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Humanitarian Movements in United States History

Humanitarian movements have shaped the United States, a country commonly described as an experiment in government and democracy. When it was formed, nobody was quite sure how the nation would pan out and if it would succeed. Obviously, anyone now sees that the USA has become an incredibly successful country that has promised liberty and justice for all citizens regardless of their background. 

But this promise was not always guaranteed to all citizens by the US government. Throughout American history, countless people have been excluded from the American Dream because of their race, gender, economic status, or other surface indicators. It took centuries of humanitarian movements within the nation to get it to where it is today and help extend the promise to those who had previously been left behind. 

All of us at Educate. Radiate. Elevate. hope to be a part of the next big humanitarian movement in US history, which is ensuring equitable access to quality education for all. We know that education is the key to progress. Let’s take a look back at some of the moments in our nation’s history that centered around similar human rights revolutions.

Labor Movement

As industrialization hit our shores in the mid to late 1800s, a whole host of benefits and problems followed. While profits for companies and the economy increased, the living standards and working conditions for workers worsened. Both adults and children were forced to work long hours in grueling, dangerous, and unsanitary conditions. And to top it all off, many of these workers were receiving pay that was not comparable with the work that they put in.

In response to these injustices being committed in the workplace, labor unions formed. Groups like the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor welcomed workers of all backgrounds to take a stand in a humanitarian movement against the selfish employers who dominated them. These organizations were a large coalition of smaller unions; but as a united force, they hoped to use their power to persuade both employers and the government to establish better working conditions, shorter hours, and higher pay for the workers. Their protests and strikes made waves throughout the United States.

Despite the challenges faced along the way, the labor movement reached a milestone when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This Act finally formalized the right to a minimum wage, the forty-hour work week, and outlawed child labor. This legislation has become the bedrock upon which many other modern labor laws rest. Without the labor movement, life for the average worker in the United States would be more stressful and less lucrative than it is today.

humanitarian movement

Women’s Suffrage Movement

Despite the promises of the United States as a beacon of democracy, the founding fathers only proclaimed that all men were created equal. Women, by and large, were cast aside and denied many of the rights that others were given. The most important of those rights was the ability to vote. While women were never content being considered second-class citizens, the eventual right for women’s suffrage did not arise without a humanitarian movement that let the world know that women deserved to vote.

During the anti-slavery movement, as calls for freedom and rights for slaves became a hot topic, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton began to argue for voting rights for not just slaves, but for women as well. She and others met in Seneca Falls in New York to discuss the possibilities of gaining women’s voting rights and created a declaration for the right of women to vote. While initially just words on paper, Stanton’s work, alongside that of Susan B. Anthony, became instrumental in the years to come.

Their efforts truly became effective when partnering with Lucy Stone to found the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The work of this organization opened the doors for women to vote in certain states like Utah and Colorado. While this was nice, women knew that a constitutional amendment was the best way to secure the right for women to vote nationwide. And thankfully, the newly elected president Woodrow Wilson was sympathetic to the women’s suffrage movement. While he might have embraced their cause, Congress did not, at least not initially. While failing to pass in 1918, the amendment did finally pass in 1919 allowing the states to ratify the amendment, securing the right for women to vote in every state.

 Civil Rights Movement

While the Civil War might have put an end to slavery, it was only the beginning of further repression of the rights of Black Americans. Despite the end of slavery and the granting of equal citizenship to Black Americans under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, segregation and other limitations to the rights of African Americans persisted. Measures such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses (which only allowed you to vote if your grandfather had voted), severely limited the voting rights of these new citizens for decades.

As a result of these attacks on the rights of Black Americans, they were left without a voice in the government. Their dire conditions continued to be ignored. Segregation resulted in subpar schooling and unequal housing, among other detrimental discriminatory practices. Without the power to change this through their representatives in Congress, African Americans and their allies began to stand up for what was right in a blossoming humanitarian movement that we today know as the Civil Rights Movement.

Peaceful protestors like Rosa Parks, the Freedom Riders, the Greensboro Four, and, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. became national figures during the 1950s and 1960s. Their voices could no longer be ignored. Despite the efforts of racist senators from the southern states, President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The former outlawed discrimination while the latter truly opened up elections to people of color. Were it not for the humanitarian movement led by Dr. King and others, it might have taken much longer for Blacks to be where they are today.

In Conclusion

Humanitarian movements are at the heart of modern America. They have allowed every American – rich or poor, male or female, Black or white – to have a much better shot at the American Dream. The Labor Movement gave workers the rights they have today, the Women’s Suffrage movement granted women the right to vote, and the Civil Rights Movement finally bestowed the rights that white people had enjoyed for many years to people of color. Movements like these have shaped America and achieved a great deal for citizens of all identities and backgrounds.

One facet of American life in need of its own humanitarian movement is our school system. Schools all across the nation continue to underserve students who have great potential, but who need the most help accessing equitable opportunities. At Educate. Radiate. Elevate., our tutoring program helps to empower these underprivileged students to be the future leaders that America needs. If you would like to be a part of our mission and help those who have fallen between the ever-widening cracks of the education system, become a donor for E.R.E. today!

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"Hi, I'm Lindsey.
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Lindsey Wander
Founder and President