Civil Rights

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Washington, D.C., June 18, 1968. Poor People’s March on Washington.


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection, [reproduction number, LC-DIG-ppmsca-04302]


The United States experienced a sense of great upheaval during the 1960s. In large part, this was due to the American public’s response to the two largest issues of the decade: America’s role in the Vietnam War and the black freedom movement. Leaving the history of the Vietnam War aside for the moment (though it is difficult indeed to think of the 1960s and the tumultuous year of 1968 in particular without the looming shadow of that tragic campaign) we will turn our attention to the black freedom struggle and the civil rights movement of the 1960s in particular. Typically, historians discuss the civil rights movement in the context of the battles waged against the legal and institutional barriers that prevented African Americans from realizing the benefits of freedom, one of the most powerful and compelling beliefs to which Americans have been committed throughout the nation’s history. These barriers to freedom were of course particularly stubborn and vexing throughout the Jim Crow South during the early 1960s, but they proved equally effective, though far more subtle in states such as Illinois, New York, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Even after Jim Crow segregation was finally slain by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and African American voting rights were secured by law the next year with the Voting Rights Act, black Americans still had difficulty obtaining good-paying jobs. And because white racial prejudice made it nearly impossible for African Americans to rent or own a place to live in many well established neighborhoods and suburbs throughout the United States, black children often lacked access to quality education and health care. Caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, frustrated by limited opportunities in life, and angered by whites’ continual harassment and disrespect, many young African Americans grew determined to exert their demands more forcefully as the 1960s progressed.

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