Sample History Paper on The America of the early 20th Century


The America of the early 20th Century presented different characteristics to modern day America, particularly in terms of how the citizens were treated. Racial discrimination had been entrenched in the national fabric, limiting the potential of the black Americans to enjoy the fruits of nation building or even to participate wholly and in how they like in various nation-building efforts. For instance, they had no right to vote hence were forced to be led by leaders chosen by others. Needless to say, the period prior to the civil rights movement was characterized with a lot of challenges and a lot of misunderstandings between the black Americans and other members of the population. The civil rights movement therefore resulted in a lot of changes in the context of leadership and nation-building, and can be recognized for several of the good turns that are in place even today. In particular, the movement pushed for various legislative changes that have benefitted the country to date, and upon which other legislations have been founded. The ensuing essay presents a description of the impacts of the civil rights movement, with a focus on the 1950s and how it shaped the present day America. Both positive and negative impacts have been discussed to establish the overall impact of the movement.

Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Act

In the 1950s, there was significant racial segregation in America, promoted by the law and terse racial relationships that were common at the time. The Supreme Court recognized racial segregation as an essential part of the national law, with emphasis on the separation of social amenities between the races.[1] The objective of segregation in the 1950s however, was founded on the principle of ‘separate but equal’ facilities, in which the facilities used by members of different races were supposed to be equal by all standards.[2] However, this was never the case as the blacks always had inferior facilities relative to the whites. Because of the differential access to quality facilities, the blacks had more constrained opportunities compared to the whites. For instance, jobs were unequally accessible, with whites mostly getting access to the white collar jobs while most of the blacks were either underemployed or unemployed. Similarly, access to education was dependent on race, in that blacks were exempted from the opportunity to attend good schools where the whites went.[3] It is this difference in quality that prompted the establishment and the activity of the civil rights movement from the late 1940s through the 1950s. Most of the achievements of the civil rights activism however, were felt in the 1960s after years of lobbying, demonstrations and forceful access to resources.

The civil rights act for instance, was one of the major achievements of the 1950s civil rights activity. At the beginning of the cold war, the civil rights agenda, which would form the foundation of the civil rights act, was initiated by President Harry Truman through executive order 9981 issued in 1948.[4] The executive order provided for the end of discrimination in the military. This was following a period in which black soldiers gave themselves wholeheartedly in fighting for the nation during the Second World War but received little recognition back in America. The willingness of the blacks to be enrolled in the military, a request that was only allowed after presidential intervention during the Second World War, the blacks had a yearning to continuously give themselves for national service. This could not be done under conditions of discrimination both within and without their states. The decision by President Truman to end discrimination in the military helped in building a foundation for grass-roots initiatives towards enacting the legislation for racial equality.[5] It also incited the civil rights movement to be more proactive in fighting for the rights of the minority populations in the country.

The civil rights movement was the driver of other achievements in the United States civil rights context, and within the 1950s, significant progress was made in the fight against discrimination. One such achievement was in the education sector, where the United States Supreme Court ruled against segregation in public schools in 1954. The case of Brown v. Board of Education was a turning point in education segregation as it provided precedence for other cases relating to public school discrimination.[6] Other events unfolded in later years as evidence of the efforts to promote equality in access to education across all races. In 1957, Little Rock’s Central High School in Arkansas, a segregated public school at the time, became the first school to directly ask for volunteer black students to foster the efforts towards inclusive education.[7] This was also in line with the civil rights efforts against discrimination as the school was previously segregated. In spite of the resistance from the public around Little Rock, parents and white students at the school, the federal government intervened, providing security for the volunteer students and ensuring that there was inclusive learning in the a school.[8] This can be described as a great achievement in the context of hostility and continued segregation in the use of social facilities in the school. It also acted as part of the pioneer efforts towards non-discrimination in all public schools.

The passage of the civil rights act in 1964 contributed greatly to the increased growth of other efforts to eliminate discrimination. Through the act, the federal government provided its power in support of the struggle for justice and equality, and for inclusivity in the American society. This can be described as the ultimate and most important achievement of the reconstruction that began in the late 1940s, and which had been an ongoing process through the   1950s.[9] While the act did not fully fulfill all the civil rights activism goals, it functioned to further the grass-roots mobilization process, creating a judicial precedence for the decision of racial segregation cases and for the availability of a legislative process to be used to guarantee civil rights for all American citizens. The focus of the act was on the inclusion of African Americans into core nation building activities, beginning from inclusive education to equal access to jobs and social amenities. Through the civil rights act, a background was created for the establishment of fair housing practices and non-discrimination in housing allocation. The greatest benefit achieved through the act was the fact that it gave an opportunity for the courts to prosecute those who still promoted segregation in access to social facilities.

Voting Rights Act

The enactment of the civil rights act eliminated segregation in most social aspects. However, political participation was still limited to the whites. The increased participation of the civil rights movement in activism for inclusive voting resulted in the recognition of the need for the involvement of African Americans in the voting process. The act was supported by the civil rights act which provided for the prosecution of anyone found to prevent others from voting and also for a commission to investigate voter fraud.[10] The voting rights act further contained provisions for the protection of black voters by the federal government. The act was signed in the presence of civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jnr., and it guaranteed equality for all citizens regardless of their race. It also provided for equal employment opportunities for all, no use of voter literacy tests and integration of public facilities. Each of these comes as an advantage to a specific group of people. For instance, eliminating voter literacy tests was an achievement for the African Americans as they were not allowed to give a say in the selection of national leaders without being subjected to the literacy tests that were predesigned for their failure.[11]

Additionally, the civil rights activism bore fruit in the form of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prevented housing discrimination based on national origin, race, sex or religion. The Fair Housing Act was the last legal legislation which was enacted within the period of the civil rights era.[12]  The impacts of the civil rights movement and the subsequent legislations have transcended the period in which the movement existed, empowering the lifestyles of the blacks in America yet also presenting quite a precarious time for that population.  Instead of focusing on the negative impacts of the civil rights movement and activism, there has been great progress towards better access to various social amenities.

Civil Rights Impacts beyond the 1950s

While the 1950s was the period of the most profound activity in civil rights progress, the succeeding years have provided additional achievements in the context of social justice and equality. According to Hahn, Truman, and Williams, civil rights have resulted in significant impacts on the populations’ health, employment, education and housing in the United States.[13] The health, education and employment sectors have shown the potential for significant achievement due to the implementation of the regulations around them. On the other hand, there is still somewhat significant discrimination in the context of housing particularly does exist due to lack of effective enforcement of the civil rights laws on fair housing. The enforcement of civil rights has been considered an area in which complete change is delayed and certain negative routines are transferred from one generation to another.

The link between housing and health is clear even in the consideration of civil rights activism over the past centuries. Individual and community health is a function of the environment in which people live and which are extensively influenced by access to resources not only for the achievement of positive health outcomes but also for consistency in service delivery among the citizens.[14] The current discrimination in housing therefore, has not had significant benefits for the health of the citizens. The social determinants of health among the racial minorities such as African Americans and Hispanics still continue to indicate discrimination, particularly given that communities that previously lacked the rights to healthcare non-discrimination still struggle with the absence of social amenities that are at par with those of the other communities. Civil rights laws enforcement continues to affect social determinants of health such as housing, transportation and employment, which in turn affect protective factors and health risk factors.[15] Consequently, the minority populations have continued to be given a back bench in the consideration of public health issues in the United States. Considering the role of civil rights in this, it is deductible that in this case, civil rights has failed to provide a sustainable solution to discrimination in the management of healthcare access. Equitable access to such resources can foster self-confidence among affected individuals, improving psychological health and enhancing self-control.

The fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendment have since provided an opportunity for increasing recognition of people of other races among the American citizenry. All these amendments were founded on the initial civil rights objective, which was to promote equality among the citizens. Needless to say, the expansion of the civil rights regulations to cover specific elements that still have the potential to foster discrimination, is one of the strategies used to improve the quality of life of minority groups. For instance, government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid have been provided to populations with various qualifications namely age, medical conditions and income.[16] Any denial of opportunities by virtue of racial or ethnic differences is counted as a discriminative approach, in which the civil rights laws against discrimination can intervene to promote equality. However, these laws have not been replicated for providing equal healthcare services to other members of the society such as those who are under incarceration, or those who have committed a felony. To ensure that equal healthcare access is available to all, the government put up the Hill-Burton Act of 1964, which promoted the construction of hospitals to provide similar services to minorities as well as those considered to be the majority members of the population.[17] More recently, the federal government has put in place regulations for healthcare facilities using government subsidized insurance systems to ensure they provide the efficient services to all people indiscriminately. Any practice of discrimination is addressed through withdrawal of Medicare/ Medicaid facilities. The evidence of the impacts of the civil rights and the Hill Burton Act on healthcare was experienced between 1965 and 1971 where the percentage of infant deaths among the African American populations reduced by 40% while that of the whites remained almost constant. The ratio of the non-white to white infant mortality deaths reduced from 1.90 in 1999 to 1.65.[18]

Another impact that has been carried forward through the years is that of school desegregation. From the 1950s, there were immediate and long terms effects of every rule made on civil rights and the fight for equality. School segregation in particular, had significant effects on children who went to school in the period of transition from segregation to inclusivity. In this regard, Johnson conducted an analysis of the segregation orders issued from 1954 to 1970, based on their effects on the children who were born between 1945 and 1968.[19] While conducting the study, Johnson provided controls for factors such as policies on the War on Poverty, the head start to which the student was subjected, political affiliations in relation to segregationist policies and court ordered versus free choice desegregation. Over the period of study, it was confirmed that the results of court ordered desegregation included an increase in student expenditures, and better performance among students. There was also an increase in income by 58% for the African Americans, an improvement of 1.4 years of school stay among the same population and a reduction in poverty levels by 34%. Moreover, studies showed that with the reduction in poverty, there was also a reduction of 2.1% in the rates of adult incarceration among African American communities.[20] Black students who attended desegregated schools also had a 2% higher chance of graduating from high school relative to those who attended the segregated high schools. These statistics show that school desegregation had more positive influence on the general national productivity. This is probably due to consistency in implementation of the regulations around school desegregation and the elimination of the separate but equal perspective, unlike in the healthcare sector where housing discrimination still results in poor health outcomes among minority populations. The improved rates of high school completing associated with students attending desegregated high schools can be considered as the evidence that desegregated high schools had superior resources, probably due to the number of white students among others.

Similarly, the impacts of the anti-discrimination provisions of the civil rights act on employment opportunities and wages for black women has been explored. According to Kaplan, Ranjit and Burgard, the civil rights regulations resulted in an increase in the number of employed women from the 1950s through the 1980s.[21] For instance, there was a 200% increase in the number of black women working at white-collar employments between 1964 and 1980. Among white women, white collar employment increased by 7% nationwide in the same period.[22] This is an indication of the black women’s capacity to take advantage of new opportunities. Similarly, the wages increased to almost equal to that of the white women up from the 64% of the white women’s wages, which had been more common in the 1950s and 1960s. The life expectancy for the black women also increased by 2.6 years over the same period, relative to that of the white women which improved by only 1.5 years.[23] Most of these major trends in employment rates and demographics resulted from the 1964 enactment of the civil rights act and are consistent with the argument that the act benefited African Americans through increased employment opportunities. Moreover, the increase in life expectancy, which contradicts studies on the impacts of the act on health, is associated with the employment as a predictor of self-assessed health.


The civil rights movement of the 1950s created an opportunity for African Americans to push for their own space in the American society. Segregated access to social facilities was the driving factor behind efforts to improve social experiences. Various sectors benefitted differently over the 1950s, and some of the achievements can still be felt in the present day. For instance, the major achievements by the civil rights activism over the 1950s included the enactment of the civil rights act, the voting rights act and the fair housing act. These three have been the foundation upon which other legislations have been established to promote the social experiences of citizens, and the benefits have accrued to different sectors significantly. For instance, the civil rights act is linked to improvements experienced in education, employment and access to better healthcare. Similarly, the voting rights act was responsible for promoting political participation among African Americans while the fair housing act has been a significant player in the enhancement of housing programs based on the principle of ‘separate but equal’ housing. While this is still struggling to be deeply rooted, the impacts of more affordable housing have been experienced in the low cost living areas.



Chandra, Amitabh,  Michael Frakes, and Anup Malani. “Challenges to Reducing Discrimination and Health Inequity through Existing Civil Rights Laws.” Health Affairs 36, no. 6, (2017): 1041-1047. Accessed April 18, 2019,

Hahn RA, Truman BI, and Williams DR. “Civil Rights as Determinants of Public Health and Racial and Ethnic Health Equity: Health Care, Education, Employment, and Housing in the United States.” SSM Population Health 4, (2018):17-24. Accessed April 18, 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.10.006.

Hall, Jacquelyn Down. “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past.” The Journal of American History, (2005), 1233-1263. Accessed April 18, 2019,

Johnson, Rucker C. “Long-run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments.” National Bureau of Economic Research, (2011): Accessed April 18, 2019,

Kaplan, George, Nalini Ranjit, and Sarah Burgard. Lifting Gates, Lengthening Lives: Did Civil Rights Policies Improve The Health Of African American Women In The 1960s And 1970s. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2008. Accessed April 18, 2019,

Library of Congress. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” Library of Congress, (2019). Accessed April 18, 2019,

Vaillancourt, Eric. “Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s: Rockin’ for Civil Rights.” Education and Human Development Master’s Theses 119, (2011). Accessed April 18, 2019,

[1] Eric Vaillancourt. “Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s: Rockin’ for Civil Rights.” Education and Human Development Master’s Theses 119, (2011), 5, accessed April 18, 2019,

[2] Vaillancourt, p. 7.

[3] Ibid., p. 6.

[4] Library of Congress. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” Library of Congress, (2019), accessed April 18, 2019,

[5]Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past.” The Journal of American History, (2005), 1235. Accessed April 18, 2019,

[6] Library of congress, par. 5.

[7] Library of Congress, par. 3.

[8] Hall, p. 1248.

[9] Ibid., p. 1238.

[10] Library of Congress, par. 3.

[11] Hahn RA, Truman BI, and Williams DR. “Civil Rights as Determinants of Public Health and Racial and Ethnic Health quity: Health Care, Education, Employment, and Housing in the United States.” SSM Population Health 4, (2018), 17, accessed April 18, 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.10.006.

[12] Hahn et al., p. 20.

[13] Ibid., p. 18.

[14] Hahn et al., p. 18.

[15] Amitabh Chandra, Michael Frakes and Anup Malani. “Challenges to Reducing Discrimination and Health Inequity through Existing Civil Rights Laws.” Health Affairs 36, no. 6, (2017): 1041-1047, accessed April 18, 2019,

[16] Ibid., p. 1042.

[17] Hahn et al., p. 19.

[18] Ibid., p. 21.

[19] Rucker C. Johnson. “Long-run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments.” National Bureau of Economic Research, (2011), 5, accessed April 18, 2019,

[20] George Kaplan, Nalini Ranjit and Sarah Burgard. Lifting Gates, Lengthening Lives: Did Civil Rights Policies Improve The Health Of African American Women In The 1960s And 1970s. (New York: Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2008), 148. Accessed April 18, 2019,

[21] Ibid, p. 165.

[22] Hahn et al., p. 23.

[23] Ibid.