The Civil Rights Movement

by Taylor Branch

The word “movement” often designates a cultural shift of less import than the American Revolution, Great Depression, and other capitalized dramas in history. To be sure, some popular movements have gained broader recognition in the sweep of American history. The abolitionist crusade helped precipitate the Civil War. The quest for female suffrage doubled the electorate, and more, while campaigns for and against Prohibition twice amended the Constitution. And credible historians treat the modern Civil Rights Movement as a sub-division of the Cold War Era (1945–1989). That duel of global alliances contrasted sharply with nonviolent marches for civil rights within the United States, but conflicts over freedom and subjugation resonated between the two arenas. Racial advocacy set in motion democratizing change that seeped into every aspect of American life, and transformed the structure of national politics for decades. Inspiration from the national struggle for civil rights filtered abroad to shore up peaceful revolutions against Cold War regimes from Moscow and Berlin to Pretoria, launching an unlikely tide that delivered miracles to the world on the promise of freedom. Although this broad legacy remains unsettled, and not fully claimed, the movement earned at least provisional status for a Civil Rights era in the United States.More »

Featured Primary Sources

Honor King: End Racism! broadside, April 8, 1968. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Civil rights posters, 1968

Creator: Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
 “Don’t Buy A Ford Ever Again” broadside, c. 1960. (GLC08259)

Don’t Buy a Ford Ever Again, ca. 1960

Creator: Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
George Wallace to Ms. Martin, April 14, 1964. (GLC00295)

George Wallace on segregation, 1964

Creator: George Wallace Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
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Multimedia

America at the End of the Twentieth Century, Part 2

Speaker(s): James Patterson Duration: 55 minutes 21 seconds

Brown v. Board of Education and Its Effect on Civil Rights

Speaker(s): Larry Kramer Duration: 54 minutes 15 seconds

Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America since 1940

Speaker(s): James G. Basker, Jonathan Holloway Duration: 38 minutes 51 seconds
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