What were the failures of the Civil Rights Movement?

Patricia Anderson:
I do not believe that there were major failures within the movement itself...there were failures in the P.R., in that we did not get our message out clearly enough. There were failures in the leadership of the movement, because we had different groups taking charge, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership, and all were well meaning but confusing to the members of the movement. Finally, when SNCC insisted upon whites leaving the movement, it did not help but hurt in general. When Doctor King was murdered, many of us felt abandoned by the rest of the leadership.

Heather Tobis Booth:
It is not the failure of the movement, but we have still not achieved a society where people are judged on the content of their character, where all can live with dignity and respect. Many of the most obvious legal barriers were removed, but so many more remain and new ones have arisen. The new Jim Crow sees a criminal justice system that forces Black Men, especially, but Black people and other people of color, often into an unjust system stacked against them. Poverty and lack of opportunity for decent paying jobs erodes the promise of equal rights. We are far from the beloved community, but if we follow the lesson that if we organize we can change the world, we can still make progress — and we need to.

Bruce Hartford:
The biggest failure of the Civil Rights Movement was in the related areas of poverty and economic discrimination. Despite the laws we got passed, there is still widespread discrimination in employment and housing. Businesses owned by people of color are still denied equal access to markets, financing, and capital. Centuries of economic deprivation, and the problems stemming from it, remain largely un- addressed. We broke down the barriers that denied people access to public and commercial facilities based on their race, but the income barriers to even the most basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, and health care still remain in full force. If they have the money a Black family can now join the country club, but huge sectors of society cannot afford health coverage for themselves or their children.

We integrated the schools, but not the neighborhoods on which school districts are drawn. So today, inner-city schools composed of predominantly non-white students are marginalized and under-funded. We opened the doors to the Univeristy of Alabama, but have slammed them shut on students who come from failing K-12 schools.

Gabe Kaimowitz:
We made no dent on economic disparity and in part inadvertently contributed to a growing chasm between black middle class and black poor. Personally, I was chastized as a racist for being a lead counsel to have a school district to take into account black English dialect of isolated black students; I never was criticized by any black poor person to my knowledge; I was criticized by Roy Wilkins, Benjamin Hooks, and my white colleagues at the time.

Joan Mandle:
The Civil Rights Movement had many failures as do all social movements. But its strengths outweighed the mistakes it made and its legacy as a whole is a positive one. It was an INCLUSIVE movement — it included everyone who believed in justice and that was its lasting legacy.

Wazir (Willie) Peacock:
The goals of the Civil Rights Movement were, in my estimation, limited. To a large degree, those goals were achieved, on the surface: integrating public facilities. You can ride from one end of the country to the other now without worrying about being hassled too much. But the bigger picture, I think the Civil Rights Movement could not achieve the changing of the hearts, because we were strictly using the law, the Constitution of the United States, that which was already legal but had not been enforced. Although they made new laws to bring some change about, but they already had good laws on the book. They just weren't being enforced. If I say we failed in any area, I'd say we might have failed in articulating to the population of this country what our goals were. I never thought that what we were doing would achieve the complete picture of what needed to be. But it would be a start. So I can't say we failed in what were trying to achieve.

Dick Reavis:
The local leader of the CRM in Demopolis said that the goal of the Movement was to give African-Americans a chance to have "decent houses, decent cars, and decent jobs." Our ghettos are evidence that if its object was the one he expressed, the movement won a few battles but lost the war.

Jimmy Rogers:
I think that one of the places where we failed is that we weren't developing any kind of mechanism for the movement to perpetuate itself. We didn't try to work towards setting up some kind of system where we could perpetuate ourselves.

Jean Wiley:
Well, we didn't finish. There was a solid movement base in the South. The organizations were under enormous pressure to move to the North, that's why King went to Cicero. Some of us like myself really just had to get out of the South, at least for a breather. By then there were huge questions about the economics of oppression and so forth, and those had always been discussions, but that's where I thought the movement in the South would be heading. Very few people did stay for the long haul. While I understand it, I think, I thought then and I think now, that that was a mistake, because I think we could have had a really good base for continued organizing, continued critiquing of the society.

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