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Post-World War II Civil Rights Movements

Introduction

World War II was one of the most devastating global conflicts. Multiple negative outcomes directly correlate with WWII. However, one of them was a change in the societal way of thinking, particularly in America. It is certain that multiple changes have been made between 1945 and today. One of the most critical shifts in American history is civil rights activism. Specifically, the post-war time period was essential for all the minorities who chose to protest for their rights to be established and protected by the US government. Some of the most notorious movements were organized to address civil rights for African Americans, women, and LGBT representatives.

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Liberty for African Americans

Even after the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, there were certain laws and regulations that were aimed to limit African Americans in terms of fundamental rights such as proper education, payment, medicine, and other vital aspects of any society. However, WWII was a catalyst for change for multiple reasons. It is essential to mention that multiple black soldiers fought in the war and protected American values. However, the world discovered the atrocities Nazi Germans were perpetrating by enslaving Jewish people, killing them, and holding them captive in concentration camps. Thus, the outcomes of extreme racism gave multiple people all around the world the idea that discriminating against someone based on such things as ethnicity leads to unnecessary cruelty. Since Americans found out about the concentration camps, it was more challenging to remain silent about the racial discrimination in the US that was different in terms of execution but similar in ideas.

Motivation

As mentioned prior, the Thirteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans the same rights white people had. Thus, there were specific neighborhoods, schools, universities, restaurants, and hotels where black people could freely go to. Moreover, there was distinct segregation even during the war. African Americans had to serve in separate divisions and were not allowed to attend restaurants even when German prisoners could freely do it (World War II, the Holocaust, and African Americans During the War). This illustrates how the motivation was the lack of opportunities and the general disregard of black citizens as equal to whites.

Triumphs and Defeats

There were multiple instances in which African Americans were starting to protest based on single cases of resistance towards the racism that was prevalent in the country at the time. An example is the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka court case, in which the daughter of a black man was denied an education because the school was not a segregated black one. Thus, the father and other families in the same situation filed a lawsuit and won. This was one of the first triumphs that have shown the population how fighting for equality can lead to change. Another triumph was the Montgomery bus boycott inspired by Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give her bus seat to a white person (The Brown Decision, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Sit-In Movement). As a result, the Supreme Court decided that segregating buses is constitutionally unlawful.

However, it is fair to say that many individuals did not find the prospect of supporting the Civil Rights movement appealing. One of the most devastating challenges was the church bombing in 1963. Four white Ku Klux Klan members caused the death of four girls. The tragedy became a driving point for multiple protestors to express their thoughts and share their opinions on the unfairness of the US system. Another defeat was the assassination of Martin Luther King, a prominent leader of the civil rights movement. King was the most significant figure who changed the course of history, and his death was a devastating event for the protestors and the whole country.

Leaders

Multiple figures have been essential during the rise of African American civil rights movement. Indeed, Martin Luther King was one of the main ones. While King did not write books, his speech I Have a Dream is still considered the most powerful inspiration for equality and inclusion. The activist had a great deal of influence on the passing of the Civil Rights Act, which was a legal document that reformed a racist system into one where segregation in public places was unacceptable (The FBI, The Poor People’s Campaign, The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and MLK’s Death). Malcolm X was another prevalent activist who supported the ideas of black pride and nationalism (The 1965 Voting Rights Act, Malcolm X, and Urban Uprisings). His autobiography promoted the conservative views of one of the authors and illustrated some of the leaders’ ideas and journeys.

Similarities with the Environmental Movement

As with every movement that aims to support ideas that many people do not align with, the environmental movement has been faced with criticism. The same goes for the African American civil rights movement. There are people who oppose it, diminish the cause, and support their opinions with claims that are not backed up by science. During the civil rights movement, the slogan “equal but separate” illustrated the narrow-mindedness of people who did not want to admit certain changes were needed in the country. This is also relevant in regard to the environmental objectives of scientists and activists. Individuals find it hard to accept the flaws within the system because they require a level of personal change in order for the whole country to evolve, which has not been the case during the events mentioned prior and is not the case currently.

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Political Establishment Reaction to the Movement

The political environment during the civil rights movement was dispersed depending on the state. The south was more politically inclined to maintain a segregationist policy, which was also illustrated by particular senators and governors. A figure who criticized desegregation and promoted “Jim Crow Laws” as the governor of Alabama was George Wallace. Among multiple other politicians, Wallace was actively trying to stop the changes within the system by preventing new legal implementations from granting rights to African Americans (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, George Wallace, A Church Bombing, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act). However, people like president Kennedy were pro-change and equality, which illustrates the disparities between different politicians, states, and values.

Second Wave Feminism Movement

The Second World War affected women on multiple levels. Multiple men were deployed, new workers were needed, and various employment opportunities appeared because of WWII. This created an environment in which women were able to do the things that they were not able to do before. Thus, the post-war period was also the time when feminists started actively protesting. Since freedom was a right that various groups started to demand, women did not miss the opportunity to speak up and request equality.

Motivation

Women did not have the same rights as men in terms of job availability, payment, education, opportunities, and life choices. There was a belief that the husband was the primary person in the household, creating an environment where females were often abused, sexualized, and oppressed. Multiple job offers specifically had a mentioned males as the only possible employees. Such conditions motivated women to fight for their rights and ask for equality in the face of justice.

Triumphs/Defeats

The second wave of feminism was proficient in fulfilling the initial goals of the movement. It is essential to mention the establishment of the National Organization of Women (Second Wave Feminism and the Gay Liberation Struggle of the 1960s and 1970s). The organization managed to enforce multiple laws that are still essential within the legislative system of the US. One of the triumphs was the ban on employment discrimination, which allowed for new jobs to be available for both sexes. Furthermore, equal education, maternity leaves, and several other topics have been covered legislatively.

There were, however, several defeats since the new ideas and implementations did not resonate with every single individual in the US. For example, Phyllis Stewart, a conservative activist, managed to be successful while campaigning against the signing of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was a step back for women’s rights movements. The event refers to the disregard that some men and women felt toward the aim. This defeat, mainly caused by conservatives, was not significant for the overall history of feminism.

Leaders

Betty Friedan was an American author who started a national campaign by writing a book about women’s issues. The Feminine Mystique describes the situation in which housewives are unhappy, cannot follow their dreams, and do not have opportunities for professional development. Friedan later became the president of NOW and contributed to the reforms that allowed women to receive equal employment and education opportunities. Another significant figure was Fannie Lou Hamer, an activist and co-founder of the Freedom Democratic Party. The autobiography To Praise our Bridges portrays Hamer’s life, ideas, values, and overviews. The community organizers greatly impacted the stopping of segregation in Mississippi, which continued even after it became legally prohibited.

Similarities with the Environmental Movement

The second wave of feminism is similar to the environmental movement based on several accounts. First, there was a backlash from both politicians and the general population that was classified as conservative. Moreover, certain changes were implemented one by one. The system was not entirely changed after the first protest. Instead, more legal opportunities were appearing, which ultimately led to a complete reform. The same goes for the environmental movement, which is portrayed by relatively minimal changes.

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Political Establishment Reaction to the Movement

There were multiple politicians protesting against a systematic and legal change. Jerry Falwell, a televangelist, often promoted the differentiation between the role of men and women. The anti-feminist activist Anita Bryant was also campaigning for conservative values that the singer thought to be essential. Moreover, Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative attorney, was another political figure in favor of keeping the male-oriented system intact. Thus, it is inevitable that both proponents and opponents of feminism were dominating the social arena.

LGBT Rights

Needless to say, the atrocities of the war allowed for an insight into all the gay people put into concentration camps by Nazi Germany. Thus, a clear homophobic agenda was most highlighted when the US army was able to see how homosexuals were treated. While the US did not have such harsh policies in regard to the LGBT community, there were specific actions aimed to intimidate, discriminate, and violate based on sexual orientation. As a result, the war has influenced a rise in LGBT rights movements and activism.

Motivation

The LGBT community was facing discrimination on multiple levels. Employment issues, social disparities, harassment, and police brutality were among the few reasons that motivated gay people to protest. While there were bars and even neighborhoods where LGBT members could interact, the owners of such businesses were often harassed by law enforcement. This was another catalyst for the subsequent events that led to equality among people with different sexual orientations.

Triumphs/Defeats

One of the first triumphs was in the late 50s when the police started harassing the owners and customers of the Stonewall Inn. When one person refused to leave, others were willing to participate and stand out for themselves. The incident led to a protest in which multiple people gathered to express their views on discrimination and overpower the officers. Another triumph was the establishment of the Gay Liberation Front. Last but not least, the American Psychiatric Association dropped the initial definition of homosexuality as a disease.

The LGBT community has faced several defeats, mainly caused by anti-gay movements and activists. At the time, there was a political agenda to portray homosexuals as equal to child predators. Such rhetoric caused the Dade County community to vote to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance. Anita Bryant was one of the most well-known anti-gay activists who managed to create a negative public opinion in regard to gay rights. This was one of the defeats that the gay community experienced during the civil rights movement.

Leader

Harvey Milk was the first elected official to talk about his homosexuality openly. Milk was an important figure in the LGBT rights movement who supported the cause of activism and promoted an anti-discriminatory policy. Milk prohibited businesses from firing people based on their sexuality, which was a critical reform. He also encouraged the supervision of the San Francisco police department since it was often involved in the brutality and discrimination against people of color and homosexuals.

Similarities with the Environmental Movement

The LGBT rights movement experienced similar struggles to the environmental movement. First, both ideas were met with prejudice and distrust. In the case of gay rights, some opponents painted the picture of the LGBT community being dangerous for children. In the case of environmental activism, some opponents suggest that the objective is to control businesses and impose an oppressive agenda. Moreover, environmentalists deal with scientific controversies similarly to the gay community, who was labeled sick and treated inhumanely by psychiatrists.

Political Establishment Reaction to the Movement

On the one hand, Hervey Milk was a prominent political figure fighting for gay rights and abolishing the discriminatory system. On the other hand, there were activists preoccupied with an opposing agenda. Anita Bryant became one of the most harmful proponents of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Bryant’s rhetoric was able to become a critical power that ultimately contributed to the overturn of the anti-discrimination ordinance. Thus, there were contrasting reactions in society and in the political field.

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Conclusion

WWII, while a devastating global conflict, was a driver for social evolution and activism. Thus, multiple minorities started participating in civil rights movements, including African Americans, women, and LGBT communities. While all the groups faced multiple obstacles and various defeats along the way, the goal was fulfilled. The legislation changed, and freedom was granted regardless of race, sex, and sexual orientation. Post-war activism was a significant part of US history since it signified the beginning of democracy and civil rights.

Works Cited

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail, George Wallace, A Church Bombing, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

“Second Wave Feminism and the Gay Liberation Struggle of the 1960s and 1970s.” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

“The 1965 Voting Rights Act, Malcolm X, and Urban Uprisings” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

“The Brown Decision, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Sit-In Movement” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

“The FBI, The Poor People’s Campaign, The Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and MLK’s Death” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

“World War II, the Holocaust, and African Americans During the War” YouTube, uploaded by Dr. Michael Phillips’ History Channel, 2020, Web.

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