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Many popular representations of the movement are centered on the leadership and philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr., who won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the movement. From 1865 to 1877, the United States underwent a turbulent Reconstruction Era trying to establish free labor and civil rights of freedmen in the South after the end of slavery. While progress was made in some areas, this status of excluding African Americans from the political system lasted in most southern states until national civil rights legislation was passed in the mid-1960s to provide federal enforcement of constitutional voting rights.

Some scholars note that the movement was too diverse to be credited to any one person, organization, or strategy. Following the Civil War, three constitutional amendments were passed, including the 13th Amendment (1865) that ended slavery; the 14th Amendment (1868) that gave African-Americans citizenship, adding their total population of four million to the official population of southern states for Congressional apportionment; and the 15th Amendment (1870) that gave African-American males the right to vote (only males could vote in the U. Many whites resisted the social changes, leading to insurgent movements such as the Ku Klux Klan, whose members attacked black and white Republicans to maintain white supremacy. For more than 60 years, blacks in the South were not able to elect anyone to represent their interests in Congress or local government.

Characteristics of the post-Reconstruction period: African Americans and other ethnic minorities rejected this regime.

They resisted it in numerous ways and sought better opportunities through lawsuits, new organizations, political redress, and labor organizing (see the African-American civil rights movement (1896–1954)).

Forms of protest and/or civil disobedience included boycotts such as the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–56) in Alabama; "sit-ins" such as the influential Greensboro sit-ins (1960) in North Carolina and successful Nashville sit-ins in Tennessee; marches, such as the Birmingham Children's Crusade and Selma to Montgomery marches (1965) in Alabama; and a wide range of other nonviolent activities.

The 1960s civil rights movement both lobbied and worked with Congress to achieve the passage of several significant pieces of federal legislation overturning discriminatory practices.

From 1964 through 1970, a wave of inner city riots in black communities undercut support from the white community. After the disputed election of 1876 resulted in the end of Reconstruction and federal troops were withdrawn, whites in the South regained political control of the region's state legislatures by the end of the century, after having intimidated and violently attacked blacks before and during elections.

The emergence of the Black Power movement, which lasted from about 1965 to 1985, challenged the established black leadership for its cooperative attitude and its practice of nonviolence, instead demanding political and economic self-sufficiency to be built in the black community. From 1890 to 1908, southern states passed new constitutions and laws to disenfranchise African Americans and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration; voting rolls were dramatically reduced as blacks and poor whites were forced out of electoral politics.

During the same time as African Americans were being disenfranchised, white Democrats imposed racial segregation by law.Before the American Civil War, almost four million blacks were enslaved in the South, only white men of property could vote, and the Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U. During this period, the white-dominated Democratic Party maintained political control of the South.With whites controlling all the seats representing the total population of the South, they had a powerful voting block in Congress.The Republican Party—the "party of Lincoln"—which had been the party that most blacks belonged to, shrank to insignificance as black voter registration was suppressed.Until 1965, the "solid South" was a one-party system under the Democrats.

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