The Civil Rights Movement refers to one of the most consequential struggles in American history, one that continues to present date. Civil Rights refer to the freedoms, liberties, and protections under the law that are meant to be accorded to all people. But civil rights advocates argue that racial inequality is ingrained in American life through realities like economic disenfranchisement, police brutality, and mass incarceration. The Civil Rights debate topic pits groups, organizations, and communities who advocate for greater racial equality against those who work to maintain or advance a white racial hierarchy. The ongoing public controversy over civil rights makes this a popular persuasive essay topic.
The goal of this discussion is to examine the various perspectives shaping the civil rights debate and to provide you with a look at some of the figures past and present who have influenced this controversial topic. The figures selected may not always be household names, but are instead selected to provide a nuanced look at the public discourse on this subject, and in some cases, even to provide you with a list of individuals to contact as part of your research.
The United States has a deep-rooted history of racial inequality beginning with the formative role that African slavery played in the nation’s economic, social, and political development. Even after the Civil War and the consequent abolition of slavery, inequality and segregation shaped life for most Black Americans.
While inequality was widespread in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, racial discrimination took an even more severe and codified form in the states of the Confederacy. Though the Southern states had been forced to free their slaves, local and state leaders adopted a set of laws enforcing segregation. Known informally as Jim Crow, these laws created a harsh set of realities for newly freed slaves, who were relegated to separate communities, schools, hospitals, and public spaces. Southern Black citizens were invariably subjected to institutionalized prejudices by employers, realtors, the police, and the courts.
Southern Black citizens were invariably subjected to institutionalized prejudices by employers, realtors, the police, and the courts.” – @AcademicInflux
This period also saw the emergence of racialized violence through groups such as the Ku Klux Klan-hooded white supremacists who terrorized black families with cross-burnings and lynchings-often not just with impunity, but with support from local law enforcement.
These were the realities which would give rise to the Civil Rights Movement-a period of peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts aimed at undoing the injustices that had persisted for centuries in the United States. President Truman was the first American president to establish a meaningful Civil Rights agenda, beginning with a 1948 order desegregating the military.
But in the Southern states, real change would require the bravery of actual citizens like Rosa Parks, who famously and unwittingly provoked the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus; the Little Rock Nine, who had the courage to become the first black students at a newly integrated Central High School; and Martin Luther King, Jr., whose stirring oratories made him the face of the Civil Rights movement.
President Truman was the first American president to establish a meaningful Civil Rights agenda, beginning with a 1948 order desegregating the military.” – @AcademicInflux
Though their efforts led to groundbreaking federal legislation-most particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964-the work of the Civil Rights Movement continues today. This is the history that informs the present-day Civil Rights Movement and the controversy that we explore below.
Jump to our look at The Colleges with the Most Influential Black Graduates to see where many of the most prominent Civil Rights icons studied.]
Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures concerning the issue of civil rights in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Our Rankings produced a list of prominent civil rights activists as well as individuals who opposed the civil rights movement. Also included are prominent martyrs and artists of the civil rights era.
|3||Martin Luther King Jr.|
|4||Coretta Scott King|
|7||Emmett Till” />|
Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of civil rights in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is vetted to exclude religious scriptures, and is largely comprised of historical texts as well as works or fiction and moral philosophy which have confronted issues of racial inequality and the push for equal rights.
|1||100 Greatest African Americans|
|3||The Feminine Mystique|
|4||Who Speaks for the Negro?|
|5||The New Jim Crow|
|6||The Years of Lyndon Johnson|
|7||The Color Purple|
|8||Blood Done Sign My Name|
|9||I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings|
|10||The Fire Next Time|
This topic’s appearance at the top of our list underscores the extent to which the battle over Civil Rights continues even to present day. While it is tempting to break this issue into simple terms of pro- and con-, the complexity of the matter defies such easy categorization. There are those who oppose the advancement of Civil Rights for Black Americans because they identify as white supremacist. But there are also those who oppose the current movement for Civil Rights because they are critical of the protest methods employed, or because of their political affiliation, or for a wide range of other reasons that may defy simply categorization. Likewise, there are also numerous strands of the current movement for civil rights, social activism, and for support of the Black Lives Matter platform. The discussion below looks at top influencers representing these varying strands of support and opposition and attempts to make sense of the perceived controversy surrounding the Civil Rights Movement today.Back to Top
Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate-and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions-we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.
While it is tempting to break this issue into simple terms of pro- and con-, the complexity of the matter defies such easy categorization” – @AcademicInflux
On the subject of Civil Rights, you’ll note that this is not merely a list of the most prominent figures in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Though the story of Civil Rights cannot be told without acknowledgement of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X-for instance-a look at the present day discourse requires us to spotlight those who permeate current literature, journalism, and activism. Similarly, the influencers that we identify below as opposing the Civil Rights Movement are not historically noted segregationists such as Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms or George Wallace. Instead, a look at the issue through a present day lens requires acknowledgment of both the fringe and mainstream movements aimed at rolling back or preventing the advancement of civil rights.
Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the civil rights issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either to the bottom of this depth or to the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you a unique and nuanced way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.
For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.
Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:Back to Top
Black Lives Matter refers to a decentralized system based on political and social action aimed at ending police brutality and racially motivated violence against Black Americans. The movement began as a Twitter hashtag-#blacklivesmatter-in reaction to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Marvin white he walked unarmed through his neighborhood. Since that time, Black Lives Matter has become the most visible and influential force in confronting instances of police violence against Black citizens and pushing for law enforcement and justice reforms to reduce racially discriminatory policing.
Legal advocacy is a major component of the civil rights movement. Prominent influencers in this area work through the courts, prisons, and within communities to bring about legal reform, protect the rights of Americans against discrimination, and promote greater justice and equality in America’s broader legal system.
Activism takes on many forms from protest and demonstration to community organization and investigative journalism. Activists have long played a central role in creating greater visibility, awareness, and agency for the movement to promote a more racially equal society.
The social justice movement is not a specific or coordinated movement, but a conceptual approach to politics, economics, criminal justice, and numerous overlapping areas of life that impact opportunities, freedoms, and protections for marginalized groups. Social justice advocates and activists use various platforms-including public service, outreach, journalism, community organization, legal advocacy, and protest-in order to further the causes of equality and to confront institutionalized injustice.
White supremacy is the belief in the superiority of the white race. Those who advocate for this viewpoint argue in favor of the preservation of white culture and believe that people of color, Jewish people, and other minority or marginalized groups are a threat to this culture. White supremacists confront this perceived threat through tactics that include print and online platforms, public demonstrations, and advocacy for confrontational tactics which are frequently categorized as hate crimes.
The Black Power movement is a political and philosophical movement embracing Black identity, culture, and self-empowerment in the face of institutional oppression. The Black Power movement emphasizes Black Pride and, for some of its practitioners, has also taken the form of Black Nationalism, in which more militant groups like the Black Panthers have advocated for freedom from the ingrained racial inequality of America through Black separatism. More generally though, Black Power refers to the self-determined push for racial equality.
Like white supremacy, the White Power movement is founded on the belief in the superiority of white culture, and is closely associated with the American neo-Nazi and skinhead movements. In addition to demonstrations and literature advocating for the preservation of white culture against Black and Jewish people, as well as immigrants, the White Power movement has also been connected with a sub-genre of punk music built on hate speech.
The increasingly visible white nationalist movement centers around the idea of white supremacy as connected to a national identity. American white nationalists, for instance, argue that America is a fundamentally white nation and that its cultural identity and greatness depend on the defense of white culture from the influence of people of color. The white nationalist movement uses demonstration and online communities to convey its message, and has made inroads into public office in the U.S. and other nations.
Critical race theory is a theoretical framework that examines the connection between race, law and power, and how these factors shape societies and cultures. Proponents of critical race theory argue that white supremacy and racial hierarchies persist through time, and that these forces are bolstered by unequal legal constructs. The goal of those who research, teach, and write about critical race theory is to transform the relationship between law and race, and to advance racial equality.
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