Civil Rights: A Retrospective

Injustice plagues the world and is one of, if not the biggest issues of our time. How can different societies create inclusivity and offer equal opportunity to its entire people. Fairness, equality and good standards of living drive the successful development of communities and entire nations – Raphael Kiyani takes a look back on the successes of the US Civil Rights movement and how it can provide a template with which other marginalised groups can mobilise.

What we must make integral to the growth and development of nations is their ability to be fair and inclusive to all. However, the nature of power structures across the planet, economically and politically, have largely not facilitated this in any real way. Throughout history it is the many, the people that have had to force change and liberate themselves rather than the economic and political power-brokers gifting it. Waiting for the crumbs to fall from the top table is a strategy that has led to starvation and destruction. We have a wide spectrum of groups and peoples searching for greater freedoms. From the poor and destitute in developing markets, LGBT groups across Eastern Europe, democracy protestors in the Far East, the Kurdish, Palestinians,  indigenous people everywhere – etc.

Can these growing demands of people around the world to have their lives, communities and cultures be treated equally benefit from that which has gone before? Can they, if you like, stand on the shoulders of giants?

One of the most successful movements to eradicate injustice was, of course, the Civil Rights movement in the US and what they achieved is a shining example of what other oppressed people can replicate (and have done). Whilst it is an American example, the international ramifications are essential to our understanding of oppression and how to overcome it.


U.S. Embassy The Hague/Creative Commons License

The Civil Rights movement put sustained and popular pressure on the political establishment in order to achieve wide reaching change secured through legislation. Through mass political campaigning they achieved just that with a series of legislative measures that were passed through Congress. I would contend that these were incredible achievements as not only did they change popular opinion and the mind-set of people generally but they also changed the very law itself. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which tackled various forms of discrimination, through to the Voting Rights Act  of 1965 which outlawed the use of literacy tests to stop Black voters. As a result of the Voting Rights Act thousands of minority citizens were added to the electoral register and as a result of this more minority citizens were elected into positions of power.

The successful organisation of an important civil rights group – the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) – was a monumentally huge success for the civil rights movement with a whole host of positive factors. Firstly, it proved just how effective launching a social campaign could be on the establishment – on a simple level it demonstrated that oppressed groups could generate real social change. Secondly, it provided a further catalyst for the civil rights movement to expand its operation with many people joining the cause after historic court decisions.

The Civil Rights movement is reflected in, for example, the movements of indigenous people around the world as they campaign for their lives and cultures to be treated equally. Globalisation has been a double-edged sword; it has allowed legislative bodies such as the United Nations to issue protective declarations. However, it has led to negative impacts on their natural environments – a more globalised economy has allowed trans-national corporations the freedom to exploit due to increasing demand for national resources. Governments too, have relied on extraction of natural resources for export to generate foreign exchange to pay for foreign debt.

U.S. Embassy The Hague/Creative Commons License

U.S. Embassy The Hague/Creative Commons License

The Civil Rights movement has had many and various achievements throughout its many years and is still bearing the fruits of it actions today with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Its biggest achievements have shaped society fundamentally, have shaped the law and the political process and have paved the way for other social causes to follow in their path. The history of the Civil Rights movement can be seen as an inspiring message for all – that an oppressed people can succeed against the status quo.

The United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples should act as a beacon for all marginalised groups, when they say that:

“Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such”

Globalisation has always been referred to as a largely destructive forces. Companies ravaging across borders. Tax avoidance, the exploitation of emerging markets. But, perhaps, when people organise to take back their power, backed up by global technology such as social media,etc, and global bodies designed to raise awareness, then globalisation can become what it needs to be.

A tool of the people for the people.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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