African-American Civil Rights Movement and Value-Added Theory
The African American Civil Rights movement is one of the most remarkable event and periods in the history of United States of America and perhaps even the whole world. The social movement was aimed at providing equal rights to the Black Americans in the country and putting an end to their racial discrimination while also providing them voting rights. The movement had been a long struggle for the African Americans who came into the country as slaves and were rampantly exploited by the white Americans. The struggle for the equal rights for the Blacks in America, mostly in the Southern states probably began after the abolition of slavery in 1865 by Abraham Lincoln. It was after his initiative that the majority of the post slavery era African American population could start having a sense of belonging in the country, get educated and be wise enough to know their rights and raise voices for it.
Historically, the reasons for the Blacks to rise up and ask for their rights come from the age old exploitation that they had to face at the hands of white Americans. The Africans were imported into the country to work as slaves in plantations and the households of the American whites from as early as 1619. Their numbers grew with time, as more and more blacks were imported as the old ones were freed by the British settlers. During the American civil war, Lincoln emancipated the slaves in the southern states and they were granted citizenship status in 1866, through the Civil Rights act of 1866. The voting right to the black males was also granted in 1870 which was later reverted, only to be granted again in 1965. However, these measures failed to bring in any sense of equality in the society. The Jim Crow laws that were enacted in the states during 1876-1965 were aimed at segregation of the whites and the colored races. The laws mandated different public facilities to the different races and supposedly granted a “separate but equal” status to them.
The African American Civil Rights movement can be broadly classified into two periods. The first period lasted from 1896 to 1954. The social movement during this period was largely non-violent and aimed at bringing equality into the society. The prominent leaders of Black Civil Rights movement of this period were Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter among several other civil rights activists, of diverse races. The approach of the Booker T. Washington toward social equality was different from the rest as he advocated blacks to work towards economic self reliance before seeking equal social status. The opinions of Du Bios and Trotter were much different however. They pioneered the movement for the cause of the black people at the turn of the 20th century. The Niagara Movement was founded by the duo in 1905 and called for the opposition of racial segregation and disenfranchisement. The movement had a significant impact on the civil rights movement. However the effects of it were short lived as the organization fell apart owing to lack of funding and central leadership as well as the opposition of Booker T. Washington (Wormser, 2002). Post the Springfield Race Riots in 1908 and dissolution of the Niagara movement, the remaining activist of Niagara movement joined hands with a number of white progressives to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1911.
The period of 1896-1954 as noted earlier was primarily of peaceful struggle. The following years of 1955-1968, the methods and approach of the African American people changed radically. The methods were however still largely peaceful, but involved civil resistance, protests and civil disobedience. This period is marked by the increasing crisis between the activists and the authorities. The clashes also turned violent some times and the frequency of race riots was also on the rise. This was attributed to relative deprivation and rising expectation of the blacks in America (Ables, 1976).
The prominent leaders in this era were Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X and Rosa Perks along with W.E.B. Du Bois. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a reverend and the champion of the civil rights movement. He was inspired by the ideas and principles of Mahatma Gandhi and inspired him to approach the movement in a non-violent yet non-cooperative way (McClendon, 1971). Perhaps the most remarkable event in the civil rights protests was the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. On December1, 1955, after Rosa Perks declined to surrender her seat in the public transport bus for standing white passengers and was subsequently arrested, the bus boycott was started by Martin Luther King, Jr. and lasted 385 days. The campaign was successful after the Alabama courts ruled the Jim Crow laws to be unconstitutional and Supreme court on Nov 13, 1956 granted any citizen to sit anywhere he wishes and putting an end to segregation.
The civil rights movement of the African Americans did have support across other cultures and races with many white progressives also joining the movement. However, there did exist a lot of hatred among a few white supremacists who wanted to put the Negro “in his place” and eliminate his white allies (Labor History, 1966). The most notorious of the Black haters were the Ku Klux Klan or the KKK. They were a right wing organization with advocated extremist ideologies like white supremacy and white nationalism. The group began in 1865 and was later revived again in 1915, when the black civil rights movement gained a little momentum. The group was responsible for burning black churches and killing many blacks and their sympathizers trough lynching.
Social Psychology Theory
Perhaps the most relevant theory to describe the cause and effect of the African American Civil Rights movement is the Value Added Theory or the Social Strain Theory. Proposed by Neil Smelser, it says that there is needed a presence of certain conditions for the development of a social movement (Kendall, 2005). Smelser argued that that there were six determinants namely:
Structural conduciveness: referring to the conditions in society like awareness.
Structural Strain: referring to the injustice and inequality prevailing in it.
Generalized belief: Clear definition of the problem
Precipitating factors: refers to the political opportunity
Mobilization for action: refers to collective action and resource mobilization
Operation of Social control: refers to how the authority reacts to the movement (Knottnerus, 1983).
As per the factors outlined by Smeler, one can clearly see that all the determinants in the African American civil rights movement were present in high degree. The black population was aware of their rights as few were now highly educated and held high posts in universities and government. The inequality and injustice was for all to see and experience. The Jim Crow laws were derogatory and unconstitutional in nature. Through strong leadership of King Jr. and Du Bois, the problem was clearly defined and the political climate was also favorable for non-violent protests. The actions of state to control the non compliant and the white supremacists further fuelled the movement that through many actions and initiatives was finally successful.
America today, thanks to the efforts of the leaders of the bygone era is perhaps the most accepting of the diversity in culture, religion and sexual preference. It was through the efforts and teachings of these great leaders that brought about a positive change in the social structure and laid the foundation for a multi cultural and thriving nation, at the helm of which stands the first Black President in the country Barack Obama.
Abeles, R. P. (1976). Relative Deprivation, Rising Expectations, and Black Militancy. Journal Of Social Issues, 32(2), 119-137.
Kendall, D. (2005). Sociology In Our Times. New York: Thomson Wadsworth.
Knottnerus, J. (1983). The Melanesian Cargo Cults: A Test of the Value-Added Theory of Collective Behavior. Sociological Inquiry, 53(4), 389-403.
McClendon, J. (1971). Martin Luther King, Jr, His Life, Martyrdom, and Meaning for the World. Journal Of Ecumenical Studies, 8(1), 115-121.
The Ku Klux Klan. 1. (1966). Labor History, 7(1), 110-111.
Wormser, R. (2002). Niagara Movement 1905-10. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_niagara.html