Background: The Civil Rights Movement
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A History of Africans and African-Americans in the U.S.

Historians date the civil rights movement back to May 17, 1954 of the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregated public schools in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. But the mistreatment and white supremacy over African Americans had started long before then. The first African Americans were brought to America as slaves in the early 1600s. Slavery would go on to prosper for 250 years. Many slaves revolted, but were beaten on hanged. There were many brave people who spoke out against slavery, or risked their life for the cause of freedom. People like Harriet Tubman risked themselves as conductors helping other runaway slaves escape to the north in the Underground Railroad. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass used their great orator skills and gave speeches against slavery, or William Lloyd Garrison who started his own newspaper, The Liberator.

After the Civil War slavery ended. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but still African Americans were not treated with equal rights and respect they deserved. White supremacy was still held in the minds of many. Many ex-confederate soldiers joined Ku Klan Klux, an organization formed with the main goal to keep blacks powerless. They aimed at those who prospered, or who could read and write, and those who tried to vote. Their work was for the democratic party. They used violence and terrorism to maintain their white supremacy. From 1882 to 1901, more than 2,000 blacks were lynched.

Though according to the amendments of the Constitution blacks have equal rights as whites, they were not treated as such. The Fourteenth Amendment declared that "native-born or naturalized persons were citizens and had the same rights as citizens." The Fifteenth Amendment declares that the right to vote should not be denied "on account of race , color, or previous condition of servitude".

Blacks were also caught in an endless cycle of segregation. In 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was lawful as long as the facilities for both the blacks and whites were equal. On June 7, 1892, a black man named Homer Plessy had boarded a train in Louisiana, and took a seat in a car labeled "whites only". He was arrested for breaking state law. Plessy took his case to the Supreme Court arguing that the 14th Amendment banned segregation. Blacks would use separate restrooms, water fountains, restaurants, waiting rooms, swimming pools, libraries, and bus seats. Though the public facilities were by law supposed to be equal, but they were far from it. Black schools were poorly funded. Many blacks would revolt and protest without violence. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established in 1910 by W.E.B. DuBois and others. They launched legal campaign against racial injustice. The election of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought black leaders among the President's advisers.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was later formed. They would start a series of "freedom riders." They would perform sit-ins. They used tactics of nonviolence to achieve what they wanted. They used the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi as an example. In sit-ins they would quietly sit down, and refused to leave, until they were served. They did not retaliate. These tactics worked in some northern cities.

In 1946 segregation was outlawed on interstate busses by Supreme Court rule. "Many battles against segregation were being fought in courtrooms and legislatures." All of the peaceful protesting and nonviolent tactics would lead up to the civil rights movement.


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