Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)

For the one hundred years following the American Civil War, the South was haunted by a shadowy figure named Jim Crow. No one had seen him, but his presence was everywhere; no one had heard his voice, but everyone recognized his dialect; no one knew where he lived, but he was always next door. The funny thing was that most people didn't seem too worried about his presence: they even welcomed him, and though he was physically absent he was always palpably near.

The one group that was afraid of Mr. Crow, and that did mistrust him, was the very group to which he supposedly belonged—the Black community, the African-Americans, the descendants of the former slave population of the southern and border states of the United States of America. And while the white folk may have assumed Jim was one of the people they so comfortably oppressed, the blacks themselves were much more suspicious.

Jim Crow was in fact a white man. His name was Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy"Rice (1808-1860), a popular performerof thestand-up comedian varietyfrom Manhattan who entertained audiences between acts of more conventional plays. At some point (possibly after hearing a black stableboy singing a song about Jim Crow), he created a character named Jim Crow. Jim was not a black man: he was the caricature of a black man, designed to get white crowds laughing at the colored community.

What followed was basically the original minstrel show. Rice/Crow would dress in ragged clothing, cover his skin in boot polish and burnt cork ("blackface"), and prance around the stage saying ridiculous things in an exaggerated black accent. The minstrel show, which was later standardized as a two-person act, made white people feel good about themselves by supposedly showing how stupid black people were, and how they didn't deserve higher social standing as a result.

In reality, such clowning and mockery only made the white people doing it look stupid, but no one realized that for a long time, and minstrel shows were wildly popular around the United States till relatively late in the 20th century. Eventually, Jim Crow made his way beyond the confines of Daddy Dartmouth's act, and became an ephemeral yet felt presence throughout the United States, particularly in the South.

The way Jim Crow manifested himself was through a series of laws that officially sanctioned and protected racist segregation and oppression against blacks. But despite popular belief, Jim Crow went beyond mere laws, and embedded his attitudes in the customs and social rituals of the Southern states, so that a black man couldn't offer his hand to a white man (because that would imply equality) or light a white woman's cigarette (because that implied intimacy).

It could be argued without too much difficulty that the presence of Jim Crow made Southern white racism much more tangible in the years following the Civil War than before and during the conflict. Maybe the former C.S.A. was bad at losing; maybe the racist Northern carpetbaggers of the Reconstruction period were responsible. Whatever the case, by the time the 1950s rolled around, the black community was tired of being treated worse than dogs, and began to speak out.

One of the most famous Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history was largely the catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement: on May 17, 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas officially outlawed the "separate but equal" doctrine that allowed schools to segregate white and black students. What followed was a flood of activity designed to allow blacks and whites equal rights, equal treatment, and protection from violence.

Like any movement, the Civil Rights Movement had its share of heroes and leaders, many of them mythologized. Also like any movement, the mythologized heroes weren't always the really great ones. Men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X may have done some great things in the name of racial equality, but they also had plenty of problems, and there were others whose contributions, while not as high profile, were just as courageous and important.

Of the well-known events, the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up herbusseat for a white passengeron December 1, 1955 is probably also the greatest. Others had made similar refusals before Parks, but she was the catalyst for the Montgomery [Alabama] Bus Boycott, and became a major behind-the-scenes leader of the new Movement. What makes her action great is that it wasn't arrogance that motivated her, but a simple desire for justice and equity.

Also like any movement, the Civil Rights Movement gave rise to many excesses. The Black Power movement of the '60s and '70s, for instance, wasn't so much about equality and mutual peace as it was about reverse racism; and the Watts Riots weren't about throwing off oppression, they were about race warfare. Yet the Movement can't be judged solely by its extremist elements, and it was a needed event in United States history to restore justice and to break the status quo.

Unfortunately, the Civil Rights Movement has since been co-opted by a variety of self-perceived minority groups who have no historical relationship to the original Movement or its antecedants. The issue was simply the issue of race: were whites to have impunity to lynch blacks who'd done nothing wrong, to refuse service to blacks and Mexicans, and to oppress a people they'd forcibly brought to these shores in the first place, or were all humans to be treated as equals?

Thankfully, the latter ideology prevailed, and with it the nation made great strides toward racial equality. The United States has always been recognized as a land of opportunity for all people; the Civil Rights Movement ensured that would actually be the case. It's important to resist the temptation to make all black leaders at the timeinto gods, and all white leaders who opposed them into devils; but it's equally important to celebrate the effects of the Movement, and the peace which followed.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

Did you find this review helpful?
80 Items found Print
1963 Civil Rights March
Events That Shaped America
by Sabrina Crewe, Scott Ingram
from Gareth Stevens Publishing
for 4th-6th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$6.00 (1 in stock)
Cart That Carried Martin
by Eve Bunting
for 3rd-6th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$8.50 (1 in stock)
Cesar Chavez
by Ruth Franchere
from Thomas Y. Crowell &Co.
for 1st-3rd grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Civil Rights Movement for Kids
by Mary C. Turck
1st edition from Chicago Review Press
for 3rd-8th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$8.00 (1 in stock)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream Speech in Translation
by Leslie J. Holland
from Capstone Press
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$6.36
Dream of Freedom
for 7th-12th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$10.00 (2 in stock)
Five Bold Freedom Fighters
by Wade Hudson
from Cartwheel Books
for 1st-2nd grade
in Scholastic / Hello Reader! (Location: CPB-05E)
$1.00 (1 in stock)
Freedom on the Menu
by Carole Boston Weatherford
Reprint from Puffin Books
for Kindergarten-4th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$4.79 $3.20 (1 in stock)
Freedom Summer
by Deborah Wiles
Reprint from Aladdin Paperbacks
for 1st-3rd grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
Freedom Walkers
by Russell Freedman
from Holiday House
for 4th-6th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$14.95
Freedom Walkers
by Russell Freedman
Stated First Edition from Holiday House
for 4th-6th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$10.00 (1 in stock)
Freedom's Children
by Ellen Levine
from Penguin Putnam
Biography for 4th-8th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$7.99
Freedom's Children
by Ellen Levine
from Avon Books
for 6th-9th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$3.00 (1 in stock)
Friendship
by Midred D. Taylor
from Scholastic Inc.
for 1st-3rd grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: A09-01A)
$2.50 (1 in stock)
Glory Be
by Augusta Scattergood
Reprint from Scholastic Press
for 4th-7th grade
in Historical Fiction (Location: A05-01A)
$6.99
Gold Cadillac
by Mildred D. Taylor
from Scholastic Inc.
for 3rd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: A09-01A)
$1.40 (1 in stock)
Gold Cadillac
by Mildred D. Taylor
Reprint from Puffin Books
for 3rd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: A09-01A)
$6.39
Gone Crazy in Alabama
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Reprint from Amistad Press
for 4th-7th grade
Coretta Scott King Award
in Historical Fiction (Location: A05-01A)
$6.99
Heroes for Civil Rights
First Edition from Holiday House
for 3rd-5th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$4.80 (1 in stock)
History of the Civil Rights Movement - Coloring Book
by Steven James Petruccio
from Dover Publications
in Dover Coloring Books (Location: A01-DOV)
$3.19
History of US Book 10
History of US Book 10
by Joy Hakim
3rd Revised Edition from Oxford University
American History Reference for 5th-9th grade
in History of US (Location: B04-03E)
$11.00 (1 in stock)
History of US Book 10
History of US Book 10
by Joy Hakim
3rd edition from Oxford University
American History Reference for 5th-9th grade
in History of US (Location: B04-03E)
$9.00 (1 in stock)
History of US Book 10
History of US Book 10
by Joy Hakim
4th edition from Oxford University
American History Reference for 5th-9th grade
in History of US (Location: B04-03E)
$15.95 $11.00 (1 in stock)
I Have a Dream
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
from Scholastic Inc.
for Preschool-3rd Grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$3.00 (2 in stock)
If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King
by Ellen Levine
Updated from Scholastic Inc.
Historical Non-Fiction for 2nd-5th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$4.50 (3 in stock)
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
by Bette Bao Lord
from HarperCollins
Immigration for 2nd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: A09-01A)
$5.99 $4.00 (2 in stock)
It's Wings That Make Birds Fly
by Sandra Weiner
from Pantheon Books
for 6th-12th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$2.50 (1 in stock)
Jackie Robinson
by Keith Brandt
from Troll Publishing
Picture Book Biography for 4th-6th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$1.00 (1 in stock)
Jackie Robinson
by Paul Mercer
from Barnes & Noble
for 4th-7th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$2.00 (1 in stock)
Jackie Robinson: Baseball's First Black Major-Leaguer
Rookie Biography
by Carol Greene
for 1st-4th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$3.50 (1 in stock)
Jackie Robinson: Young Sports Trailblazer
Childhood of Famous Americans
by Herb Dunn
from Aladdin Paperbacks
for 3rd-6th grade
in Childhood of Famous Americans (Location: A12-07D)
$7.99
Jazz Man
by Mary Hays Weik
2nd edition from Aladdin Paperbacks
for 3rd-6th grade
in Historical Fiction (Location: A05-01A)
$2.00 (1 in stock)
John F. Kennedy
A Discovery Book
by Charles P. Graves
from Garrard Publishing Company
for 4th-6th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$6.00 (1 in stock)
Kennedy Presidency
by Deborah Hart Strober, Gerald S. Strober
Revised from Potomac Books
for 11th-Adult
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$5.00 (1 in stock)
Kid's Guide to African American History
by Nancy I. Sanders
from Chicago Review Press
for 4th-6th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$4.00 (2 in stock)
Let the Circle Be Unbroken
by Mildred R. Taylor
from Puffin Books
Realistic Fiction for 5th-8th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: A09-01A)
$7.99 $5.00 (2 in stock)
Letter from Birmingham Jail / I Have a Dream Speech
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
from Perfection Learning
for 10th-Adult
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$3.55
Life & Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Ira Peck
from Scholastic Inc.
for 3rd-6th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$2.00 (2 in stock)
Life of W.E.B. Du Bois: Cheer the Lonesome Traveller
by Leslie Alexander Lacy
from Dial Press
for 9th-Adult
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$8.00 (1 in stock)
Lilies of the Field
by William E. Barrett
from Grand Central Publishing
for 11th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
$5.99
March (Book 1)
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
from Top Shelf Productions
for 5th-9th grade
Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Honor Book
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$11.96
Martin Luther King Jr.
by Rob Lloyd Jones
from Scholastic Inc.
for 1st-3rd grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$2.10 (2 in stock)
Martin Luther King, Jr.
History's All-Stars
by Dharathula H. Millender
from Aladdin Paperbacks
for 3rd-6th grade
in Childhood of Famous Americans (Location: A12-07D)
$6.99
Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Patricia McKissak
from Children's Press
for 4th-6th grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$3.50 (1 in stock)
Meet Martin Luther King, Jr.
by James T. de Kay
from Random House Books for Young Readers
for 1st-3rd grade
in Biographies (Location: A12-01A)
$4.99
Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round
by Doreen Rappaport
Reprint from Candlewick Press
for 3rd-7th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$6.50 (1 in stock)
Now is Your Time
by Walter Dean Myers
from Scholastic Inc.
for 9th-Adult
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$7.00 (1 in stock)
Now Is Your Time!
by Walter Dean Myers
from HarperCollins
for 7th-10th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$7.50 (2 in stock)
Oh, Freedom!
by Casey King & Linda Barrett Osborne
from Scholastic Inc.
for 6th-9th grade
in Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) (Location: B01-27A)
$4.00 (1 in stock)
One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Reprint from Amistad Press
for 4th-7th grade
2011 Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
in Historical Fiction (Location: A05-01A)
$6.99
12