Essay on What Impact Did the Freedom Riders Have on Civil Rights Movement

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The great migration influenced the start of the civil rights movement because it started the move from southern plantations to northern urban areas. This migration led to urbanization and industrialization and led to African Americans pushing for civil rights. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 started on December 1st when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, Parks was arrested and fined. During this time Martin Luther King Jr. was an important civil rights leader and strongly believed in the use of nonviolence. King would play an important part in the civil rights movement. The boycott itself lasted 381 days. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in non-violent direct action and that through this they could achieve the goals of the civil rights movement. This led to the formation of the SCLC. The Southern Leadership Conference was formed by black ministries, it took over leadership of the civil rights movement from the NAACP. SCLC was committed to direct action and the disruption of an oppressive relationship (Schneirov). Martin Luther King Jr. was now the national leader of the civil rights movement.

The non-violence direct action strategy was to abstain from violence as a matter of principle and came into play in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 with the bus boycotts. The SCLC wanted all African Americans to have the opportunity to thrive in society (Schneirov). Martin Luther King Jr. believed he could make this happen through civil disobedience. The nonviolent movement within the civil rights movement led to many successes in the years of 1954 and 1963. From the Montgomery bus boycotts to the Freedom Riders, the idea of using peace to make a change led to some desegregation within communities. The infamous March on Washington led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, or national origin illegal and prohibited racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. While there was violence towards the nonviolent protestors throughout the entirety of the civil rights movement, they remained nonviolent and continued to lead demonstrations, they did as Martin Luther King Jr. stated to match physical force with soul force. The nonviolent direct-action initiative proved to make a difference and played an impactful role in the civil rights movement. Many African Americans wanted to turn to violence during the movement, but the nonviolent campaign won over American hearts. The nonviolent direct action strategy grew during the civil rights movement and contributed to the goal of equality.

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SNCC was involved with the Freedom Riders and Sit-Ins. The Freedom Riders were another nonviolent protest/movement that impacted the civil rights movement. The Freedom Riders were groups of white and African American civil rights activists. They took bus trips through southern states in 1961 to protest the segregation of bus terminals. The Freedom Riders attempted to use “whites only” lunch counters and restrooms at bus stations in Alabama, South Carolina, and other southern states. The 1961 Freedom Rides were organized by CORE, Congress of Racial Equality, but SNCC, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, also contributed. The original group of riders was made up of 13 people, seven African Americans, and six whites. The group disembarked on their journey from Washington D.C. on May 4th, 1961. The group wanted to reach New Orleans by May 17th to mark the seventh anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The riders were confronted by police and white protestors at each stop, but the riders drew international attention to the civil rights movement with the help of the media. Though this was a nonviolent movement on May 12th in Rock Hill South Carolina, three Freedom Riders were attacked as they attempted to enter a whites-only waiting area It was around this time that SNCC got involved with the Freedom Rides, they rode in integrated buses with whites in the back and African Americans upfront. On May 14th of 1961 in Anniston, Alabama the Freedom Riders were greeted by an angry mob of around 200 white people that surrounded the bus, resulting in the driver passing the bus station. The mob followed the bus and when the bus tires blew, a bomb was thrown into the bus. The Freedom Riders escaped the burning bus, but they were beaten by members of the mob The second bus that was in Birmingham, Alabama was surrounded by a mob, and the Freedom Riders aboard that bus were also beaten by an angry white mob. Bull Connor knew that the Freedom Riders were coming, and he knew that they would be greeted with violence, yet he posted no police protection simply because it was Mother’s Day. US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy began working for state protection for the new group of freedom riders. On May 20th, the Freedom Rides continued with a police escort. However, the police abandoned the bus and Robert F. Kennedy sent in federal marshals. The Freedom Rides endured attacks from white mobs for months, but in the fall of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals. The Freedom Rides remained a nonviolent movement even in the hardest of times and continued with their demonstrations which ultimately led to more desegregation in public transportation and thus proved to be a successful contribution to the civil rights movement. Sit-ins were another Form of nonviolent protest that proved to be successful during the civil rights movement. Sit-ins took place at lunch counters, theaters, and other public places. The Greensboro sit-in in 1960 to a chain of sit-ins that would lead to changes within the South. The Greensboro sit-in was led by four young African American men, Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil, all four were students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. The four staged the sit-in at Woolworth’s Lunch Counter when they were refused service at the segregated lunch counter. The group left the store when it closed but came back the very next day with a bigger group of students and their homework and refused to leave. Two months after the Greensboro sit-in SNCC was formed at a conference on April 15th, 1960.

The Kennedy administration is caught between pleasing the whites and the African Americans and trying to balance the two. The civil rights movement's goal was to get JFK to portray civil rights as a moral issue, one that is right versus wrong. Birmingham had zero African Americans in many positions because segregation was legally required (Schneirov). By 1960 only ten percent of African Americans were registered to vote, this was voter disenfranchisement. King wanted to turn Birmingham into the new Gettysburg. He wanted it to be a marker in the Civil Rights Movement. The Birmingham demonstration focused on the downtown stores rather than the entire city or county (Schneirov). The SCLC led the entire movement, the SNCC was not involved. Birmingham exploded with unrest. There were bombings and blacks were violently fighting back so King intervened, he went and made a speech on live television. The Civil Rights Act was not passed until Lendon Johnson became president after the assassination of John. F Kennedy.

Carmichael defined Black Power as more of a militant strand of the civil rights movement. Black Power stood for proper political representation and sharing of power in society. Black power can also be described as many different things it was a slogan and umbrella term for things such as Black voting rights/exercising voting rights in the South, and there was a great amount of voter disenfranchisement within the South. There was a Southern authoritarianism, the South had become a one-party state. SNCC had prioritized voting and had decided to hold a mock election. 80,000 African Americans had voted in the Mock election. However, Carmichael talks about how Black Power in the beginning was more than voting and that the African American population could not relate to SNCC because they were a “closed society” and too much of a Clique. Black Power was not trusting or relying on white liberals too much as they respected power rather than morality. Black power was also the need for a new identity, Carmichael mentions how the African American community needs to re-evaluate who they are and how they have contributed to society and formed the society that they live in today. This goes along with the idea of separating and building up African American communities. Black Power was also black pride, not apologizing for who you are. Be proud of your culture and what it means to be an African American. It was the identification with third-world national liberation movements all over the world, sometimes that means violent revolution (Schneirov). Carmichael states the following: “all-black project is needed for the people to free themselves. This has to exist from the beginning.” (Carmichael, 2) the African American population needed to form a movement to free themselves from the oppressive relationship that they were in with the United States. African American activists were listening to Malcolm X and his ideals. Malcolm believed that Christianity was hypocritical, so he converted to Islam. Along with many other beliefs, Malcolm X thought that the United Nations should intervene and create a separate black state, the only way they could create racial justice (Anderson, 153). Malcolm X did not agree with King's nonviolent beliefs, he stated; “We are non-violent with people who are non-violent with us, but we are not non-violent with anyone violent with us” (Anderson, 153) Malcolm X believed that non-violence would not solve their problems and sometimes being violent was necessary. However, Malcolm was more famous in death than he was in life. The Black Power movement continued even after his assassination. Malcolm’s legacy and ideals would go on to influence the formation and ideals of the Black Panther Party.

Works Cited

    1. Anderson, Terry H. The Movement and the Sixties: Protest in America from Greensboro to Wounded Knee. Oxford University Press, 1996.
    2. Carmichael, Stokely. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Position: The Basis of Black Power, Blackboard, History 336, Indiana State University, Fall 2020
    3. Schneirov Dr. Richard, Lecture number nine, September 15th, 2020
    4. Schneirov Dr. Richard, Lecture number ten, September 19th, 2020
    5. Schneirov Dr. Richard, lecture number eleven, September 22nd, 2020
    6. Schneirov Dr. Richard, Lecture number twelve, September 24th, 2020
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