Lecture 13: The Civil Rights Movement


The focus here is on events in the 1950s and 1960s whereby old patterns of segregation were shattered and integration achieved. This did not mean an end of discrimination, or make race less a key factor in American life, but it did mark a definite break with patterns in race relations that had been institutionalized since the 1880s. These events were equal to those of the Cold War in shaping the modern generation of American life.



While engaging in its international crusade against communism, the American republic also had to face up to a fatal flaw in its democracy at home: racial segregation and inequality.

The Brown Case

In Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation of the races was legal under the doctrine of “separate but unequal.” This doctrine stood until the Brown v. Board of Education  case of 1954, when the court ruled that separate is by nature unequal.  The Brown case was a legal landmark in the civil rights movement.  It took more than legal decisions to accomplish integration, however.

Taking Action for Civil Rights

In a series of episodes during the 1950s and 1960s, a combination of legal decisions, citizen action, and federal intervention accomplished integration of public schools, public facilities, public transportation, and higher education.  Citizen action always was key, but the other elements were necessary, too.

Marching on Washington

The 1963 civil rights march on Washington, where M.L. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, marked a movement to codify the gains of the civil rights movement in legislation.  This happened during the Lyndon Johnson administration with the Civil Rights acts of 1964, 1965, and 1966.

Since Then: Civil Rights after the Civil Rights Movement

The legal gains of the Civil Rights movement did not deliver equality for blacks in America; hence, more radical leadership emerged to voice the frustration of the movement.  At close of the twentieth century, there was something like a lull in the movement toward racial equality—not that nothing was happening, but that the movement no longer commanded the attention of the nation.

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“That the Americans Combat the Effects of Individualism by Free Institutions”

This brief chapter has to do with the relationship between equality and order.


·         Can you relate this essay to our study of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s?


“How the Americans Understand the Equality of the Sexes”

Here Tocqueville describes what came to be known as the "separate spheres" of men and women in America.


·         What are the virtues of such separate spheres?

·         Why do you think this conception of gender relations came under attack in the 1960s?


American Rhetoric presents the full text of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Film Review

Mississippi Burning

Malcolm X

Glory Road

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman


Branch, Parting the Waters

Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

McWhorter, Carry Me Home

Garrow, Bearing the Cross

Weisbrot, Freedom Bound