What was the civil rights
movement at its peak?
is difficult to contain civil rights in a simple definition such as “The rights of citizens to political and
social freedom and equality. “1.
The basic structure is encompassed, but the perseverance and struggle to obtain
them is not. Civil rights in the 21st century are far more protected than they
once were, but movements such as Black Lives Matter2, show
that racism is still abundant and that more can be done to combat inequality.
The Emancipation Act, passed
in 1863, declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the
rebellious Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
This marked the commencement of a new era, one where blacks would be regarded
as humans rather than as property. The 13th Amendment, which formally abolished
slavery in the entirety of the United States, was passed on December 6th,
1865.This did not mean however that all Americans accepted them as equals,
rather on the contrary, they saw them as competition for their jobs, land and
suitors. In 1866, Congress enacted the first Civil Rights Act, which granted
citizenship to all those whom were born in the USA and protected black legal
rights, such as suing and testifying in court.
The African American civil
rights movement formally originated after the unanimous decision of Brown v Board in 1954,
whereby the Plessy v Ferguson decision was overturned and the notion of “separate but equal” was questioned. The movement hence
obtained a new lease of life, were hope was granted for the future of ending
segregation and inferiority. The
movement could be argued, officially ended in 1968 with the assassination of
Martin Luther King when the majority of the momentum that led to the Civil
Rights Act and Voting Rights Act becoming law peaked.
What were the objectives?
access to jobs and housing
Rosa Parks (with the help of
the NAACP) through her defiance to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger,
spurred the Montgomery boycott which lasted for 382 days, when the courts
ordered that the segregation of city bus services were unconstitutional. This
rendered the first objective achieved. The U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v.
Board of Education, which was successfully argued by the NAACP3 in
1954, outlawed the impetus for nationwide racial desegregation of public
schools. This effectively achieved the second objective. The third
objective was seen to have been achieved through the voting rights act
through the 1968 civil rights act and the Kerner Commission of 19685.
The main objectives had been met by the end of the 60’s and blacks had legally achieved all that they could have.
But had they really?
Have attitudes sufficiently changed?
According to a Gallup survey conducted in Aug 2016, African Americans’
perceptions of widespread racism has reached 61%, rising from the previous year
as a response to the highly publicized police killings in confrontation with
black men in 2014 and early 2015.
The 1994 Crime Bill6
issued by Bill Clinton resulted in disciplinary measures to “protect”
people from crime that had no rehabilitative or preventative measures and resulted in an amplification of those imprisoned for petty crimes. This
resulted in the most change for African-Americans as
Whilst 1 in 17 white men have a likelihood to go to prison –
for black men the statistic is 1 in 3,
top of this, the statistics of wrongful convictions are even more troubling. In
the National Registry of Exonerations’ new report, Race and Wrongful
Convictions in the United States, researchers looked at the
1,900 exonerations reported between 1989 and 2016. Compared to the 13 percent
of the population that African-Americans make up, they comprise 47 percent of
those who were exonerated. This disparity cuts across all major crimes
committed, but the report focuses on the three categories where
exonerations are most frequent: murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes.
The number of African-American incarcerated males is currently at 2.36
million, a staggering statistic compared to that of 1970 where it was only
357,292. With the African American prison population having steadily grown
throughout the years, it is questionable as to what extent this is down to rising
crime, but also due to rising racist attitudes.
(National Registry of Exonerations, 2017)
In table A, we can see the
exonerations that African-Americans are given, and that in 4 out of 7 of the
crimes committed black Americans supersede their white counterparts, and
overall, they represent 8% more of exonerations. We can see that they face the highest
discrepancy in exonerations for Drug Crimes and for
instance, in 2003, black men were reportedly 12 times more likely to be
incarcerated for drug offenses even though surveys have shown few discrepancies
between the sale of white and black people selling drugs.
The Black Lives Matter
campaign began in the summer of 2013 with the acquittal of the man who killed
African-American teen Trayvon Martin. It aims to decentralize the fight for
equality and depends upon the coordination of a large group of people to
The former New York Mayor
Rudy Giuliani8 declared
that Black Lives Matter was “inherently racist, dividing
society against itself and only focusing on the “positives” of the black community”. “All Lives Matter” was launched as a response to the BLM
movement but many of its critics claim that it fails to address the problem
that BLM aims to affront as the problem is that Blacks are not treated as
equals to whites, it “erases
the vulnerability of and dehumanization of black people”9
Bill de Blasio, current New
York mayor argues the contrary, that the BLM movement “changed the discussion on race for the better”10. He also states his
realization of an “implicit bias”, that in order to effectively change people’s opinions of others
Is African Americans
socio-economic status equal?
The U.S government still
remains responsible due to its practises and policies that prevented blacks
from getting on the property ladder in the 1930’s.
These poor housing conditions have transferred through generated resulting in
the situation we have today. Vanita Gupta11
states that “banks
continue to build and structure
their lending operations in a way that fails to meaningfully serve communities
of colour based on assumptions about the financial risk”12.
This is effectively redlining and makes certain that the African-American
community will never prosper to the same level that their white counterparts
do. If they are not granted the same economic benefits due to
pure stigmatisation, then this will remain and create a viscous cycle of missed
opportunities. Troost Avenue, for example, in Kansas City has a racial dividing
line that separates the city between blacks and whites, due to their economic
capacities and due to disinvestment in black neighbourhoods in the 70’s. The damage remains yet to be overturned and the Mayor Sly James is
also aware of this, saying “We have to stop this nonsense of north and south of the
river and east and west of Troost – we need to quit acting
like there’s a Berlin Wall … we must address our problems in a more constructive way.”
There remains a vast gap between whites and blacks who are
homeowners, with 48.4% in 2003 of blacks owning their own home and 75% of
whites doing so (Mark Ledwidge, Kevin Verney and Inderjeet Parmar,
2014) This is potentially due to
mortgage lending statistics; between 2007 and 2014 African Americans were
issued 5% of overall mortgages, falling from 8% in previous years. On top of this, white mortgages rose by 5%.
The viscous economic cycle is still causing
de facto segregation through economic situations in various areas of a city.
Racial school segregation is currently as segregated as it was 50 years ago,
after the plummet of the 1970’s. 37% of public schools throughout America
are currently one-race schools13
Gardendale – a predominantly white city in Alabama has been granted
permission by a federal district judge14
to proceed in seceding from the school distract that serves the larger country,
despite racial motive. The judge found that the exclusion would “assail the dignity of black children”– effectively reinstating a type of segregation
and allowing for white children to experience an education their counterparts
The average white American unemployment rate
was 5.4% in 2014, whilst for black Americans, this was twice that at 11.5%.
A theory advanced by Valerie Wilson at the
Economic policy institute is that black unemployment is this high not solely
due to joblessness –
but also due to their resilience in sticking to their job search.
Another study conducted by the Washington
Post declared that one minority group would suffer if another one fared well, whilst
Massachusetts was relatively successful concerning black unemployment – it was the worst for Hispanic unemployment. Whilst the median household
wealth for a white family is $134, 230, worryingly the statistic is less than ten times that
at $11,030 for a black family. Even when considering external factors such as
parental prosperity and differing circumstances this statistic comprises of
such disparities that something needs to be done to remediate it.
there sufficient African-American political representation?
The rise of Barack Obama to
the presidency culminated in an African-American reaching the peak of one’s
career in politics, reaching the highest position in the land. In 2012; 66.6% of
eligible blacks were recorded to have voted in the election – a record number, showing
that they felt they had a representative –
someone who would fight for their own policies. However, this was met with much
resistance by whites who – since 2011, 25 laws and two executive actions have passed in
19 states to restrict voting access in America. At least 180 restrictive bills
have been introduced in 41 states and some are still pending.15
According to Pew research
black voter turnout rate fell for the first time in 20 years with the Hilary
Clinton v Donald Trump election as
many felt that neither one of the white upper-class representatives fully
conveyed their aspirations for the country. With 547 people in the 115th
congress, only 49 of those are African-Americans17.
However, it has risen from 46 is the previous congress and represents around 8%
of the overall congress. 14 % of the country is African-Americans, meaning that
there is still a discrepancy of almost half between the two races.
What needs to be done?
Whilst I believe that the
Civil Rights movement achieved its fair share of success in the height of its
course; attitudes towards the black community, the African-American economic
situation and political representation still have a long way to go. However,
its success cannot be undermined as without the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the
1965 Voting Rights Act, as without these many fundamental cases fighting for
equality would not have had sufficient precedent to do so. The likelihood of a
black president would have been minute, as without sufficient African-American
voters, it would have been near impossible to elect an African-American.
Time and time again, it has
been proven that federal government intervention is necessary to impact a
community and grant legal protection. Before the Voting Rights Act18 it
was estimated by the NAACP that no more than 5 million African-Americans voted
in the 1960 election but by 1964 over double voted – 12 million. It is this
federal change that is implemented due to protests and work from those fighting
for equality that curates change.
can it be done?
I believe that in order to
achieve further equality these three things need to be addressed:
– Legal Protection
– Economic Opportunities to be made
– Fair political representation
Wrongful convictions, search
and arrests and police brutality all remain issues that all remain prominent
and can be overturned by law rather than a general shift in attitudes. I
believe that for these incarceration statistics to become more balanced – it is not only larger convictions that need to be
overturned, but also shorter sentences that could have an impact on the way
their lives turn out in the future. If they face 6 months in prison and plead
guilty (when not) – upon release they will face
an economic backlash as well as the potential to commit crime in the future. This
As seen in (National Registry of Exonerations, 2017), the severe
overrepresentation of exonerations shows how far too many African-Americans are
being falsely imprisoned and having to be exonerated. However, these are the
lucky ones – many who face lesser
sentences are not given the chance to fight for their innocence; the Centre on
Wrongful Convictions at North-western University School of Law19,
for example, tells prisoners who ask for assistance that unless they have at
least 10 years remaining on their sentences, the Centre will not be able to
help them because it’s overloaded with cases in which the
stakes are much higher.
The Gardendale case that allowed for
a new school district that would allow for racial discrimination is a prime
example of the injustice that black students still face. Monique N. Lin-Luse20
is one of the defence lawyers who aims to appeal the decision. She fears that
Gardendale is being allowed to form its own elite system – but also the fact it
can do so once the court has acknowledged that race plays a factor is “of deep concern”.
The idea that segregation is still tolerable, and that the law is able to be
circumvented means that other school districts could try to operate as a one
race system, distancing education from equality.
Whilst Judge Madeline Haikala would argue that her decision to allow
the school district to secede should be allowed as parents should be allowed to
have control on a local basis21
and black students should not have to bear the blame of them not being allowed
to do so. If her opinion is shared by others, we are teaching African-American
students that they are not worthy of the same education that white children
are. Education remains not only a necessity but a priority in the integration
of white and black students who
We can see the difference that is seen when federal
government intervenes through the difference in stop-and-frisk tactics. Before
they were deemed unconstitutional in New York City by a Supreme Court judge in
2013, 54 percent of the 191,588 New Yorkers stopped-and-frisked by police that
year were black compared to the 11 percent of searches that involved white people.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., a defender of the program argues “If the police get a description of a young brown man
carrying a gun, should they be forced to stop a Norwegian grandmother just to
prove they aren’t biased?” and “If we end the program, gun violence
is going to go through the roof.” Although the stop-and-frisk technique can
result in certain findings that could have caused harm unto others, it fails to
do so in an impartial manner concerning race22.
In 90% of the stop-and-frisk cases those stopped posed no danger or threat and
in 99.9% of the cases no gun was found. The New York policy is riddled with
racial profiling, as per the New York Times in 2011, the numbers suggest that
“hundreds of thousands of people, mostly minorities, have been stopped for no
legitimate reason—or worse, because of the colour of their skin.”23
This is effectively proven through statistics, with 87% of those who were
stopped being black or Latino, compared to the 54% of the population demographic
that they represent in New York.
believe that it is not a total suppression of policing against gun violence
that is needed but rather other, more effective, policies. Gun buy-back programs are
seen as an effective tool. NYPD buy-back programs have taken over 7,600 weapons
off the streets since 2008.
Without the same economic
opportunities, this will mean that African-American’s will constantly be
suppressed in the opportunities available to them. A viscous circle of poverty
can lead to crime and incarceration, as well as poor health and a higher death
Fair Political Representation
Barack Obamas rise to power
in 2009 represented not only how far African-Americans had come since the days
of slavery and segregation, but the potential for change if enough members of
the same community unite.
1 Oxford English Dictionary
2 Fighting to
prevent violence inflicted by the state and vigilantes and build local power
3 National Association for the
advancement of Coloured People
4 Eliminated the so-called literacy test and other
disqualifying factors that kept blacks from voting in the South
5 Commission appointed by President Johnson
6 Implemented a “three strikes” mandatory
life sentence for repeat offenders, money to hire 100,000 new police officers,
$9.7bn in funding for prisons, and an expansion of death penalty-eligible
8 Opinions preconditioned by his
political background – people are personally responsible for their actions
Shedd, assistant professor of Sociology at Columbia University and author
of Unequal City.
11 President and Chief Executive Officer of the Leadership
Conference on Civil and Human Rights
13 Derek Black- former desegregation
14 Judge Madeline Haikala – Southerner from Louisiana
18 1965 – The Voting
Rights Act, signed into law by
President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome legal barriers at
the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising
their right to vote under
the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States.
20 Of the NAACP Legal
Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.