US celebrates 50 years of civil rights

Equal rights: Civil rights protesters in 1969.

It is now more than 50 years since US President Johnson passed a law to end centuries of discrimination against black people in America. Did it work?

What’s happening

On July 2nd 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed his name on a sheet of paper. In doing so, he overturned centuries of racism by making it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their colour, sex or religion. This sheet of paper was the Civil Rights Act; it changed America forever.

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In America’s southern states, racial segregation applied in areas like schools and transport. The civil rights movement began in 1955, when Rosa Parks, a black woman, refused to stand on a crowded bus to allow a white person to sit. She was arrested but this led to the Montgomery Bus boycott.

In 1963 leading activist Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech to 250,000 supporters in Washington; it called for equality among all races.

Despite the new laws discrimination continued as many tried to get around the rules. In protest riots broke out in several US cities. But fifty years later, the man in Johnson’s job is black. President Obama says without the Civil Rights Act, he would not be in the White House today.

Some say…

The Civil Rights Act failed: racism is still rife in the USA. Black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people and three times more likely to be expelled from school. In the last few years, riots have returned in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, as people have accused police officers of racism.

Others think…

Attitudes have changed enormously in the last 50 years thanks to the Civil Rights Act. Most Americans now abhor racism. When the act was passed it would have been difficult for anyone to imagine America having its first black president. The USA still has its problems, but we should celebrate the Act for the amazing changes it has made.

You Decide

  1. Does racism still happen in the UK?

Activities

  1. Write a short story from the point of view of someone living in a segregated society.

Some People Say...

“Laws don’t change minds — people do.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Racism
Treating people badly because of their race and features like skin colour.
Discriminate
Treat people differently for some reason like race or gender.
Segregation
Keeping people apart and separate.
Boycott
Refuse to use in protest, in this case the buses in Montgomery where Rosa Parks lived.
Sex
Whether male or female.
Rife
Common.
Ferguson and Baltimore
Cities where riots broke out in 2014 and 2015 after black men were killed by police officers.
Abhor
Hate.

Subjects

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