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America's History in the Making

Egalitarian America

Theme 1

Inspired by the momentum of the African American civil rights movement, communities of color mobilized to end discrimination, but faced internal tensions and external resistance.

From the first decades of the twentieth century, African Americans, Latinos, and other groups had struggled for civil rights through such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of United Latin American Citizens, but the experiences of World War II caused many minorities to hope for and demand change.

During World War II, African Americans mobilized around the idea of increased participation. Following the war, African Americans mobilized old and new organizations to fight for civil rights by promoting change through nonviolent protests such as boycotts, sit-ins, and the freedom rides. Other African Americans formed militant organizations that vowed to use any means possible to end racism. In Northern urban ghettoes, African Americans voiced frustration at lingering powerlessness, including poverty, slum conditions, and police brutality. Such frustration erupted in riots in New York, New Jersey, and Los Angeles and led to the founding of militant organizations.

Beginning in 1946 with the Supreme Court decision in Mendez v. Westminister to outlaw segregated schools in California, Mexican Americans led the Latino protest movement for public education reform, workers' rights, and political change. In the 1960s, migrant farm workers urged a boycott of California produce with the goal of obtaining better pay and working conditions and union recognition. During 1968, Mexican Americans also protested conditions in schools when 10,000 students walked out of high schools in California, Colorado, and Texas. Like the African American struggle for equality, the Latino movement promoted change through militant and moderate wings.

In the 1960s, Native Americans mobilized to challenge the government on water, fishing, and treaty rights. A series of court cases granted Native American tribes the right to take up to fifty percent of the allowable fishing limits. The American Indian Movement had some success securing federal funds for Native American organizations, but Native American militancy led to government suppression.

Yet, within these and other movements for equality existed internal differences and external resistance among different groups. Some white Americans recoiled from the assertiveness of these movements because their expectation was that minorities would want to emulate them. The riots, militancy, and Supreme Court decisions angered many white Americans, who claimed that some reforms amounted to reverse discrimination.

Primary Sources