Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 14. Introduction
Let Freedom Ring

The middle decades of the twentieth century, one hundred years after the Civil War, marked the beginning of a new move toward freedom for African-Americans. No longer willing to wait, civil rights leaders and masses of peaceful demonstrators awoke the conscience of the nation and forced the government to make long over due promises of justice a reality.

In 1955, Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a crowded Montgomery, Alabama bus triggered a boycott of city buses organized by Montgomery's African-American leaders. Thirteen months later, the Supreme Court ruled segregation on public transportation unconstitutional. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as a powerful, charismatic leader. He articulated the philosophy of nonviolent resistance that galvanized the civil rights movement. In September 1957, Orval Faubus used the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine black children from entering Central High School in Little Rock. Finally, President Eisenhower, who had remained silent on civil rights, intervened rather than see federal laws flouted under the guise of states' rights. In spring 1963, civil rights activists turned their attention to Birmingham, Alabama, an entrenched stronghold of segregation. When the city police released dogs and turned high-pressure fire hoses on a thousand demonstrating young people, television cameras broadcast the scenes to living rooms across the country. Americans felt horror and shame.

In August 1963, over two hundred and fifty thousand Americans jammed the mall for the August 1963 March on Washington. They wanted passage of the Kennedy civil rights bill; integration of schools; an end to job discrimination; and a job-training program. In the unforgettable climax of the rally, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the crowd, delivering his passionate "I Have A Dream" speech.

The constant and highly visible demonstrations of African-American citizens no longer willing to wait for their rights could not help but attract the attention of the federal government. John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 in an aura of youthful optimism and idealism. The crisis with Cuba and the Soviet Union over missile installations just ninety miles from the United States soon sobered that mood. But in Kennedy's thousand days in office, he introduced a civil rights bill, which Congress later passed. That action brought both African-Americans and the entire nation closer to its ideal of freedom for all.

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