How the Civil Rights Movement Worked

A large steel relief of Martin Luther King Jr., a leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement, stands near the house where he was born in Atlanta. See more pictures from civil rights history.
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"Change" is a word you hear a lot. During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, president-elect Barack Obama built his message around the "ability to bring about real change in Washington." It also arises when people talk about the environment, specifically climate change.

Keeping up with all that talk of change wouldn't be possible without technology such as telephones, television, newspapers and, especially now, the Web. We're able to pass information back and forth quickly, and more and more people around the world can take that information in and act on it. These highly connected networks have led to things like smart mobs, groups of protestors that use current technology like camcorders, BlackBerry devices and Twitter to take part in civil disobedience.

Fifty years ago, U.S. citizens managed to achieve remarkable change through a tremendous network of communication and support. Despite hundreds of years of oppressive laws and violence against blacks, a single generation was able to influence important legislation and adjust entire attitudes of a prejudiced culture -- and they didn't have the Internet. During the 1950s and '60s, people of all races took part in the civil rights movement, an era that changed the course of American history.

How did they do it? Who were some of the people involved? To learn about the civil rights movement and how it got started, see the next page.