The Continuing Significance of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States
The expedited implementation of civil rights on all facets and areas of society created changes on the realms of the social, political and economic facets of the United States and as such the Civil Rights Movement may be considered as the most significant event during the 1960’s in the country. Although other events occurred within the country during this period which also enabled changes in the social, political, and economic realms of the country such as the movement against the Vietnam War, the effects of the Civil Rights Movement enabled a radical reconstruction of society; the effects of which can be continuously felt and seen up until today. The importance of the Civil Rights Movement as opposed to the other events during that period may thereby be attributed to the more time-encompassing effects of the movement on American society as it enabled the praxis between the foundational beliefs of American society and practices within it.
The push for racial equality in the United States got a boost from the demands placed on all facets of society during World War II. It was during this period that the Civil Rights Movement reached its culmination as it attempted to breakdown and free society of the idea of racial differentiation. During this period, racial differentiation brought about a system of segregation which enabled white Southerners to legitimize their racial supremacy over their black counterparts. It was a system based on ethnic and racial differentiation. Since differentiation entails the recognition that races are different, it creates a political setting that separates races such as the whites from the blacks. In addition to this, it also separates and ultimately limits or confines races to a social sphere with corresponding social functions that are imposed on them. The importance of the Civil Rights Movement, within this context, is apparent as it enabled the achievement of political equality.
Martin Luther King Jr. stands as one of the most well-known advocates the Civil Rights Movement. King viewed the problem of the United States as a problem that may be described as systematic as it enabled the proliferation and continuation of injustice within society. King, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, calls for the necessity to recognize that war, racism and economic injustice are all intertwined and can be dealt with through the restructuring of society’s priorities and through addressing the necessity of a revolution of values (30). Such a revolution of values entails the recognition of the necessity to practice justice since, as King himself states, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (26).
One may note that other movements that existed during the 1960’s also placed emphasis on the necessity to recognize the unjust practices of the American government. An example of such a movement is the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. It is important to note however that although the movement emphasized the necessity for the American government to practice justice in its actions within the international realm, the movement itself did not manifest any form of unity except unity in the members’ belief on the necessity to stop the war. David Steigerwald (1994) states, “It is difficult to speak of the opponent of the war as a united ‘movement’. They were a widely varied group of citizens, gathered together in numerous groups, and often at odds with one another over strategy and analysis” (132-33). As opposed to this, although the Civil Rights Movement was also composed of different groups all over the country, the members of the movement held one particular goal and were united by this goal.
As was stated in the initial part of the paper, the Civil Rights Movement enabled the United States to perceive its problems as an effect of the necessity to reconstruct society and as such the Civil Rights Movement may considered as the most significant event of the 1960’s. The recurring significance of this event however is apparent if one considers that it allowed the reconstruction of a more just and humane American community and hence a better American identity. As Alice Walker (2003) states,
Because of the (Civil Rights) Movement, because of an awakened faith in the newness and imagination of the human spirit, because of “black and white together”…I have fought harder for my life and for a chance to be myself, to be something more than a shadow or a number, than I had ever done before in my life. (85)
King, Martin Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Prison.” The Portable Sixties Reader. Ed. Ann Charters. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Steigerwald, David. “The Antiwar Movement.” The 60’s and the End of Modern America. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1994.
Walker, Alice. “The Civil Rights Movement: What Good Was It?” The Portable Sixties Reader. Ed. Ann Charters. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.