By: LILJA NICHOLSON
There are always two sides to every debate. Two different perspectives, two different life experiences, two different opinions; but what happens when the debate could potentially mean life or death? Our society has always had people clashing over important issues, but some would say the fight for equal rights for all races is the most important of them all. Although people have been fighting racial injustices within this country since its creation, there have been two major movements within the last 100 years that have changed the course of history.
The Civil Rights Movement was an organized effort to end racial discrimination and gain equal rights under the law for black people. The demonstrations were mostly nonviolent and resulted in laws being created to protect every American’s constitutional rights. The Movement lasted about 20 years, from the 1940s to the 1960s, and succeeded in creating a huge change in the way POC (people of color) were treated under the law.
A major win for the Civil Rights Movement was Brown vs Board of Education, a ruling made by the Supreme Court on May 17th, 1954 which declared that racial segregation within schools was unconstitutional. This meant for the first time, black children could go to school alongside white children. At that point, however, black people still did not have the right to vote. In 1957 the first Civil Rights Act was passed, securing all African Americans the right to vote.
Although up until this point the majority of the protests had been peaceful demonstrations that were premeditated, in the 60s they took a more extreme turn. Race Riots occurred from 1965 to 1967, including the Watts Riot which took place in Los Angeles on August 11, 1965, and was followed by the Newark Riots and the Detroit Riots. In 1966, two black men named Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther, which was an organization that hoped to gain equal rights for African Americans through violent revolution. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, often speaking in front of massive crowds inspiring change for the black community. Tragically, his level of influence made him a target for people who opposed the movement, and he was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968. His murder sparked outrage and violent riots broke out across the US. His words and actions in support of the movement have forever changed the world, and have immortalized him in our history textbooks.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013 and is still very active today. It was founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, who shot Trayvon, an unarmed black teenager. The Black Lives Matter website states that it is a “global organization whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes”. BLM advocates against police brutality towards unarmed black people and aims to end the racial injustices that still exist in our culture. A national spotlight was brought to BLM after the killing of George Floyd went viral on social media and the world erupted in outrage.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered by a police officer named Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, even as Floyd yelled “I can’t breathe”. Bystanders filmed the murder and the video quickly went viral, resulting in massive protests across the nation, some of which turned violent. Chauvin was charged with 2nd, 3rd-degree murder, and manslaughter, and is awaiting trial at the time of this writing. Floyd’s death has sparked a nationwide debate about police brutality against minorities and has created even more of a need for police accountability.
Throughout American history, huge racial inequalities have existed in our country. Through ordinary citizens fighting for what they believe, they have been able to inspire major change. When we exercise our constitutional right to protest, we can force our voices to be heard and changes to be made. Without the Civil Rights Movement and BLM, where would we be now? Would we still have the Jim Crow laws in place, separating “coloreds” and “whites”? Would we be able to go to school alongside our peers of different races? Although race relations have come a long way since the days of slavery, we clearly still have work to do before the United States can become a truly great place for everyone.