The Civil Rights Era (1865–1970)

by: History SparkNotes

Early Legal Victories: 1938–1957

Critics of the ruling included President Eisenhower himself, who privately regretted his decision to appoint Warren to the bench. After the Brown decision, Eisenhower refused to support the ruling actively and therefore offered no public comment about it at all.

The Southern Manifesto

Southern politicians vehemently opposed the Brown decision. State legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia passed resolutions asserting their right to nullify federal laws they disliked. More than a hundred southern congressmen and senators even signed a “Declaration of Constitutional Principles,” also known as the Southern Manifesto, in 1956, protesting the Brown decision and pressuring their home states to ignore the ruling or reject it entirely.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Eisenhower’s lack of support for the civil rights movement convinced many blacks that they could not rely on the federal government to right racial wrongs. Rather, many came to believe that change would have to originate within the black community itself. The first landmark change came on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. Black seamstress Rosa Parks, sitting in the “colored” section of a city bus, refused to give up her seat to a white man who was looking for a seat because the “white” section was full. Parks was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct.

Parks’s arrest outraged the black community and prompted its local leaders, including young Baptist preacher Martin Luther King Jr., to organize the Montgomery bus boycott, refusing to ride any city buses and crippling the bus company financially. The boycott continued for more than a year, ending when the Supreme Court issued a ruling in December 1956 declaring segregated bus seating unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, King, in taking charge of the boycott, became a major figurehead in the blossoming civil rights movement. Even though he himself came from a prosperous family, he detested racial inequality and sympathized with downtrodden southern blacks. King’s education, position within the Baptist church, and unmatched oratory skills made him an inspiring leader as the movement grew.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference

After the success of the bus boycott, King hoped to rally more southern churches behind the civil rights cause. In 1957, King joined with nearly 100 other black ministers in founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC). Whereas the NAACP attacked segregation via the law, King intended to use various forms of nonviolent protest to provoke segregationists and win support from the moderate majority of southern whites. He drew much of his inspiration from the nonviolent tactics of Mohandas Gandhi, who had used nonviolence to protest against British colonial rule in India. The formation of the SCLC also marked the shift within the civil rights movement from predominantly northern leadership to southern activism. Although the SCLC did convince more southern blacks to support the civil rights movement, the organization failed to spark controversy or elicit sympathy from whites.