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Social Movements To End Segregation

The ideas of the 1950s and 1960s that served as the catalyst to end Jim Crow segregation in the United States were not new. Intellectuals such as James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin supported and used the tactics of civil disobedience and mass resistance to end racial segregation. For example, James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality, used Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience in Chicago in the 1940s before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. adopted them. King's ideas of using the Christian faith, moral superiority, and moral persuasion as part of civil disobedience cannot be overlooked. King believed that unjust laws do not coincide with the law of God, therefore segregation laws, which were immoral and unjust, did not have to be obeyed. In addition, if people could not vote and did not have political representation, they were not obligated to obey unjust laws. These laws had to be overturned by just, moral means. In sum, King's ideas of mass resistance, direct action, and civil disobedience were tied to Christianity, which instructed him to love his sisters and brothers and to have faith that morality and justice would prevail in overthrowing segregation. And through the abolition of segregation, whites could achieve salvation through living up to the American creed of democracy and liberty for all.

Segregation was opposed throughout Africa, but the fight to abolish apartheid in South Africa was waged both domestically and globally. At the turn of the twentieth century Mahatma Gandhi developed nonviolent strategies to end segregation in South Africa, and he worked closely with the founders of the African National Congress (ANC), especially John Dube. Dube, along with Pixley Seme and Sol Plaatje, believed that African nationalism and unity would restore land and rights lost under European rule. Their beliefs were supported by the strategies of petitioning the British government and sending delegations to London to appeal for constitutional changes that would grant Africans their rights. Later leaders such as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela committed themselves to the idea of mass resistance and established the ANC Youth League. They believed African nationalism would lead to African self-determination and that equality and the end of apartheid would only come through the efforts of Africans. Therefore, the ideology of the ANC shifted in the 1940s from a conservative to more a radical and militant approach that would involve the masses of people instead of a few educated members of the middle class. Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo strongly believed in mass civil disobedience, boycotts, peasant revolts, and strikes, manifested in their support of the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952, when blacks, Indians, and coloreds refused to obey laws that they found unjust.

The ideas of the ANC's main leadership further shifted in the 1960s from attempting to abolish apartheid by disciplined and nonviolent means to violent forms of resistance with the establishment of a military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). This was established only after the South African state was ruling by force and violence and ANC leaders felt that all forms of peaceful protest had been exhausted. The ideas of black consciousness espoused by Steve Biko in the 1970s were based on building strong grassroots organizations to raise awareness of the plight of black South Africans. It was his belief that only blacks could liberate themselves through a reevaluation of African history, pride, religion, and culture: out of black consciousness, black liberation could be born. In turn blacks would gain respect from other groups in society, and the apartheid system would be abolished.

The abolition of apartheid in the 1990s was based on the political ideas of a multiracial democratic South Africa espoused by Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk. The religious ideas to end apartheid came from church leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak, who both believed apartheid could be abolished through nonviolent means, resulting in a multiracial democratic society that granted full human rights to all citizens.


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Marx, Anthony W. Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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Smith, John David. When Did Southern Segregation Begin? New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002.

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Woodward, C. Vann. 1955. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Cassandra Rachel Veney

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Jean-Paul Sartre Biography to Seminiferous tubulesSegregation - Segregation In The Americas, Segregation In Africa, Ideas Surrounding Segregation, Ideas Surrounding Segregation In Africa