Civil Rights Movement in an Uncivil Society
The struggle for the civil rights of Black Americans began long before what we usually consider the modern Civil Rights Movement. During the Reconstruction period (after the Civil War) key laws were created to guarantee the end of slavery and establish legal equality for Blacks. • For example: • 13th Amendment – outlaws slavery • 14th Amendment – prevents states from denying citizens rights • 15th Amendment – guarantees voting rights to all citizens • Civil Rights Act of 1875 – all citizens should have access to public facilities, including inns, theaters, etc.
However, the Supreme Court made 2 decisions that quickly deteriorated the impact of these laws. • 1883: Civil Rights Act was declared unconstitutional • 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson: • Supreme Court ruled that segregation was legal as long as the facilities were equal. Established the “separate but equal” doctrine.
Homer Plessy, a 30-yr-old ‘colored’ shoemaker was jailed for sitting in the white car of a train in Louisiana. • He was ⅛ Black, therefore legally Black according to law • He took the case to court, arguing that the Separate Car Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution
“Jim Crow” Laws created all over South • Separate public parks, restrooms, factories, Bibles in court • Separate blood for wounded in US Army • Alabama – 10pm curfew for Blacks • Leaders like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and A. Phillip Randolph fought for Blacks’ civil rights 1890s – 1940s • “Jim Crow” was a character based on a • racist portrayal of Black people. • Protestors against & • for segregation laws
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas • Parents of Linda Brown, with NAACP support, challenged the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision that made segregation legal • Thurgood Marshall, NAACP lawyer was the lead prosecuting lawyer • Supreme Court declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherentlyunequal.” • President Eisenhower, who was not a strong civil rights supporter, disagreed with the decision (but was required by law to enforce it)
Montgomery Bus Boycott • A highly organized challenge to segregation on public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama • Rosa Parks was involved with local civil rights activism. She refused to move to the back of the bus and was arrested • Civil disobedience = challenging unjust laws by refusing to comply, regardless of the consequences to oneself. • Since Blacks made up 60-70% of ridership, their boycott of the city bus system was extremely successful • Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as civil rights leader • His tactic was a combination of the teachings of Gandhi and Jesus : non-violent civil disobedience, also known as non-cooperation
"There comes a time when people get tired of being kicked around by the brutal feet of oppression." To white racists: “We will not hate you, but we cannot obey your unjust laws.”
Southern Resistance • After the Brown decision, there was a wave of violence • Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi • Civil Rights workers were especially targeted • 1956: 100+ Southern US Congressmen signed a “Southern Manifesto”, pledging to fight the Brown decision • Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas tried to bar entrance of its first 9 Black students by encircling the school with Arkansas National Guard. • President Eisenhower couldn’t tolerate a direct act of defiance against federal law, so sent federal troops • Students then were able to enter, but faced such protests and violent threats that they were removed for protection.
The Kennedy Years • 1960 Sit-ins – In Greensboro, NC four Black college students sat at a segregated lunch counter • Sparked similar protests at lunch counters throughout the South and spread to the North • Protesters were arrested, beaten, suspended from school, tear-gassed, and sprayed with fire hoses
1961 Freedom Rides – CORE members and college students from the North traveled by bus to southern states to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision banning segregation • Public rest rooms, waiting rooms, and restaurants were visited by these interracial protesters • They were met with anger and violence by southern whites • 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama – Chief of Police “Bull” Conner unleashed fire hoses, billy-clubs and attack dogs on peaceful protesters, including children
Second Civil Rights March on Washington • After JFK introduced the Civil Rights Bill in 1963, leaders of the movement believed that they could rally support by organizing a March • August 28, 1963 – over 200,000 interracial participants • MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – passed by Congress • Made racial discrimination in public places illegal • Required workplace race equality • Did not address voting rights & other issues, so the movement continued
Voting Rights • Despite federal laws protecting voting rights, strategies had long been used to keep Blacks from voting • Literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation and terrorism • Activists tried to register Black voters faced harassment and violence (including murder) • The Selma March, 1965 : To protest brutality during an Alabama registration drive, MLK organized a march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery • 4 attempts were made & each was met with violent retaliation by police, state troopers and white citizens • Marchers were arrested and attacked despite the presence of federal troops, marshals and FBI • Public dismay helped pass LBJ’s Voting Rights Act
Black Power Movement • For many, MLK’s philosophy of nonviolence was losing its appeal for being too easy on whites and too slow to progress • Activist & leader Stokely Carmichael, after his 27th arrest for civil rights activities, coined the phrase Black Pride along with “Black is Beautiful” • Malcolm X, a Black American Muslim, advocated an unapologetic militant position: Black separatism and radical change “by any means necessary” • Malcolm X was assassinated (probably by his former allies) in 1965, which only increased the attitude of radicalism for urban Blacks • Raised fist = key symbol for united Black pride and strength
The Black Panther Party (1966-1982) • Formed in Oakland, CA to protect against police harassment, and to provide free food and medical care to needy families • Police forces were predominantly white, and brutality against Black citizens was an issue • Their 10 Point Program begins: “We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black Community” • Chapters were formed in cities nationwide • Targeted by the CIA under J. Edgar Hoover, who considered the BPP a national security threat • A central component of their militant strategy was to arm themselves (2nd Amendment) for protection, which created intense controversy & a reputation for hostility • CIA operatives incited conflict within and between Black Power groups, leading to their downfall