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The Evolution of Civil Rights in America: From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement


The Evolution of Civil Rights in America: From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement
The struggle for civil rights in America has been a defining feature of its history, with roots dating back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and culminated in the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. Understanding the progress of civil rights throughout this time period is critical to understanding the larger story of American history, as it emphasizes the constant struggle for equality and justice. This paper will look at how the Reconstruction era paved the way for civil rights, the setbacks experienced during the Jim Crow era, and the eventual victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

This thesis contends that the growth of civil rights in America from the Reconstruction Era to the Civil Rights Movement was characterized by substantial progress, setbacks, and eventual legislative and social wins. This article seeks to explain how the ongoing struggle for equality finally transformed American culture by exploring key events, significant personalities, and landmark laws.

Proving the Thesis
To support this premise, the paper will be broken into three major arguments:

The Reconstruction Era and Initial Progress (1865–1877): This section will go over the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the development of organizations dedicated to supporting African American rights. It will highlight the first efforts toward racial equality, as well as the involvement of the federal government during Reconstruction.

The Jim Crow Era and the Struggle against Segregation (1877-1950s): This part will discuss the rise of Jim Crow legislation, the Plessy v. Ferguson judgment, and the institutionalized disenfranchisement and mistreatment of African Americans. It will also look at early civil rights organizations and individuals who began to confront segregation and inequity.

The Civil Rights Movement (1950s to 1960s): This section will look at significant Civil Rights Movement events and people, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It will focus on the techniques utilized by civil rights campaigners and the federal government’s eventual engagement to ensure civil rights.

Argument One: The Reconstruction Era and Initial Progress (500–700 Words)
The Reconstruction era, which began after the Civil War ended in 1865, was a crucial but chaotic time of progress for African Americans. The 13th Amendment, which ended slavery, the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship and equal legal protection, and the 15th Amendment, which sought to safeguard voting rights regardless of race, were all ratified during this time period.

The thirteenth amendment and the abolition of slavery
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, was a historic step toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. It formally emancipated millions of enslaved African Americans, laying the groundwork for their pursuit of equality and civil rights.

The Fourteenth Amendment and Citizenship
The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, was critical in defining citizenship and ensuring equal protection under the law. It sought to safeguard newly emancipated African Americans from discriminatory state laws and practices. This amendment was a direct response to the Black Codes, which Southern governments had established to limit the rights of African Americans.

15th Amendment and Voting Rights
The 15th Amendment, enacted in 1870, aimed to defend African American men’s ability to vote. Despite its aims, the amendment attracted strong opposition and was frequently undercut by a variety of means, including literacy tests, poll taxes, and physical intimidation.

Establishment of the Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Institutions
In 1865, the federal government formed the Freedmen’s Bureau to help former slaves make the transition to freedom. The bureau offered education, legal advice, and help in finding work and land. Furthermore, African Americans began to form their own institutions, including as churches and schools, which were important hubs of community and resistance.

Despite these achievements, Southern governments and white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan opposed Reconstruction. The Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction, was a defeat for African American civil rights, heralding the onset of the Jim Crow era.

Argument 2: The Jim Crow Era and the Fight Against Segregation (500-700 words)
The Jim Crow era, which lasted from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, was defined by the institutionalization of racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans. This time saw the implementation of legislation and actions aimed at maintaining white supremacy and disenfranchising African Americans.

Plessy v. Ferguson and “separate but equal”
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) authorized segregation under the theory of “separate but equal.” This decision gave legal legitimacy for the segregation of public services such as schools, transit, and housing, while also highlighting the systemic prejudice that African Americans experience.

Disfranchisement and Economic Discrimination
Southern governments used a variety of techniques to disenfranchise African American votes, including literacy tests, poll charges, and grandfather clauses. These practices effectively excluded African Americans from the political process, limiting their ability to influence policymaking. Additionally, economic discrimination, such as sharecropping and exclusion from specific industries, perpetuated poverty and limited prospects for African Americans.

Early Civil Rights Organizations and Leaders.
Despite the repressive conditions, early civil rights organizations and activists developed to oppose segregation and discrimination. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), established in 1909, was instrumental in legal battles against segregation and discrimination. W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells were prominent civil rights activists who opposed lynching and racial violence.

The Great Migration and its Impact
The Great Migration, which began in the early twentieth century, saw millions of African Americans relocate from the rural South to cities in the North and West. This migration had a big impact on the civil rights movement because African Americans wanted greater economic and political possibilities in their new towns.

Argument 3: The Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1960s) (500-700 Words)
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a period of strong activism and notable successes in the campaign for racial equality. This era saw the rise of important leaders, mass mobilization, and historic legislation aimed at dismantling segregation and ensuring civil rights for all Americans.

Key Events and Figures
The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, was a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott, led by Martin Luther King Jr., demonstrated the effectiveness of nonviolent protest and mass mobilization. King rose to national notoriety thanks to his leadership and the boycott’s effectiveness.

The March on Washington and Civil Rights Act of 1964
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963) was a historic demonstration that brought together over 250,000 people to push for civil rights and economic equality. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech during the march became a defining moment in the movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was a landmark piece of legislation that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The act outlawed segregation in public places, banned employment discrimination, and strengthened voting rights protections.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 attempted to abolish barriers to voting for African Americans. The act barred discriminatory practices like as literacy tests and poll levies and provided federal oversight of voter registration in areas with a history of discrimination. This act greatly enhanced African American voter participation and representation.

The Impact of Nonviolent Protest and Federal Intervention
The Civil Rights Movement embraced nonviolent protest as a fundamental method, drawing inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology of nonviolence. Sit-ins, freedom rides, and nonviolent protests were utilized to combat segregation and discrimination. The federal government’s action, which included the deployment of National Guard troops and the enactment of civil rights legislation, was critical in achieving the movement’s objectives.

The growth of civil rights in America, from the Reconstruction era to the Civil Rights Movement, exemplifies the ongoing battle for equality and justice. Despite severe obstacles and opposition, African Americans made significant strides toward securing their rights and challenging systemic discrimination. The Reconstruction era created the groundwork for civil rights, the Jim Crow era highlighted the continued struggles, and the Civil Rights Movement scored significant triumphs that altered American society. By exploring the historical context, crucial events, and notable figures, this article demonstrates how the ongoing fight for civil rights resulted in considerable legislative and societal change.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (1863-1877). HarperCollins. 1988.
Litwack, Leon F. Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Jim Crow Era. Alfred A. Knopf. 1998.
Branch and Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years (1954-1963). Simon & Schuster. 1988.
Lawson, Steven F. “Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics in America Since 1941.” John Wiley & Sons. 2014.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story. Harper & Row. 1958.


Research Paper Rough Draft due 6/27

I Intro  (250-500 Words) Context(background)- What is going on in and around your topic that makes your topic vital to the history of the period. What must the reader understand about the time period to understand your topic.

1. Thesis- Your research paper must present a clear, well-defined argument. What problem is your paper discussing, and what stance (argument) is your paper trying to convince your reader is correct.

2. How is your paper going to prove your thesis is correct.

II.Argument One. (500-700 Words) (Point paragraph) – discuss the first point your paper is going to prove. This should have ample historical evidence as well as footnotes.  Always lead with a good topic sentence.

III Argument Two- (500-700 Words) (Point paragraph) Same as above.

IV Argument Three-(500-700 Words) (Point paragraph) Same as above.

V- Conclusion. – (250-500 Words) Summarize your argument, restate how you have proven your points.

VI- Bibliography  (Footnotes and Sources)

The site below from Hamilton College, may help give you some direction.

The expectation for the rough is about 1000 words.  The final paper should be around 1500.

Your turn it in report MUST be under 20% (I will not count if, it is you your own paper that is getting flagged)

The earlier you turn in the rough draft, and more complete it is, the stronger feedback I can give you for your final paper.

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