Main Page | Recent changes | View source | Page history

Printable version | Disclaimers | Privacy policy

Not logged in
Log in | Help

American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)

From dKosopedia

The civil rights movement in the United States has been a long, primarily nonviolent struggle to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all citizens of United States. It has been made up of many movements, though the term is often used to refer to the struggles between 1955 and 1968 to end discrimination against African-Americans and to end racial segregation, especially in the U.S. South. See African American for information on how various terms have been used at during that time period for African Americans.

This article focuses on that particular struggle, rather than the comparable movements to end discrimination against other ethnic groups within the United States or those struggles, such as the women's liberation, gay liberation, and disabled rights movements, that have used similar tactics in pursuit of similar goals. The civil rights movement has had a lasting impact on United States society, both in its tactics and in increased social and legal acceptance of civil rights.

Martin Luther King is perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream" speech, given in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This focus on the years between 1955, when the Montgomery bus boycott began, and 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, is somewhat arbitrary; the civil rights movement continued in different forms after that, and continues today.



See American Civil Rights Movement (1896-1954).

The United States Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ussc|347|483|1954 was a key turning point in United States history: after years of campaigning against Jim Crow laws and racial oppression, the civil rights movement had obtained a unanimous decision from the Supreme Court reversing the "separate but equal" doctrine that had justified official racism for the past half century. While Brown itself was only a first step toward disestablishing school segregation in the South—a process that would require decades of litigation to accomplish, with uncertain results—it was even more important for its immediate political significance, as it gave the civil rights movement the added legitimacy of a Supreme Court decision declaring that state-sponsored segregation was both unjustifiable and wrong.

The murder of Emmett Till

Murders of African-Americans at the hands of whites were still common in the 1950s and still unpunished in large areas of the South. The murder of Emmett Till, a teenaged boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955 was different, however: the age of the boy, the pathetically innocent nature of his crime—allegedly whistling at a white woman in a store—and his mother's decision to have the casket open at his funeral, showing the beating that had been inflicted on her son by his two white abductors before he was shot and his body dumped in the Tallahatchie River on August 28 all made what might otherwise have been a routine statistic into a cause celebre. As many as 50,000 people may have viewed his body at the funeral home in Chicago and many thousands more were exposed to the evidence of his murder when a photograph of his corpse was published in Jet Magazine

The two murderers were arrested the day after Till's disappearance. They were acquitted a month later after the jury deliberated for sixty-seven minutes. The murder and subsequent acquittal galvanized opinion in the North in the same way that the long campaign to free the "Scottsboro Boys" had in the 1930s.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

On December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks (the "mother of the civil rights movement") refused to get up out of her seat on a public bus to make room for white passengers. Rosa was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. After word of this incident reached the black community, 50 African-American leaders gathered and organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the segregation of blacks and whites on public buses. The boycott lasted for 382 days, until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was lifted. This instance is often credited as the spark of the Civil Rights movement.

Mass action replaces litigation

Up through 1955 the civil rights movement in the South had largely been fought in courtrooms: while the NAACP had chapters throughout the South that attempted to register voters and protested discrimination, those efforts were often uncoordinated, while local authorities regularly harassed those organizations and the activists in them.

That strategy shifted after Brown, however, to "direct action"—primarily bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and similar tactics that relied on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience—from 1955 to 1965. In part this was the unintended result of the local authorities' attempt to outlaw and harass the mainstream civil rights organizations throughout the Deep South. The State of Alabama had effectively barred the NAACP from operating in Alabama in 1956 by requiring it to give the state a list of its members, then enjoining it from operating within the state when it failed to do so. While the United States Supreme Court ultimately reversed the order, for a few years in the mid-1950s the NAACP was unable to operate above-ground in Alabama.

Churches and local grassroots organizations stepped in to fill the gap, and brought with them a much more energetic and broad-based style than the more legalistic approach of groups such as the NAACP.

The most important step forward was in Montgomery, Alabama, where longtime NAACP activists Rosa Parks and Edgar Nixon prevailed on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956. Activists and church leaders in other communities, such as Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had used the boycott in recent years, although those efforts often withered away after a few days. In Montgomery, on the other hand, the Montgomery Improvement Association created to lead the boycott managed to keep the boycott going for a year until a federal court order required Montgomery to desegregate its buses. The success in Montgomery made King a nationally known figure and triggered other bus boycotts, such as the highly successful Tallahassee, Florida boycott of 1956-1957.

The leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association, Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy, joined with other church leaders who had led similar boycott efforts, such as Rev. C. K. Steele of Tallahassee and Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, and other activists, such as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levison to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. The SCLC, with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, did not attempt to create a network of chapters, the way the NAACP did, but offered training and other assistance for local efforts to fight segregation, while raising funds, mostly from northern sources, to support these campaigns. It made non-violence both its central tenet and its primary method of confronting racism.

In 1957, Septima Clarke, Bernice Robinson, and Esau Jenkins, with the help of the Highlander Folk School began the first Citizenship Schools in South Carolina's Sea Islands, to teach literacy to allow blacks to pass voting tests. The program was an enormous success, tripling the number of black voters on St. John Island. The program was taken over by the SCLC and copied in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Desegregating Little Rock

Following the Supreme Court's decision in Brown, the Little Rock, Arkansas school board voted in 1957 to integrate the school system. The NAACP had chosen to press for integration in Little Rock, rather than in the Deep South, because Arkansas was considered a relatively progressive southern state. A crisis erupted, however, when Governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus called out the National Guard on September 4 to prevent the nine African-American students who had sued for the right to attend an integrated school from attending Little Rock's Central High School.

Faubus himself was not a dyed-in-the-wool segregationist, but he had received significant pressure from the more conservative wing of the Arkansas Democratic Party, which controlled politics in that state at the time, after he had indicated the previous year that he would investigate bringing Arkansas into compliance with the Brown decision. Faubus took his stand against integration and against the federal court order that required it.

Faubus's order set him on a collision course with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was determined to enforce the orders of the Federal courts, even though he was lukewarm, at best, on the goal of desegregation of public schools. Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and ordered them to return to their barracks. Eisenhower then deployed elements of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the students.

The students were able to attend high school, although they had to pass through a gauntlet of spitting, jeering whites to arrive at school on their first day and to put up with harassment from fellow students for the rest of the year. Faubus was reelected Governor the following year and for three terms after that.

Sit-ins and freedom rides

The civil rights movement received an infusion of energy when students in Greensboro, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia began to "sit-in" at lunch counters in local stores to protest those establishments' refusal to desegregate. Protesters were encouraged to dress up, sit quietly, and occupy every other stool so potential white sympathizers could join in. Many of these sit-in resulted in authority figures physically and brutally escorting them from the lunch facility.

The technique was not new—the Congress of Racial Equality had used it to protest segregation in the Midwest in the 1940s—but it brought national attention to the movement in 1960. The success of the Greensboro sit-in led to a rash of student campaigns all across the South. Probably the best organized and disciplined of these, and the most immediately effective, was in Nashville, Tennessee. By the end of 1960 the sit-ins had spread to every southern and border state and even to Nevada, Illinois, and Ohio. Demonstrators focused not only on lunch counters but also on parks, beaches, libraries, theaters, museums, and other public places. When they were arrested, student demonstrators made "jail-no-bail" pledges to call attention to their cause and to reverse the cost of protest, putting the financial burden of jail space and food on the jailers.

The activists who had led these sit-ins formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960 to take these tactics of nonviolent confrontation further. Their first campaign, in 1961, was conducting freedom rides, in which activists traveled by bus through the deep South to desegregate these companies' bus terminals, as required by federal law. CORE's leader, James Farmer, supported the freedom rides, but backed out at the last minute.

That proved to be an enormously dangerous mission. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed, forcing its passengers to flee for their lives. In Birmingham, where an FBI informant reported that Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor had encouraged the Ku Klux Klan to attack an incoming group of freedom riders "until it looked like a bulldog had got a hold of them," the riders were severely beaten. In eerily quiet Montgomery, a mob charged another bus load of riders, knocking John Lewis unconscious with a crate and smashing Life photographer Don Urbrock in the face with his own camera. A dozen men surrounded Jim Zwerg, a white student from Fisk University, and beat him in the face with a suitcase, knocking out his teeth.

The freedom riders did not fare much better in jail, where they were crammed into tiny, filthy cells and sporadically beaten. In Jackson, Mississippi, some male prisoners were forced to do hard labor in 100-degree heat. Others were transferred to Parchman Penitentiary, where their food was deliberately oversalted and their mattresses were removed. Sometimes the men were suspended by "wrist breakers" from the walls. Typically, the windows of their cells were shut tight on hot days, making it hard for them to breathe.

The student movement involved such celebrated figures as John Lewis, the single-minded activist who "kept on" despite many beatings and harassments; James Lawson, the revered "guru" of nonviolent theory and tactics; Diane Nash, an articulate and intrepid public champion of justice; Bob Moses, pioneer of voting registration in the most rural--and most dangerous--part of the South; and James Bevel, a fiery preacher and charismatic organizer and facilitator. Other prominent student activists included Charles McDew, Bernard Lafayette, Charles Jones, Lonnie King, Julian Bond (associated with Atlanta University), Hosea Williams (associated with Brown Chapel), and Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Toure.

Organizing in Mississippi

In 1962 Bob Moses, SNCC's representative in Mississippi, brought together the civil rights organizations in the state—SNCC, the NAACP, and CORE—to form COFO, the Council of Federated Organizations. Mississippi was the most dangerous of all the Southern states, yet Moses, Medgar Evers of the NAACP and local activists embarked on door-to-door voter education projects in rural Mississippi, while trying to recruit students to their cause. Evers was murdered the following year.

While COFO was working at the grassroots level in Mississippi James Meredith was successfully suing for admission to the University of Mississippi. He won that lawsuit in September, 1962 and attempted to enter the campus on September 20 and again on September 25 and September 26, 1962, only to be blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross R. Barnett, who proclaimed that "no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor". After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held both Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson, Jr. in contempt, with fines of more than $10,000 for each day they refused to allow Meredith to enroll, Meredith, escorted by a force of U.S. Marshals, entered the campus on September 30, 1962.

White students and other whites began rioting that evening, throwing rocks at the U.S. Marshals guarding Meredith at Lyceum Hall, then firing on the Marshals. Two persons, including a French journalist, were killed, 28 Marshals suffered gunshot wounds and 160 others were injured. After the Mississippi Highway Patrol withdrew from the campus President Kennedy sent the regular Army to the campus to quell the uprising. Meredith was able to begin classes the following day after the troops arrived.

The Albany movement

The SCLC, which had been criticized along with other mainstream civil rights organizations by some student activists for its failure to participate more fully in the freedom rides, committed much of its prestige and resources to a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia in November 1961. King, who had been criticized personally by some SNCC activists for his distance from the dangers that local organizers faced—and given the derisive nickname "De Lawd" as a result—intervened personally to assist the campaign led by both SNCC organizers and local leaders.

The campaign was a failure in the short run, largely due to the canny tactics of Laurie Pritchett, the local police chief, who successfully contained the movement without the sort of violent attacks on demonstrators that inflamed national opinion, and divisions within the black community. King left in 1962 without achieving any dramatic victories. The local movement, however, continued the struggle and obtained significant gains in the next few years.

The Birmingham campaign

The Albany movement proved to be an important education for the SCLC, however, when it undertook the Birmingham campaign in 1963. The campaign focused on one concrete goal—the desegregation of Birmingham's downtown merchants—rather than total desegregation, as in Albany. It was also helped by the brutal response of local authorities, in particular Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety who had lost a recent election for Mayor to a less rabidly segregationist candidate, but refused to accept the new Mayor's authority.

The campaign used a variety of nonviolent methods of confrontation, including sit-ins, kneel-ins at local churches, and a march to the county building to mark the beginning of a drive to register voters. The City, however, obtained an injunction barring all such protests. Convinced that the order was unconstitutional, the campaign defied it and prepared for mass arrests of its supporters. King elected to be among those arrested on April 12, 1963.

While in jail King wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail on the margins of a newspaper, since he had not been allowed any writing paper while held in solitary confinement by jail authorities. Supporters pressured the Kennedy administration to intervene to obtain his release or better conditions; he was eventually allowed to call his wife, who was recuperating at home after the birth of their fourth child, and was released on April 19.

The campaign was, however, faltering at this time, as the movement was running out of demonstrators willing to risk arrest. SCLC organizers came up with a bold and controversial alternative, calling on high school students to take part in the demonstrators. When more than a thousand students left school on May 2 to join the demonstrations, Bull Connor unleashed police dogs on them, then turned the city's fire hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, on the children. Television cameras broadcast the scenes of fire hoses knocking down school children and dogs attacking individual demonstrators with no means of protecting themselves to the nation.

That forced the Kennedy administration to intervene more forcefully in the negotiations between the white business community and the SCLC. On May 10 the parties announced an agreement to desegregate the lunch counters and other public accommodations downtown, to create a committee to eliminate discriminatory hiring practices, to arrange for the release of jailed protesters and to establish regular means of communication between black and white leaders.

Not everyone in the black community approved of the agreement—Fred Shuttlesworth was particularly critical, since he had accumulated a great deal of skepticism about the good faith of Birmingham's power structure from his experience in dealing with them. The reaction from parts of the white community was even more violent: the Gaston Motel, which housed the SCLC's unofficial headquarters, was bombed, as was the home of King's brother, the Reverend A. D. King. Kennedy prepared to federalize the Alabama National Guard but did not follow through. Four months later, on September 15, Ku Klux Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (see 16th Street Baptist Church bombing) in Birmingham, killing four young girls.

The March on Washington

A. Philip Randolph had planned a March on Washington in 1941 in support of demands for elimination of employment discrimination in defense industries; he called off the march when the Roosevelt administration met the demand by issuing Executive Order 8802 barring discrimination and creating an agency to oversee compliance with the order.

Randolph and Bayard Rustin were the chief planners of the second March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which they proposed in 1962. The Kennedy administration applied great pressure on Randolph and King to call it off, but without success. The march was held on August 28, 1963.

Unlike the planned 1941 march, for which Randolph included only black-led organizations in the planning, the 1963 march was a collaborative effort of all of the major civil rights organizations, the more progressive wing of the labor movement, and other liberal organizations. 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." Of these, the March's real focus was on passage of the civil rights law that the Kennedy administration had proposed after the upheavals in Birmingham.

The march was a success, although not without controversy. More than 200,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. While many speakers applauded the Kennedy Administration for the (largely ineffective) efforts it had made toward obtaining new, more effective civil rights legislation protecting the right to vote and outlawing segregation, John Lewis of SNCC took the Administration to task for how little it had done to protect Southern blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South. While he toned down his comments under pressure from others in the movement, his words still stung:

”We march today for jobs and freedom, but we have nothing to be proud of, for hundreds and thousands of our brothers are not here--for they have no money for their transportation, for they are receiving starvation wages…or no wages at all. In good conscience, we cannot support the administration's civil rights bill.
This bill will not protect young children and old women from police dogs and fire hoses when engaging in peaceful demonstrations. This bill will not protect the citizens of Danville, Virginia who must live in constant fear in a police state. This bill will not protect the hundreds of people who have been arrested on trumped-up charges like those in Americus, Georgia, where four young men are in jail, facing a death penalty, for engaging in peaceful protest.
I want to know, which side is the federal government on? The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy, the black masses are on the march for jobs and for freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won't be a 'cooling-off period.'”

After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy at the White House. While the Kennedy administration appeared to be sincerely committed to passing the bill, it was not clear that it had the votes to do it. As it turned out, it was Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, who followed through on this commitment.

Mississippi Freedom Summer

COFO brought more than a hundred college students, many from outside the state, to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 ("Freedom Summer") to join with local activists to register voters, teach in "Freedom Schools" and organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The work was as dangerous as ever: three civil rights workers, James Chaney, a young black Mississippian and plasterer's apprentice, and two white volunteers, Andrew Goodman, a Queens College anthropology student, and Michael Schwerner, a social worker from Manhattan's Lower East Side, were murdered by members of the Klan, some of them in the Neshoba County sheriff's department, on June 21, 1964.

The national uproar caused by their disappearance forced the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate, even though President Johnson had to use indirect threats of political reprisals against J. Edgar Hoover to force him to do so. After paying at least one participant in the crime for details about the murders, the FBI found their bodies on August 4 in an earthen dam outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. Schwerner and Goodman had been shot once; Chaney, the lone African-American, had been savagely beaten and shot three times. The FBI also discovered, in the course of its investigation, the bodies of a number of other Mississippi blacks whose disappearances had been reported over the past several years without attracting any attention outside their local communities.

The disappearance of these three activists remained in the public eye for the month and a half until their bodies were found. Johnson used the outrage over their deaths and his formidable political skills to bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination in public accommodations, employment and education.

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

COFO had held a Freedom Vote in Mississippi in 1963 to demonstrate the desire of black Mississippians to vote; more than 90,000 people voted in mock elections pitting candidates from the Freedom Party against the official State Party Candidates. In 1964 organizers launched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the all-white slate from the State Party. When Mississippi voting registrars refused to recognize their candidates, they held their own primary, selecting Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine , and Victoria Gray to run for Congress and a slate of delegates to represent Mississippi at the 1964 national Democratic convention.

Their presence in Atlantic City, New Jersey was very inconvenient, however, for the convention organizers, who had planned a triumphal celebration of the Johnson Administration’s achievements in civil rights, rather than a fight over racism within the Democratic Party itself. Johnson was also worried about the inroads that Barry Goldwater’s campaign was making in what had previously been the Democratic stronghold of the "Solid South" and the support that George Wallace had received during the Democratic primaries in the North. Other all-white delegations from other Southern states had threatened to walk out if the all-white slate from Mississippi were not seated.

Johnson could not, however, prevent the MFDP from taking its case to the Credentials Committee, where Fannie Lou Hamer testified about the beatings that she and others were given and the threats they faced for trying to register to vote. Turning to the television cameras, Hamer asked, "Is this America?"

Johnson attempted to preempt coverage of Hamer's testimony by calling a hastily scheduled speech of his own; when that failed to move the MFDP off the evening news, he offered the MFDP a "compromise" under which it would receive two non-voting at-large seats, while the white delegation sent by the official Democratic Party would retain its seats. The MFDP angrily rejected the compromise. As Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers' successor as President of the NAACP 's Mississippi affiliate, stated:

"Now, Lyndon made the typical white man's mistake: Not only did he say, "You've got two votes," which was too little, but he told us to whom the two votes would go. He'd give me one and Ed King one; that would satisfy. But, you see, he didn't realize that sixty-four of us came up from Mississippi on a Greyhound bus, eating cheese and crackers and bologna all the way there; we didn't have no money. Suffering the same way. We got to Atlantic City; we put up in a little hotel, three or four of us in a bed, four or five of us on the floor. You know, we suffered a common kind of experience, the whole thing. But now, what kind of fool am I, or what kind of fool would Ed have been, to accept gratuities for ourselves? You say, Ed and Aaron can get in but the other sixty-two can't. This is typical white man picking black folks' leaders, and that day is just gone."

Hamer put it even more succinctly:

"We didn't come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn't come all this way for no two seats, 'cause all of us is tired."

The MFDP kept up its agitation within the Convention, however, even after it was denied official recognition. When all but three of the "regular" Mississippi delegates left because they refused to pledge allegiance to the Party, the MFDP delegates borrowed passes from sympathetic delegates and took the seats vacated by the Mississippi delegates, only to be removed by the national Party. When they returned the next day to find that convention organizers had removed the empty seats that had been there yesterday, they stayed to sing freedom songs.

The 1964 convention disillusioned many within the MFDP and the civil rights movement, but it did not destroy the MFDP itself. The MFDP became more radical after Atlantic City, inviting Malcolm X to speak at its founding convention and opposing the war in Vietnam.

Selma and the Voting Rights Act

SNCC had undertaken an ambitious voter registration program in Selma, Alabama in 1965, but made little headway in the face of opposition from Selma's sheriff, Jim Clark. After local residents asked the SCLC for assistance, King came to Selma to lead a number of marches, at which he was arrested along with 250 other demonstrators. The marchers continued to meet violent resistance from police; a Selma resident, Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed by police at a later march in February.

On March 7, Hosea Williams of the SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC led a march of 600 people who intended to walk the fifty-four miles from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. Only six blocks into the march, however, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and local law enforcement, some mounted on horseback, attacked the peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs, tear gas, rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire and bull whips, driving them back into Selma. John Lewis was knocked unconscious and dragged to safety, while at least sixteen other marchers were hospitalized.

The national broadcast of the footage of lawmen attacking unresisting marchers seeking only the right to vote provoked a national response similar to the scenes from Birmingham two years earlier. While the marchers were able to obtain a court order permitting them to make the march without incident two weeks later, local whites murdered another voting rights supporter in the period between the marches; four Klansmen murdered Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo as she drove marchers back to Selma after the second march.

Johnson delivered a televised address to Congress eight days after the first march in support of the voting rights bill he had sent to Congress. In it he stated:

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6. The 1965 Act suspended literacy tests and other voter tests and authorized federal supervision of voter registration in states and individual voting districts where such tests were being used. African-Americans who had been barred from registering to vote finally had an alternative to the courts. If voting discrimination occurred, the 1965 Act authorized the attorney general to send federal examiners to replace local registrars. Johnson reportedly stated to associates that signing the bill had lost the South for the Democratic Party for the foreseeable future.

The Act, however, had an immediate and positive impact for African-Americans. Within months of its passage on August 6, 1965, one quarter of a million new black voters had been registered, one third by federal examiners. Within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled. In 1965, Mississippi had the highest black voter turnout--74%--and led the nation in the number of black leaders elected. In 1969, Tennessee had a 92.1% turnout; Arkansas, 77.9%; and Texas, 73.1%.

Winning the right to vote changed the political landscape of the South. When Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, barely 100 African-Americans held elective office in the U.S.; by 1989 there were more than 7,200, including more than 4,800 in the South. Nearly every Black Belt county in Alabama had a black sheriff, and southern blacks held top positions within city, county, and state governments. Atlanta boasted a black mayor, Andrew Young, as did Jackson, Mississippi--Harvey Johnson, and New Orleans, with Ernest Morial. Black politicians on the national level included Barbara Jordan, who represented Texas in Congress, and former mayor Young, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Carter Administration. Julian Bond was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1965, although political reaction to his public opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam prevented him from taking his seat until 1967. John Lewis currently represents Georgia's 5th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, where he has served since 1987. Lewis sits on the House Ways and Means and Health committees.

Fraying of alliances

King reached the height of popular acclaim during his life in 1964, when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His career after that point was filled with frustrating challenges, as the liberal coalition that had made the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 began to fray.

King was, by this point, becoming more estranged from the Johnson administration, breaking with it in 1965 by calling for peace negotiations and a halt to the bombing of Vietnam. He moved further left in the following years, embracing socialism and speaking of the need for thoroughgoing changes in American society beyond the granting of the civil rights that the movement had sought to that date.

King's attempts to broaden the scope of the civil rights movement were halting and largely unsuccessful, however. King made several efforts in 1965 to take the civil rights movement north to address issues of employment and housing discrimination. His campaign in Chicago failed, as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley marginalized King's campaign by promising to study it. In 1966, white demonstrators holding "white power" signs in Cicero, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, threw stones at King and other marchers demonstrating against housing segregation, injuring King.

Black power

At the same time that King was finding himself more and more at odds with the Democratic Party, he was facing challenges from within the civil rights movement to the two key tenets on which the movement had been based: integration and nonviolence. Black activists within SNCC and CORE had chafed for some time at the influence wielded by white advisors to civil rights organizations and to the disproportionate attention that was given to the deaths of white civil rights workers while black workers' deaths often went virtually unnoticed. Stokely Carmichael, who became the leader of SNCC in 1966, was one of the earliest and most articulate spokespersons for what became known as the "Black Power" movement after Carmichael used that slogan in Greenwood, Mississippi on June 17, 1966.

King was not comfortable with the "Black Power" slogan, which sounded too much like black nationalism to his ears. SNCC activists, in the meantime, began embracing the "right to self-defense" in response to attacks from white authorities and booed King for advocating non-violence.

Memphis and the Poor People's March

Rev. James Lawson invited King to Memphis, Tennessee in March, 1968 to support a strike by sanitation workers who launched a campaign for union representation after two workers were accidentally killed on the job. A day after delivering his famous "Mountaintop" sermon at Lawson's church, King was assassinated on April 4 1968. Riots broke out in over 110 cities across the United States in the days that followed, notably in Chicago, Baltimore, and in Washington, D.C.

Ralph Abernathy succeeded King as the head of the SCLC and attempted to carry forth King's plan for a Poor People's March, which would have united black and whites to campaign for fundamental changes in American society and economic structure. The march went forward under Abernathy's leadership but is widely regarded as a failure.

See also

External links

Further reading


Retrieved from "http://localhost../../../a/m/e/American_Civil_Rights_Movement_%281955-1968%29_55ab.html"

This page was last modified 03:33, 22 November 2006 by dKosopedia user Abou Ben Adhem. Based on work by Chad Lupkes, CD and Del C and dKosopedia user(s) Lestatdelc. Content is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

[Main Page]
Daily Kos
DailyKos FAQ

View source
Discuss this page
Page history
What links here
Related changes

Special pages
Bug reports