US Social History
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The most important change in the American society in post World War II America was a change in racial relations that saw the rise of strong voices that advocated for a free America where members of all races had equal rights and opportunities. Whether World War II was directly related to the change or not remains a debate. However, it was a fact that during the World War II there was an observable shortage of labor among white Americans and it became inevitable to seek for labor from other races previously overlooked. (Smith, Lecture Notes, Week 8). Although the jobs given other races were mainly manual and low paying as compared to jobs reserved for white Americans, the jobs had significant role because the other races for instance the blacks were empowered economically. In addition, it created a platform for interaction between other races and white Americans and segregation became more apparent. The subsequent chain reactions created by the labor shortage saw a change in race relations that have recently seen the election of the first black American president. (Kusmer, 2009, 183).
The Brown Decision was a major paradigm shift in the social arena in the history of America in the 1950s. The decision came after a series of advocacies seeking to do away with segregation in schools. The anti-segregation sentiments had apparently began even before the Brown case particualrily due to the dissatisfaction that black American activists had with the provisions of the Jim Crow System. The system outlined that segregation between blacks and whites in schools, buses and other areas was accepteble as long as the quality of the services given to the two groups were equaly. (Dierenfield, 2008) The major group that rallied for the abolition of the system was the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People). The movement had for a long time looking for a perfect opportunity to present their grievances to the court and they found it in cases involving; “Reverend Oliver Brown, father of Topeka, Kansas, grade-schooler Linda Brown.” (America.gov, 2009) In a case prior to the Brown case, known as “Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson” the court had ruled in favor of racial segregation and it is for this reason that the Brown case became significant. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 10) Under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the Brown case found legal grounds especially in the case that involved Linda Brown. Brown was forced to go to a black school that was further from her home and yet there was a white school that was nearer.
The first approach by Marshall and his team was that they argued that it did not make sense for her to go to school much further from her home and yet there was a school nearer. However, this claim was quickly shot down by the Kansas State Court. The court argued that as long as the quality of the services offered in both schools were the same segregation was justified. (Dierenfield, 2008, 25) The second approach which eventually won them the case was the argument with regard to social scientific studies. Marshall and his colleagues argued that black children had been significantly affected by the segregation to the point that their esteem was very low. The research established that black American girls preferred white dolls instead of black dolls. (America.gov, 2009) However, even after the passing in favor of the Brown case by the Supreme Court desegregation was not achieved immediately due to a number of factors. The major factor was the refusal by politicians in the South and the then president Dwight Eisenhower to publicly support the decision publicly. Some politicians denounced the ruling while other preferred to remain silent.
The situation became frustrating for Sounthern Whites because black Americans always argued that despite the fact that Jim Crow system advocated for segregation on the grounds of equality of services provided, in reality services were not equal. The lack of any attempt to provide for the blacks equal services and opportunities became a major challenge for the Jim Crow system and an advantage to the black anti-segregation activists. (Dierenfield, 2008, 29) In the south, Texas was particularily a state that advocated and encouraged segregation. Segregation was evident in areas such as educational opportunities, salaries and accessibility to public amenities. One example involved a black student who applied for a position to study law in the University of Texas School of Law. The university was in a dilemma because they were under the obligation to admit but still had to conform to the regulation policies. The school therefore opted to construct a separate university for balck students. Due to lakc of funding the school that was set up for black students was substandard with the facilities being in poor conditions as compared to the facilities in the white university. The black student subsequently filed a law suit against the school arguing that the school had gone against te provisions of the supreme court ruling which outlined that segregation could only be justified when equal facilities, services and opportunities were offered. Enetually, the black student won the case and the university was forced to admit him in the white university. Racial segregation in Texas policies passed before the World War II had ensured that salaries for whites were much higher and sometimes even double the salaries for blacks even when they were doing the same job. A secodanry school teacher called Thelma Paige Richardson won a case against schools in the state of Dallas. Schools in Dallas used different salary systems for whites and blacks. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 9)
The white southerners responded to the efforts by black anti-segregationists in a number of ways that demonstrated their unwillingness to end segregation. The most brutal and inhuman method was the public lynching of blacks as a way of sending a messgae of fear and warning that the desegregation advocacies should stop. The lynchings were particularily desperate measures by the southern whites in instances where the court ruled in favor of the blacks. For instance, in Texas when the supreme court ruled that blacks should be allowed to vote several groups of white americans responded by threatening to lynch or lynching the blacks who dared to vote. The major reason for this was that Texas was predominantly a Democratic State and there were chances that when blacks voted the status quo would be disturbed. The strong sentiments against desegregation in the south was mostly due to political reasons rather than social. President Eisenhower was particularily agianst the desegregation because he perceived that his support for desegregation would mean that his political strength in the south would be significantly reduced. In little Rock school where blacks were forcefully prevented from entering the school Eisenhower ended up sending troops to esnure that desegregation proceeded despite the oppositions. (Dierenfield, 2008, 32) The act could have presented Eisenhower as a supporter for desegregation but the fact that he only did it to fulfill his consitutional obligations demonstrates his lack of support. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 10)
However, due a number of desegregation activists only managed to achieve a little success because by 1963 only 2.3 percent of black children went to white schools. Perhaprs there were a number of factors at play that prevemnted the complete attinment of desegregation. The general realization is that segregation was more a social aspect and despite the efforts by the government through legislations to show support for segregation, complete success depended on the perception and the general goodwill of both the whotes and the blacks. The violence that blacks had faced in terms of the lynchs had been so embedded in the minds and without forgiveness it would have been difficult to bring the groups together without the danger of eruption of further violence. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 11)
In the south segregation was still much evident even after the success of the Brown case particularily due to political factors, spreading of fear and corruption. Segregation was not only evident in school but in public facilities such as buses, swmnimming pools and movie theaters. (America.gov, 2009) The black Americans therefore employed several strategies to ensure that they eliminated segregation. The tactics employed by the blacks were mostly non-violent but carried strong messages that gafve the authorities little option. Rosa Parks was particualrily significant in bringing into perspective the aspect of racial segregation in buses and showing other blacks that change coud be achieved. In several instances, parks had been forced to move sits to create room for white passengers as a way of complying with the segregation policies. In one particualr instance after Parks had become fed up with the constant acts of being asked to move she refused to move and was subsequenlty arrested for refusing to comply with the segregation policies. Her arrest eventually casued widespread boycotts in what famously became known as the Mongomery Bus Boycotts. (Dierenfield, 2008, 45) Parks played a crucial role because despite being a woman she was seen as instrumental in fighting for desegregation. In schools students employed a tactic known as the “sit-ins” where students entered books stores or food stands that reserved for whites and asked to ne served and on refusal they would just there. The “sit-ins” began in Southern Carolina and soon most public schools had adopted the tactic. The frustrations experienced both the whites and the authorities led them to reconsider their stance although it took the intervention of the supreme court to completely end the segregation. (Dierenfield, 2008, 56)
Presidents particualrily played a crucial role in either supporting or frustrating the desegregation. Eisenhower who was particualrily not a supporter of desegregation played a significant role in both frustrating and encouraging the process. During the court ruling of the Brown case, Eisenhower introduced a brief that directed that desegregation to be done at a slower rate. There is revelation that Eisenhower privately opposed desegregation most singficantly because he wanted re-election and the southern states were important in his bid. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 10). President Kennedy was also adamant to adopt desegregation but when he realized that the issue could heat up to compormise national security he significantly saw the introduction of the Bill of Rights in 1963. In 1965, president Johnson’s passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 also contributed significantly towards desegregation because it allowed voting rights for all Americans regardless of their race and culture. (Smith, Lecturer Notes, Week 11)
The nature of changes since the World War II has seen various tactics being used depending on the general response by the white Americans and the American government and the general perception by the black Americans and other minority races in America. The situation began in 1940s as an economical strategy geared towards ensuring adequate labor. The situation acted as an awakening call because before this time blacks had experienced violence at the hands of whites that saw the establishment of NAACP. The desegregation movements then went on advocate for equal provision of public services, an aspect that took many years to achieve. The movements mostly advocated for the use on non-violent strategies. In the 1990s advocacy had shifted to fighting for equality of rights and was not mostly directed towards the government and legislations but towards public and private institutions.
America.gov. (2009, December 29). The Brown Decision: The Court Rules "Separate but Equal" Unconstitutional. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from America.gov: http://www.america.gov/st/peopleplace-english/2008/December/20090105180942jmnamdeirf0.8345453.html
Dierenfield, B. (2008). The Civil Rights Movement: Revised Edition. New York: Pearson Education.
Kusmer, K. (2009). African American Urban History Since World War II. London: University of Chicago Press.