AMST 3100 The 1960sThe Civil Rights MovementPart 1: the 1950s Powerpoint 2 Read Chafe Chapter 6
The modern civil rights movement • Began in the mid-1950s • Peaked in 1963 • Splintered after 1965 into different camps • Liberal reformers like M.L. King, Jr. who worked within the system • Radicals like the Black Panthers and the black consciousness movement who rejected the system altogether • The split reflects growing realization by many blacks that “the establishment” was incapable of reforming itself quickly or sufficiently enough to accomplish “the Dream” that King referred to in his famous 1963 March on Washington speech.
Four crucial steps taken in the 1960s that changed the country • 1. Blacks organized and openly challenged the system. • 2. They convinced the Democratic Party and the Federal Gov’t to put racial equality on the front burner and to become institutional allies. • 3. They convinced the Federal Gov’t that structural rather than individual-based solutions were necessary. • 4. By the late 60s, many blacks had come to reject the idea that a melting pot was possible – or desirable - and organized a black separatist program favoring black nationalism.
Melting pot vs black nationalism • The melting pot ideal involves • Desegregation of the races. • Black assimilation into the dominant white culture. • Equal opportunity to succeed. • Blacks and whites mixing together into one great melting pot. • Black nationalism involves • Black pride and the notion that Afro-American culture should be preserved, not diluted into a melting pot dominated by whites. • The assumption of equality in every way and the realization that one may choose not to assimilate into the white culture. • Pluralism, or the view that America is more beautiful in its rainbow characteristics of diverse ethnicity than if blacks were to give up their uniqueness to blend into the dominant white culture. The Black Panthers formed in 1966 and rejected the melting pot ideal of assimilation. They favored black nationalism instead.
Farber: two key points regarding the rise and splinter of the movement • 1. Activists could not sustain a monolithic front beyond the mid-1960s. • Blacks were not one monolithic group of the same class, age, religion, geography, etc. • Blacks differed among themselves and so did the problems they faced. • Southern Jim Crow differed from inner city racism. • Older blacks were more moderate, while younger blacks were more impatient and open to radical ideologies. • By the mid-1960s, these differences could no longer be covered up and the movement split. The last great civil rights march of the 1960s was the Selma March in March 1965 from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. The purpose of the march – just completed when this photo was taken - was to demonstrate the need for voting rights protections for racial minorities. A Voting Rights Act was passed in August 1965.
Farber: two key points regarding the rise and splinter of the movement, continued • 2. The civil rights movement must be viewed in context of larger structural forces. • A. Economic changes • B. Federal government changes • C. Attitudinal changes • D. Judicial shift by the Supreme Court Thurgood Marshall was a key NAACP lawyer who was involved in the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision on school desegregation. He later became a Supreme Court justice.
Larger Structural Forces • A. Economic changes. • Traditional southern racism was based on large white landholders making blacks dependent on them for jobs. • Industrialization mechanized these farms and millions of blacks were pushed away. They went north and west and created new opportunities for themselves while becoming less dependent upon white landowners. Their economic independence made them bolder and able to challenge racism more openly. Most cotton pickers felt highly dependent upon white landowners. This system helped sustain Jim Crow. Here, a civil rights activist is registering a field worker to vote during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
Larger Structural Forces • B. Federal government changes. • As the South became part of the emerging national culture, the Southern economy became increasingly dependent upon federal programs and contracts by the late 1950s. • By 1960, the Federal government had become an intervening force in American life. • It had begun to reappraise its role in protecting the liberties of everyone, including blacks. • Government policies reflected the rising tide of liberalism, with its faith that government can do good things for the people. This is a photo of the Cannon Mills office in Kannapolis, NC., just before its demolition in 2005. Cannon Mills was a large textile manufacturing plant. During World War II, Cannon Mills was required by the federal government to hire blacks in order to receive a lucrative federal contract to make towels for the military. Such federal policies contributed to the gradual desegregation of the Southern workforce.
Larger Structural Forces • C. Attitudinal Changes. • By 1960, Americans were re-thinking the racist ideology that had passed for common sense for centuries. • This was provoked partly by World War II and the battle against the Nazis. The Nazis reflected the peak of Western racism. • It was also provoked by the 1950s Civil Rights advocates, who pointed out the American hypocrisy of racism in a so-called free society. The symbolism expressed in this image, taken from the 1965 Selma march, is obvious to any American.
Larger Structural Forces • D. Judicial shift in 1954. • In 1897, a conservative Supreme Court stated in Plessy v. Ferguson that the Jim Crow system of separate but equal was valid. • By the 1940s and 50s, the Court had more liberals on it, and the justices took up the issue of segregation once again in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. • The 1954 Brown decision against segregation in schools provided legal and moral support for the civil rights advocates and gave momentum for change.
Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 • The Court agreed with the NAACP argument that separate schools were harmful to black children, who were denied an equal education. • Because the decision was so ground-breaking, Chief Justice Warren sought a unanimous decision. But the justices were not all liberals. To get them all to approve the decision, it was agreed that no timetable would be imposed for school desegregation. • While a unanimous Court ordered schools to desegregate (without imposing a timetable), President Eisenhower (a Republican) did not side with the Court’s decision and remained conspicuously silent on what should be done to desegregate the schools. • The Southern segregationists took heart from Ike’s reaction and resolved to fight desegregation. They formed Citizens Councils and resurrected the symbolism of the Civil War and “states rights.” • By 1960, 99% of Southern blacks continued to go to segregated schools. The KKK enjoyed a resurgence after the Brown decision. Many angry Southerners organized to resist what they saw as federal intrusion into their local way of life. Many looked to the national leader, President Eisenhower, for guidance. However, Eisenhower was conspicuously silent about the Brown decision. Was this a failure of leadership at a crucial moment?
The North Carolina response to Brown v. Board of Education • While there was variation in response across local school districts, state officials decided that the state would close any white school if integration occurred (if whites desired this) and offered to use taxes to fund segregated “safety valve” white alternative schools. The Charlotte Observer praised this decision for its “common sense.” • This threat was common across the South and was actually utilized in one of the Virginia school districts. There, all of the public schools were closed and the white children were sent to alternative schools. • The ambivalent role of Eisenhower’s federal government during the 1950s to enforce the Court’s desegregation order encouraged blacks to take matters into their own hands. Southern schools remained segregated for years after the Brown decision. However, by 1957 some schools slowly began to integrate, often over the loud objections of angry whites. Still, even in 1960, schools remained almost entirely segregated. Click here to read author James Baldwin’s 1957 interview about the desegregation of Charlotte’s Central High School.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955 • The Brown decision gave blacks a great legal victory, but white resistance made it clear that real reform would require direct action on their part. • In 1955, a year after the Brown decision (and its lack of enforcement) Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person – as demanded by the Jim Crow laws - and was arrested. Black citizens organized a protest, and thus started the Montgomery bus boycott. The NAACP and the black church were important resources. Rosa Parks sparked a new phase of the civil rights movement – the citizen activist phase in which ordinary people participate in public protests, organize, select leaders, mobilize resources, and work directly to change the system. Rosa used nonviolent civil disobedience to question the morality of Jim Crow laws.
Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955 • The boycott lasted one year and was successful in several ways: • 1. They won. Seating discrimination was ended in this city. • 2. It demonstrated the power of a unified, organized black community and showed that a mass citizen movement could work. • 3. It produced an articulate and persuasive leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was brought in from Atlanta at age 26 to lead the boycott. King is seen here being arrested for “loitering” in Montgomery Alabama in 1958. There were many Jim Crow laws aimed at racial minorities. They were not just about segregation. Some prohibited more than a few black people to stand together on the street, or to simply be present at a certain location. Typically blacks were required to get permits to engage in street protests, which would often be denied, resulting in arrests if they appeared on the street.
Martin Luther King, Jr. • King had three distinct characteristics that inspired others: • 1. He was a minister and adopted a liberal, idealistic interpretation of Christianity. • Emphasis on Jesus as a role model: love and compassion for everyone. • Turn the cheek forgiveness. • Faith in redemption: anyone, even a racist, can see the light if they look for it (hence, his idealism). • 2. He believed in nonviolent civil disobedience to Jim Crow laws as a tool for social change. • Emphasis on Mohandas Gandhi as a role model: organized, nonviolent disobedience of an immoral law serves to challenge its legitimacy. • 3. King was charismatic, he was an excellent orator, and he was never that threatening to whites due to his dignity and philosophy. • King believed that nonviolent protest, wedded to the moral virtues of equality and dignity, would convince white racists to change. This lesson would be used by many in the 1960s.
SCLC forms in 1957 • The success of the Montgomery bus boycott, and the elevation of King as the leader of the movement led to the formation by 1957 of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), with King as its leader. • The SCLC adopted the basic goals and strategies of King himself and led the movement during the late 1950s. • Christian, church based (churches are excellent for organizing). • Citizen based: everyone, including black students, were encourage to get involved. • Nonviolent civil disobedience tactics were carefully taught. • Goal: End Jim Crow and work for desegregation and racial equality. • Very inspirational time– a sense of meaning and change was in the air, with NAACP, the SCLC, and new groups forming. King speaking in Chicago, 1960. The SCLC was the premier citizen-based civil rights organization of the late 1950s. The NAACP had a more legalistic approach in its tactics.
Little Rock, 1957 • Following the Brown decision, Little Rock adopted a plan for gradual integration, but white Citizens Councils opposed it, and Arkansas governor Orval Faubus threatened to use the state National Guard to prevent desegregation. • In 1957, 9 black students attempted to enter an all-white high school but were turned down by the Arkansas National Guard. • A threatening white crowd of 1000 gathered at the school forcing the 9 black youth to be evacuated. • The town mayor sent President Eisenhower a telegram requesting Federal troops for protection. • The President sent 1000 army troops and federalized the state National Guard. Under federal troop escort, the 9 children were allowed to enroll at the high School. • The incident forced the federal government’s hand, and Eisenhower finally (albeit reluctantly) had stood for federally enforced school desegregation. This is the scene at Little Rock. Many angry whites viewed federal efforts to help blacks integrate into white schools as “special favors” given to non-whites. This attitude remains quite common on issues like affirmative action even today.