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Civil Rights: Suggested Answers

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  1. Answers should begin by explaining the distinction between emancipation and possession of full political rights (and the enforcement of said rights) as a citizen of the United States. Students will certainly draw from the Black Codes to explain this distinction. Good answers would draw from this same document as they discuss the first and most immediate problems African Americans faced post-emancipation, such as the lack of economic opportunity, financial mobility in the South, and, because of this, ex-slaves return to the plantation to sharecrop. Answers should also consider African Americans’ battle for enfranchisement, noting Frederick Douglass’s “What the Black Man Wants”, as well as the fight to dismantle segregation through judicial contests, such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. Answers might also consider the very real threat of political terrorism and lynching as African Americans attempted to organize and assert their rights as American citizens, as shown in the NAACP platform and Truman’s committee on civil rights. Finally, answers may even explain the shift in the definition of equality among activists as some, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson, determine equality not by opportunity but by results.
  2. Successful answers should mention some of the ambiguities and potential sources of controversy in the Fourteenth Amendment, such as what are the rights of citizens? Do black men now have the right to vote? Answers will also explain the Court’s interpretation of the Fourteenth amendment in Plessy v. Ferguson by, using the words of Justice Brown, distinguish the difference between political and social rights. In other words, the United States has no control or jurisdiction over social matters between citizens. Therefore, as long as segregated facilities are equal, there is no problem with separation of the races. Thoughtful answers will be able to distinguish the ways Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas overturned and upheld the Plessy v. Ferguson For example, the Brown court unanimously decided segregated education is unconstitutional because of the importance of education in American society, not because the Court challenged Justice Brown’s argument concerning political and social rights. Students will also consider how achieving equality before the law for black power advocates fell short of revolutionary gains.
  3. Successful answers will first explain the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, such as desegregation in education, transportation, and public places, the enfranchisement of African Americans, and the enforcement of all Americans’ civil rights. Responses would also discuss the Civil Rights leaders who fought for these specific goals of integration and their approach to achieve said integration, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. for example. A good answer would also categorize and explain their approach as a reform movement—working within the framework of the United States government to achieve these rights—as opposed to a revolutionary movement. The answer would then consider the more radical, revolutionary stance of other leaders, such as Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, that emerged in the late 1960s. These individuals did not necessarily believe equality rested in integration with white American society but, instead, a more revolutionary solution—which could be the removal of capitalism, separation from white, American society, and/or discovering and embracing their black heritage.
  4. Students could pick one or all of these themes (as they are intertwined). Answers should begin with the first speech in the list of documents, “What the Black Man Wants” by Frederick Douglass. Successful answers will describe his definition of freedom as enfranchisement for the black man, a voice in American society or else “his liberty is a mockery” and he will be a “slave of society.” Furthermore, Douglass asks the American government to “do nothing with us.” Meaning, do not impede African Americans from elevating themselves. Students might also include a discussion of the NAACP platform. Though not technically a speech, the NAACP’s “hope lies in the immediate and patiently continued enlightenment of the people” who engaged in “a campaign of persecution.” In other words, the NAACP seeks fair and equal treatment before the law in American society. A good answer could also include Truman’s commission report as it affirmed the vision and demands of both Douglass and the NAACP, the government securing equality of opportunity and equal protection of the laws in American society. Answers should also consider how Martin Luther King Jr. discusses equality as defined by the Declaration of Independence (equal in natural rights). For King, when freedom rings from every mountaintop American society will be fully integrated and individuals will be treated based upon the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Successful answers will be able to explain the break in definitions of freedom and equality from the previously mentioned speeches to Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. While Malcolm X explains financial equality is more important than enfranchisement, Stokely Carmichael challenges the very foundation of American society. Instead of seeking integration (because it is inherently racist), he argues black men must first redefine themselves, reclaim their history, and transform their self-image.