Did the civil rights movement have an impact on the whole of the US population or just African-Americans?

Patricia Anderson:
On the entire population, because the Civil Rights acts effected not only Blacks and other minorities, but women as well. It changed the way that some white americans looked upon our life in the U.S., as well, as causing extreme hatred in others by the changes in the legal system.

Bruce Hartford:
I think one big way in which it had an affect on everybody is that prior to the Movement we had been brought up in an environment in which if you want something changed, you either asked your politician to pass a law or you go to court and sue. But change was not something that you could do or influence yourself. I think the Civil Rights movement taught a whole generation that you can go out and take charge of your own history. I think people have done that in an enormous variety of ways. People of our generation went out and did everything from getting stop signs put in on their corner to starting whole social movements. It certainly reinvigorated the labor movement. I think that Cesar Chavez and that whole movement directly flew out of the Civil Rights movement.

And directly growing out of the Civil Rights Movement were similar movements on behalf of women, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, the disabled and others. Many of the legal rights won by the Civil Rights Movement were applied to all those groups, and their movements used many of the same strategies, tactics, and arguments as the Civil Rights Movement. The student free speech movement was started by veterans of the Freedom Movement, and many Movement veterans were active leaders in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Today, the gay rights movement is using many of the strategies and tactics of the Civil Rights Movement.

In broader terms, the Movement changed the consciousness of society at large. Prior to the Movement, overt racism was a normal and accepted aspect of American life, now racism has been to some degree driven underground and forced to disguise itself. In the 1950s TV programs thought nothing of using racist language like "coon," "shine," and "n-----" in dramas and "comedies" and most non-white people were shown as racist stereotypes and caricatures such as Stepenfetchit, Amos & Andy, the Pancho (Cisco Kid), and so on. And businesses used racist names, logos, images, symbols and advertising without a second thought. Now that is no longer the case.

In politics, mainstream politicians of both parties like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and their current day successors proudly proclaimed themselves to be racists, made public speeches avowing the inherent racial superiority of white Europeans and the genetic inferiority of all non-white, non-Christian people, and campaigned on explicitly racist platforms. Now they deny that they are racists and they have to disguise their agenda.

Before the Movement, it used to be perfectly acceptable in white middle- class homes to make "darky," "polack," "kike," "spick," and "wop" jokes at the dinner table. Miscegenation laws made marriage or sex between black men and white women illegal in a third of the states in the union, and people were put in jail for committing the crime of inter-racial marriage. (Sex between white men and Black women was technically illegal too, but rape of Black women by white men was so common as to be an accepted part of the "southern way of life.") The Freedom Movement made that kind of overt racism unthinkable in today's society. (Covert racism, of course, still flourishes in all its myriad ugly forms.)

Jimmy Rogers:
I think the Civil Rights movement had an impact on the whole United States population. I feel that the Civil Rights movement not only benefited Black people and other minorities, but it also benefited white people. I think it gave a lot of white people a chance to really open up their eyes and see what was going on.

I can remember back in the Fifties and Sixties when people became aware of segregation. There were two water fountains, one Black and one white. Two bathrooms, one Black and one white. There were certain places where if you were of a certain group, you weren't allowed in at all. I've always believed that there was some right-thinking white people that felt the same way about all these things that were going on as I do. So I think it's opened a lot of white people's minds. I feel they benefited from that.

And back in the Sixties, not only Black people were getting killed for challenging the system, but you had a number of white people that were also killed for challenging the system. Like you had James Goodman and Mickey Schwerner in Mississippi. You had Viola Liuzzo and Reverend James Reeb in Alabama, and you had a number of other people that were killed.


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