Media Effects on the Civil Rights Movement


The United States of America fought for its civil rights through a diversity of ways that included massive demonstrations (Dierenfield 124). Other methods included boycotts and court cases. One of the main boycotts was the buses boycott where blacks boycotted traveling with the whites in buses (Morris 19). Members of the civil rights movement were seeking equal rights with the whites. There was racial discrimination in many parts of the United States. For instance, most blacks did not have the right to use of public amenities, right to vote, housing and education. The civil rights movement used the media as a crucial tool to spread information. The paper will look at how media affected the civil rights movement both positively and negatively. Among the positive impacts are the creation of public awareness and a call to action. The negative effects involve the displaying of boycotts and aggressive actions.

Media had the power to manipulate and influence people through the information it chose to deliver. For instance, media showed how the CRM members clamored for equal rights through various forms of media. The effect was that more people joined the movement and there was a renewed strength across many states as it effectively highlighted instances of racial discrimination. Many people knew what was happening through the media. It exposed the actions of the CRM that gave those against the movement ideas on where to find the supporters and strategies to put in place to counter them.

Positive impacts of media on civil rights movement

Public awareness

African Americans were determined to fight for equal rights that they had not had for long. The blacks were looking forward to fighting racial discrimination and ensuring that there was equality in public offices, equal employment opportunities, no segregation in formal education and rights to use public facilities. Therefore, the media played a remarkable role in supporting the activities of the civil rights movements. Mostly, the media highlighted the brutality that the blacks faced from the whites. Almost every household in America had a television. Therefore, virtually every person either black or white could follow the events of the civil rights movement (Greenberg 171). Television was the fastest channel to pass information and reach a large number of people. Not all white people were against the civil rights movements. Some were neutral. After the media coverage of the bus boycott and the speech from Martin Luther “I have a dream,” some of the neutrals decided to support the movement because of the inspiration that they got from the speech (Chong 18). The media communicated the ideas the whole nation to know. The events displayed on the television showed clearly whites’ oppression and atrocity against the blacks, and this was meant to impart guilt among the whites, hence calling them to action. It was a step ahead for the civil rights movement in fighting racial discrimination. The members of the movement could see that their efforts were forceful. Therefore, the media acted as a catalyst for change in America.

A call to action

Media played a crucial role in bringing to attention to the entire nation on what was happening. Everyone became aware of what was happening such as how the blacks were being treated in South America. Segregation system of the whites became a spotlight to the media (Spring 145). Not only America but also other countries knew of what was happening and, therefore, supported the movement in one way or another. More supporters joined the movement and united against the whites. The CRM became dominant in their activities, and that is how they achieved their mission. Creating public awareness brought unity among the blacks. Those who were not aware of the happenings were informed about the movement and joined their fellow blacks in fighting for their rights. The media strengthened the good relationships among the blacks as they united as one community to fight the inhumane actions they were facing from the white supremacists. Probably, if the struggle for equality between the whites and the blacks in America continued without the media intervention to inform the entire nation about the happenings, it could have taken longer than it did for the country to achieve equality of rights.

Although newspapers were not the major channel used by the media to communicate, they were used to spread information. Graphic killings images were printed in the national newspapers, and they were spread for people to see what was happening.

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Negative impact of media on civil rights movement

Highlighting of boycotts

The media showed the boycotting activities and CRM events on the television (Roberts and Klibanoff 99). At some point, it assisted the supporters of the CRM to know how to organize themselves such as the places to go, where to avoid, what time to go, and what to expect. On the other hand, this provided information to those who opposed the ideals of the movement on where they could find the boycotters and their supporters (Greenberg 169). It mostly favored the supremacists and disadvantaged the members and advocates of the CRM. Those opposed to the movement used the exposure of the boycotts to their advantage and strategized on how to attack the members of the CRM.

Displaying aggressive actions

Media displayed the aggressiveness of the protesters on television. People were scared of those acts and, therefore, participate in the demonstration fearing to die or be arrested in action. It killed the morale of potential supporters of the civil rights movement. The media displayed clips that showed beatings, murder, various assaults and many graphic actions that happened during the boycotts. It affected the movement negatively. People locked themselves in their houses instead of going to support the proponents because they feared for their lives.

Overall effects of media on civil rights movement

The impacts of the media on the CRM were remarkable. It was a reliable instrument for the proponents. It played a great role in fighting against racial discrimination. Apart from just showing the world what was happening, the media held discussions where they talked about the importance of equal rights, peace, and unity. The media encouraged the whites to accept blacks as equally important and come together as one nation. Many people embraced the ideals of the movement. Therefore, it played a critical role in reducing racial discrimination. It influenced the decision by the Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed the separation of people on the basis of race, national origin, and color in public life.


Media played a very critical role in the civil rights movement. Media not only informed masses what was happening but also enlightened the nation on the importance of equality and love for each other. It revealed the impacts of demonstrations and boycotts as well. Every person has a right to employment, formal education, and fair treatment in government offices. Leaders should encourage equality by treating everyone fairly. Because of the media efforts during the civil rights movement, people from different racial backgrounds began to live as one and reduced the segregation that was the norm before.


Works Cited

Chong, Dennis. Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement. University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Dierenfield, Bruce J. The Civil Rights Movement. Pearson Education, 2004.

Greenberg, David. “The Idea of the Liberal Media and Its Roots in the Civil Rights Movement.” The Sixties, vol. 1, no. 2, 2008, pp. 167-86.

Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement. Simon and Schuster, 1986.

Roberts, Gene, & Hank Klibanoff. The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. Vintage, 2008.

Spring, Joel. The American School 1642-1993. McGraw Hill Inc, 1994.