Social Change After the Great Depression

In the 1940s’ young Mexican-Americans began to express themselves by wearing Zoot Suits. During the Civil Rights movement, many advocates participated and started protests in order to dismantle racial inequality. During the early 1960’s Berkeley students fought to keep their free speech as well as voicing their disagreement of the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights activists and the Berkeley students both participated in non-violent protests. These social protests were able to make a difference because of how violent the opposers of the movement treated the activists and the fact that the activists were dedicated to their cause.

The Mexican-American youth in Los Angeles began expressing their culture in the early 1940s by wearing zoot suits. The zoot suits, long coats with shoulder pads and high waisted balloon type pants, invented by African American youths from Chicago.

Starting in 1942 many Mexican-Americans began buying zoot suits. Tabloids began targeting these young boys who wore zoot suits and made people believe they were a foreign threat.

During this time sailors would have to pass through Mexican neighborhoods. While passing through the neighborhoods the servicemen would see the youth and taunt them. The sailors viewed the zoot suits as a signal of “defiance and lack of patriotism” since at the time, due to the war, they were trying to ration fabric. On June 3, 1943, a sailor started a fight with a Mexican-American boy. This fight caused the Zoot Suit Riots to begin. During these riots the servicemen would strip the boys of their zoot suits, leaving them without clothes, and burning them on the street.

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Although police officers would see the fights, they did not try to stop them. In fact, they would wait until the sailors finished harassing the boys and then the officers would arrest the Mexican-Americans.

Zoot suits then became illegal and if anyone would wear one, they ran the risk of obtaining a fine or going to jail. In the end, these riots, which simply started because of how Mexican-Americans chose to express themselves, showed the racism in America at the time. The Civil Rights Movement took various forms, but the earliest form was the case of Brown v. Board of Education. To try and end segregation in public schools, civil right attorneys “launched a series of suits seeking complete equality in segregated facilities”. The attorney’s goal was to make segregation expensive because that way Whites would have no choice but to end segregation. For example, in 1939 the case Missouri v. ex rel. Gaines Whites would have to either let an African American attend the Whites only law school or build a law school exclusively for them. With all the cases of racial segregation being put forward by Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court put all the cases together in December of 1952.

All the cases would become Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced that the High Court ruled to ban segregation in public schools. The doctrine “separate but equal” was unconstitutional and illegal. However, the local school boards would decide when they would start to desegregate. In addition, the schools were able to desegregate at any rate they wanted to. The first case of desegregating a public school was in September 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Federal Court gave the school board orders to desegregate it, however, Governor Orval Faubus had other plans. Faubus did not want to let the Black students into the school, so he “dispatched Arkansas National Guard troops” to the high school for three weeks. After three weeks Faubus decided to remove the troops and let the racist White mobs attack the nine African American students. To protect the students and help them enter the school, Eisenhower sent National Guard Men. In conclusion, the students successfully integrated Central High School and became known as the Little Rock Nine.

After years of segregation, African American activists decided to do something about the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama. On her way back from work on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up for a White person. What Parks did was not necessarily unintentional, she knew that when arrested the NAACP would bail her out. When word of what Rosa Parks got around “more than 30,000 African Americans answered a hastily organized call to boycott the city’s buses”. Black ministers and E.D. Nixon, president of the Alabama NAACP, formed the Montgomery Improvement Association which was led by Martin Luther King Jr. While MIA was formed, Jo Ann Robison led the Women’s Political Council in spreading the word of the boycott. The WPC members worked fast to distribute hundreds of thousands of mimeographed flyers that encouraged African Americans to not ride the buses December 5. On December 5, 1955, no African American rode the bus, they either walked or carpooled. Almost a year later November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that buses would no longer allow segregation. After eleven long months of boycotting the buses, African Americans were successful.

In order to desegregate restaurants African Americans, along with White allies, participated in sit-ins. The Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina was among one of most known social protest. Four Black students from the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro went into Woolworth’s on February 1, 1960 and sat at a White’s only lunch counter. The restaurant refused to serve the students when they ordered. This caused the students to stay seated at the counter until Woolworth closed. The following three days the students, along with other Black students and even some White “sympathizers”, returned to Woolworth’s to sit at the lunch counter. The students’ dedication to the sit-in led them to be on the national news. Since the news covered the sit-ins widely “City Officials offered to negotiate in exchange for an end to demonstrations”. However, the White business owners did not agree to desegregate.

This led the sit-ins to resume on April 1, 1960, and on April 21 African Americans decided to organize a boycott of stores that would cause financial damage to the business owners. As a result of the sit-ins, on July 25, 1960, Woolworth served the first African American. The Greensboro sit-in was not only successful, but it paved the way for many more sit-ins in segregated communities. Freedom Rides occurred in hopes to eliminate segregation in interstate travel and terminal accommodation. The first Freedom Ride was organized by the National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality, CORE, James Farmer in order to “induce crisis”. On May 4, 1961, thirteen people, six Whites and seven Blacks, were separated into two groups and put into two buses that would leave Washington and go to Alabama and Mississippi. Ten days after the buses departed, one arrived in Anniston, Alabama where a White mob started to attack the bus and passengers.

Members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference then rescued the injured passengers. As the first bus, Whites attacked the second bus, but the bus managed to get to Birmingham. Unfortunately, there another White mob also attacked the bus. After seeing that the Freedom Ride was unsuccessful, the CORE disbanded it on May 17, 1961. However, on May 20, leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee obtained volunteers to finish the Freedom Ride. In Alabama, the volunteers were beaten which led the Freedom Ride to be ‘first-page news around the world’. Since the violence was seen worldwide, the attorney general asked for the Freedom Ride to stop for some time because President Kennedy was about to have his first “summit meeting with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev” and he feared the news of the Freedom Ride would affect “the nation’s global prestige”. Despite this, King, Farmer and the SNCC claimed they would not stop, and so a deal was struck between Robert Kennedy and Mississippi’s Senator James Eastland.

The deal was that the passengers of the Freedom Ride would be grated ‘safe passage’ through Mississippi and in return, the ‘federal government promised to not interfere with the arrest’ of the passengers once they arrived at Jackson. At last, the Justice Department segregation in interstate commerce was to not be allowed. By provoking the Whites into beating the Freedom Riders and creating chaos, African Americans achieved their goal. In 1963, SCLC wanted to end segregation in one of the most segregated cities, Birmingham, Alabama. The Sothern Christian Leadership Conference members, Martin Luther King Jr., and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth worked together to plan the Birmingham campaign. They wanted to accomplish three things with this campaign: fill city jails, boycott department stores, and get Eugene Connors involved.

They planned to boycott the department stores because they would refuse service to African Americans as well as only allow them to acquire custodial positions. With the campaign in mind, the SCLC members expected, aimed for, a violent response. In April of 1963, King demanded Birmingham to end ‘racist hiring practices and segregated public accommodations and the creation of a biracial committee to oversee desegregation.” However, it was not that easy, as predicted Connors began to arrest the demonstrators. As the jails started to fill, the SCLC started to call out for young children, aged around twelve and thirteen, to form a children’s crusade. In May Connors did what the SCLC was waiting for. Connors “unleashed high-powered water cannons, billy clubs, and snarling police dogs” to stop the demonstrators. Images and videos of this scene began to appear on national television and on May 10 the Justice Department called for a truce.

The SCLC agreed to stop the boycott and in return, the department stores would begin to desegregate. In addition, King’s wish of a biracial committee to oversee desegregation came true. The success of Birmingham caused African Americans to begin to protest just as they had done. After the murder of an NAACP leader, several civil rights groups came together, so they could bring change to their cause. On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy endorsed the civil rights movement in a televised speech. Soon after the speech, a White racist shot the leader of the Mississippi NAACP Medgar Evans. In order to demonstrate to Congress the importance of rights for African Americans many civil rights groups planned a nonviolent on Washington. Years prior, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin had the idea to march on Washington, but it did not work out, so they brought up the idea once again considering the murder.

In order to guarantee a massive turnout, leaders of “SCLC, NAACP, SNCC, the Urban League, and CORE” came together. On August 28, 1963, approximately 250,000 people ‘gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to rally for jobs and freedom’. Activists gave speeches throughout that day, including King who delivered his infamous I have a dream speech. The march on Washington showed Congress, and the Kennedy administration just how serious people were about the civil rights movement. Following Freedom Summer, students from Berkeley focused on getting their right of free speech back at the University of Berkeley. After Freedom Summer students returned to Berkeley, the first thing they did was picket “Bay area stores that practiced discrimination in hiring”. The biggest protest was that of the Sheraton Palace. These conservative businesses that were at the center of the protests contacted the university and told them to stop the students from protesting. As a result of the protests, the university decided to ban the tables at Bancroft and Telegraph.

It was until the Fall of 1964 that the students found out about the tables. Students viewed these tables as a political lifeline since it was where they would pursue their interest in politics. Clark Kerr, the university president, explained that he had banned the tables because the students were getting too involved in the civil rights movement. The student organization CORE then proceeded to move the table to Sproul Hall. In the end, various students ended up rallying outside of Sproul Hall taking turns voicing their political beliefs on top of a cop car. In closing the Berkeley students were able to win back their tables from Kerr. Having just accomplished the right to speak about politics on campus, the students of Berkeley decided to move on and express their thoughts on the Vietnam War. In the eyes of the students, they saw no reason why the United States was taking part in the war. To try and stop the war the students participated in various peaceful marches.

In March of 1965, the students were unsuccessful in trying to get a permit for the Vietnam Day Committee March from Oakland. However, the students did not give up, they came back the next day and the day after that. On the third day, they were finally successful in getting into Oakland. Along with protests, the students would try to stop men from going war by standing outside the induction center. However, the students soon realized that the protests were not very successful, so they decided to try resistance. In the end, because of the antiwar movement, drafts no longer exist. Discussion: Social protests were how people showed their commitment to pursue social change.

Following the Great Depression, the United States stayed segregated for the most part. The country still clasped onto racial inequality. However, to change America’s perspective on minorities, activists started Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the movement, the activists used non-violent methods to get equality. Nevertheless, the minorities were subject to violence from the Whites and police officers which in the end worked in their favor. All the violence that activists endured made national news which urged the United States to change how they treated people of color. The Civil Rights Movement went on to influence the younger generation to protest, in a non-violent way, for what they wanted and what they believed in.

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Social Change After the Great Depression. (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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