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How far can the Second World War be regarded as the key turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues in the USA in the period 1850-2009?-- 19 MARKS
The changing geography of civil rights, which manifested itself in the changing geographical distribution of blacks, changing pattern of segregation, and civil rights issues as a result, were impacted upon hugely by the Second World War. However, in so far as it can be described as the key turning point is questionable given it was a continuation of a process started in 1815, and accelerated as a result of the First World War. Further, civil rights issues met another genuine turning point post-1970.
The period immediately following the Second World War saw the most dramatic shift in the geographic distribution of black Americans, and as a direct result, the pattern of segregation, the nature of civil rights tensions, and consequently civil rights protests. Around 2 million black Americans migrated from the South to seek employment in defence industries in Northern cities such as New York, Midwestern cities such as Detroit and West Coast cities such as Oakland. Though initially the changing racial composition of these cities had positive connotations for black communities and their identity with Roosevelt establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission which led to the increased black representation in defence industries two-and-a-half-times, the issuance of restrictive covenants, and low cost mortgage, racially exclusive Levittowns, and the wages of black Americans being almost half that of whites, new and suburban housing was reserved for whites wishing to flee the inner cities, and black settlement was characterised by poor housing, public facilities, and employment opportunities. This made de facto segregation in housing and employment the principle threat to the civil rights of black Americans in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles, as opposed to the de jure segregation the Civil Rights Movement sought to dismantle. The discontent bred increased popularity of black separatist nationalism, especially in the inner cities in Chicago, where the Black Panther Party predominated. Additionally, in the summers of 1864-68, black ghetto discontent led to multiple riots, notably the Newark and Watts riots.
The changing distribution of black Americans created racial tensions in many areas that had traditionally been untouched by issues of racial civil rights. In 1943 alone, as a result of the defence migration, 242 major racial clashes emerged in Northern cities; a notable example occurred in the Detroit Riots. Initiated by a mob of 25,000 white workers, the tensions arose from the quadrupled black population in San Francisco as a whole. These racial tensions contributed to the exodus of white populations from the inner cities that led to their decay, and thus contributed significantly to civil rights. Combined with the white objection to the growth of black communities, that led to the establishment of the White Circle League to ‘keep white neighbourhoods free of Negroes’, the pattern of riots up until Newark in 1967 was defined by the Harlem riots in which racial tensions, and black grievances led to violent escalations between black and white community, proclaimed ‘Detroit in reverse’ by armed blacks. This clearly bred a growth in adversarialism between blacks and whites in the civil rights movement. By the mid-1960s, this led to more radical factions forming, such as the Black Panther Party, and greater alignment of groups such as the SNCC and CORE with them, both banning white membership in 1965 and 1966. As a result, the impact of the Second World War can be linked to stark changes in all areas of civil rights and their distribution.
Both the changing pattern of distribution of black Americans was a continuation of a trend initiated after Reconstruction, when black Americans possessed sufficient economic and social freedom to move north. It was slow and led the groundwork for the First Great Migration as a response to the First World War increasing industrial demand in the north combined with the precarious nature of employment in the agriculture-dependent economy in the South, facilitated by the nascent black communities development in particular areas, such as Harlem, as a result of the slow migration north and west before 1915. The issues of poor health, housing, employment, and poor relations between black and white communities, especially the police, that led to riots was already an issue in 1905 in Harlem, where periodic riots, most famously in 1935, show how early the grievances of blacks, and the changing pattern of protest. The Second World War can be seen as a continuation of this, and the period after which this was reflected in the form of the civil rights movement as a whole. This pattern was then reflected in many black communities in the First Great Migration, in which The Tribune, published in Ohio, encapsulated much Northern popular feeling when it bemoaned the ‘horde of barbarian’ black migrants. Increased de facto segregation and racial tensions led to race riots in Chicago and Tulsa in 1919 and 1921 were caused by the same factors as Watts and Newark, showing that the post-Second World War trends were to some extent a continuation.
It seems each migration in some way a continuation of the last, and significant points come from the initiation of the drift north and west, and the increased scale it occurred on after the Second World War. However, post-1970s saw a genuine point at which the nature and distribution of Civil Rights Issues changed. By the mid-1960s the de jure segregation in the south had largely been ameliorated, and it would only take the enforcement of the de jure gains, that the Alexander v Holmes and Charlotte Mecklenberg cases in 1969 and 1971 to mandate the active enforcement of desegregation meant the distribution of civil rights issues had changed meaningfully. After the Second World War, despite black grievances moving north, the movement to ameliorate them did not; it was not until 1965 that de facto segregation became a national issue for the movement. Thus, this change cannot be said to be solely the result of migration initiated by the Second World War exacerbating the problem as a result of the changing pattern of settlement, desegregation in the south led to a broader campaign for the economic rights of blacks, as exemplified by King’s Poor People’s Campaign before was assassinated. Additionally, the distribution of blacks changed as a result of desegregation under Nixon, the oil crisis in the 1970s, deindustrialization in the Mid-West, and sustained southern economic growth, leading to greater influx that efflux of blacks to the south. This demonstrates a dramatic change in the trends associated with black civil American civil rights, detached from the second world war.
The period following the Second World War saw the changes in the geography of civil rights to a larger degree than any other decade, and thus represents the period in which the changes manifested themselves, but not a key turning point. The underlying cause of the shift in the scope of the civil rights movement to focus on de facto segregation was the result of trends manifested during the Second World War, but the changing pattern of distribution manifested itself after reconstruction and the pattern of protest after the first world war, meaning it the culmination of trends already initiated before the War. Given that the distribution of black Americans was a continuous trend, the most meaningful turning point was the post-1970s migration, where the trend was reversed, but this had a more limited impact on the nature of civil rights.