The documentary The Sixties: The Long March to Freedom traces the origins and the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. It discusses the sacrifices, the political bargain, and the success made along the way. The film also highlights the deeply-rooted prejudice and racism that pervaded American society and foredoomed the initiative to become one of the greatest tragedies in the history of this country.
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In the 60s, segregation in the U.S. appeared as the legally enforced discrimination against the African-Americans, which appeared in the form of physical separation, restrictions on access to social institutions, as well as inequality in the protection of rights and the distribution of opportunities. It existed as the residue of slavery and a tradition of “separate but equal” reinforced by the white authorities. Due to government oversight, the civil rights reform of the Reconstruction period remained unenforced. As soon as the Southern States fell out of the close attention of the central government, they adopted the Jim Crow laws. This judicial doctrine institutionalized discrimination, inferiority, and iniquity based on racial principles in every field of American life. The propaganda supported this practice by arguing that such a situation “suited the colored and the white people.”
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The dismantling of the de jure segregation and the social changes anticipated by the participants of the Civil Rights movement was made possible by a combination of favorable factors, which united the right people, the right causes, and the right moment. The idea of active protests entered the mind of Martin Luther King when he saw that his sermons did not bring the desired positive effect. His encounter with James Lawson synthesized the Gandhi tactics and conceptualized the non-violent movement. The combination of King’s inspirational sermons and the innovative strategy of rebellion inspired and empowered the first followers. For the first time in history, an African-American leader managed to manifest the level of determination, authority, personal leadership, commitment, vision, and intellectual power, which matched and even exceeded that of his white opponents. He presented incontrovertible arguments demolishing the legitimacy of segregation and warranting the “moral obligation” to stand against “unjust laws.” The conviction that to break the segregation law was lawful and necessary unleashed the first wave of protests. At the beginning of 1960, isolated instances of insubordination occurred in different parts of the country. However, Nashville, Tennessee, became the first organized and centrally coordinated riot. Reinforced by an economic boycott, the opening act of the non-violent movement brought the desegregation of the first city.
The movement “forged an agenda” in the minds of a small group of people. This vision spread in the African-American community until it overflowed and engulfed the whole country. The victorious march of the movement gained momentum as in accumulated publicity and consolidated associates and allies. J. F. Kennedy was the first politician to provide substantial interest in the process. At first, his participation in the release of King from jail was motivated by political concerns. However, by 1963, the President was convinced that eliminating racial considerations from the political, economic, and legal life was his moral obligation. His address to the nation expressing these ideas became the first public acknowledgment of the ongoing social crisis.
While Kennedy’s contribution promoted the movement from a local skirmish to a level of nationwide importance, the outbreaks of extreme violence during the “Freedom Rides” and at Mississippi campus grounds drew the attention of the international community. The foreign human rights activists and media condemned the crush of the Movement’s initiatives as an “embarrassment to the American democracy.”
The exacerbation of confrontation, mass arrests, dog hunts, and a series of murders only fueled the continuation of “Freedom Rides” and the growth of national determination to gain social reform. The urgency of conflict resolution was compelled by the shock that the Americans suffered while watching the scenes of abhorring violence in the streets of Birmingham in 1963 and the TV address performed by a black man. The African-American strife for equality became the “crucifixion of the national soul.” The people were revolted by the ugliness of the unfolding racial conflict they could no longer ignore.
The registration of Malone and Hood at the University of Alabama, the march on Washington, the bombing of the Birmingham Sunday school, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the assassination of President Kennedy marked the climax of the Civil Rights Movement. These events gave leverage to Lyndon Johnson to demand the adoption of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The next year the bill was followed by the Voting Rights Act putting an official end to the de jure segregation in the U.S. The Movement ceased to exist with the split among its leaders and the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968.
The film claims that the legal victories did not create “instant brotherhood” among the white and black people at that time. As soon as it got personal by issuing the Fair Housing claims to the white neighborhoods of the northern states, the organization lost almost all of its white allies.
Unfortunately, the social evidence in modern society confirms that de facto segregation and discrimination persist. Contemporary racism endured all legal bans and reconciliation attempts. It goes on in the form of racial hierarchy in the socioeconomic environment. While gaining a tremendous leap since the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the per capita income in the black communities and the household wealth lag far behind the economic gains of the white communities. Access to education allowed the black individuals to match the economic status of the whites. However, 25% of black families are still living below the poverty line. The cause of the gap is the legacy of discrimination and deprivation of ownership, which were detrimental to the accumulation of knowledge, lifestyles, connections, relationships, wealth assets, status, and financial stability in the African-American community. Notably, there have never been any attempts on the part of the white community to amend for the historical injustice and reimburse the black people for the years of slavery and segregation. The politics of graded change and piecemeal reforms have lived through to restrain the socio-economic advancements in modern society.
Insufficient enforcement of equal employment opportunities has led to the fact that they are observed predominantly in the public sector while discrimination continues in salaries, managerial positions, elite industries, and private companies. Despite the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, black people are largely overrepresented in low-wage and unemployment statistics. In turn, these trends have a detrimental effect on health and healthcare coverage.
The most critical fiasco of the Civil Rights Movement was its failure to lift residential segregation. Ghettos have an immense adverse effect on upbringing, access to education, criminalization, and the availability of life opportunities. Housing segregation is responsible for keeping the black community poor and exposed to crime. In turn, the contamination of the African-American communities with criminal histories has undermined the Movement’s victory in terms of voting rights since states deny this privilege to convicted felons.
These facts prove that, while, in the 1960s, racism existed in de jure form, today persists in de facto form. The painful experience of hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in August of 2005 confirms that the federal government has reserved a certain degree of its historical prejudice and discrimination on a racial basis. The lack of preventive actions, insufficient evacuation capacity, and the inexcusable inaction of the Bush Administration in the wake of the tragedy led to tremendous material losses and cost almost 2,000 lives. This contemptuous attitude, the inertness on the part of the federal government, and the reluctance to render assistance stemmed from the fact that, for the most part, the natural disaster devastated the African-American communities residing along the Gulf Coast. As a result of housing segregation, the government found it possible to ignore its moral obligation to the victims and almost 200,000 survivors by leaving them without proper search and rescue operations, medical assistance, food, and water supplies, as well as the subsequent socio-economic support and reconstruction programs. Divested of proper law enforcement supervision, many “refugee cities” witnessed the escalation of crime, racial tension, and looting.
Taking into account that scientists have refuted all biological arguments on the validity of race, it is possible to conclude that extent race is a purely social construct. The movie shows the incredible social resistance that American society has built up against the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s. Judging by the gravity of today’s segregation and discrimination, it is possible to assume that the racial antagonism has not dissolved. It has merely decamped below the radar of modern social activists, who find issues like sanctioning same-sex marriages more important than implicit racism. All we can do is hope that the growing tendency of interracial marriages will soon eliminate the racial differences from our lives.