civil rights movement

Cultural Dictionary

civil rights movement definition


The national effort made by black people and their supporters in the 1950s and 1960s to eliminate segregation and gain equal rights. The first large episode in the movement, a boycott of the city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, was touched off by the refusal of one black woman, Rosa Parks, to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. A number of sit-ins and similar demonstrations followed. A high point of the civil rights movement was a rally by hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., in 1963, at which a leader of the movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his “I have a dream” speech. The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorized federal action against segregation in public accommodations, public facilities, and employment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed after large demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, which drew some violent responses. The Fair Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination by race in housing, was passed in 1968.

After such legislative victories, the civil rights movement shifted emphasis toward education and changing the attitudes of white people. Some civil rights supporters turned toward militant movements (see Black Power), and several riots erupted in the late 1960s over racial questions (see Watts riots). The Bakke decision of 1978 guardedly endorsed affirmative action.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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