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US Civil Rights Movement. 1955-1968 . Timeline of Events. 1955 Dec 1 st ; Montgomery Bus Boycott 1957; Martin Luther King becomes President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Sep; Little Rock High School incident .
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US Civil Rights Movement 1955-1968
Timeline of Events • 1955 Dec 1st; Montgomery Bus Boycott • 1957; Martin Luther King becomes President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Sep; Little Rock High School incident. • 1960; Feb 1st; Sit-ins begin in Greensboro. • 1961; May 4th;Freedom Rides begin. • 1963; Birmingham anti-segregation protests August 28th; March on Washington • 1964; Mississippi and Freedom Summer March 7th; Selma and ‘Bloody Sunday’ • 1966; Term ‘Black Power’ coined andthe Black Panthers established • 1968;April 4th; Martin Luther King assassinated Nashville Birmingham Selma Montgomery
Background • National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP); Lead by intellectuals and professionals; tactics of lobbying and bringing lawsuits. • Successes; • Truman desegregated the armed forces. • 1954Brown vs Board of Education; Supreme Court ruled against segregated education. • Backlash; engendered ‘massive resistance’ by white southerners. • The strategy of mass action within the court system shifted after Brown to "direct action“; primarily bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and similar tactics that relied on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. In part this was the unintended result of the local authorities' attempt to outlaw and harass the NAACP supporters. • 1955 – Mississippi and the Emmett Till Case
Dec 1st; Catalyst; arrest of Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. (Educated NAACP member). Key instigators; Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon (a labour organiser) and Jo Ann Robinson (teacher at Alabama State College). 50 African-American leaders gathered and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to lead the Bus Boycott. They waged economic warfare against segregation on public transport. Buses were a vulnerable target as they depended on the fares of Blacks. Organisation; communicated instructions through churches, ministers boosted morale, raised funds, set up car pools. The boycott lasted for 381 days until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was lifted. Ninety percent of African Americans in Montgomery took part in the boycotts, which reduced bus revenue by 80%. (W. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey, 2nd edition, 1992) The success in Montgomery triggered other bus boycotts, such as the highly successful Tallahassee, Florida, boycott of 1956-1957. ‘It helped to launch a 10-year national struggle for freedom and justice, the Civil Rights Movement, that stimulated others to do the same at home and abroad." (Roberta Wright). Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955
Emergence of Martin Luther King • The Bus Boycott enlisted support of Black ministers to help rally community.Martin Luther King (only 26yrs old) inherited a leading role. Older, more established ministers shied away from taking charge. • Appeal; good organiser, rousing speaker, courage to keep going in face of death threats and bombing. • Handsome, articulate, educated, Christian; made King ideal to convey message to a white American audience. • The press focus made King a nationally known figure. • The leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Dr. King, and Rev. John Duffy, joined with other church leaders to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. The SCLC, offered training and other assistance for local efforts to fight segregation. It made non-violence both its central tenet and its primary method of confronting racism. • In 1957 Martin Luther King became its President
Appeal of Nonviolence • Gandhi’s campaigns widely reported in press • Held up by black leaders eg. Dubois and Garvey, as a shining example to African-Americans • Appeal of Gandhi’s Nonviolence; • Form of direct action; ‘the greatest and activist force in the world’ (Gandhi) • Comparison to St Paul’s idea of love; Black American’s religious faith often gave them the strength to endure subordination. • Practical lessons; ability to produce on mass scale, concept of nonviolence could be transferred and applied to America’s situation. • CORE established in 1942; consciously and specifically sought to employ techniques used by Gandhi; conducted sit-ins as early as 1942. • After Gandhi’s assassination 1948; Truman asked for a federal anti-lynching law This was regarded as meagre political token but still shows reverberation from his death.
Martin Luther King’s Influences • Henry David Thoreau, ‘On Civil Disobedience’; King’s first intellectual contact with theory of non-violent resistance. Fascinated by idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system and argument that a minority could inspire a moral revolution. • Dr Benjamin E Mays, President at Morehouse introduced King to Gandhi’s philosophies. He encouraged African Americans to study Gandhi because of the kinship he saw between the situation for blacks in America and the struggle of the Indian people against the British • Awakened by reading Gandhi, King began ‘an intellectual odyssey to nonviolence’. At first this was based on practical considerations; the disadvantages of any minority adopting a policy of violence, rather than on principle. But he later developed his adherence to nonviolence into a moral philosophy. • King often emphasises the significance of Gandhi as a guiding force in his thinking ‘Prior to coming to Montgomery I had read most of the major works on Gandhi and Thoreau’s essay on ‘Civil Disobedience’. Both of these strains of thought had a profound influence on my thinking. I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problem in the United States’ King in a letter to George Hendrick, 5th Feb 1957 • King continued to refine his views in nonviolence and after the Montgomery Bus Boycott remarked that ‘The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either violence or non-existence.’
King’s Interpretation of Nonviolent Struggle Comprised of 5 elements; • ‘Non-violent resistance is not a method for cowards…It is the way of the strong…it is not a method of stagnant passivity’. • It does not seek the humiliation or defeat of the opponent but, rather understanding and the awakening of a sense of morality’. • Aimed at the evil acts, not the persons involved. • The willingness to suffer any consequences in transformational. • Rejects not just outward but inward violence of hatred, choosing instead to reach for Love. Acceptance Speech at Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony — December 10, 1964. At age 35, King became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.’
Little Rock High School • 1957 - Desegregation at Little Rock: • On the orders of Governor Faubus, when a group of nine black students arrived at Central High School on September 3, they were kept from entering by the National Guardsmen. • On September 20, judge Davies granted an injunction against Governor Faubus. • The group of nine students returned to Central High School a mob of 1,000 townspeople prevented them from remaining at school. • Finally, President Eisenhower ordered 1,000 paratroopers and 10,000 National Guardsmen to Little Rock, and on September 25, Central High School was desegregated. • The quickest way for civil rights activists to make headway in the Deep South was to nationalise the struggle by igniting crisis that would draw federal intervention. • Martin Luther King; ‘The key to everything is federal commitment’.
Sit-ins Feb 1st 1960; After having been refused service at the lunch counter of a Woolworth's in Greensboro, four black students continued to return each day. When an article in the New York Times drew attention to the students' protest, more students, joined them, and students across the nation were inspired to launch similar protests. “In a span of two weeks, there were sit-ins in eleven cities”
Nashville Sit-Ins • Instigator; John Lawson; Member of FOR (Fellowship of Reconciliation) • Used position as minister to start workshops, teaching students in the theory and practices of nonviolence in preparation for the sit-ins. • February 13th; more than 100 students split into groups and waited to be served at the white lunch counters. • Other sit-ins followed; February 27th; ‘Big Saturday’; Police removed protection. Beatings, being doused with ammonia, heavy court fines, arrest and imprisonment,Over 300 volunteers materialized for the campaign. Coordination and communication ensured that new waves of demonstrated could replace those attacked or arrested. • “By late March, the police had orders not to arrest the demonstrators because of the national publicity the sit-ins were attracting” (Williams 133). Senator John F. Kennedy, “they have shown that the new way for Americans to stand up for their rights is to sit down” • Succeeded in separating the most ambivalent elements of the old order, who had no deep interest in preserving segregation, from the most intransigent. • April 19th Following the bombing of Z. Alexander Looby’s home; 4000 marched to the courthouse; Mayor West confronted by student Diane Nash and forced to recommend that lunch counters be desegregated. Tennessean newspaper spread message to whole city. • April 1960 The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded at Shaw University, providing young blacks with a place in the civil rights movement.
Freedom Rides • 1961 Organised by CORE (Congress for Racial Equality) • Send an integrated team of activists across the South to test the desegregation of interstate buses and terminals. • Confronted with violence in South Carolina and a bus was firebombed in Alabama. Riders beaten and clubbed in Birmingham. Images circulated in press and Kennedy forced to intervene to fly riders out to safety. • Unfazed 20 more freedom riders took their place travelling from Birmingham with the aid of a police escort. Local segregation laws were frequently used to arrest and try the freedom riders. But as one group was arrested, more arrived to take their place. Throughout the summer, more than 300 Freedom Riders traveled through the deep south in an effort to integrate the bus terminals. • Faced attacks once again in Montgomery, clubbing of Kennedy’s own deputy; Kennedy sent in 600 federal marshals to stop violence in a showdown between the state of Alabama and the federal government. • Media coverage; reaped enormous publicity • Interstate Commerce Commission mandated the desegregation of all interstate bus terminals • Destabilised balance of interests that kept American system of apartheid in place, by provoking the national government to act against its own institutions and practices.
Birmingham • 1963 – Birmingham: Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most severely segregated cities in the 1960s. Black men and women held sit-ins at lunch counters where they were refused service, and "kneel-ins” on church steps where they were denied entrance. Hundreds of demonstrators were fined and imprisoned. • Birmingham: InMay 1963, Dr. King, the Reverend Abernathy and the Reverend Shuttlesworth lead a protest march in Birmingham. Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor uses fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators. These images of brutality, which are televised and published widely, are instrumental in gaining sympathy for the civil rights movement around the world. • The three ministers were arrested and taken to Southside Jail. Dr. King was held in solitary confinement for three days, • “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a profoundly moving justification for the moral necessity of non-violent resistance to unjust laws. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…"justice too long delayed is justice denied." • Birmingham: InSeptember 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. By the end of the day, riots and fires had broken out throughout Birmingham. This murderous act shocked the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement.
Freedom Summer; The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a network of civil rights groups that includes CORE and SNCC, launched a massive effort to register black voters. It also sends delegates to the Democratic National Convention to protest and attempt to unseat the official all-white Mississippi contingent. • 1964 – July 2nd The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Johnson signs the civil rights bill. The heart of the law ruled that African Americans could no longer be excluded from restaurants, hotels and other public facilities.
March on Washington • 1963 – August 28th March on Washington: Historic event that would come to symbolize the civil rights movement. The march had six official goals: "meaningful civil rights laws, a massive federal works program, full and fair employment, decent housing, the right to vote, and adequate integrated education." Real focus was on passage of the civil rights law that the Kennedy Administration had proposed after the upheavals in Birmingham. • A reporter from the Times wrote, "no one could ever remember an invading army quite as gentle as the two hundred thousand civil rights marchers who occupied Washington." • National media attention also greatly contributed to the march's national exposure and probable impact. William Thomas notes: "Over five hundred cameramen, technicians, and correspondents from the major networks were set to cover the event. More cameras would be set up than had filmed the last Presidential inauguration.”
Speech • Here, Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In this passage he reiterates the need for nonviolence; • ‘In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.’ • Close comparison with Gandhi’s message of Satyaghraha.
Selma and Bloody Sunday • 1965 Selma: Outraged over the killing of a demonstrator by a state trooper in Marion, Alabama, the black community decided to hold a march from Selma to Montgomery on Sunday March 7th. • When they reached the city line, they found a state troopers waiting for them. They immediately attacked the crowd of people who had bowed their heads in prayer. • Using tear gas and batons, the troopers chased the demonstrators to a black housing project, where they continued to beat the demonstrators as well as residents of the project who had not been at the march. • Numerous marches were organized in response. Finally, with President Johnson's permission, Dr. King led a successful march from Selma to Montgomery on March 25 Bloody Sunday received national attention through the media. Images of conflict between local authorities and nonviolent protestors, transferred legitimacy and popular sympathy to the campaign.
Results • The attention altered the political environment in which leaders had to operate; President Johnson gave a rousing speech to congress concerning civil rights as a result of Bloody Sunday, and passed the Voting Rights Act within that same year. • 1965 -- Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits literacy tests and poll taxes which had been used to prevent blacks from voting. According to a report of the Bureau of the Census; • In 1960 there were 22,000 African-Americans registered to vote in Mississippi, but in 1966 the number had risen to 175,000. • Alabama went from 66,000 African-American registered voters in 1960 to 250,000 in 1966. • South Carolina's African-American registered voters went from 58,000 to191,000 in the same time period.
Influence of the Media • First popular nonviolent movement to be played out before the modern mass media. • Some of the success of the Movement can be attributed to the invention of the television. This medium, through news broadcast and documentary film making, was particularly effective at conveying the news and images of the campaigns. • Prof. William Thomas argues that even "in the American South, local television news coverage had immediate and significant effects" on perceptions of social equality and segregation.’ (In "Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle“). Martin Luther King used this as a strategy to challenge the morality of mainstream America. • Since the 1960’s subsequent nonviolent movements have employed the use of media tactics following in the example of the Civil Rights movement. The modern global reach of communications has lead activists to give careful consideration to their media image. It can be potentially damaging if it fosters false hope of intervention but it has proved important in lifting the moral of many movements.
‘Black Power’ • ‘Black Power’; King faced criticism on two key tenets upon which the movement had been based: integration and non-violence. Disillusionment among SNCC and CORE militants provoked by slow progress of campaign. • Stokely Carmichael, who became the leader of SNCC in 1966, became the spokesperson for the "Black Power" movement. He encouraged the "right to self-defense" in response to attacks from white authorities. • Goal of black pride and separatism; The slogan ‘Black Power’ offered an aggressively militant alternative to what was increasingly seen as a conciliatory and assimilationist attitude towards Civil Rights; ‘We don’t need white liberals…we have to make integration irrelevant’ (Carmichael). It implied standing up to oppression and refusing to accept the social, political and cultural modes of one’s oppressor or colonizer. Celebrating ‘blackness’ in dress, demeanour and values. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, while being awarded the medals at the 1968 Summer Olympics, each raised a black-gloved Black Power salute. They were immediately ejected from the games but the Black Power movement had been given a stage on live, international television.
Black Panthers • Black Panthers; founded in Oakland, California, in 1966. This group followed ideology stated by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam using a "by-any-means necessary" approach to stopping inequality. • Using the statement "Power to the people”, their separatist demands resonated with ghetto youth, who identified more immediately with the murdered Malcolm X than with King. As racial conflict raged, violent disorder seemed to capture the establishment's attention more effectively than non-violence. • Originally espousing violent revolution as the only means of achieving black liberation, the Black Panthers called on African Americans to arm themselves for the liberation struggle.
King’s Death and Legacy 1968 – April 4 Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis. ‘Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort…We can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.’ (Robert F Kennedy). Laid groundwork for South to overcome pervesity of racial injustice and to transform itself into a region of dignity and racial amity. Across the nation, laws, values and attitudes were altered as a result of the US Civil Rights Campaign. On the international scene, King's legacy included influences on the Black Consciousness Movement and Civil Rights Movements in South Africa. Enduring legacy felt in the ongoing global struggle for human rights.. The success of the Civil Rights campaign of nonviolent action conferred on nonviolent methods a ‘new aura of effectiveness’. The mass media popularized the story and universalized the impression that nonviolent force could be more powerful
Factors for success Simple logic; mobilized black people behind nonviolent sanctions that compelled the nation to change. Strategy; Effectiveness of economic sanctions and Civil Disobedience Nationalization of struggle ‘Our most powerful nonviolent weapon is…also our most demanding, that is organization’ (Martin Luther King) Grass roots support Achievable goals Symbiotic relationship between violence and non-violence Leadership Role of Media
Limits of Nonviolence • North South Divide; NATURE OF THE CAMPAIGNS; In the North the campaigns were aimed at gaining Social and Economic equality rather than Political and Legal equality as in the South. • NATURE OF THE CAMPAIGNERS: By the mid 1960s many younger campaigners were becoming impatient. They had grown up with the early successes of the movement and now wanted more as the movement was becoming less successful. • POLITICAL CLIMATE: the Vietnam War directs funding away from the poorest members of society (mainly Blacks). King also speaks out against the war and thus starts to lose federal support and sympathy.In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the movement had clear goals - integrate Southern schools and colleges, removal of local racial bye-laws and restrictions in the Southern states, increase black voter registrations in the Southern states. The targets were easily identifiable, and could more easily be supported by white liberals and conservatives in power in the North and beyond. The creation of a black liberal middle-class supportive of the state was in their interests. • Aims after 1964; A totally equal society? A true democracy? An end to poverty? The politics of identity and race taken on by activists. Move away from black nationalism by Malcolm X, and later by the Black Panthers towards a more socialist train of thought. Martin Luther King begins the broadening of his thinking and starts to challenge poverty and class inequality (across races).
Questions for Discussion • What was distinctive about Martin Luther King's leadership? How much was he influenced by Gandhi, and were his methods similar to those of Gandhi, or were there important differences? • How crucial was the leadership of Martin Luther King to the Civil Rights movement? • Why was the Nashville lunch-counter protest of early 1960 so successful? E.g. analyse the conditions for its success. • To what extent did the movement benefit from the counter-violence of white racists? • What were the conditions that brought success to the movement in the South, but not in the North? • How justified was the Black Power critique of Martin Luther King and his nonviolence? • What was the legacy of the Civil Rights movement for the USA?