The Civil Rights Movement that began in 1950 was an attempt to address the state of inequality that had existed in Black and White America since the nation’s conception. The Movement began as a demand to get ‘payment’ on a promise too long delayed, as noted by the movement’s leader Martin Luther King Jr. , for Black equality, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail. ” The early Civil Rights movement focused on integration as achieved through legal means such as in the ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ case.
This case was successfully appealed to the Warren Court on behalf of Lisa Brown, a young Black student, and argued by Thurgood Marshall, who was later to sit on the bench as a Supreme Court Justice himself, after demanded integration in public education. (Cozzens, “Brown versus Board of Education,” 1998) The movement also was articulated through early acts of civil disobedience such as the attempt to protest the lynching of Emmett Till, a thirteen-year-old Northern boy lynched for murdering a White woman. Cozzens, “Emmett Till,” 1998)
In assessing whether the goals of the movement were met, it must be noted that it would have been unthinkable in the 1950’s that a Black woman would be a Secretary of State, as is the case today, or could have won the Noble Prize like Toni Morrison. Martin Luther King Jr. is not only a respected figure, but gives his presence to a national holiday.
Yet despite the gains of the previous decades, there still remains an economic and educational gap between Black America and White America that integration through legal or political demonstrations has not been able to heal. Lynching as a common practice has been brought to rest, perhaps, but tensions exist all over the nation between Black Americans and what is often an all-White police force. America appears more integrated today, and laws allow for some methods of historical redress like affirmative action.
But the sense that this still remains inadequate, despite the successes of prominent African Americans on an individual level, has caused many Blacks today to study the more radical, or culturally focused members of the early movement, such as Malcolm X, and to question whether some form of cultural rehabilitation of Black culture is necessary to undo the still-lasting legacy discrimination has wrought.
And finally, the example of the failed relief effort of Hurricane Katrina to the largely all Black residents whose neighborhoods were destroyed showed the nation how deep the poverty remains in the nation in many impoverished areas that are segregated in fact, if not in law.