Student Tools:

Words and Phrases from The Civil Rights Movement [1]

Black Americans vs. African Americans: In 1831, in The Liberator newspaper, Black Americans spent time debating about what to call themselves. The discussion ranged from Afric-Americans to Americans, Colored to Colored Americans and from African descendants to Africans. Since then, there has been a consistent and on-going debate about what is the best (and most appropriate) term to call formerly enslaved people who were bought to America from the continent of Africa. In this document, in order to narrow the scope of the ongoing discussion, the term Black American is used instead of African American. This document is specifically referring to black people of African descent and not Africans who have willingly migrated to this country, Africans who were born here but whose parents are immigrants or Africans who have dual citizenship. Additionally, as a form of empowerment, in this document, the word Black, when it is applied to this specific group of people, will be capitalized.

The Black Panther Party: In 1966, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. The organization, which quickly became the most militant civil rights organization, advocated Black self-defense, supported the Black Power Movement and combined the elements of socialism and Black Nationalism.   Their ten-point plan included receiving decent housing and a good educational system for Black Americans, an exemption for Blacks serving in the armed forces, the release of all Black "political" prisoners, restitution for slave labor, and an end to police brutality. They also sought alliances with white organizations (unlike SNCC, which excluded white members after 1966), in an effort to build a racial inclusive revolutionary front. [2] The party grew throughout the 1960s with branches being established throughout the country. During the 1970s, the organization was targeted, disrupted and neutralized by the FBI's counterintelligence program under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. The result: Seale resigned, Newton fled to Cuba, and the organization's political power ended.

Black Power: In June 1966, Dr. King, Stokley Carmichael and other civil rights leaders joined together to complete James Meredith's March Against Fear.   On the way, on the night of June 17, in a speech in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael revved up the crowd with cries of "Black Power."   Many say the introduction of that phrase dramatically changed the focus of the Movement.   One month later, at the CORE national convention, the members expressed their support for Black Power but at the NAACP national convention, the members refused to support the concept of Black Power.

Bloody Sunday: On March 7, 1965 , in an effort to protest the denial of voting rights, Hosea Williams and John Lewis, together with more than 500 marchers, began a fifty mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.   The city had an infamous reputation, largely based on the violent treatment of civil rights activists by the county sheriff James "Jim" Clark. As soon as the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge that leads out of Selma, they were attacked by state troopers and local police who used tear gas, clubs, and electric cattle prods. The march was rescheduled and took place from March 21-25 with civil rights activists from the major civil rights organizations leading the way.   The violence from the first march led to President Lyndon B. Johnson putting forth the call for Congress to enact a strong voting rights law, which was enacted later in 1965.

By Any Means Necessary: This statement is taken directly from a speech that was given by Malcolm X, the founder of the Organization of Afro American Unity and former minister for the Nation of Islam, during the last year of his life.   Although it is associated with the radical push of the Black Power agenda, which was set forward by SNCC, the BPP and CORE, the speech was actually about linking the national struggle for justice with the international struggle for justice.   "We want freedom by any means necessary.   We want justice by any means necessary.   We want equality by any means necessary...The thing that I would like to impress upon every Afro-American leader is that no kind of action in this country is ever going to bear fruit unless that action is tied in with the overall international struggle." [3]

Civil Rights: Webster defines civil rights as "the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially : the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to United States citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress." (accessed July 20, 2006 )

Civil Rights Act of 1957: Introduced during President Dwight Eisenhower's tenure, this was the first civil rights bill to be introduced and ratified in 82 years.   Although Eisenhower was not seen as a major supporter of civil rights, he was forced to respond to the crisis over school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas.   The bill dealt directly with the right to vote because up until this time, as a result of Southern interference (which included lynchings, armed arrests and extreme violence), only 20% of Black Americans were registered to vote.   It declared that the disenfranchisement of Black people was illegal; it authorized the Justice Department to seek injunctions against interference with the right to vote; and it established the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate interferences with the law.   The reaction in the Black community was mixed, with Ralph Bunche, the first Black Nobel Peace Prize winner, criticizing it for not going far enough; and Bayard Rustin praising it as a stepping stone upon which other acts could be built.

Civil Rights Act of 1960: President Eisenhower originally introduced this Act in 1958.   The bill, which focused primarily on introducing penalties to be levied against anyone who obstructed a person's attempt to vote, was not seen as adding anything "new" to the civil rights discourse.   What it did, in the eyes of many civil rights supporters, was advance the cause of the Civil Rights Movement by setting the stage for future legislation.

Civil Rights Act of 1964: Originally introduced by President John F. Kennedy, this bill was pushed through Congress by President Johnson, who effectively used the "shock" that Americans felt over Kennedy's assassination as a political device to get the bill signed.   Although Johnson was not seen as a supporter of civil rights (he opposed President Eisenhower's 1957 Civil Rights Act), he was convinced that this was what America needed to solve the race issue.   The bill, which disturbed many Southerners, gave the federal government the right to end and prohibit segregation in public places; created an Equal Employment Commission; and forced any company that wanted federal business to adopt a pro-civil rights charter.   Although many critics have argued that the bill did not go far enough, it is now seen by historians as Johnson's greatest achievement and a necessary tool that significantly advanced the struggle for civil rights.

Civil Rights "Big Six": The "Big Six" were the leaders of the six major civil rights organizations who met with President Kennedy to organize and plan the 1963 March on Washington: James Farmer, founder of CORE and the strategist behind the Freedom Rides; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President of the SCLC and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom; John Lewis, President of SNCC and current U.S. Representative from Georgia; A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters Union; Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP; and Whitney Young, head of the National Urban League.   In addition, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women, attended the meetings and helped to organize the March, but was not allowed to speak at it. [4]

COINTELPRO: In August 1967, the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, established a covert action program targeted against "Black Nationalist Hate Groups," which included civil rights organizations such as SCLC, SNCC, the Nation of Islam, and the BPP and civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokley Carmichael, H. "Rap" Brown (SNCC), and Elijah Muhammad (Nation of Islam).

COINTELPRO's goals were to: prevent a coalition of militant black nationalist groups; prevent the rise of a "messiah" who could unify and electrify the militant nationalist movement; prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups; prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability by discrediting them; and prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations, especially among youth. [5]

Dred Scott v. Sanford: Dred Scott was born a slave in Virginia and had lived with his master in the free state of Illinois and Minnesota for four years. He sued for his freedom and argued that he had become a free man because he had lived on free soil.   The U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, ruled against Scott and declared that since the Constitution never meant to include "Negroes," they could never be citizens and as such they had "no rights that a white man was required to respect."   The decision further weakened the Missouri Compromise and denied Congress the power to prohibit slavery in any federal territory.  

Freedom Ride(s): In 1961, under the leadership of CORE President James Farmer, thirteen volunteers boarded public buses in Washington, DC on their way to New Orleans to test the nation's compliance with the United States Supreme Court's 1961 Boynton decision, which ruled against segregation in interstate transportation.   Thirteen days later, after being met by mob violence, bombing of the buses and armed arrests, the Freedom Riders decided to end the original Freedom Rides planned by CORE.   At this point, the Nashville Student Movement , SNCC, SCLC and other concerned individuals (white and black rabbis, lawyers and college professors) joined the efforts and decided to continue the Rides. Violence continued throughout the Rides until President Kennedy sent Federal troops into Montgomery, Alabama to reestablish order.   With the aid of the troops, the assistance of the President, and the commitment of the riders, the Freedom Rides continued and were successful.   Four months later, on September 22, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued an order to ban segregation in interstate terminal facilities (effective November 1, 1961).

Freedom Summer: During the summer of 1964, SNCC organizers and black and white volunteers arrived in Mississippi and launched a black voter registration drive; established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (which would later be led by Fannie Lou Hamer); organized and ran Freedom Schools for neighborhood children and adults; and set up health clinics.   White citizens responded with mass violence and destruction, including bombings, shootings and beatings.   In addition, one day after the first 200 volunteers arrived in Mississippi, volunteers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney were picked up by the police and murdered by white segregationists.   

Institutionalized Racism: Coined in 1971 by Stokely Carmichael, institutionalized racism happens within organizations (including schools) and results in Blacks having limited access to well-paying jobs, safe housing, political power and high-quality health care.   It is very difficult to challenge because once institutionalized, racism becomes embedded within an organization's structure.   It is perpetuated by benign policies, practices, behaviors, traditions, and structures. [6]

Jim Crow Laws: This term, which was the name of a character in a minstrel show, was used to define the laws and customs of racial discrimination that established throughout the United States for nearly 100 years-from the end of the Reconstruction Era up until the peak of the modern Civil Rights Movement. [7] In addition, these laws denied Black people their public, private and civil rights.   The "back" of Jim Crow was finally broken by a combination of legal strategy (from the 1949 Sweatt v. Painter case up to the 1954 Brown decision); Executive and Congressional Acts (primarily the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the use of federal troops to protect Black and white integrationalists) and direct on-the-ground actions (including but not limited to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-In Movement, Project C, the Freedom Rides and Freedom Summer).

Lynching: Primarily used as a form of intimidation by southern white protective societies, Black men (and some Black women and white sympathizers) were routinely picked up on the street or forcibly taken from their homes, transported to the woods and tied, by their necks, to the branch of a tree. These "lynching parties" sometimes included food, music and the collecting of souvenirs (body parts). [8]

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: Originally conceived by A. Philip Randolph in 1941, the 1963 March was primarily organized by Randolph and Bayard Rustin, one of the founders of SCLC.   Rustin originally wanted the March to focus on "pushing" the federal government to secure more jobs, housing and education for Black people.   The focus changed to more moderate political objectives in an effort to secure the participation of organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League (they were considered to be more moderate organizations).   The "Big Six," which did not include Rustin, worked with President Kennedy to organize a peaceful gathering without any divisive or explosive speeches (John Lewis was asked and agreed to change his speech once it was deemed to racially "explosive").   The result was a gathering of 250,000+ Black and white Americans on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial under the banner of "Jobs and Freedom Now."

Oliver Brown et al v. The Board of Education, Topeka Kansas: In 1950, Oliver Brown, a welder and a part-time assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, attempted to enroll his daughter, Linda Brown, in Sumner School, a segregated elementary school in Topeka, Kansas.   When she was denied admission, he decided to join a lawsuit being prepared by NAACP lawyers.   The case was originally filed at the U.S. District Court in Topeka on February 28, 1951.   After the lower courts upheld the power of the Topeka school board under Kansas law to separate children by race, the case went on to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954. Combining with four other cases: Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart , Bolling v. Sharpe , Briggs v. Elliot , and Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County , the Brown et al decision overturned the Plessy case and ended legalized segregation.

Project C (for confrontation): In April 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. King, Wyatt T. Walker, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the SCLC openly challenged the racist tactics of Birmingham's Public Safety Commissioner, T. Eugene "Bull" Connor, by launching a mass demonstration.   They began the protest by publicly ignoring a court injunction against marching and then were arrested.   (King later wrote Letter from a Birmingham Jail , which outlined the goals and origins of the nonviolent strategies used during the civil rights movement.   It was King's response to a letter that he received from white clergymen who requested that he and his followers refrain from demonstrating in Birmingham.)   When the leaders were released, the demonstrations, sit-ins, marches and rallies continued.   The goal was to completely overwhelm the jails with protestors who were willing to remain there for an average of five to six days.   The strategic move that finally focused the world's attention on Project C, was when King and Walker decided to place children and young teenagers at the front of the protest lines.   (This event is often referred to as the "Children's March.")   During these demonstrations, as photographers took pictures, "Bull" Connor authorized his officers to use fire hoses and police dogs.   The photographs of children being attacked and arrested were shown around the world and elicited national support and sympathy.

Reconstruction Amendments: From 1865-1870, Congress passed three Amendments that impacted the lives of enslaved [9] and free Black Americans. These Amendments have collectively become known as the Reconstruction Amendments.

•  The 13 th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. (December 18, 1865)

•  The 14 th Amendment declared that Black Americans were full citizens who were supposed to be accorded constitutional guarantees. (July 28, 1868)

•  The 15 th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote. (March 30, 1870)

Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever: George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, declared in his 1963 inauguration speech that segregation would last forever in Alabama.   He later stood at the front door of the school house in an attempt to keep it from being integrated.   He eventually backed down as the Alabama National Guard was federalized and twenty Black students finally entered the public school systems of Tuskegee and Mobile.

Separate but Equal Plessy v. Ferguson: Homer Adolphe Plessy, [10] a Black man from Louisiana, and his lawyer, Albion W. Tourgee, argued in the Plessy v. Ferguson case that segregation laws related to public carriers violated the Thirteen and Fourteenth Amendments.   Tourgee argued that, "Justice is picture blind and her daughter, the Law, ought to be at least color blind."   The U.S. Supreme Court, in a now famous ruling, decided against Plessy and declared that the "separate but equal" doctrine was constitutional.   This decision marked the unofficial beginning of institutionalized racism and Jim Crow laws.

Sit-In Movement: On February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, four college students: Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain, from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, entered Woolworth's at 4:00 pm to "sit-down" so that they could "stand up" for their rights.   The sit-in movement began and sparked similar protests in libraries, restaurants, stores, theaters and public beaches in fifty-four cities across the South.

Southern Manifesto: This document, which was released in 1956, was written to counter the efforts of the Brown I & II decisions that ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional and violated the 14 th Amendment.   The Southern Manifesto called for states to decide whether they wanted to integrate and when they wanted to do it.   It was drafted and signed by 96 Democratic politicians from Southern states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia and Texas.  

The 14 th Amendment: The 14 th Amendment declared that Black Americans were full citizens who were supposed to be accorded constitutional guarantees. Originally submitted to Congress in 1866, this Amendment angered suffragists because it originally used the word male .   It was rewritten several times before it was accepted.   Southern states reluctantly ratified it after Congress made its ratification a requirement for representation in Congress.   Eighty-eight years later, the notion of "full citizenship" and what it means was challenged   by the Brown case and by the strategists of The Civil Rights Movement.

Voting Rights Act of 1965: Largely seen as a response to the unprovoked attack on marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, during the first Selma to Montgomery March (see Bloody Sunday ), President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law, which would later become the Voting Rights Act.   The Act banned laws that were enacted to keep Black Americans from voting and allowed the federal government to send registrars to states that had a history of discriminating against Black voters. This Act is seen as the biggest achievement of the Civil Rights Movement.   In 1982, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act and made some sections permanent while renewing other sections (most notably, Section 5). The controversial "Section 5," which was recently extended on July 27, 2006, "freezes election practices or procedures in certain states until the new procedures have been subjected to review, either after an administrative review by the United States Attorney General, or after a lawsuit before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia." [11]

With All Deliberate Speed: The decision in the Brown v. Board case was released in two parts.   In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were "inherently unequal" and violated the 14 th Amendment.   One year later, the case was reargued in an effort to determine how the violation of the 14 th Amendment should be fixed.   Instead of accepting the NAACP's plan for immediate and total integration, the Court in the Brown II case decided to accept the Justice Department's "go slow" integration approach.   This decision severely undermined the push for total and instant desegregation by allowing states to integrate "with all deliberate speed" and set their own integration timelines.

[1] For a fuller understanding of the text, see Integrating With All Deliberate Speed lesson plan unit.

[2] This alliance with white activists is the main reason why Stokley Carmichael, who had become the prime minister of the BPP, broke with the organization.

[3] X, Malcolm.   By Any Means Necessary.   New York: Pathfinder Press, 1992.   p214

[4] For a different perspective: Malcolm X commented that because of the March, "The late President has a bigger image as a liberal, the other whites who participated have bigger liberal images also, and the Negro civil rights leaders have now been permanently named the Big Six (because of their participation in the Big Fix?)... but the black masses are still unemployed, still starving, and still living in slums... and, I might add, getting angrier and more explosive every day."   Cone, James H.   Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. New York: Orbis Books, 1991. P 118

[5] (accessed August 21, 2006)

[6] See the "What is Institutionalized Racism" article at (accessed August 24, 2006) for further insight.

[7] See NVLP's Impact of the Civil Rights Movement lesson plan for further information.

[8] See for further information.

[9] Enslaved Africans vs. Slaves: being "enslaved" rather than a "slave" implies that this is a situation that is forced upon someone rather than a natural inherent situation.

[10] It is important to note that Plessy was only one-eighth African American and had devised a plan to be "politely arrested" in Louisiana before the train left the state.

[11] (accessed August 21, 2006)



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