American Civil Rights Movement

The American civil rights movement, which mainly took place in the 1950s and 1960s, is considered to be a social movement which fought “against racial segregation and discrimination in the southern United States” (“American”). Thus, they tackled social, economic and political issues. According to Gregory et al, a social movement consists outside of a “formal state or economic spheres” (695), which would fit this description. Important figures in the African American fight for more freedom are, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcom X and Rosa Parks.

Most participants in the effort to overcome the old power structures were related to passive resistance, such as boycotts (Montgomery Bus Boycott), sit-ins, marches and other nonviolent activities. Most likely, they were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi who was an advocate of passive resistance, or in his words, of Satyagraha. However, not everyone in this movement pleaded for nonviolent protest: Malcom X, for example, rejected this idea and also supported more violent means. Consider also the fact that after Martin Luther King’s dead the movement became more radical. Thus, there are two different ideologies at play.

What stands out in the American civil rights movement is the diversity of both the leaders and its activists: Whereas Malcolm X is an African American Muslim, Martin Luther King, Jr., has a Christian background. Furthermore, it was not a movement solely pursued by men, but women were, as already mentioned, also involved, such as Rosa Parks. When we look at education, a sharp difference is visible again: There is W. E. B. Du Bois, a sociologist and historian, author of the influential book The Souls of Black Folk, and Malcolm X, who dropped out in junior high school (“American”).

Consequently, this movement was arguably so successful because the African Americans united themselves, regardless of religion, class and other factors, but also because they had strong leader figures in their ranks.

Today, the racial differences are still prominent in the US, for example, in education. According to Dr. Terrence Roberts, a member of the so-called ‘Little Rock Nine’, school segregation was always there and something like ‘resegregation’ does not exist, as the media suggests. Thus, the struggle for equality continues and is not over.



  1. “American civil rights movement.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
    Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 16 March 2013.
  2. “Dr. Terrence Roberts Segregation.” 22 Feb. 2013. Pepperdine. Web. 19 March 2013.
  3. Gregory, Derek, et al., eds. The Dictionary of Human Geography. 5th ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Print. 695.

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