Discussion Questions for Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1992



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Discussion Questions for Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1992
The US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Topeka decision in 1954, which mandated that all public schools be racially integrated, along with Rosa Parks’ courageous decision in 1955 not to sit in the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, helped launch the modern civil rights movement led by Reverend Martin Luther King. From 1955-1960 the movement mobilized many older African Americans, but Congress failed to pass any significant civil rights laws. By 1959, the movement was running out of gas. The student lunch counter sit-ins helped King as did the “freedom rides” of the early 1960s. The major riots in Watts (Los Angeles) and elsewhere as well as the violent showdowns in Selma and Birmingham, Alabama brought more white support for King but also more black militant support for Malcom X.


  1. How did World War II slow the civil rights movement? 11-13

  2. On p. 15, what historical forces in the postwar era does Sitkoff see as laying a crucial basis for the later civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and'60s? 15

  3. How did the Cold War taint civil rights activists? 16-19

  4. What was the secret compromise that Earl Warren made with conservative judges to get a unanimous vote in Brown v. Topeka? 24

  5. Why did President Eisenhower and Senator Lyndon Johnson support the Civil Rights Act of 1957? 33

  6. Why was Martin Luther King's non-violent form of protest so successful against Jim Crow especially in the Montgomery boycott of 1956? 48-50

  7. What role did college students play in the sit-ins? As a group, why were they so effective?

Why were these sit-ins so crucial to the later movement? 80-82

  1. How does Sitkoff view the Kennedy brothers in the years before 1963? 95-99

  2. What was the value of the "freedom rides" of 1961 to the civil rights movement? 88-104,117

  1. How did the Kennedys attempt to stop the "freedom rides" and other overt forms of protest? Why? 104-105

  2. According to Sitkoff, what was the value of the Birmingham integration campaign to the civil rights movement? Why did CORE, SNCC, the SCLC, and the NAACP begin to compete with each other after Birmingham? 120-137, 144-146

  3. How did Malcom X aid moderate black reformers in their campaign to win support and integration from white businessmen in towns across America? 143

  4. When did JFK finally begin to push for civil rights legislation? Why? 145

  5. How did the murders of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney affect relations between blacks and whites in the civil rights campaigns down South? 164-165

  6. How did the compromise involving the Mississippi Freedom Party delegation at the Democratic National Convention of 1964 affect the civil rights movement?

  7. What roles did LBJ and Martin Luther King really play in the Selma protests for a voting rights act? Who really saved the day? 175-178, 179

  8. What reform measures to prevent future riots did liberals and the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders recommend? 190-191

  9. What reasons does Sitkoff offer in his defense of the urban riots? 192

  10. According to Sitkoff, why did black groups move away from King's philosophy of non-violence in 1964-65 194-195

  11. What ideas in The Autobiography of Malcom X did militant groups embrace? 196-197

  12. According to Sitkoff, what were the positive contributions of "black power" advocates to the general civil rights movement? 199-202

  13. Why did Martin Luther King's popularity decline just before his death? 206


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