I Am Somebody! The Struggle for Justice

The struggle for justice and equal rights stretched across the entire 20th Century. But we call the especially active years of the 1950s and 1960s “the Civil Rights Era.” African Americans developed creative ways to protest racial inequality during this era. They brought lawsuits. They mounted dramatic marches and large demonstrations. They organized on college campuses, in churches, in union halls, and in neighborhoods.

Leaders – both black and white – worked to bring about these important turning points:

• Brown v. Board of Education (1954) outlawed separate schools for whites and blacks.

• The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955) and the Freedom Rides (1961) helped integrate public transportation.

• The sit-ins at lunch counters helped integrate restaurants.

• The March on Washington (1963) for Jobs and Freedom set the stage for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts to come.

• Freedom Summer (1964) brought attention to the violence against black Mississippians who wanted to vote.

• The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discrimination in public facilities and voter registration.

These are well-known events, but thousands of less-known heroes also led successful movements across the nation. As the Civil Rights Era came to a close, it became clear that racism was not located just in the South. In fact, northern cities were rigidly segregated. Black people there suffered from high unemployment and police brutality. The struggle for racial justice would have to continue.



The Speech That Shocked Birmingham the Day After the Church Bombing

The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church [on Sunday, September 15, 1963] was the most terrible act of one of the most terribly divisive periods in American history, and it’s not too much of a leap to suggest that all that came after it—including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—would not have come as quickly as it did without the martyrdom of those little girls. On Monday, September 16, 1963, a young Alabama lawyer named Charles Morgan Jr., a white man with a young family, a Southerner by heart and heritage, stood up at a lunch meeting of the Birmingham Young Men’s Business Club, at the heart of the city’s white Establishment, and delivered a speech about race and prejudice that bent the arc of the moral universe just a little bit more toward justice. It was a speech that changed Morgan’s life…[He began...] “A mad, remorseful worried community asks, ‘Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?’ The answer should be, ‘We all did it.’”

CORE march in Washington DC, 1963, to protest the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four little girls were killed in the attack.

Turning the Tables on Civil Rights: The 1970s and 1980s

Why didn’t the Civil Rights Movement end racism in America? The social movements of the 1960s achieved some important changes for civil rights, women’s rights, and the environment. However, not everyone agreed with these changes. During the 1970s and 1980s, opponents started a movement of their own. Their goal was to overturn the gains of the 1960s.

Anti-Vietnam War protesters faced National Guard guns with flowers.

Social Movements and Organizations of the 1960s, 70s and 80s

This exhibit has video

The 1960s saw an upsurge in civil rights and other organizations promoting freedom and equality for blacks and women. The 1970s brought a backlash against those movements by well-funded and well-placed organizations of the Right seeking more freedom for corporations and a return to traditional roles for women. In the 1980′s, hip-hop and punk rock music expressed anger at “The Power” through their lyrics instead of through actions to change laws.

March on Washington 1963

Some Exhibits to Come – I Am Somebody! The Freedom Struggle

A sample list of exhibits planned for this gallery.