Though the Abolition Movement of the 19th Century had emancipated African Americans, lifting them from the shackles of slavery, they were still denied the basic civil rights. Discrimination based on colour and racial segregation was common in America, especially in its southern states, the traditional slave states of America before slavery was abolished by US President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
Years of struggle by African Americans to secure federal protection for their basic rights and to end the humiliating practice of segregation based on race led to the non-violent American Civil Rights Mass Movement in 1950s and 60s.
The long years of the movement saw series of non-violent protests, civil disobedience and boycotts and its culmination is seen in Martin Luther King’s ‘March on Washington’ on August 28, 1963 when he delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech demanding justice and equality for African Americans.
As a result of the American Civil Rights Movement, the US government passed a series of legislation during 1960s, i.e., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), which effectively ended the discriminatory practises based on colour and the racial segregation of public facilities in the years ahead.
The crux of Existentialism is Human Freedom, the freedom of the living human individual. The movement that was both literary and philosophical saw an individual as the basic entity of society who was in command of the world around him and acted freely and responsibly to find his place in society.
For an existentialist, individual and not organized society or religion was the centre of the whole existence. For him, the authenticity in life meant living individually, an existence that didn’t owe to society or religion.
Existentialism worked on the concept of ‘me Vs them’ or ‘individual Vs the society’ and firmly believed in an individual’s supremacy rejecting the established philosophical notions as too abstract and detached and thus showed disorientation and tension an individual had with existing norms revolving around with themes like life and death, freedom, existence and bondage, anxiety and authenticity, angst and despair and so on.
Basically called a 20th Century philosophy and used by French philosopher and legend Jean-Paul Sartre to describe himself, though he once famously said “Existentialism? I don’t know what that is”, it had its roots in the works of 19th Century philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard.
Existentialism gave rise to a cultural movement in 1940s and 50s Europe in the post World War II period and Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Jean Wahl, Gabriel Marce, José Ortega y Gasset, Miguel de Unamuno, Nikolai Berdyaev and Lev Shestov were the major Existentialists the movement produced.