The United States Responds to New Challenges

The 1950s seemed a peaceful time within the United States. Yet changes were underway that would reshape American society. Among the most far-reaching was the Civil Rights Movement, which sought to ensure the promise of equal opportunity for all Americans.

The Civil Rights Movement

Although African Americans had won freedom nearly a century before, many states, especially in the South, denied them equality. Segregation, or forced separation, was legal in education and housing. African Americans also faced discrimination, or unequal treatment and barriers, in jobs and voting. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s renewed earlier efforts to end racial injustice.

In 1954, the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. It declared that segregated schools were unconstitutional. President Eisenhower and his successors used federal power to uphold the order to desegregate public schools.

Photo of two water fountains, with a sign over each marking one white and one colored. The water fountain labeled white is newer with pipes enclosed, and the colored water fountain older with chipped enamel and exposed pipes.

Segregated drinking fountains were a common sight in the southern states.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

By 1956, a gifted preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had emerged as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by Gandhi's campaign of civil disobedience in India, King organized boycotts and led peaceful marches to end segregation in the United States. Many Americans of all races joined the Civil Rights Movement. Their courage in the face of sometimes brutal attacks stirred the nation's conscience.

In 1963, at a huge civil rights rally, King made a stirring speech. “I have a dream,” he proclaimed, “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

Progress and Problems

In time, Congress responded. It outlawed segregation in public accommodations, protected the rights of black voters, and required equal access to housing and jobs. Despite these victories, racial prejudice survived, and African Americans faced many economic obstacles. Poverty and unemployment plagued African American communities in urban areas.

Still, the Civil Rights Movement provided wider opportunities. Many African Americans won elected offices or gained top jobs in business and the military.

Photo of a large group of people holding signs with phrases such as we demand equal right now, protesting in front of the Lincoln memorial.

People from all over the country came to the March on Washington, held on August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King Jr. was a keynote speaker.

Analyze Information

How do the demands on the signs represent the civil rights movement?


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments