African American Leaders in the 1950s Essay


Leaders in the 1950s

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The student leaders that emerged in America during the 1950s were standing on the ground that African-Americans deserved the same rights as other Americans. The mood was ripe for change as Rosa Parks began the spark of this movement when she refused to give her seat on a bus. Another issue that created momentum in this movement was the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. These events marked a collective change in African-Americans because they realized that they could accomplish things and see results. It should be noted that these attitudes and movements were not readily accepted. One year after the Brown ruling, a “Southern Manifesto” (Davidson 1144) materialized, urging individuals to use “all lawful means” (1144) to fight this ruling and the results of it. These student leaders were not simply protesting in the way we recognize it today, they were fighting a consciousness that deemed them unworthy. This fact makes them unique and heroic.

Student leaders were successful during this time because, as it is with almost every generation, college students are influential and highly energetic. They are also idealistic. These elements combined allowed for fertile soil in the growth of the civil rights movement. Passion and protest are common to college campuses but what makes the civil rights movement so spectacular is that it wanted to grow and be known for its nonviolence. Small groups were formed with handfuls of people wanting only one thing — equal treatment. Student leaders had college campuses on which to mobilize people and set them forth. Students lead the way because they are passionate. They are still young enough to believe in change and they have the energy to do something about. Students are not bound to jobs and families like older citizens are. In a sense, they had more freedom to mobilize campaigns. Word travels fast on college campuses and large groups of people can speak out. For example, many students participated in sit-ins to demonstrate their solidarity. Such movements gained momentum and encouraged individuals to be even bolder. An example of this can be seen when a group students demanded service at a Woolworth’s in South Carolina. Upon refusal, they return in greater number and, without violent, made their voice known. These types of movements inspired confidence and led to greater things. The sit-in movements became so popular that the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee grew from the energy generated by them. According to Grant, the SNCC’s statement of purpose begins with an affirmation regarding the “philosophical or religious ideal if nonviolence as the foundation” (Grant 273) of their purpose. Their statements also reads that through nonviolence, “courage replaces fear, love transforms hate” (273). This group also believed that “love is the central motif of nonviolence” (273). Another organization that emerged from these movements is the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who taught resistance “without bitterness; to be cursed and not reply; to be beaten and not hit back” (Davidson 1167). Another powerful group, the NAACP, vigorously “pushed doggedly to dismantle the legal underpinnings of segregation” (Bailey 911) and realized success in a short amount of time. Thee groups might have never been organized had the student leaders not stood up and demanded what legally belonged to them.

The student leaders of the 1850s were very effective because they were not only standing up for what they believed in but they were also setting an example. They proved that individuals could make a change. They were instrumental in developing a mindset that would never go away and without them, we can only know that things would have been vastly different.

Works Cited

Bailey, Thomas and Kennedy, David. The American Pageant. Lexington D.C. Heath and Company. 1994.

Davidson, James, et al. Nations of Nations. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.


Grant, Joanne, ed. Black Protest. New York: Ballentine Books. 1968.

Myrick-Harris, Clarissa. “Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement.” Atlanta Higher education

Online. Information Retrieved August 10, 2009.

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