The American Journey © 2007

Chapter 29: The Civil Rights Era

Chapter Overviews

In the late 1800s the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of segregation. By the 1950s, African American leaders were ready to challenge that decision. The case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, combined with several similar cases, reached the Supreme Court in December 1952. On May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously ruled that separate schools were unconstitutional. It was, however, still a long, slow battle to integrate schools across the nation. In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. The bus boycott that followed lasted for more than a year, until the bus segregation law was also ruled unconstitutional.

In 1960 John Kennedy was elected president of the United States. His youth and new ideas promised to "get the country moving again." His plans included increasing government spending on social programs and education and helping the poor. He also sought to guarantee civil rights for all Americans. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy took part in a parade through the streets of Dallas, Texas, where he was shot and killed by an assassin. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, introduced even more proposals to help society.

Through the early 1960s many different groups, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, organized efforts to gain equality for African Americans. Many of these efforts were met with violence. In the summer of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., organized a massive march on Washington, D.C. In 1964 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The following year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Other groups also sought equality during the 1960s and 1970s. Women, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and people with disabilities all found inspiration in the struggles of African Americans.

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