By 1945 conditions had improved slightly since before World War II, as Roosevelt ended discrimination in government agencies and many black Americans enjoyed more equal opportunities, especially in the North and West. Hundreds of black soldiers served in Europe, and experienced no segregation there. These had raised hopes of many black people in the possibility of equality. In 1946 President Truman raised awareness of the issue of Civil Rights by establishing a Presidential Committee on the subject, bringing the matter into the wider public domain.
He also used his Presidential power in 1948 to bring an end to segregation in armed forces, breaking down one major barrier in the quest for equal rights. In the forties, progress was rather slow, but the pace of change improved in the fifties, when, in 1954 Oliver Brown and the NAACP famously took the Education Board of Topeka to court for forcing his daughter to attend a distant all-black school instead of a local all-white school. The Supreme Court ruled in his favour, and overturned the previous ruling that ‘separate but equal’ was acceptable, and the following year ordered all states to comply and get on with integrating their schools.
However, little was done in the southern states, and by the end of 1956, six states had no integrated schools, and many others had taken very little action. This test case led the way for many more black Americans to challenge the segregation of the education system. In 1957 President Eisenhower supported nine black students with 1000 federal troops to help them enrol at Little Rock High School, Arkansas, and in 1962 James Meredith similarly had troops to defend him as he enrolled at the University of Mississippi, and in 1963 soldiers were also called in to assist 2 black students in enrolling at the University of Alabama.
Such drastic action on the Federal Government’s part sends a clear message to the states to accept integration in schools with good grace, or it will be forced upon them. Thus black Americans secured some sort of integration in the education system, and progress was made elsewhere too. The concept of non-violent protest as a means of obtaining what you want arrived in America in the fifties, and the civil rights movement were quick to take it up. In 1955 they began to target segregation on public transport, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott showing the power of financial pressure on a large company.
It also saw the emergence of a key figure and driving force behind civil rights reform: Martin Luther King. In early 1961 the Supreme Court ordered that interstate buses should be integrated as well as in-state services. The bus companies ignored this ruling, so protesters rode through the southern USA ignoring the segregatory rules, and the bus companies eventually gave in. In other public services steps were made in the right direction, such as the Greensboro sit-in.
In 1960 four black students sat at a white-only lunch bar, were refused service but returned every cay with more supporters, black and white. The store eventually gave in and integrated its lunch bars, and other restaurants followed. The presidency of John F. Kennedy, lasting from 1960-63, marked a new era of civil rights reform in the USA, with the appointment of black Americans to senior posts such as Judges and Ambassadors, sending in troops to assist in the enrolment of black students at schools in southern states, and the establishment of the Voter Education Project.
All of these put America one step closer to equal rights. The first major piece of legislation on the matter was the Civil Rights Bill (passed after his death by Johnson), which outlawed discrimination in all walks of life, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission was set up to investigate complaints. This secured black people a great deal more legal equality, and put the Federal Government squarely on the side of integration.