The civil rights movement was a heroic episode in American history. It aimed to give African Americans the same
citizenship rights that whites took for granted. It was a war waged on many fronts. In the 1960s it achieved
impressive judicial and legislative victories against discrimination in public accommodations and voting. It
had less complete but still considerable success in combating job and housing discrimination. Those best
able to take advantage of new opportunities were middle-class blacks—the teachers, lawyers, doctors,
and other professionals who had served as role models for the black community. Their departure for
formerly all-white areas left all-black neighborhoods segregated not only by race but now also by
class. The problem of poverty, compounded by drugs, crime, and broken families, was not
solved by the civil rights movement.
The process of school integration begun by the Brown decision of 1954 is viewed by some as a failure
because many schools remain segregated by race as blacks and whites still, mostly, live in distinct
neighborhoods. But no longer does the law assign blacks to separate schools. Although Brown
dealt only with discrimination in education, it effectively sounded the death knell for the whole
Jim Crow system of second-class citizenship. That is its greatest significance. However, it took
the efforts—and in some cases the lives—of many men and women, black and white, to finally
conquer Jim Crow.
Inequality remains. The average income of black families is still well below that of whites.
Even college-educated blacks earn less than their white counterparts. The civil rights
movement did not achieve complete equality, but greater equality. It brought the reality
of Virginia closer to the promise articulated by Virginian Thomas Jefferson when he
wrote "that all men are created equal."
Civil Rights march, Richmond, January 1981
Marchers sang "We Shall Overcome," the anthem of the civil rights
movement, as they walked from Richmond's Monroe Park to the State Capitol on January 16, 1981. The
event was sponsored by the Virginia Civil Rights Coalition, coordinated by Calvin Miller of Virginia State
University, and the Rev. Curtis Harris, a longtime civil rights activist. Its objective was to raise awareness
of persistent discrimination in housing and employment in the commonwealth. Courtesy Valentine Richmond
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