It can be argued that history is one of the most important topics to be taught in school today, though many emphasize math, science, and reading or writing. Each has their merits, but history can teach us a great deal about our world today, even though it deals with a time in the past. George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which does have a ring of truth to it. Today, one of the greatest educational opportunities we have is to learn about our past, in all its good, bad, and ugly. Learning about human rights and the Civil Rights Movement is an important moment in our American history and one that we still see the effects of today. Students should know important dates in Civil Rights history, as well as important key figures.
What Was the Civil Rights Movement?
The period of time best associated with the Civil Rights movement encompasses the 1950s and 1960s, when African Americans fought for equal public rights, by breaking the segregation of public facilities — from schools and restaurants to things as basic as bathrooms and water fountains. The Civil Rights movement saw a start to significant legislature that made equal rights the law of the land — one of the most crucial breakthroughs since Reconstruction, almost 100 years prior.
African Americans fought for better educational opportunities, equal pay, the right to vote, and the right to be treated as humans, not segregated into lesser facilities. Names such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers became common in households and these civil rights activists pushed for groundbreaking, often radical change.
Who Were Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks?
The man perhaps most associated with the Civil Rights movement is Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, who for many, became the face and voice of the movement. His “I Have a Dream” speech is among some of the most well known motivational speeches and one for which he is still remembered today. He went to jail 29 times and spoke at over 2,500 public events during his life, giving as many as 450 speeches in a year. Today, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the third Monday of every year, which was begun in January of 1986 by President Reagan.
Rosa Parks is often credited with kicking off the Civil Rights movement, when she refused to move to the back of the bus — as was customary, and in many places, also the law — for a white rider. The Montgomery bus boycott began soon after, marking an important symbol of the movement. In 2005, her body was brought to the Capitol rotunda and over 30,000 people came to pay their respects. In 1960, five years later, four young men followed her example, starting the sit-in movement, when they would not give up their seats at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC.
Why Is Learning About the Civil Rights Movement Important?
Although the law claims equality, in many cases today, the reality is unfortunately much more difficult. African Americans often face discrimination in terms of housing, jobs, and overall cultural attitudes. In recent years, police discrimination has often made the headlines of the local news and newspapers. Learning about the Civil Rights movement offers educational opportunities for seeing the work that has already been done and the work that is still left to do.
Leaders of the movement, such as Martin Luther King Jr., are role models and examples for how to effect change and the bravery of those willing to fight — and sometimes die — for change, despite often overwhelmingly negative public opinion is inspirational. Understanding this part of our history can also perhaps show us a better way forward in the future and how to lay the groundwork for that better future in the present.
Educational opportunities to learn about our country’s history should never be passed up. As a nation, we have much to be proud of and much to learn from. Periods in history like the Civil Rights movement offer a critical lens into our current affairs.