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Civil Rights Movement in the United States, political, legal, and social struggle by black Americans to gain full citizenship rights and to achieve racial equality. The civil rights movement was first and foremost a challenge to segregation, the system of laws and customs separating blacks and whites that whites used to control blacks after slavery was abolished in the 1860s. During the civil rights movement, individuals and civil rights organizations challenged segregation and discrimination with a variety of activities, including protest marches, boycotts, and refusal to abide by segregation laws. Many believe that the movement began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though there is debate about when it began and whether it has ended yet. The civil rights movement has also been called the Black Freedom Movement, the Negro Revolution, and the Second Reconstruction.
Segregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in every sphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was often called the Jim Crow system, after a minstrel show character from the 1830s who was an old, crippled, black slave who embodied negative stereotypes of blacks. Segregation became common in Southern states following the end of Reconstruction in 1877. During Reconstruction, which followed the Civil War (1861-1865), Republican governments in the Southern states were run by blacks, Northerners, and some sympathetic Southerners. The Reconstruction governments had passed laws opening up economic and political opportunities for blacks. By 1877 the Democratic Party had gained control of government in the Southern states, and these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during Reconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local...