A deep look into the civil rights movement


I still remember when I encountered the civil rights movement for the first time back in 4th grade, reading a history book for kids. Skimming through a twenty page long text about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, I learned that the civil rights movement in the 1960s was an enthusiastic social movement lead by a few African American civil rights activists who voiced out for equality for all. What I learned a few years later as a high school student in the United States is no different from what I read back then  as a ten year old. My history textbook still portrays the civil rights movement as a predominantly Southern, youth, male oriented mobilizing event that helped galvanize support for ending legalized racial discrimination with its primary focus on integrating blacks to the mainstream whites. However, such vague coverage of the movement ultimately misses much of the organizing base at the heart of the movement. Not only does it misrepresent the ultimate goal of the movement, but it also fails to address the unrepresented groups who greatly contributed to the freedom of blacks.

Through textbooks and media, a majority of historians have claimed that the ultimate goal of the blacks was to achieve equality and integrate to the white community. This means that the blacks urged to go to desegregated schools with white kids and gain suffrage to simply participate in the white politics. Such account fails to show the essential goal of the movement that millions of blacks craved for decades. The ultimate goal of African Americans was to get their identities and cultures acknowledged in the country, not to simply assimilate to the mainstream whites as second class citizens. A deep look into African American education in the 1960s shows such effort to preserve their cultures. In 1963, a number of African American cultural pluralists requested secondary schools in New York City to include African American studies in their curriculum. As the schools did not accept their request for change, they decided to boycott public schools for their failure to recognize blacks as a distinctive group whose history and cultures should be fully recognized and taught. They, instead, created Freedom Schools in which black students could learn about the history of the African Americans. Such educational change suggests that blacks endeavored to develop understanding in their identities and history, resisting to assimilate to the whites, losing their cultures.

Recent accounts of the civil rights movement also fails to address the involvement of unrepresented groups such as women and elders. Most historical texts illustrate youth and men as the main force of the freedom movement in the 1960s, especially in the black power movement. Popularly misunderstood as a spontaneous rejection of nonviolence, the ‘Black Power’ movement rose in the late 1950s was in fact a self-defense act by all ranges of people mostly in the South. While the civil rights activists took nonviolent actions to protest against the inequality imposed on the, those involved in efforts to register to vote were occasionally attacked at home, while they mostly relied on guns to protect themselves. Since the legal system failed to work for African Americans in the country controlled by White supremacy, they were the ones who had to defend themselves. Unlike the common misconception that self-defense was the province of men, and that women were naturally nonviolent, women and elders were also highly involved under such harsh circumstances.

Self-determination, liberation, and justice: values of the civil rights movement have been championed through decades as the core of American liberation movement. There is no doubt that such movement greatly challenged the devastated situation of African Americans and developed freedom and democracy in the United States. However, there needs to be a clarification about the misconception of the ultimate purpose of such movement and the groups of people actively engaged to enact a change. The civil rights movement was not a sole freedom act created by for integration of blacks but rather a large scale of revolution for true recognition of people regardless or races.

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