s skin, it’s evident that the appearance of the individual is what determines if the police officer approaches them and asks to see their papers.

Progress is gradual overall, so there needs to be a stronger initiative to gain more than just rights, but also a sense of respect and to break the barrier of discrimination for something trivial like the color of one’s skin. There can’t be talk about progression when the progress is so little and there are people constantly trying to stop it through laws or discreet methods. If judging people on their race continues, nothing will ever get accomplished because the non-minority child will grow with a mindset that they can’t amount to anything. The institutionalized racism will discourage those minorities even though they are not to be the minority group within the future years of the growing population. The minority needs to know of their rights and the impact they can have on the United States if they banded together to bring change. All that needs to happen is for this group to understand they are not weak and that if they show the same amount of gusto that their predecessors showed, the United States could prove to be an entirely different place for its citizens, especially those of color.