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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons" for Xiangtan Normal University...




American Social Movements of the 1960's

Source of information: and 

Background to the Social Movements:

  • At the beginning of the 1960's black and white people were treated differently. There were laws to say that they had to use different shops, services, transport, schools etc. These laws were known as Segregation laws. Women were also treated in a very different way to men.

  • On 1st February 1960, 4 freshmen from a black college in Greensboro, North Carolina, went to a store and sat down for lunch. The waitress said she could not serve "people like them" (See the picture). The students believed that the law which kept black and white people separate when eating was wrong, so they would not move. The police came, but the students continued to sit down, more people came to join and the next day there were many people there. Each day more black students joined and started a quiet "sit-in". This began the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's.

  • During the first twelve months of the 1960's over 50,000 people took part in demonstrations in America, over 3,600 were jailed. But by the end of the 1960's food places were open to people of all colours or nationalities.

  • Other civil rights movements began, including anti-war groups and women's rights demonstrations.

  • In September 1961 the federal government declared segregation illegal on all state bus services.

  • In the summer of 1963 hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators went to Washington DC, where Martin Luther King gave a famous speech "I have a dream...". He was given the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964.

  • To improve racial relations in America, the Civil Rights Act was passed by congress and signed by President Johnson in the summer of 1964.

  • In 1965 President Johnson began a "War on Poverty"

  • Martin Luther King was assassinated in April 1968, which lead to trouble throughout America, with riots in 125 separate cities.


  • Legal segregation ended as a result of the civil rights movement, all Americans have the right to vote, regardless of their skin colour. However, racism is still a big problem in many areas in America. The anti-war groups forced a peace treaty to be signed between America and Vietnam in 1973. Women's rights movements continued to give women equal rights. The social movements of the 1960's had a strong effect on the way people think and act, and caused changes in many laws.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Biography  (1929-1968): One of the most visible advocates of nonviolence and direct action as methods of social change, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. After attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, King went on to study at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and Boston University, where he deepened his understanding of theological scholarship and explored Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent strategy for social change. King married Coretta Scott in 1953, and the following year he accepted the pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. King received his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955.

On December 5, 1955, after civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to comply with Montgomery's segregation policy on buses, black residents launched a bus boycott and elected King president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association. The boycott continued throughout 1956 and King gained national prominence for his role in the campaign. In December 1956 the United States Supreme Court declared Alabama's segregation laws unconstitutional and Montgomery buses were desegregated.

Seeking to build upon the success in Montgomery, King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. In 1959, King toured India and further developed his understanding of Gandhian nonviolent strategies. Later that year, King resigned from Dexter and returned to Atlanta to become co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church with his father.

In 1960, black college students initiated a wave of sit-in protests that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). King supported the student movement and expressed an interest in creating a youth arm of the SCLC. Student activists admired King, but they were critical of his top-down leadership style and were determined to maintain their autonomy. As an advisor to SNCC, Ella Baker, who had previously served as associate director of SCLC, made clear to representatives from other civil rights organizations that SNCC was to remain a student-led organization. The 1961 "Freedom Rides" heightened tensions between King and younger activists, as he faced criticism for his decision not to participate in the rides. Conflicts between SCLC and SNCC continued during the Albany Movement of 1961 and 1962. 

In the spring of 1963, King and SCLC lead mass demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where local white police officials were known for their violent opposition to integration. Clashes between unarmed black demonstrators and police armed with dogs and fire hoses generated newspaper headlines throughout the world. President Kennedy responded to the Birmingham protests by submitting broad civil rights legislation to Congress, which led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Subsequent mass demonstrations culminated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, in which more than 250,000 protesters gathered in Washington, D. C. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.. 

King's renown continued to grow as he became Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963 and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. However, along with the fame and accolades came conflict within the movement's leadership. Malcolm X's message of self-defense and black nationalism resonated with northern, urban blacks more effectively than King's call for nonviolence; King also faced public criticism from "Black Power" proponent, Stokely Carmichael. 

King's efficacy was not only hindered by divisions among black leadership, but also by the increasing resistance he encountered from national political leaders. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's extensive efforts to undermine King's leadership were intensified during 1967 as urban racial violence escalated, and King's public criticism of U.S. intervention in the Vietnam War led to strained relations with Lyndon Johnson's administration. 

In late 1967, King initiated a Poor People's Campaign designed to confront economic problems that had not been addressed by earlier civil rights reforms. The following year, while supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, King delivered his final address "I've Been to the Mountaintop." The next day, April 4, 1968, he was assassinated.

To this day, King remains a controversial symbol of the African American civil rights struggle, revered by many for his martyrdom on behalf of nonviolence and condemned by others for his militancy and insurgent views. 

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