By 1870, black Americans had been declared citizens with all the rights guaranteed to every citizen. But they were members of a conspicuous minority within a white society. Furthermore, most were uneducated, unskilled, and unprepared to provide for their own basic needs. With freedom, Negroes found many new problems — legal, social, and economic.
After the Civil War, Negroes began migrating to the big cities In the North, and this trend continued into the 20th century. In the North, blacks found greater freedom, hut conditions were still difficult and opportunities limited. Discrimination in the sale and rental of housing forced blacks into poor, crowded, mostly black communities often referred to as ghettos. In general, facilities for living and learning were grossly inadequate in these communities.
Blacks who remained in the South endured conditions even more difficult and degrading. Southern blacks were forced to obey Sate laws (called Jim Crow laws) which kept them segregated from white people. The races went to different schools, drank from different fountains, used, different washrooms, ate in different restaurants, and were buried in different cemeteries. On buses, blacks were required to silt in the back. For Southern blacks, there was no such thing as Justice in the courts of Law. Once accused of a crime, blacks were almost certain to be found guilty by all-white juries.
Southern whites, who wished to keep the ðîwer of the vote from the large black population of the South, used the threat of violence to discourage blacks from registering to vote. When a black person did try to register, devices such as a poll tax (a tax on the right to vote) or a literacy test (unfairly administered) were used to deny this right.
The civil rights movement.
The first break in the South’s segregated way of life came in 1954 when the United States Supreme Court declared that no state could separate students bó race. Thereafter, many other discriminatory practices were declared, illegal.
The Supreme Court's school desegregation decision stimulated black hopes for a better life in the United States. During the mid-1950s, blacks throughout the nation began demanding equal rights. Their revolution started as a nonviolent movement consisting of boycotts, sit-ins (blacks calmly sitting for hours at lunch counters or in restaurants that refused to serve them), freedom rides (busloads of Northern liberals coming to the South to force integration of public facilities), and protest marches. In the 1960s, the struggle sometimes led to violence, committed bó both blacks and whites. Many cities experienced riots involving burglary, arson, and street battles between rioters and police.
During the 1960a, the greatest black leader was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1955, King was a young Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama when he formed an organization to boycott his city's buses. Because of regulations requiring blacks to sit in the back of the bus and to give their seats to whites if the bus got crowded, nearly all of Montgomery's 50,000 blacks refused to ride the city's buses for more than a year. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that dividing buses into black and white sections was unconstitutional (illegal).
The Montgomery cue boycott made Dr.King a famous man and the unofficial leader of the nation's growing Civil Rights Movement.
King’s philosophy showed the influence of his Christian beliefs and the example of Mohandas Gandhi (the great Indian leader whose nonviolent protests helped to free his people from British control). King urged people to refuse to obey evil laws and regulations, but to protest without fighting and without resisting arrest. For more than a decade, King led nonviolent protests and traveled around the country speaking to American audiences in person and on TV. His most famous speech was delivered in 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, B.C., before a live audience of 200,000 and a TV audience of almost the entire nation. His messageå included these memorable words: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal."
In 1964, at the age of 35, King became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize. During the next few yeas, his concerns expanded from the problems of segregation in the South to discrimination in the North and, finally, to the suffering of poor people of all races. He was organizing a poor people's march at the time of his assassination, on April 4, 1968, when he was only 39 years old. King once said that the assassination of Gandhi only "shot him into the hearts of humanity", surely the tragic killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led to the same result. Today a great many buildings, streets, and schools are named after him, and his birthday has become a national holiday, celebrated on the third Monday in January. Most important, because of King and other civil rights leaders, black Americans today have a greater sense of self-esteem.
During the 1960s, Americans of African descent rejected the name Negro and began referring to themselves as black. (Today, some prefer to be identified as African-Americans.) The popular slogan "Black is beautiful", expressed the new black pride. Blacks also developed a greater sense of identification with their African heritage. As a result, African hairdos and styles of dress båcame fashionable. Courses in black history became common in college curriculums as blacks became interested in studying about their African past and their role in the development of the United States.
The 1970s and 1960s brought a decline in public concern about black needs. The federal government and the general public turn attheir attention to other problems, and federal funds for many programs that helped poor blacks were decreased. In the 1970s and 1980s, blacks continued to make social, academic, political, and economic progress, but at a slower pace than they had hoped.