The Role Of Congress Civil Rights Movement Notre Dame History Essay

3156 words - 13 pages

Marta Zima
Assess the importance of the Federal Government in the advancement of African American civil rights in the period from 1865 to 1992.
The period of 1865 to 1992 saw a huge development of African American civil rights, and it must be pointed out that the Federal Government played a central if ambivalent role in this, both obstructing and helping to attain as well as maintain civil rights for African Americans. One can argue that the lack of advancements in African American civil rights between 1877 and 1941 was due to lack of support from the Federal Government, and that due to its lack of intervention post Reconstruction, segregation and discrimination became apparent in both the South and the North. It seems that only when external pressures were introduced, such as that of Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and the increasing violence in the South, the Federal Government acted upon the civil rights question. It is also the case that the three branches of the Federal Government rarely spoke with one voice, thus Congress often hindered more liberal Presidents who perhaps would have done more for the movement if given the chance. One therefore has to evaluate the three branches of the Government separately: Executive, Legislative and the Judiciary, as well as take into account the contextual factors which may have affected the actions of the Federal Government. It is apparent that the Federal Government played a vital role in the advancement of African American civil rights, though success was only achieved when the three branches worked together.
Although the Executive branch of the Federal Government is an important one, it can be said that overall, it hindered the advancement of African American civil rights, despite the efforts of some. It seems the case that even when Presidents were sympathetic to the movement, they were very much limited by their administration and circumstance. Presidents Grant and T. Roosevelt both supported the movement, with Grant promising to do his best to see former slaves achieve equal rights, and Roosevelt openly supporting the Progressive movement, they both failed to help; Grant’s presidency was dogged by financial scandals, which inevitably undermined his authority, while Roosevelt failed to directly address the civil rights question, although, he was criticised by white supremacists for holding meetings with Booker T. Washington. Similarly, Franklin D. Roosevelt also failed to do much for African Americans, despite being personally sympathetic. FDR claimed that he was preoccupied with “saving America” which paradoxically rendered him powerless in terms of civil rights, though this can be argued to be an irrational claim, as both Kennedy and Johnson managed to progress civil rights, together with “saving America”. However, one could argue that FDR’s New Deal did in fact advance economic and working rights of African Americans (especially by the establishment of the Fair Employment Practi...


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