During the 1960s, many African Americans believed that civil rights should become a national priority. Young civil rights activists brought their cause to the national stage and demanded that the federal government step in and resolve the issue. Many of them challenged segregation in the South by protesting at stores and schools that practiced segregation. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, young people created groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee(SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality(CORE). These groups were non-violent and their main goal was to achieve equality through peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins.
Despite the efforts of these groups and Supreme Court rulings that ordered the desegregation of buses and bus stations, violence against African Americans in the South continued. Many buses were firebombed and the riders were beaten. The violence was shown nationally by the media and it forced many Americans to face the reality of the situation. In response to the growing national attention to civil rights, President Kennedy reluctantly took action. He sent federal marshals to Alabama to protect protestors that fought against segregation.
These activists had captured the attention of the nation and the world. Martin Luther King Jr decided that it was time to provoke a crisis to stimulate their fight for civil rights. During 1963, King and his followers started a campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. He wanted Americans to see the hatred and violence against African Americans. Protest marches led to dozens of arrests and King decided to put children at the front lines of the protests. As many black children marched for civil rights, the police commissioner of Birmingham ordered the police to use water guns to mow down the children and then released attack dogs. All of this was shown on television and horrified many across the nation.
As a result of the incident in Birmingham, President Kennedy ordered the that Birmingham’s white leaders negotiate a settlement. This was a significant victory for activists because they had pushed civil rights into Kennedy’s political agenda. In 1962, Kennedy reluctantly sent 500 U.S. marshals to protect James Meredith, the first African-American student to attend to the University of Mississippi. Kennedy used the power of the federal government to insure racial justice even over opposition from individual states. Eventually Kennedy would ask Congress to pass a civil rights bill that would end legal discrimination based on race throughout the entire country.
On August 28 1963, a quarter of a million Americans assembled at the Washington Mall. They came from all over America to show their support for Kennedy’s civil rights bill. It was a celebration of unity with black and whites joining hands and singing folk songs. Television networks broadcast Martin Luther King Jr speaking about equality among all people despite race. The 1963 March on Washington demonstrated to the nation the determination of African Americans to achieve equality and justice.
When Lyndon Johnson became president he made civil rights his top legislative priority and in July of 1964 he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act ended legal discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and sex in federal programs, voting, and employment. It also gave the government authority to withhold federal funds from public agencies or federal contractors that discriminated and it established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate and judge claims of job discrimination. Then in 1965 Johnson signed a second civil rights bill into law, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited practices that prevented black citizens in the Deep South from voting and provided federal oversight of elections in districts where there was evidence of past discrimination.
During the early 1960s, African Americans struggled to for equality and civil rights. They endured many hardships such as retaliation and violence. But they never gave up their fight for civil rights and all their hard work finally paid off when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964. As a result of their bravery and hard work, all Americans were now able to enjoy equal rights and equal employment.