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DC Between the Years 1950 and 1975

Towards the beginning of the 20th century, the US metamorphosed from an agrarian society to an industrial economy. Before the industrial revolution, Americans mainly relied on agriculture for their livelihood. However, this arrangement changed in the early 20th century when the country experienced a consumer revolution driven by an increased supply of consumer goods. During this period, the country witnessed enhanced urbanization and an increased workforce moving from farms to factories. This urbanization was also characterized by massive settlements of immigrants in cities. Such changes transformed Washington, DC, into a multicultural metropolis. The immigration created heightened political tensions and complex intergroup relations as different racial groups sought to control the industrial metropolis.

Social Relations in Washington DC between 1950 and 1975

Since its establishment, Washington DC was considered an unusual city due to its economic base and social composition. At the start of the 19th century, enslaved Africans accounted for nearly 28.6% of the city’s population (Manning, 1998, p. 330). This situation separated Washington from other cities that primarily attracted European immigrants. The city also had distinct labor relations since it was neither a center of business nor manufacturing (Manning, 1998, p. 331). Over the years, the city continued to attract freed black people and enslaved persons, creating unique economic and social opportunities for African Americans (Manning, 1998, p. 333). Unlike other northern cities, Washington did not experience an influx of foreign-born groups that undermined black people’s employment opportunities.

After World War 2, Washington experienced profound dynamism attributed to the US political and economic hegemony. In the early 1950s, major financial and political institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monitory Fund, had set bases in the District (Manning, 1998, p. 336). The region also reported an influx of various national bureaucracies, security agencies, and diplomatic delegations that changed DC’s dynamism and political culture (Manning, 1998, p. 336). Such changes also altered the housing center, where aging buildings were transformed into diplomatic residences. The presence of international delegations also contributed to an increase in international students, changing the city’s social infrastructure.

Massive growth in Virginia and Maryland’s suburbs defined the post-war economic boom. According to Manning, Washington’s metropolitan area grew from 183 to 523 square miles between 1950 and 1970 (1998, p. 337). The region’s population also expanded from 660,000 to 2,153,000 (Manning, 1998, p. 337). Such changes signified economic and political shifts as ethnic minorities and new immigrants converged in the capital. However, DC witnessed stagnation of the central city economy as the white population settled in the suburbs, leaving impoverished racial minorities in the capital (Manning, 1998, p. 337). This situation contributed to the fragmentation of the area’s metropolitan structure.

Furthermore, the District of Columbia reported rapid population growth during the early 1950s. The area’s population accounted for nearly 72% of DC’s metropolitan population (Manning, 1998, p. 337). According to Manning, this growth was attributed to the increase in the black community, which grew by 51.8% (1998, p. 337). In areas such as Maryland or Virginia, the white population accounted for 83.5% of the suburban residents, while blacks represented 16.5% (Manning, 1998, p. 337). However, towards the 1970s, the central city’s population dropped by 5.8, and this decline was attributed to Jim Crow policies and legal challenges that led to urban flight (Manning, 1998, p. 338). The desegregation of schools also contributed to the departure of whites from the capital.

Besides, the outcome of racial enclosure policies was evident in Washington DC’s postwar social landscape. Towards the beginning of 1950, nearly 2.3% of African Americans in Washington, DC, resided outside the District (Manning, 1998, p. 338). This population rose to almost 21% by the start of 1960, but it could not be compared to that of whites, who were 80% (Manning, 1998, p. 338). By 1970, nearly 25% of blacks in the metropolitan lived in the suburbs compared to 90% of their white counterparts (Manning, 1998, p. 338). In addition, Washington, DC, reported a significant increase in the black population between 1950 and 1960 (Manning, 1998, p. 338). The black community increased by nearly 200,000 people, while the white population declined by 150,000 (Manning, 1998, p. 338). This outcome is attributed to the movement of more blacks into the district, making the community a majority in Washington.

The rapid changes in Washington DC’s social composition contradict the historic stability of the federal district. Towards the end of the 19th century and the late 1940s, the city reported a decline in the number of blacks living there (Manning, 1998, p. 339). Moreover, the city was considered unpopular to immigrants, enhancing its social dynamics. The region also witnessed a decrease in foreign-born populations due to fewer immigrants settling in the city (Manning, 1998, p. 339). Notably, social forces generated by the civil rights movement resulted in the rapid increase of immigrants from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Caribbean (Manning, 1998, p. 340). This movement also co-occurred with 1960s urban riots that enhanced the white exodus to the suburbs (Manning, 1998, p. 340). These changes also saw the expansion of social welfare programs that helped black workers move from the bottom of the labor force.

The period between 1950 and 1970 also witnessed a rapid change in Washington DC’s demographic balance. The shift was significant in the central capital and the suburbia. For instance, Virginia and Maryland suburbs reported an increase of nearly a million residents between 1960 and 1970 (Manning, 1998, p. 340). On the contrary, the District experienced the severe impact of urban decline as its population dropped by over one million between 1970 and 1990 (Manning, 1998, p. 340). Currently, DC’s population continues to experience a population decline. Such changes illustrate a significant drop in the number of residents.

Washington DC’s 1960s social landscape is defined by the confinement of ethnic minorities in the central city. Despite the Supreme Court’s nullification of racial accords in 1948, middle-class blacks were confined to urban communities (Manning, 1998, p. 338). The 1968 Fair Housing Act changed this situation, allowing black workers to move from such neighborhoods (Manning, 1998, p. 338). However, residential segregation contributed to the shortage of low-income workers, particularly in the suburbs (Manning, 1998, p. 338). This situation is attributed to the absence of an effective transport system that would move laborers from the capital to their workstations in the suburbs (Manning, 1998, p. 338). Such circumstances undermined blacks’ opportunity to live or work in Washington DC’s suburbs.

Civil Rights Movement between 1950 and 1975

In the 1950s, the American society was defined by the Jim Crow policies. After the end of slavery, these regulations emerged as a new way of white domination. The laws encouraged the oppression of black people into the 20th century (Morris, 1999, p. 518). Jim Crow laws were based on racial segregation that labeled blacks as an inferior race (Morris, 1999, p. 518). The rules encouraged the economic exploitation of African Americans and their political and social control (Morris, 1999, p. 518). Blacks were prohibited from participating in political processes, allowing white people to control them politically. This arrangement also violated their constitutional rights since they could not serve in the judiciary.

Moreover, the Jim Crow policies confined blacks to the lower end of the economic order. This outcome was attributed to their limited influence on the US economy. During the early 1950s, many African Americans worked as laborers in an arrangement that encouraged their exploitation (Morris, 1999, p. 518). Although this period was characterized by massive migration of blacks to the northern cities, the economic status of these regions did not favor them (Morris, 1999, p. 519). Such circumstances meant black people could only enter the workforce through the low cadre. These inequalities also implied that black people earned less income than their white counterparts.

Nevertheless, several circumstances contributed to the challenge of Jim Crow policies in the 1950s. It included the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and the killing of Emmet Till (Morris, 1999, p. 521). The 1954 Brown case challenged the segregation of schools, and the Supreme Court considered that practice unconstitutional (Morris, 1999, p. 521). This judgment challenged the legality of Jim Crow laws (Morris, 1999, p. 521). The ruling also signified the end of racial segregation. Similarly, the lynching of Emmet Till created a public outcry on the brutality of racism (Morris, 1999, p. 521). It encouraged young people to join the rights movement and challenge Jim Crow policies that promoted racial segregation.

Social and political circumstances of the 1950s and 1960s also propelled the civil rights movement. The rights movement emerged at a time when Northern cities allowed black people to participate in electoral processes (Morris, 1999, p. 522). This situation implied that African Americans could push their agenda during presidential polls. The 1950s and 1960s were also characterized by massive technological advancements, including the use of television (Morris, 1999, p. 522). Such innovations were instrumental in mobilizing the black community to join the rights movement. The Cold War politics of the 1960s also favored the movement since the US wanted to portray itself as a democratic country.

The Montgomery bus boycott also changed black people’s approach to the rights movement. Before the bus snub, the black community did not appreciate their role in ending the Jim Crow laws (Morris, 1999, p. 521). The community relied on organized groups and legal networks to challenge the policies. Such organizations mobilized the March on Washington Movement, which sought to enhance black workers’ working conditions (Morris, 1999, p. 521). However, this movement was restrictive in nature since it received funding from white sympathizers. Nonetheless, the 1955 Montgomery boycott demonstrated the significance of the black community’s participation in the civil rights movement (Harris, 2006, p. 22). The mass boycott also brought together blacks from different social and economic backgrounds.

The Montgomery bus snub also contributed to the emergence of robust protest groups. Movements like the Montgomery Improvement Association surfaced after the bus boycott (Morris, 1999, p. 524). This association was also linked to various black churches under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr (Morris, 1999, p. 525). This arrangement also encouraged the black community to own the rights movement. In addition, the boycott’s approach helped in spearheading a collective action. For instance, snub incorporated a nonviolent approach that white powers could not topple using violence (Morris, 1999, p. 525). The movement also relied on the black press and mass media to push for collective action that led to the defeat of segregation laws.

The 1960s civil rights movement propelled Washington, DC, to the center of the equality struggle. The March on Washington Movement projected the city as a center of the rights struggle (Jones, 2010, p. 35). The movement called for the improvement of working conditions for African Americans, and it received massive support from black sympathizers (Jones, 2010, p. 35). This protest also attracted renowned rights activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who challenged the government to protect Americans civil rights (Jones, 2010, p. 36). Other notable speakers during the movement were John Lewis, who called for equal access to job opportunities and fair wages, and Roy Wilkins, who demanded the end of Jim Crow policies (Jones, 2010, p. 46). This meeting made Washington, DC, a center of the US rights movement.

Consequently, the robustness of the 1960s rights contributed to the removal of Jim Crow policies. During this period, the country experienced street protests, particularly in the southern states, supported by African Americans residing in the northern cities (Morris, 1999, p. 525). These demonstrations disrupted the country’s social order, undermining the US business environment. The protests also forced white officials to use violence to contain the uprising, which undermined their social standing (Morris, 1999, p. 525). In addition, the struggle propelled Martin Luther King Jr. to become an international figure, a position that allowed him to call for the abolishment of segregation policies.

The protests’ intensity also forced the government to develop a mechanism for ending the demonstrations. It included attempts by Congress and the Kennedy Administration to contain the protests (Morris, 1999, p. 525). However, measures to address the movement created foreign policy challenges since the international media covered the protests. Moreover, violent demonstrations in Alabama created an avenue for toppling Jim Crow laws (Morris, 1999, p. 525). The demonstrations were characterized by brutal violence that disrupted the nation’s social order (Morris, 1999, p. 525). Such outcomes exposed the Jim Crow laws as they challenged the US’s social standing as a democratic country.

The rights movement was instrumental in the removal of discriminative laws. The protests forced the government to outlaw all kinds of racial segregation. It included passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination based on race, nationality, sex, spiritual beliefs, or gender (Hersch & Shinall, 2015, p. 425). The government also enacted the 1965 Voting Rights Bill that enabled African Americans to participate in the electoral processes (Morris, 1999, p. 525). This arrangement was critical in enhancing black people’s representation in political office. The removal of Jim Crow policies demonstrated the significance of the rights movement in driving social change.


The 1950s and 1960s presented a period where the US experienced significant urbanization and the emergence of the civil rights movement. During this period, Washington, DC, witnessed a substantial increase in the African-American population that contributed to the departure of white residents. The whites settled in the city’s suburbs, enabling them to segregate the blacks who remained in the district’s capital. This period also witnessed massive uprisings, making Washington DC, a center of the US civil rights movement. These protests were instrumental in ending Jim Crow laws and types of discriminative policies.


Harris, F. C. (2006). It takes a tragedy to arouse them: Collective memory and collective action during the civil rights movement. Social movement studies5(1), 19-43.

Hersch, J., & Shinall, J. B. (2015). Fifty years later: The legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management34(2), 424-456.

Jones, W. P. (2010). The unknown origins of the march on Washington: Civil rights politics and the Black working class. Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas7(3), 33-52.

Manning, R. D. (1998). Multicultural Washington, DC: The changing social and economic landscape of a post-industrial metropolis. Ethnic and Racial Studies21(2), 328-355.

Morris, A. D. (1999). A retrospective on the civil rights movement: Political and intellectual landmarks. Annual review of Sociology25(1), 517-539.


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