Civil War: Change Towards The Rights Of African Americans

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War was the least significant cause for change for African American’s civil rights in the period 1865-1968. Although being the catalyst for some fundamental change, the lack of, and also somewhat regressing change towards civil rights undermines these few positive changes. To illustrate, during the Reconstruction Period, a supposedly new era for America, the white supremacist group, the KKK was formed in 1866. An arguably lesser cause for change in the civil rights period is government, which was both progressive and regressive, subsequently reducing the extent of advancement of change for African American’s civil rights from 1865-1968. For example, President Wilson impeded the movement after segregating federal workers in D.C in 1913; there is no doubt that Wilson, along with other presidents and members of the Congress, had hindered the extent to which the government created actual groundbreaking change towards the rights of African Americans. It could be argued that leaders, such as Booker T. Washington and MLK, were the greatest cause for change for African American’s civil rights in the period 1865-1968; this can be evidently seen through the work of Martin Luther King when he was the key speaker at the March on Washington in 1953. This massive event resulted in multiple legislative, political and social changes which positively affected the rights of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement from 1865-1968 and is therefore the most significant cause between war and government which had a lesser impact.

War overall created some significant change towards the rights of African Americans although not as significant as other factors. Both the Civil and Vietnam war led to legislative change which had a substantial effect on the status of African Americans in the period of 1865 -1968. Arguably, the Vietnam War had significantly more groundbreaking and fundamental change compared to the Civil War. For example, the passing of the 1965 Voting Act during the Vietnam War meant that in Mississippi alone, voter turnout amongst African Americans increased by 53% from 1964 to 1969. Similarly, the Civil War passed legislation which too had some fundamental change towards equality, even if it was fleeting, e.g. the 13th Amendment (1865). This change was fundamental as it abolished slavery however, was also transient after the conclusion of Reconstruction due to President Hayes. It is arguable that WWI had significantly less fundamental change towards the rights of African Americans during 1865-1968 than WWII which had critical improvements, for example, WWI saw the formation of the grass-root movement the UNIA in 1914 which successfully established 700 branches in 38 separate states by 1920. However, this is undermined by not only the Red Summer (1914 -1919,) but also the East St. Louis Massacre and the 3,400 African Americans who were lynched a century after the war. WWII brought more of both legislative and societal change in comparison to WWI. This is evidently seen in the formation of CORE in 1942 and through the passing of Executive Order 8802 (established the Committee on Fair Employment Practices,) 9808 (established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights,) and 9980 (ordered the desegregation of the federal workforce;) all of which had a fundamental impact, more so than WWI. The Cold War and the Korean War both had superficial change in regards to the rights of African Americans between 1865-1968. For example, as a result of the Cold War, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced which ‘banned discrimination on the basis of race, colour or religion.’ The lack of societal support from white people meant that racist groups such as the KKK could continue to terrorise, murder and deny the existence/rights of African Americans in the US therefore holding back the extent to which positive change could be made. The Korean War suffered with the same problem though to a lesser extent however. This is evident through Truman’s Executive Order 9981. This Order was completely ineffective as seen through the 503rd Battalion, which had all Black members until 1950 (therefore showing that desegregation of the armed forces was not that effective) and further seen when later that year, fifty members of the all-Black 24th Regiment were accused of AWOL and sentenced to life imprisonment even with evidence defending their whereabouts. This is clear evidence of how change towards the rights for African Americans in the US was negligible, once again as a result of the unreadiness of society to accept change. The Korean War is arguably still more significant in comparison to the Cold War as more fundamental legislations were passed, such as the Brown v. Board of Education (1954). In summary, wars as a cause for change towards African American’s civil rights from 1865-1968 was the least influential in comparison to government officials and had even less significance in comparison to grass-root movements and leaders. As an example of its negative impact, early wars such as the Civil War created Black codes which later developed into Jim Crow Laws, furthermore, WWI led to the murder of thousands of Black men, women and children as seen in the 3,400 lynchings in the century following. This is not to deny the fact that wars did have some influence for example both the Cold War and the Vietnam War led to legislative changes (e.g. the 1968 Fair Housing Act,) as a result of unrest from the public who was now ready for change and therefore allowed it to happen more easily and more frequently. These legislative changes however couldn’t have happened without government officials passing them and is therefore of less significance as a cause than these presidents.

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Government had a somewhat significant impact on the rights of African Americans in the period 1865-1968 although arguably not as much as leaders. Presidents throughout this period had both regressive and progressive ideologies, others were incredibly apathetic towards the Civil Rights movement for instance, both Truman and Eisenhower. As an example, Eisenhower, despite overturning Plessy v. Ferguson with the Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, did not come forth to state that the law would be enforced on a federal level. This nonchalant behaviour is reflected in the lack of social, political and economic change. Similarly, Truman was also indifferent although not as openly; this is seen through his inconsequential legislative changes. For example, Executive Order 9981 (desegregation of armed forces,) of which the military took two years to enforce the law and despite this, few African American’s became officers. This superficial change, though less significant than Eisenhower, still had a negative impact. The most regressive presidents in power from 1865-1968 include Hayes and Wilson, of which both president’s actions had serious consequences. President Hayes’ actions arguably had the most harrowing impact on the Civil Rights Movement in comparison to Wilson; this is presented in the fact that Hayes ended Reconstruction, the first truly fundamental, yet fleeting step towards changing rights of African Americans, just so he could become president and even then would continue to disappoint further via a lack of social, legislative, political and economic change. President Wilson, though less regressive than Hayes, still had a significantly negative effect; this is seen in his segregation of federal workers (post office and the treasury department’s facilities) in D.C in 1913 and also through his private showing of ‘The Birth of a Nation’, a film which garnered the KKK over 100,000 members within months. Both Roosevelt and Johnson passed legislation which created some form of fundamental change towards the rights of African Americans during the period of 1865-1968. Johnson however, arguably created more change as he passed one of the most influential pieces of legislation in the entire movement, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This not only had its own influences but simultaneously led to the creation of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The success of Johnson is not to say that Roosevelt didn’t also pass groundbreaking legislation. For example, his advancement of the Executive Order 8802 in June 1941 (which banned discriminatory employment practices by federal agencies,) not only created rudimentary change, but moreover led to the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee which had a massive influence in preventing discrimination against African Americans within government positions. In 1945 there was a 5% increase of African Americans with jobs in the defence industry and the amount of African Americans with government jobs was three times more than before the war had begun. Despite not being as influential as Johnson, Eisenhower did undeniably create fundamental change. Finally, Presidents such as Lincoln and JFK had a positive, yet fleeting effect on the rights of African Americans during 1865-1968, for example, JFK’s comprehensive civil rights bill which he sent to congress in 1963 was unsuccessful after his assassination in Dallas although did potentially influence Johnson to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, along with other significant pieces of legislation which were crucial steps in achieving full legal equality. Likewise, President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 led to the passage of the 13th Amendment however, failure of Reconstruction in 1863 as a direct result of President Hayes did limit the extent to which positive change towards the Civil Rights Movement was made. In summary, government officials had a lot more influence on the changing rights of African Americans (both positive and negative) than war. Some significant changes can be seen with Johnson from 1963 -1968 arguably due to the fact that societal readiness for change had become much more apparent. Little change was seen between the years 1913-1921 when it should have been thriving, this is due to Wilson’s conservative ideology and unwillingness to change. Overall, these changes in comparison were not the same magnitude and did not have the same effect than ones made by leaders which created deep-rooted change, not only within the law, but also in society.

Leaders were the most significant cause for change towards the rights of African Americans from 1865-1968. This is seen through Marcus Garvey and his work founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 and both the Negro World newspaper and Black Star Line in 1917. These groups established specifically to create rudimentary change were incredibly successful in doing so as seen in the UNIA which garnered over 1,000 chapters by 1940. However, the change brought about was not as significant as Du Bois when in 1909 he co-founded potentially the most influential Civil Rights group, the NAACP. The 500,000 members of the NAACP not only fought for Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and Guinn v. United States in 1915 but also helped to organize the March on Washington and lobbied for the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As a result of the NAACP and WEB Du Bois and his work in 1899 on the Philidelphia Negro which provided economic change, the progress of the Civil Rights Movement was furthered massively and had a positive impact on the movement. Moreover, leaders such as A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King provided long-term, groundbreaking change for example, one of King’s most influential achievements was when he mobilised the Black community during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 which had over 40,000 Black participants and lasted over a year. This was a reflection of changing values and shows how much of a serious impact King had on society. Similarly, A. Philip Randolph led a drive to organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and also directed the March on Washington which had over 200,000 participants after Roosevelt refused to issue an executive order banning discrimination against Black workers within the defence industry. Both leaders held movements which garnered a huge support base and are an accurate reflection of the power and influence that leaders had over changing rights of African Americans. Moreover, there is Malcolm X and Rosa Parks who had international influence on Civil Rights as well as in America, however neither created change equal to that of King or others. Rosa Parks for example launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 which eventually brought about legislative change like Browder v. Gayle. Apart from this, Parks did not have much other impact in comparison to previously mentioned leaders, this is similar to Malcom X who in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity which undeniably had a positive impact by internationalising the plight of African Americans however, Malcolm X’s main influence of change was his charismatic speeches like ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ which created positive uproar abroad. Malcolm X’s work along with Parks’ was arguably not as significant in comparison to other leaders as much of the response was international and not entirely correlated with rights of Black people in America but this is not to deny that both had a large impact. Furthermore, Booker T. Washington and Stokely Carmichael also contributed greatly to the movement although Washington more so than Carmichael. Carmichael only really participated in campaigns such as the Albany movement but did not pioneer the movement unlike other leaders such as Washington who created unequal change in comparison by Founding the National Negro Business League in 1900 and also secretly financed court cases that challenged segregation like Giles v. Harris in 1903. In summary leaders overall had a huge impact on the rights of African Americans by providing both social, economical and legislative change which is more so than government officials and war ever did. Positive change towards the rights of African Americans in the 1900s was impeded due to leaders’ conflicting ideologies, for example the success of the Niagara Movement in 1905 was short-lived as the groups’ (WEB Du Bois’,) ideologies clashed with Washington’s and therefore led to its failure. Despite this, Leaders such as King in the 50s and 60s saw a huge influx in support as reflected in the March in Washington which ultimately led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Despite leaders having different approaches towards how change should be brought about, it was the collective willpower and desire for change that actively brought it about.

By all counts, there is no denying that leaders were the most dominant cause for change towards the rights of African Americans from 1865-1968; this is seen throughout century such as in 1899 with Du Bois who was the first to use statistical work for sociological purposes in the publishing of the Philidelphia Negro which successfully outlined issues within the Black community. Furthermore, massive progress is seen within the 50s and 60s for example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington both of which led to legislative change e.g. Brown v. Board of Education. One may add that wars provided context for leaders to create change however, the actual process of change originated in the determination of leaders. It is possible to argue that the power of change lies in the hands of the Presidents because in practically all grassroot organizations the leaders petitioned the government to make those changes, however, realistically, the likelihood of the government passing laws without being confronted by leaders in the first place is slim. 


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