It is important to note that both the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement had a major impact on the American socio-economic state of being. On the one hand, the former was a devastating occurrence, which destroyed institutions, degraded citizens, and shattered American economic power. On the other hand, the Civil Rights Movement uplifted African Americans and other minorities and ended lawful and direct forms of discrimination and segregation. However, the effect and the overall impact of the Great Depression were grander and more global compared to the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement because the former benefitted the entire US population, whereas the latter primarily empowered only certain groups. Thus, the Great Depression had the largest impact due to the number of affected people, areas of change, and cultural transformations.
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Firstly, the Great Depression was more impactful due to the sheer number of people affected by these historical events. It is stated that the “United States ended 1933 with a population of 125,580,000 people, which represents an increase of 741,000 people compared to 1932” (“United States – Population,” n.d., para. 1). Since the New Deal of 1933 was a major transformation of the entire US economy, banking system, and population, the number of impacted people is equal to 125,580,000 (Amadeo, 2021). In comparison, the outstanding and revolutionary achievements of the Civil Rights Movement mainly affected non-White groups, which “constituted 88.6 percent of the total population in 1960” (US Census Bureau, 2018, para. 1). In other words, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 uplifted and empowered the lives of roughly 42,000,000 people (History.com Editors, 2021). Therefore, the impact of the Great Depression was larger than that of the Civil Rights Movement.
Secondly, the Great Depression’s key outcome, which is the New Deal transformed the United States in a wide range of areas, whereas the Civil Rights Movement was mainly a social and political change. It is stated that “the New Deal programs installed safeguards to make it less likely that the Depression could happen again” (Amadeo, 2021, para. 2). In other words, the event made the entire country more resilient to future tragedies and devastating recessions. The historic event deeply impacted the American economy, politics, social dynamics, unemployment laws, and the banking sector (Amadeo, 2021). However, the profound changes of the Civil Rights Movement were mainly political and social, with no direct transformations in the economy, banking, or citizen safety net.
Thirdly, although both the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement can be categorized as cultural changes, the former also resulted in an uplift of the working class in capitalism. It is stated that “the Depression affected politics by shaking confidence in unfettered capitalism,” which ended the long-standing belief in laissez-faire economics and shifted the paradigm toward Keynesian economics (Amadeo, 2021, para. 10). In other words, the American Dream as a cultural phenomenon no longer trusted pure and unregulated capitalism, which led to the creation of social safety nets for American citizens in the form of unemployment benefits, stock market regulations, and banking system reforms. Such a cultural and social transformation was far grander than the positive outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement in regards to cultural transformations.
In conclusion, the Great Depression had the largest impact compared to the Civil Rights Movement because it affected a greater number of people, changed more structural areas, and transformed the American culture more profoundly. Although the Civil Rights movement brought equality and ended segregation increasing the United States’ prowess, the Great Depression changed the very foundation of the US and its central pillars, ensuring a more stable and brighter future for all its citizens.
Amadeo, K. (2021). The 9 principal effects of the Great Depression. The Balance. Web.
History.com Editors. (2021). Civil Rights Movement. History. Web.
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United States – Population. (n.d.). Web.
US Census Bureau. (2018). 1960 Census of the population: Supplementary reports: Race of the population of the United States, by States: 1960. Web.