The South and Memory: Civil Rights Movement

By the 1950s, Black Americans stood poised to launch persistent, uncompromising demands on the national government.  The civil rights movement embraced the tenets of liberal democracy in the struggle for equal rights, justice, and national citizenship - fully rejecting what its members called "second-class citizenship".

In the 1950s, desegregation was slowed down by invoking anticommunism against virtually all protest organizations.  Yet the civil rights movement was not quelled.  A new generation of activists turned their critique on the American government itself.  They condemned the nation's hypocrisy in failing to live up to its democratic creed and emphasized the deleterious effects of racism on America's moral authority as leader of the Free World.  In 1957 the young Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. of Alabama, who little more than a year earlier had vaulted into national prominence, declared in a speech before thousands of listeners in Washington, D.C., that the abridgment of blacks' voting rights was "a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and it is democracy turned upside down."

The growing number of black voters and civil rights proponents demanded the federal government's involvement.  They sought the enactment and enforcement of civil right laws and the laws' invocation in court cases, and they expected government protection from hostile white mobs.  The national government, they believed, had for far too long failed to "show the way" (as President Truman declared  from the steps of the Lincoln memorial to thousands) by acquiescing in states-rights arguments in defense of segregation and disenfranchisement and by looking away when the perpetrators of racial violence went unpunished as all-white juries rendered "not guilty" verdicts.

It was never government action alone but rather the interaction between the government and civil rights advocates that brought about changes in the nation's legal system.  Protesters demanded that the government rectify the paucity of civil rights laws and assure the actual expansion of rights on the ground.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was undeniably a first step, but in the words of one senator, "a limited modest step".  The emergence of the nonviolent protest movement in both the North and South and the rising number of Black voters, especially in the northern states due to migration in the 1940s/50s, made African Americans' civil rights a burning political issue.

The above video is a glimpse the various civil rights movement components.  The video content was recorded from museums and orators.  Stories of this past are represented in certain museums and presented in different formats.  There are actors that interact with the audience to teach the history, there are self-guided tours, there are audio and video; there are a myriad of ways the audience can view in a museum the South and Memory of the civil rights movement.

- Te'Keya Krystal

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