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US Social Scientists and Civil Rights Movement


One of the most important event of 1960s US was the Civil Rights Movement. The movement gave equal rights to African-Americans in the US which included right to vote. Although it officially ended in the late 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement has had far reaching impact on the US society, some of which we continue to see to this day. Two of the best perspectives to get a good insight into the impact of the movement in the 21st century are that of a sociologist and a political scientist.

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Sociologist’s Perspective

“Sociology is the study of systems of social actions and their relationships” (Ross, 2005). The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a major social action which had far reaching consequences. The relationship of social actions of the time to the realities of the 21st century world cannot be denied or underestimated. And sociology is increasingly concerned with this relationship. As Chen and Phinney (2004) point out, in recent years, sociological research on social movements is concerned with determining the outcomes of these movements. Hence, as we try to understand the implications of the Civil Rights Movement on the life in 21st century, looking at it from the sociological perspective becomes imperative.

Some of the direct impacts of the movement are on policy implementation, elective office and on demographic changes. The biggest impact of the Movement was on life and rights of the African Americans. As Morris (1999) has pointed out, the life for African Americans before the civil rights movement and now in the 21st century is in stark contrast. Even though slavery had ended in the nineteenth century, white domination continued well into the twentieth century as the Blacks were kept at the bottom of the economic order. African American were disenfranchised and not allowed to participate in the political process, or be appointed as judge or act as jurors.

The Civil Rights Movement changed all this. The major public policy impacts of the movement were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Although these Acts brought about huge changes in the rights and lives of African Americans, the most visible of which is the election of President Obama as the first African American president, there are still a number of gaps to be filled. The African Americans continue to be among the poorest citizens of the country. They are also most likely to be disenfranchised by being convicted of a crime. Although, the African Americans themselves may be responsible for their plight, the public opinion too had been slow to change. So though the Civil Rights Movement may have ended, its implications continue into the 21st century and will continue till the black can join the main stream America much more easily than they do now.

The one lasting impact of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was that it became a model for all the future movements in the US and other countries. As Morris points out, the movement was extremely important because a group of relatively powerless people were able to have such a monumental impact on the nation’s social fabric.

Political Scientist’s Perspective

As discussed above, the Civil Rights Movement also had an important impact on the politics of the nation. The election of President Obama, in this respect, can be considered the ultimate victory of the African Americans. But the process which led to this victory makes the study of impact of the movement on the politics of the nation imperative. Hence, besides studying the impact of the movement on the life in 21st century from a sociological perspective, it is also important to discuss it from a political perspective.

Bringing political rights to the African Americans was not easy and in the initial years, even the Black themselves did not believe that they managed to wrestle certain rights for themselves. This is obvious when we realize, that in the initial years of the Civil Rights Movement, very few black southerners were politically active (Beyerlein & Andrews, 2008).

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Despite the perceived success of the movement, it was not without a significant White backlash, which can in part explain the still bad living conditions for a majority of African Americans. According to Boyd (2009), the re-emergence of the Republic Party in the South was the result of the successful exploitation of the situation by the Republicans and a White backlash to the Civil Rights Movement. This backlash may have had far reaching impact on public policies and the Republican political agenda. Being forced to give up their way of life as a direct result of the Movement, the South became even more conservative as the Republican Party capitalized on their anger. The resulting Republican policies have shaped the national US policy in large parts and continue to do so in the 21st century.

Andrews (1997), has carried out a systematic research to understand the relationship between the Movement and its political outcome. His research examined four major political outcomes which included the number of black voters registered, votes cast for black candidates, number of black candidates running for office and the number of black elected official. While Andrews’ enquiry is mostly from a political science perspective, it gives some insight into the impact of the movement on social relations. His findings point out that almost two decades after the end of the movement, the representation of African Americans in public office is still low compared to their population. This suggests that even though the movement has officially ended, it will be decades before its starts having a real impact on the political processes, just as it will be some time before the African Americans are openly accepted in the mainstream American society.


The American Civil Rights Movement has had far reaching impact on the American way of life. Opportunities, which were simply not available to the African Americans prior to 1960s were now made available to them. This meant that for the first time in American history, they had right to freedom and equality in the real sense. The result was the rise of the African Americans in several fields including in politics. The increasing number of African Americans in the politics today is the proof of success of the Civil Rights Movement.

However, the Movement was not without its backlash. The one negative implication of the Movement, which continues in to the 21st century was the increased conservativeness of the South. This has resulted in the Republicans establishing themselves in the southern states and has shaped the conservative republican policies, which continue to have impact even on the national policies, right into the 21st century.

Reference List

Andrews, K.T. (1997). The impacts of social movements on the political processes: The Civil Rights Movement and black electoral politics in Mississippi. American Sociological Review, 62(5), 800-819.

Beyerlein, K., & Andrews, K. (2008). Black Voting During the Civil Rights Movement: A Micro-level Analysis. Social Forces, 87(1), 65-93.

Boyd, T. (2009). The 1966 Election in Georgia and the Ambiguity of the White Backlash. Journal of Southern History, 75(2), 305-340.

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Chen, A.S. & Phinney, R. (2004). Did the Civil Rights Movement Have a Direct Impact on Public Policy? Evidence from the Passage of State Fair Housing Laws, 1959-1965. Web.

Morris, A.D. (1999). A Retrospective on the Civil Rights Movement: Political and Intellectual Landmarks. Annual Review of Sociology. 25. 517-539.

Ross, J. (2005). Major Sociological Concepts. Web.

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