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America Today

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America Today

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The most important achievements of African-American civil rights movements have been the post-Civil War constitutional amendments that abolished slavery and established the citizenship status of blacks, and the judicial decisions and legislation based on these amendments, notably the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These legal changes greatly affected the opportunities available to women, nonblack minorities, disabled individuals, and other victims of discrimination. The Brown decision demonstrated that the litigation strategy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) could undermine the legal foundations of southern segregationist practices, but the strategy worked only when blacks, acting individually or in small groups, assumed the risks associated with crossing racial barriers. Thus, even after the Supreme Court declared that public school segregation was unconstitutional, black activism was necessary to compel the federal government to implement the decision and extend its principles to all areas of public life rather than simply in schools. The initial phase of the black protest activity in the post-Brown period began on December 1, 1955. Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat to a white bus rider, thereby defying a southern custom that required blacks to give seats toward the front of buses to whites. When she was jailed, a black community boycott of the city’s buses began. The boycott lasted more than a year, demonstrating the unity and determination of black residents and inspiring blacks elsewhere. Martin Luther King, Jr., who emerged as the boycott movement’s most effective leader, possessed unique conciliatory and oratorical skills. He understood the larger significance of...

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