During the entire history, people were fighting for acquiring particular rights, and in the present era, people have much more rights and freedoms as compared to other historical periods. They have become an integral part of modern life, and their violation causes multiple conflicts even at the international level. In present-day developments, human rights are respected and protected by society. However, 50 years ago, the American population lacked this privilege, and oppression was a common sight. The history of fighting for freedom is long, and its peak was achieved in the 1960-the 1970s when a significant number of movements started their activity. This way, the purpose of this paper is to review how the attitude towards freedom changed over the years from the goal of civil rights movements to the reality of modernity.
Civil Right Movements of American Slaves
In the middle of the 20th century, the problem of racial oppression and discrimination in the southern part of the United States became extremely pressing, and the necessity to abolish the institution of slavery became evident. That resulted in mass protest movements, which were aimed to fight for African slaves’ civil rights. This event had deep roots, as African Americans struggled from segregation for a long period of time. The main result of the Civil War implied slavery emancipation in America and guaranteed fundamental civil rights by passaging the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. However, this promise was not fulfilled, and it was a common sight that these rights were not protected by the government and were frequently violated. Nonviolent protests, namely civil rights movements, which were intended to draw attention to this issue, managed to achieve the most considerable breakthrough in the legislation changes in the 1960s. The activists perceived their initiative as a fight for freedom and liberation and were determined to prompt civil rights reforms.
The reasons for such protests lay in the living standards of African Americans. They spent their whole life working at plantations and did not have the possibility to leave the property. In addition, slaves had multiple debts to the plantation’s owners, so their economic condition was depressing. It is also worthy to note that their owners did not allow them to improve the quality of their lives and inhibited them from paying for their debts. African Americans did not have an opportunity to occupy the majority of vacancies. This way, although the appropriate legislation was passed, the lifestyle of slaves did not undergo significant changes.
Antoinette Harrell has conducted research on the lifestyle of African American slaves during this period. Harrell (2018) mentions one woman, who revealed some details about slavery:
‘Antoinette, I know a group of people who didn’t receive their freedom until the 1950s.’ She had me over to her house where I met about 20 people, all of who had worked on the Waterford Plantation in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. They told me they had worked the fields for most of their lives. One way or another, they had become indebted to the plantation’s owner and were not allowed to leave the property. This situation had them living their lives as 20th-century slaves. At the end of the harvest, when they tried to settle up with the owner, they were always told they didn’t make it into the black and to try again next year. Every passing year, the workers fell deeper and deeper into debt. Some of those folks were tied to that land into the 1960s (para. 6).
The author highlights that these cases were numerous, and the consequences for African slaves were dreadful. She also describes another story of Mae’s family, who lost their land, as they were forced to sign a contract which they could not read. Therefore, the family was condemned to poverty and continuous work at plantations. Furthermore, Mae was convinced that this lifestyle was normal, as her family did not have a TV and could not get acquainted with the living standards of other groups of the population. The family was not allowed to leave the land of the plantation owner and was subjected to beatings on a regular basis. After May had grown up, she was forced to work in the main house with her mother, where they were raped.
The stories presented by Antoinette Harrell are frightening, and, occasionally, it becomes impossible to believe that the aforementioned events happened in the 20th century. This way, African Americans were seeking freedom and protection of basic civil rights. In this context, freedom involves the possibility to make a choice, which lifestyle to stick to and which vacancies to occupy, and is capable of owning some land. Consequently, the term ‘freedom’ implied deprivation of severe restrictions established by owners and guarantying basic human rights.
Women’s Civil Rights Movement
Another group of the population, who lacked equal rights in the 1960-the 1970s, were women. It was considered to be the second wave of feminism, and it should be highlighted that it was not the last one. It was continued by the third and fourth waves of feminism. This movement regarded all the spheres of life of a woman, which are politics, work, family, and sexuality. Describing the background of the women’s liberation movement, it is worthy to note that after World War II, the everyday routine had undergone considerable changes. Contemporary technological achievements significantly eased the burdens of housekeeping, which improved women’s quality of life. In addition, there were dramatic changes in the labor market, as a wide range of jobs in the service sector appeared, which did not require physical strength.
Although the living conditions were different as compared to the beginning of the 20th century, society stuck to the same prejudices and supported sexual inequalities. During this period, a great number of articles were published addressing the issue described earlier. For instance, Betty Friedan’s opinion presented in her publications appeared to be considered influential. She drew the attention of the population to women’s utter boredom and lack of fulfillment. The entire life of a woman consisted of caring for her husband, children, and their house, and they were too restricted to understand their own desperation. Therefore, the freedom for women involved deprivation of oppression, which the whole society had been putting on them for centuries. They were determined to achieve self-realization and have the same possibilities as men did. This way, the African slaves’ movement may be similar to women’s one to some extent, as both of them were willing to fight for equality and break the restrictions established by other people.
The Idea of Freedom in Modern America
Those days, freedom implied having equal opportunities and a lack of restrictions put on particular groups of the population. Oppressed people were willing to make an independent choice on their lifestyle, career, and family life. At the start of World War II, it was claimed by Roosevelt that there were four basic freedoms, which are “freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear” (Heuval, 2015, para. 4). Roosevelt also highlighted that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence” (Heuval, 2015, para. 4). That included the perception of freedom from the perspective of a 20-century worldview, but nowadays, the attitude to this term has changed.
In the present-day developments, the aforementioned freedoms have become evident and habitual, and their violation is something to be judged by the entire society. Politicians in modern America are determined to maintain the course, which was established in the 20th century. However, according to Hillary Clinton, “the greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges” (as cited in Heuval, 2015, para. 8). For this reason, it is essential not only to maintain the four fundamental freedoms but also to provide them with a deeper approach.
Moreover, these days, the idea of freedom and equality has become a foundation of modern American reality, and the civil rights movements have significantly contributed to this process. It is an integral part of the current ideology, and all Americans highly appreciate their rights. In addition, this event has defined their political course, as the U.S.A. transmits these values worldwide. Therefore, the impact of civil rights movements cannot be underestimated, as it has changed the current reality, and freedom has become an obligatory condition of the modern lifestyle.
In summary, throughout history, people have been willing their rights to be respected and protected. These days, humanity has managed to achieve the best results in this regard as compared to other epochs. However, the process of acquiring human rights and freedom for all the categories of the population was full of hardships and challenges. Interestingly, during this event, the perception of liberty changes significantly. In the past, activists used to see it as supplying citizens with equal possibilities and consider it to be their desire. In contrast, in the present day-developments, it appears to be an integral part of everyday life.
Harrell, A. (2018). Black People in the US Were Enslaved Well into the 1960s. Vice. Web.
Heuval, K. V. (2015). A new definition of freedom in America. The Washington Post. Web.