Civil Rights

.. tle Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, Governor Orval Faubus defied a federal court order to admit nine black students to Central High School, and President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce desegregation. The event was covered by the national media, and the fate of the Little Rock Nine, the students attempting to integrate the school, dramatized the seriousness of the school desegregation issue to many Americans. Although not all school desegregation was as dramatic as in Little Rock, the desegregation process did proceed-gradually. Frequently schools were desegregated only in theory, because racially segregated neighborhoods led to segregated schools. To overcome this problem, some school districts in the 1970s tried busing students to schools outside of their neighborhoods.

As desegregation progressed, the membership of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) grew. The KKK used violence or threats against anyone who was suspected of favoring desegregation or black civil rights. Klan terror, including intimidation and murder, was widespread in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, though Klan activities were not always reported in the media. One terrorist act that did receive national attention was the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy slain in Mississippi by whites who believed he had flirted with a white woman. The trial and acquittal of the men accused of Till’s murder were covered in the national media, demonstrating the continuing racial bigotry of Southern whites.

Political Protest Montgomery Bus Boycott Despite the threats and violence, the struggle quickly moved beyond school desegregation to challenge segregation in other areas. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a member of the Montgomery, Alabama, branch of the NAACP, was told to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person. When Parks refused to move, she was arrested. The local NAACP, led by Edgar D. Nixon, recognized that the arrest of Parks might rally local blacks to protest segregated buses. Montgomery’s black community had long been angry about their mistreatment on city buses where white drivers were often rude and abusive.

The community had previously considered a boycott of the buses, and almost overnight one was organized. The Montgomery bus boycott was an immediate success, with virtually unanimous support from the 50,000 blacks in Montgomery. It lasted for more than a year and dramatized to the American public the determination of blacks in the South to end segregation. A federal court ordered Montgomery’s buses desegregated in November 1956, and the boycott ended in triumph. A young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that directed the boycott.

The protest made King a national figure. His eloquent appeals to Christian brotherhood and American idealism created a positive impression on people both inside and outside the South. King became the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) when it was founded in 1957. SCLC wanted to complement the NAACP legal strategy by encouraging the use of nonviolent, direct action to protest segregation. These activities included marches, demonstrations, and boycotts. The violent white response to black direct action eventually forced the federal government to confront the issues of injustice and racism in the South. In addition to his large following among blacks, King had a powerful appeal to liberal Northerners that helped him influence national public opinion.

His advocacy of nonviolence attracted supporters among peace activists. He forged alliances in the American Jewish community and developed strong ties to the ministers of wealthy, influential Protestant congregations in Northern cities. King often preached to those congregations, where he raised funds for SCLC. The Sit-Ins On February 1, 1960, four black college students at North Carolina A University began protesting racial segregation in restaurants by sitting at white-only lunch counters and waiting to be served. This was not a new form of protest, but the response to the sit-ins in North Carolina was unique.

Within days sit-ins had spread throughout North Carolina, and within weeks they were taking place in cities across the South. Many restaurants were desegregated. The sit-in movement also demonstrated clearly to blacks and whites alike that young blacks were determined to reject segregation openly. In April 1960 the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, to help organize and direct the student sit-in movement. King encouraged SNCC’s creation, but the most important early advisor to the students was Ella Baker, who had worked for both the NAACP and SCLC. She believed that SNCC should not be part of SCLC but a separate, independent organization run by the students. She also believed that civil rights activities should be based in individual black communities.

SNCC adopted Baker’s approach and focused on making changes in local communities, rather than striving for national change. This goal differed from that of SCLC which worked to change national laws. During the civil rights movement, tensions occasionally arose between SCLC and SNCC because of their different methods. Freedom Riders After the sit-ins, some SNCC members participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides organized by CORE. The Freedom Riders, both black and white, traveled around the South in buses to test the effectiveness of a 1960 Supreme Court decision. This decision had declared that segregation was illegal in bus stations that were open to interstate travel.

The Freedom Rides began in Washington, D.C. Except for some violence in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the trip southward was peaceful until they reached Alabama, where violence erupted. At Anniston one bus was burned and some riders were beaten. In Birmingham, a mob attacked the riders when they got off the bus. They suffered even more severe beatings by a mob in Montgomery, Alabama. The violence brought national attention to the Freedom Riders and fierce condemnation of Alabama officials for allowing the violence.

The administration of President John Kennedy interceded to protect the Freedom Riders when it became clear that Alabama state officials would not guarantee safe travel. The riders continued on to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested and imprisoned at the state penitentiary, ending the protest. The Freedom Rides did result in the desegregation of some bus stations, but more importantly, they demonstrated to the American public how far civil rights workers would go to achieve their goals. SCLC Campaigns SCLC’s greatest contribution to the civil rights movement was a series of highly publicized protest campaigns in Southern cities during the early 1960s. These protests were intended to create such public disorder that local white officials and business leaders would end segregation in order to restore normal business activity. The demonstrations required the mobilization of hundreds, even thousands, of protesters who were willing to participate in protest marches as long as necessary to achieve their goal and who were also willing to be arrested and sent to jail. The first SCLC direct-action campaign began in 1961 in Albany, Georgia, where the organization joined local demonstrations against segregated public accommodations.

The presence of SCLC and King escalated the Albany protests by bringing national attention and additional people to the demonstrations, but the demonstrations did not force negotiations to end segregation. During months of protest, Albany’s police chief continued to jail demonstrators without a show of police violence. The Albany protests ended in failure. In the spring of 1963, however, the direct-action strategy worked in Birmingham, Alabama. SCLC joined the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a local civil rights leader, who believed that the Birmingham police commissioner, Eugene Bull Connor, would meet protesters with violence.

In May the SCLC staff stepped up antisegregation marches by persuading teenagers and school children to join. The singing and chanting adolescents who filled the streets of Birmingham caused Connor to abandon restraint. He ordered police to attack demonstrators with dogs and firefighters to turn high-pressure water hoses on them. The ensuing scenes of violence were shown throughout the nation and the world in newspapers, magazines, and most importantly, on television. Much of the world was shocked by the events in Birmingham, and the reaction to the violence increased support for black civil rights. In Birmingham white leaders promised to negotiate an end to some segregation practices.

Business leaders agreed to hire and promote more black employees and to desegregate some public accommodations. More important, however, the Birmingham demonstrations built support for national legislation against segregation. Desegregating Southern Universities In 1962 a black man from Mississippi, James Meredith, applied for admission to University of Mississippi. His action was an example of how the struggle for civil rights belonged to individuals acting alone as well as to organizations. The university attempted to block Meredith’s admission, and he filed suit. After working through the state courts, Meredith was successful when a federal court ordered the university to desegregate and accept Meredith as a student.

The governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, defied the court order and tried to prevent Meredith from enrolling. In response, the administration of President Kennedy intervened to uphold the court order. Kennedy sent federal marshals with Meredith when he attempted to enroll. During his first night on campus, a riot broke out when whites began to harass the federal marshals. In the end, 2 people were killed, and about 375 people were wounded.

When the governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace, threatened a similar stand, trying to block the desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1963, the Kennedy Administration responded with the full power of the federal government, including the U.S. Army, to prevent violence and enforce desegregation. The showdowns with Barnett and Wallace pushed Kennedy, whose support for civil rights up to that time had been tentative, into a full commitment to end segregation. The March on Washington The national civil rights leadership decided to keep pressure on both the Kennedy administration and the Congress to pass civil rights legislation by planning a March on Washington for August 1963. It was a conscious revival of A.

Philip Randolph’s planned 1941 march, which had yielded a commitment to fair employment during World War II. Randolph was there in 1963, along with the leaders of the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, the Urban League, and SNCC. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the keynote address to an audience of more than 200,000 civil rights supporters. His I Have a Dream speech in front of the giant sculpture of the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, became famous for how it expressed the ideals of the civil rights movement. Partly as a result of the March on Washington, President Kennedy proposed a new civil rights law. After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the new president, Lyndon Johnson, strongly urged its passage as a tribute to Kennedy’s memory.

Over fierce opposition from Southern legislators, Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. It prohibited segregation in public accommodations and discrimination in education and employment. It also gave the executive branch of government the power to enforce the act’s provisions. Voter Registration The year 1964 was the culmination of SNCC’s commitment to civil rights activism at the community level. Starting in 1961 SNCC and CORE organized voter registration campaigns in heavily black, rural counties of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

SNCC concentrated on voter registration, believing that voting was a way to empower blacks so that they could change racist policies in the South. SNCC worked to register blacks to vote by teaching them the necessary skills-such as reading and writing-and the correct answers to the voter registration application. SNCC worker Robert Moses led a voter registration effort in McComb, Mississippi, in 1961, and in 1962 and 1963 SNCC worked to register voters in the Mississippi Delta, where it found local supporters like the farm-worker and activist Fannie Lou Hamer. These civil rights activities caused violent reactions from Mississippi’s white supremacists. Moses faced constant terrorism that included threats, arrests, and beatings.

In June 1963 Medgar Evers, NAACP field secretary in Mississippi, was shot and killed in front of his home. In 1964 SNCC workers organized the Mississippi Summer Project to register blacks to vote in that state. SNCC leaders also hoped to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism. They recruited Northern college students, teachers, artists, and clergy-both black and white-to work on the project, because they believed that the participation of these people would make the country more concerned about discrimination and violence in Mississippi. The project did receive national attention, especially after three participants, two of whom were white, disappeared in June and were later found murdered and buried near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

By the end of the summer, the project had helped thousands of blacks attempt to register, and about 1000 had actually become registered voters. The Summer Project increased the number of blacks who were politically active and led to the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). When white Democrats in Mississippi refused to accept black members in their delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1964, Hamer and others went to the convention to challenge the white Democrats’ right to represent Mississippi. In a televised interview, Hamer detailed the harassment and abuse experienced by black Mississippians when they tried to register to vote. Her testimony attracted much media attention, and President Johnson was upset by the disturbance at the convention where he expected to be nominated for president. National Democratic Party officials offered the black Mississippians two convention seats, but the MFDP rejected the compromise offer and went home.

Later, however, the MFDP challenge did result in more support for blacks and other minorities in the Democratic Party. In early 1965 SCLC employed its direct-action techniques in a voting- rights protest initiated by SNCC in Selma, Alabama. When protests at the local courthouse were unsuccessful, protesters began a march to Montgomery, the state capital. As the marchers were leaving Selma, mounted police beat and tear-gassed them. Televised scenes of that violence, called Bloody Sunday, s Political Issues.

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