After World War II in the South the blacks still lived in a segregated society, with separate schools, theatres and even bus seats for black and white people. Many Southerners argued that segregation at schools was constitutional, calling it “separate but equal”. But the blacks started fighting for their rights. Segregation was challenged in court by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), while in every-day life black students practiced boycotts and sit-ins (refused to leave public places for whites). In 1954, NAACP won a historic victory against segregation – the Supreme Court decided that doctrine “separate but equal” should not take place in public education. The wave of black protests reached Alabama, where in December 1955 a black woman Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a public bus. After Mrs. Parks was arrested, the blacks started a boycott of the city’s bus system. The boycott was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. – a black Baptist minister, who later became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
“This is not a war between the white and the Negro, but a conflict between justice and injustice”. The blacks won – in 1956 the Supreme Court announced bus segregation unconstitutional. In August 1963, 250.000 Americans (both blacks and whites) marched to Washington D. C. to demand equal rights to African Americans. There Martin Luther King made his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
As a result, in 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and other laws that guaranteed equal civil rights to blacks. The same year Dr. Martin Luther King won the Nobel Prize for his civil rights work. At the same time many black people felt that the Civil Rights Movement had only changed, no revolutionized the situation, for most people conditions were improving very slowly. This disappointment was expressed in the “Black Power”, an ideology suggested by Malcolm X, a former drug dealer. He encouraged African Americans to be proud of their roots, and “to see themselves with their own eyes, not white man’s”. This teaching gave rise to all-black groups defending racial separatism and Black Power. It urged African Americans to see that “black is beautiful”. Step by step African Americans began to take pride in their identity.
In the 1950’s the US government provided a policy of assimilation towards Indians – they were forced to move to cities to adjust to American style of living. The policy proved to be a failure – the uprooted Indians had difficulties adjusting to urban life and suffered from the loss of land. By 1961 the United States Commission on Civil Rights noted that for Indians “poverty and deprivation are common”. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and dissatisfied with the life conditions, in the 1960’s Indians began to demonstrate their cultural pride demanding “Red Power” and insisting on the name “Native Americans”. They claimed that Indians suffered the worst poverty, and the poorest housing and education in the USA. They practiced “fish-in” – they fished in the Columbia River and transformed Thanksgiving Day into a National Day of Mourning. In 1922 the first Native American member was elected to the Senate. Ethnicity and Activism
Whites’ dominance was also challenged by Mexican-Americans, who were led by Cesar Chavez – a migrant farm worker. Chavez created the National Farm Workers Association, which aimed to improve working conditions for Mexican-American farm labourers. By the mid-1960’s young Hispanic activists insisted on using the term “Chicano” to name the people of Latin-American decent. The same kind of movement was founded by Asian Americans, who rejected the term “Oriental”.
Like other “minority” groups of the period, women started to resent their secondary roles in the working places, homes and government. They faced barriers in getting jobs and being paid. In 1960 women earned 60 cents for every dollar paid to a man. Married women could not get credits in their own names. In 1963 Betty Friedan published the book The Feminine Mystique, describing narrow roles imposed on women by society. Her critique of middle-class society encouraged many women to seek professional growth and development. The movement gained power after the National Organization of Women (NOW) was founded in 1966 and the women’s rights demonstrations were organized all over the country. In 1965 the Affirmative Action policy was started to prevent discrimination based on gender. The Rise of Feminism