I would agree with this statement but I would also think there are aspects of the status of black people that did change in these years and the impacts of which could be debated. In 1945, the Second World War ended. Black people’s status hadn’t changed but their attitudes had. They started to question why they were fighting for freedom in other countries, against the Nazi oppression of minorities (mainly Jewish), when they didn’t even have it at home? The war provided a basis for the civil rights movement to argue their case for equality.
However, the threat of communism to the Americans was very real, they feared it would take over their capitalist government and traditions of ‘freedom’. The threat was very serious to the USA as can be seen over the next decade, with the Korean War in 1953 where the country was split in half between communist and capitalist and the whole of the Cold War (1947-1991 approx). This fear of communism was used against groups such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) and as a result they were banned in Alabama in 1956.
Using communism to dirty the reputations of black organisations was common and quite effective due to the fear of it, heightened thanks to Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was a senator who accused members of the United States government of being communist or being Soviet spies. It could be said that they were gaining enough influence/importance to be considered a threat and banned which, in turn, could show some progress. Education was a major part of the civil rights movement. Schools were segregated and discrimination was current throughout most of the southern states.
Cases like the Brown vs. Topeka case in 1954 could challenge the ‘separate but equal’ idea easily and had a good chance of winning, and of proving discrimination. Black schools were vastly different to white schools especially in funding, each white child would be ‘worth’ over $100 more than a black child. Black classes were overcrowded and black teachers got paid significantly less. This meant that they were not given the same opportunities as white children. The Brown vs.
Topeka case challenged all this but while there was change in legal terms (de jure), it influenced the events at Little Rock and was a winning case for the civil rights movement, there was little change in peoples opinions and the status and treatment of black people (de facto) and progress was very slow with much white resistance. Some schools even closed down so they wouldn’t have to enrol black students, and there was an influx in Klu Klux Klan members and also the setting up of White Citizens Councils. This showed that many whites did not want these changes to happen and would go to great lengths to resist them.
Another large problem, where black people were treated as inferior, was the segregation on buses and on public transport. Many black people could not afford private cars and lived some distance from their employment due to the separate areas where white and black had to live. Because of this 75% of local bus revenue was gained from black people. Despite the high black to white ratio of use on the bus there were strict rules ,regarding seating, such as having to give up the seat, or not allowed to sit next to or in the same row as a white person. This did not change much in the years 1945- 1955 apart from the boycott in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Similar to the boycott in Montgomery two years later (Martin Luther King was inspired by this idea and also how they organised car-pooling), in Baton Rouge local bus companies suffered a significant loss of money and were forced to compromise with black people. While the first two rows of the bus were still reserved for whites and black people still had to enter from the back, the middle seats were on first come basis. Although not as successful as the Montgomery Bus Boycott 2 years later, it provided a stepping stone for the civil rights movement and showed that peaceful protest could achieve, however limited, results.
However this happened in one place and received little or no media coverage and this meant the rest of America didn’t know about it and it didn’t affect them. Conditions for black people stayed the same. It is, in my opinion, not accurate to say the status of black people changed due to President Truman. Instead, the awareness of black discrimination increased. Although there are doubts about Truman’s real motives for his role in trying to fight racism. He established a committee for civil rights called United States Commission On Civil Rights.
The FECP which released a report titled ‘To Secure These Rights’ in 1947, in which problems and solutions to combat discrimination were outlined. This was a dangerous move for Truman and his lack of support especially from the south made it difficult to follow through with the solutions his committee proposed. He used his authority to desegregate the army. This however was not as successful at first as many people (even top army generals) resisted it for as long as they could and there was still the same amount of racism.
It did change the status of black soldiers because they, technically, were on the same level as white soldiers. Another thing that Truman did was integrate his inauguration, which seems like a small step but a step none the less showed that he was making a point against segregation. So while he did open the public’s eyes to the racism and discrimination that happened, in some ways he didn’t particularly change the status and even made it worse in some ways. For example some slums were knocked down to build better housing but the accommodation built was more spacious meaning less houses and many people were left homeless.
In conclusion, the status of black people did not change a lot in the years 1945-1955 even though there were some important breakthroughs, such as the Brown vs Topeka case and Truman’s attempts at reform. However I believe these attempts didn’t change the actual status of black people and the attitudes towards them by white people. Some could argue that the views of the USA were hypocritical, when fighting for freedom in other countries but couldn’t even provide equality at home. The years following 1955 saw the civil rights movement pick up and changes in society.
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Topic: To what extent did the status of Black people change in the years 1945 to 1955?
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