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Civil Rights Movement

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In order to start research the topis of the civil rights movement, first of all, it is necessary to define what civil rights are.

Civil rights include the following definitions:

1) “civil rights” is the name of the political rights and freedom of the citizens in constitutionally-legal terminology of the USA and some other countries;

2) “civil rights” include the concept “personal rights”, the rights of a human being in a lexicon of international law;

3) “civil rights” in a civil law indicate the concept used for a designation of the rights making (together with civil duties) the maintenance of civil legal relationship.

Civil rights movement is a political organization achieving reception of the civil rights for a certain group in a society. The most known movements for the civil rights arose in the USA for the purpose of the fulfillment of the civil rights which were guaranteed to the black people by the constitution, but which were traditionally refused to them. They have influenced the passage of the Law on the civil rights of 1964 containing strong antidiscrimination clauses. The movement has concentrated efforts to fulfill the legislation from the middle of the 1960s. Many other organizations were meaningly founded on the sample of the American movement for the civil rights. In particular, in 1968 the North Irish association by the civil rights was aimed at the inclusion of the civil rights for Catholics into the political agenda.

Civil rights movement for racial equality in the USA put the goals to protect the civil rights of the Black population. It was widely adopted in the 1950-1960s and led to the cancellation of the practice of a racial segregation in southern states and to the acceptance of some laws in protection of the citizens’ rights by the US Congress. Civil rights movement had a nonviolent character; the representatives of both whites and blacks took part in it.

“The civil rights movement is one of the most significant movements in American history. Like a well-acted morality play, the civil rights movement changed American society from one that tolerated racism and the subjugation of African Americans to one that recognized the rights and humanity of all its citizens regardless of color or race. The issues raised by the civil rights movement stimulated a new era of democracy and freedom in American society” (Dittmer, Wright & Dulaney, 1993, p. xi).

In 1935, Mahatma Gandhi answered with the compelled refusal on the offer to arrive to the USA and to meet the heads of the Black movement for the civil rights. However, he noticed that the idea of nonviolence would extend further worldwide, possibly, due to the efforts of the American Blacks. In 1951, his colleague Rammanohar Lohija visited America and urged active workers of the movement to apply tactics and strategy of the teacher to fulfil mass direct actions.

Then, it seemed almost impossible. The forces of the isolated groups of black active workers and the organized racist white majority were rather unequal. In the conditions of obstruction among segregationists and indifference of the majority of white citizens federal laws on the civil rights in the south of the country - the citadel of the American racism - were not fulfilled. The status of the discriminated and racial minority deprived of civil rights was a daily reality for many generations of the blacks. The South of the USA was literally penetrated with a spirit of a racial hatred.

There was an obvious crisis caused by disbelief in the forces and progress in the field of the civil rights in the balck movement. Two opposite tendencies were distinctly outlined. On the one hand, there were “old” black organizations: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The National Urban League, and “younger” - The Congress of Racial Equality. The National Association was frequently accused of the achievement of small symbolical concessions creating visibility of gradual process of equalizing in the rights of the black with white Americans, but leaving a basis of a racial segregation in inviolability.

On the other hand, this crisis of belief in possibility to achieve a real progress by the constitutional way generated extremist movements like “black Moslems” who rejected the integration with whites and dreamed of the creation of the independent black state on the territory of the USA.

The movement began in the middle of the 1950s when the Black population of the southern states began to perceive the practice of segregation with indignation. A black seamstress Rosa Parks, who refused to give way to the white elderly in a bus and offered to take a seat on the places which were to be occupied by the blacks, was arrested in 1955 in Montgomery (Alabama). In the answer, Martin Luther King and Ralf Abernati organized boycott to the city buses.

“In addition to altering race relations in the United States, especially in the South, the civil rights movement sparked other liberation struggles in America and abroad, from the women’s liberation movement to the drive to overcome apartheid in South Africa. Indeed, even though the civil rights movement did not achieve all of its goals, nearly a half-century after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, it continues to have an impact on the course of history, serving as an agent and as a model of the quest for human rights” (Levy, 1998, p. xiii)

Marhtin Luther King described that there were no blacks among the bus drivers; some of them were polite, but the majority allowed themselves to insult and offence Negroes. There were different yells in busses like “black cows”, “niggers”, “black monkeys”. A bus could pass until a black man approached it.

A black was forced to stand, though there were empty seats in a bus, but they were supposed only for whites. Even if there were no white passengers in a bus, blacks were not allowed to occupy the first four places. In most cases, blacks submitted to this rule without objection though from time to time there were black people who could not endure such a humiliation.

In the early sixties, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized boycotts and sit-down strikes in many public places where there was a segregation practice. The movement was widely spread, compelling to cancel segregation rules in educational establishments, shops, libraries, and cinemas. The white southerners resisted to changes; there were frequent cases of violence. The attacks on fighters against segregation were frequent; sometimes they led to murders.

The march to Washington in 1963 in support of acceptance of laws against segregation became the culmination for the civil rights movement. The Congress accepted special laws on the civil rights in 1957, 1960, and 1964. Moreover, a special law on suffrages protecting the rights of the black voters was passed in 1965. In the second half of 1960, the radical organizations separated from the civil rights movement; they set goals to struggle for the expansion of the rights for the black population by the armed way (“Black Panthers”). After Martin Luther King’s murder and numerous disorders in black ghettoes many supporters of the movement departed from it. During the next decades many leaders of civil rights movement occupied high state and public posts, and were successfully engaged in business and scientific activity.

In the southern states of the USA, the centuries of slavery and decades of segregation created a legal and political system which was characterized by the domination of whites. Negroes were not allowed to take part in elections.

There were Jim Crowe’s Laws, in accordance with which Negroes had no right to study at schools and universities together with whites; they had to take special places in public transport, etc. Many shops, restaurants, hotels refused to serve Negroes. Negroes always named white “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, though whites seldom awarded Negroes of so polite reference. The whites counted on their humility; the resistance of Negroes seemed inconceivable. Many white southerners were convinced that the Afro-Americans had reconciled to a role of the citizens of the second grade.

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the USA, having considered the case “Brown against Educational Council”, decided that the segregation of schools doomed black children to “the stigma of inferiority” and that the authorities of southern states had to create uniform schools for whites and blacks as soon as possible. However, the southern politicians opposed this decision.  The “Councils of citizens” - groups which subjected any black or white daring to support integration to economic sanctions - were created.

A serious support to nonviolent opposition in Montgomery was rendered by the well-known American religious peace-making organization “Fellowship of Reconciliation”. One of its leaders, a white priest Glenn Smiley, was sent to the capital of Alabama at once after the protests’ beginning.

The movement organizers, the convinced Christians, put the Christ’s love formula: “Love your enemies” to the basis of boycott tactics. King considered that the Christian should never reconcile with unfair usages, but its heart should not become hardened, the violence cannot be liquidated with the violence, it should be opposed to the “force of soul”. Thus, the Christian love played an important role in Black movement for the civil rights.

The participants of the movement were explained that even despite reprisal it is necessary to be guided by a principle of evangelical love to everything, awaking it in the hearts of the opponents.

After inability to stop the “rigid” tactics it was not possible to stop the movement; racists passed to direct intimidation and threats. In January 1956, King’s house was bombed. When it became clear that the movement of the protest would not be stopped by violence, the civil authorities remembered a half-forgotten “antiboycott law” of 1921. Mass arrests began. More than hundred participants of boycott were accused of the organization of “illegal” public transport.

Montgomery’s experience had visually shown that the nonviolent action was impossible without an absolute belief in the forces and effectiveness of love, amnesty, and self-sacrifice. The eternal value of this method consisted in the fact that it had removed the opposition of the purposes and means by ethical criteria. The nonviolent action cleared up a new self-respect, new moral and spiritual force in its participants. It aspired to correct human mutual relations and a society, influencing the segregated structures and demanding their disbandment; counteracting egocentric moods, violence and dehumanizing forces both in separate individuals, and at social institutes.

Thus, King formulated six principles of nonviolent opposition which became the ABC for the activists of the American movement for civil rights:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. Nonviolent resistance is not a display of cowardice, but active resistance to evil. It is a method of physical passivity and intensive spiritual activity. The participant of nonviolent resistance is passive in the sense that he does not show a physical aggression in relation to the opponent; at the same time, his mind and feelings are always active, he constantly searches for the ways to convince the opponent in his wrongfulness.
  2. Nonviolence does not aspire to defeat or to humiliate the opponent; it searches for the friendship and understanding. The participant of nonviolent resistance frequently makes the protest by means of noncollaboration or boycott, but thus he realizes that these actions are not end in themselves: it is only the means to arouse the sense of shame in the opponent. Its purpose is repentance and reconciliation. Nonviolence finally aspires to the creation of the community of love.
  3. Nonviolence is directed not against people who make evil, but against a satanic host. Nonviolence sees victims in people who represent evil, and injustice conductors, but not a source of this evil.
  4. Nonviolence is a readiness to accept suffering without a thought about vengeance, to accept a blow, without putting retaliations. The participant of a nonviolent resistance is ready to become in case of need a victim of violence, but he never will resort to it. Nonviolent resistance starts with the belief that the undeserved suffering leads to rescue.
  5. Nonviolence is based on love, instead of on hatred. Nonviolent resistance avoids not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit. Thereupon, love means understanding, saving good will.
  6. Nonviolence is based on the belief that the whole Universe, which is always on the side of justice. Therefore, the one who trusts in nonviolence, trusts in the future. This belief is one more reason on which the supporter of nonviolent resistance can accept suffering without a thought about vengeance.

Thus, the startegy of the movement for the civil rights was developed on the basis of Gandhi’s method of nonviolent resistance, but according to King, nonviolence became an integral part of the struggle due to the influence of the black church. The church was the consolidating social structure which united black Americans, irrespective of their social status, economic, educational levels and age distinctions in the struggle for finding of the full civil rights.

For twelve years of nonviolent struggle the civil rights movement achieved the racial discrimination termination in various spheres. This movement aroused the feeling of self-esteem, pride and confidence of the forces in black Americans, promoted mutual understanding between the white and black citizens of the USA.

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