The Rise of Civil Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

For over 50 years after its 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, the US Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal”—meaning that African Americans could be discriminated against in public facilities as long as access to separate and nominally equal facilities were made available. In fact, most such facilities in southern states with Jim Crow laws on the books were clearly unequal and often absent. Schools, buses, restrooms, shops, movie houses and a host of other institutions and facilities gave preferential treatment to whites while relegating blacks to secondary status.

For over 50 years after its 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, the US Supreme Court upheld the doctrine of “separate but equal”—meaning that African Americans could be discriminated against in public facilities as long as access to separate and nominally equal facilities were made available. In fact, most such facilities in southern states with Jim Crow laws on the books were clearly unequal and often absent. Schools, buses, restrooms, shops, movie houses and a host of other institutions and facilities gave preferential treatment to whites while relegating blacks to secondary status.

Following both World War I and World War II, waves of African Americans migrated from the rural South to urban centers in the Northeast and Midwest. The great migration of blacks brought attention to discriminatory practices and made civil rights an emerging concern on the national front. Still, conservative forces ensured that patterns of segregation and discrimination yielded only slowly. A few Supreme Court rulings in the postwar 1940s began to chip away at the segregationist monolith. It would not be until the 1950s, however, that civil rights efforts would take off and form the beginnings of a movement.

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