Civil Rights Movement


Throughout American history, different groups of citizens have fought for rights that the American Constitution gave them. The civil rights movement in the United States is about the campaign of African Americans. Because of their skin color, they did not have the same rights that white people did for a long time. This injustice on African Americans led to a time of social unrest. In the 1950's and 1960's, blacks rose up to fight against the social systems and public authorities that had taken these rights away. Many whites supported their campaign.

After the Civil War (1861-65), slavery was ended and African Americans were made citizens and got the right to vote. However, there was so much prejudice against blacks that these new laws were often ignored. In the southern states many laws were passed that separated blacks from whites in public. They were treated as second class citizens

The modern civil rights movement began in the 1950s. In 1955, a black woman in Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to give her seat on a bus to a white man. For this act of protest, Parks was arrested. The blacks no longer wanted to "sit at the back of the bus," and started a boycott of the bus system. They chose a young minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to lead their protest.

The Montgomery boycott was very important for the African Americans. It encouraged them in other cities to protest for civil rights. Dr. King was a great spokesperson who spoke out on radio and television programs and urged blacks to take part in so-called freedom rides and sit-ins. Dr. King and thousands of others were often put into prison for these protests.


March on Washington 1963

March on Washington in 1963


On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 Americans of all races gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Their goal was to urge the government to take action against racial discrimination and segregation. Dr. King surprised the nation with his speech "I Have a Dream."

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It forbade discrimination based on a person's race, color, national origin, religious beliefs, or sex. It protected every citizen's right to use public facilities, to get employment, and to vote.


I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

From the speech "I Have a Dream," by Martin Luther King, Jr., on August 28, 1963, at the height of the civil rights movement.



Related Topics


  • almighty =great, powerful
  • arrest = to put into prison
  • authority =organization, government agency
  • belief = what you believe in
  • boycott = if you do not take part in something because you are against it
  • campaign = movement, fight
  • choose – chose = select
  • citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
  • civil rights = the rights that every person should have, like the right to vote or the right to be treated in a fair way
  • Civil Rights Act =an American law that says all people must be treated equally no matter what colour or religion they have. The law also says that Black people must not be refused a job because of their colour.
  • constitution = a set of laws and rules that a country has
  • content = the things that are inside something
  • employment = work, a job
  • encourage = persuade , to tell someone to do something that is right
  • forbid = not allow
  • gather = to get together
  • Gentiles = someone who is not Jewish
  • goal =aim, what you want to achieve
  • hamlet = smaller than a village, only with a few houses
  • injustice = a situation in which people are not treated in a fair way
  • join = hold together
  • judge =form an opinion
  • law = the rules that a country has
  • memorial = a building or a stone that reminds you of something that has happened or a person who has died
  • minister = priest
  • prejudice = if you don't like people who are different than you because of their skin color, language or religion
  • prison = a building where people are kept as a kind of punishment
  • protect = defend, guard
  • public =for all people
  • public facilities =rooms and services that are for all people
  • race =group of people who have the same skin colour
  • racial discrimination = to treat someone unfairly because of his/her skin color
  • refuse = to say no
  • right = things that you are allowed to do
  • rise – rose = to move up
  • segregation = when people of different races or religions are separated and do not live together
  • separate = to bring or move apart
  • sex =if a person, animal or plant is male or female
  • sign = to put your name on a document
  • slavery = the system of having people who work for you for no money at all
  • social unrest = when people protest or behave in a bad way
  • speed up = to make something come faster
  • spiritual = a religious song sung mostly by African Americans
  • spokesperson = a person who speaks for a group of others that think the same
  • support =help
  • throughout = in all of
  • urge = here: to ask or suggest that someone should do something