The Civil Rights movement started due to the illegal segregation of one race from another. This is because many people of African origin were stopped from voting, and this was against the 14th Amendment, which said that everybody had the right to vote. The reason why this was not enforced was essentially the revulsion of the southern states against centralisation and the control of the south by the north. The fear of a second civil war made sure that the North simply allowed the South to redefine the law so as to please the populous and so make segregation legal for businesses and government.
This segregation appealed to many of the voters in the south (nearly all white), therefore the politicians were given an incentive of political survival by enforcing segregation, this also applied to businesses and their economic survival. In addition there were also random illegal, but rarely investigated, lynching by the populous. These were all changed by the civil rights act. There were several key factors, which made the government pass the civil rights act.
The first being that the USA was currently engaged in the Cold War, therefore there were political incentives and pressures to get rid of segregation and suppression. As the USA is a democracy public perception of the policies would enforce the changes or destroy the political factions. The populous in that age was greatly affected by the media’s, especially the television. Therefore if the television supported the civil right movement, public opinion would change, so that if the government did not change their policies then the government would be changed.
In addition the government had to make a decision about the subject due to the public demand and the civil right movement. Once they had made a decision they would have to act. There was also the influence of the individuals within the government. The pebble that started the landslide of the civil rights movement was the incident of Linda Browns education. She was forced to go to a poor black school twenty blocks away even though there was a white school just down the road. The white school was much better than the black school so her father Oliver brown took them to court.
Eventually after an appeal on the 14th of May 1954 the chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that the ‘constitution was colour blind’. Therefore this can be seen to be the momentous occasion where the opinion of the Supreme Court changed, whereas it used to promote the segregation of blacks it now criticised it. This was in effect a precedent, as it influenced public opinion and encouraged many other segregated peoples to stand up for their rights. This can therefore be argued to have led on to the bus boycott of 1955.
The court hearing also created publicity for the civil right movement. The Bus Boycott started because a woman was arrested for disobeying a law that stated that a black person had to give up their seat for a white person. She was the secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples. This led to the boycotting of the bus service. This was widely viewed on television and so accelerated the change in the public’s perception of the segregation started by the courts.
The fact that the protests were non-violent had a three-fold effect; firstly it showed that they were protesting legally. It also showed the glaring contrast with the barbarities of the Klu Klux Klan, and so it increased the media coverage both nationally and internationally. This media coverage then forced the government to choose sides as the public and foreign countries put pressure on the government to do this. Therefore this again encouraged more segregated people to stand up for their rights, it also built up confidence and empowered many more people.
It also showed that ordinary people could change the opinions of large segregationist companies. In addition it signalled the end of ignored segregation in the northern states, just as the court judgement signalled the end of legalised government segregation. Therefore as the government had made a decision it was then a matter of seeing how far the government would go to enforce these ideals, after all there was still the risk of civil war and most importantly the loss of all one parties seats in the southern states, and so politically destroy a party.
The southern states decided that they could manipulate the restraint from interference by the federal government. On the 3rd of September 1957 15 black students were to be accepted by the Central High School. The night before however the governor of Arkansas said that it would be impossible to maintain the law if the students gained entrance to the school. Therefore when the new students arrived they were stopped from entering the school by a large crowd and state troopers.
This would inevitably test the Presidents commitment to the integration within the school. President Eisenhower would have been put under public political pressure to make a choice whether to support segregation or whether to support civil rights. He decided to send in 1000 paratroopers (the elite fighting forces) and so make this a signal to the public that he was committed to integration. The effect of this was the increase in public support for the civil rights movement and integration.
This point of the government sending in large numbers of soldiers simple to protect a few individuals is again shown in the case of James Meredith. He was given a place at the University of Mississippi University, however the governor of this state opposed the placement and a large crowd gathered to stop him entering. Therefore President Kennedy, who made his political career out of promising greater equality at his inaugural speech decided to send in a convoy of army trucks to escort him in and 320 federal marshals to suppress a riot.
This shows that the government was committed to integration, the abolition of segregation and the civil rights movement, and this would not have occurred if it had the potential to destroy the political faction. Therefore in conclusion I believe that the change of public perception, especially in the North not to tolerate segregation was the most important factor, which influenced the government’s decision to enforce the federal law instead of the state law. This is because essentially America is a democratic and capitalist society.
Therefore the government and the businesses will do anything to please the population so as to survive politically or economically. This is because individuals alone can and did affect a large number of people but if there was no public support nothing would have changed. This is because a President cannot pass laws without the inner and outer houses accepting them, and so no one individual can pass a law, and as all the senators are elected then they would reflect the publics opinions. The court’s decision on Linda Brown would suggest to me that individuals were changing their opinions.
It led to the popularisation of the civil rights movement which led onto the bus boycott and the civil rights marches. These marches showed the public support as 30,000+ people marched showing the numbers. This then appealed to the public’s morals through the media of television and so placed pressure on the Government. Firstly it would not want to loose a propaganda battle, but more importantly they would want political survival. That then led to the amendment being enforced and the states controlled. This is why I believe the change in the public’s perception of the civil rights movement was the key reason.