Segregation And The Civil Rights Movement Essay

, Research Paper Segregation and The Civil Rights Movement Segregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in every sphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was often

, Research Paper

Segregation and The Civil Rights Movement

Segregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in every

sphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was often

called the Jim Crow system, after a minstrel show character from the 1830s who

was an old, crippled, black slave who embodied negative stereotypes of blacks.

Segregation became common in Southern states following the end of Reconstruction

in 1877. During Reconstruction, which followed the Civil War (1861-1865),

Republican governments in the Southern states were run by blacks, Northerners,

and some sympathetic Southerners. The Reconstruction governments had passed laws

opening up economic and political opportunities for blacks. By 1877 the

Democratic Party had gained control of government in the Southern states, and

these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during

Reconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local and state laws that

specified certain places “For Whites Only” and others for “Colored.” Blacks had

separate schools, transportation, restaurants, and parks, many of which were

poorly funded and inferior to those of whites. Over the next 75 years, Jim Crow

signs went up to separate the races in every possible place. The system of

segregation also included the denial of voting rights, known as disfranchisement.

Between 1890 and 1910 all Southern states passed laws imposing requirements for

voting that were used to prevent blacks from voting, in spite of the 15th

Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which had been designed to

protect black voting rights. These requirements included: the ability to read

and write, which disqualified the many blacks who had not had access to

education; property ownership, something few blacks were able to acquire; and

paying a poll tax, which was too great a burden on most Southern blacks, who

were very poor. As a final insult, the few blacks who made it over all these

hurdles could not vote in the Democratic primaries that chose the candidates

because they were open only to whites in most Southern states. Because blacks

could not vote, they were virtually powerless to prevent whites from segregating

all aspects of Southern life. They could do little to stop discrimination in

public accommodations, education, economic opportunities, or housing. The

ability to struggle for equality was even undermined by the prevalent Jim Crow

signs, which constantly reminded blacks of their inferior status in Southern

society. Segregation was an all encompassing system. Conditions for blacks in

Northern states were somewhat better, though up to 1910 only about 10 percent of

blacks lived in the North, and prior to World War II (1939-1945), very few

blacks lived in the West. Blacks were usually free to vote in the North, but

there were so few blacks that their voices were barely heard. Segregated

facilities were not as common in the North, but blacks were usually denied

entrance to the best hotels and restaurants. Schools in New England were usually

integrated, but those in the Midwest generally were not. Perhaps the most

difficult part of Northern life was the intense economic discrimination against

blacks. They had to compete with large numbers of recent European immigrants for

job opportunities and almost always lost.

Early Black Resistance to Segregation

Blacks fought against discrimination whenever possible. In the late 1800s blacks

sued in court to stop separate seating in railroad cars, states’

disfranchisement of voters, and denial of access to schools and restaurants. One

of the cases against segregated rail travel was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in

which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that “separate but equal”

accommodations were constitutional. In fact, separate was almost never equal,

but the Plessy doctrine provided constitutional protection for segregation for

the next 50 years. To protest segregation, blacks created new national

organizations. The National Afro-American League was formed in 1890; the Niagara

Movement in 1905; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored

People (NAACP) in 1909. In 1910 the National Urban League was created to help

blacks make the transition to urban, industrial life. The NAACP became one of

the most important black protest organizations of the 20th century. It relied

mainly on a legal strategy that challenged segregation and discrimination in

courts to obtain equal treatment for blacks. An early leader of the NAACP was

the historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, who starting in 1910 made

powerful arguments in favor of protesting segregation as editor of the NAACP

magazine, The Crisis. NAACP lawyers won court victories over voter

disfranchisement in 1915 and residential segregation in 1917, but failed to have

lynching outlawed by the Congress of the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.

These cases laid the foundation for a legal and social challenge to segregation

although they did little to change everyday life. In 1935 Charles H. Houston,

the NAACP’s chief legal counsel, won the first Supreme Court case argued by

exclusively black counsel representing the NAACP. This win invigorated the

NAACP’s legal efforts against segregation, mainly by convincing courts that

segregated facilities, especially schools, were not equal. In 1939 the NAACP

created a separate organization called the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that had a

nonprofit, tax-exempt status that was denied to the NAACP because it lobbied the

U.S. Congress. Houston’s chief aide and later his successor, Thurgood Marshall,

a brilliant young lawyer who would become a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,

began to challenge segregation as a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

World War I

When World War I (1914-1918) began, blacks enlisted to fight for their country.

However, black soldiers were segregated, denied the opportunity to be leaders,

and were subjected to racism within the armed forces. During the war, hundreds

of thousands of Southern blacks migrated northward in 1916 and 1917 to take

advantage of job openings in Northern cities created by the war. This great

migration of Southern blacks continued into the 1950s. Along with the great

migration, blacks in both the North and South became increasingly urbanized

during the 20th century. In 1890, about 85 percent of all Southern blacks lived

in rural areas; by 1960 that percentage had decreased to about 42 percent. In

the North, about 95 percent of all blacks lived in urban areas in 1960. The

combination of the great migration and the urbanization of blacks resulted in

black communities in the North that had a strong political presence. The black

communities began to exert pressure on politicians, voting for those who

supported civil rights. These Northern black communities, and the politicians

that they elected, helped Southern blacks struggling against segregation by

using political influence and money.

The 1930s

The Great Depression of the 1930s increased black protests against

discrimination, especially in Northern cities. Blacks protested the refusal of

white-owned businesses in all-black neighborhoods to hire black salespersons.

Using the slogan “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work,” these campaigns persuaded

blacks to boycott those businesses and revealed a new militancy. During the same

years, blacks organized school boycotts in Northern cities to protest

discriminatory treatment of black children. The black protest activities of the

1930s were encouraged by the expanding role of government in the economy and

society. During the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt the

federal government created federal programs, such as Social Security, to assure

the welfare of individual citizens. Roosevelt himself was not an outspoken

supporter of black rights, but his wife Eleanor became an open advocate for

fairness to blacks, as did other leaders in the administration. The Roosevelt

Administration opened federal jobs to blacks and turned the federal judiciary

away from its preoccupation with protecting the freedom of business corporations

and toward the protection of individual rights, especially those of the poor and

minority groups. Beginning with his appointment of Hugo Black to the U.S.

Supreme Court in 1937, Roosevelt chose judges who favored black rights. As early

as 1938, the courts displayed a new attitude toward black rights; that year the

Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri was obligated to provide access

to a public law school for blacks just as it provided for whites-a new emphasis

on the equal part of the Plessy doctrine. Blacks sensed that the national

government might again be their ally, as it had been during the Civil War.

World War II

When World War II began in Europe in 1939, blacks demanded better treatment than

they had experienced in World War I. Black newspaper editors insisted during

1939 and 1940 that black support for this war effort would depend on fair

treatment. They demanded that black soldiers be trained in all military roles

and that black civilians have equal opportunities to work in war industries at

home. In 1941 A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car

Porters, a union whose members were mainly black railroad workers, planned a

March on Washington to demand that the federal government require defense

contractors to hire blacks on an equal basis with whites. To forestall the march,

President Roosevelt issued an executive order to that effect and created the

federal Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) to enforce it. The FEPC did

not prevent discrimination in war industries, but it did provide a lesson to

blacks about how the threat of protest could result in new federal commitments

to civil rights. During World War II, blacks composed about one-eighth of the

U.S. armed forces, which matched their presence in the general population.

Although a disproportionately high number of blacks were put in noncombat,

support positions in the military, many did fight. The Army Air Corps trained

blacks as pilots in a controversial segregated arrangement in Tuskegee, Alabama.

During the war, all the armed services moved toward equal treatment of blacks,

though none flatly rejected segregation. In the early war years, hundreds of

thousands of blacks left Southern farms for war jobs in Northern and Western

cities. In fact more blacks migrated to the North and the West during World War

II than had left during the previous war. Although there was racial tension and

conflict in their new homes, blacks were free of the worst racial oppression,

and they enjoyed much larger incomes. After the war blacks in the North and West

used their economic and political influence to support civil rights for Southern

blacks. Blacks continued to work against discrimination during the war,

challenging voting registrars in Southern courthouses and suing school boards

for equal educational provisions. The membership of the NAACP grew from 50,000

to about 500,000. In 1944 the NAACP won a major victory in Smith v. Allwright,

which outlawed the white primary. A new organization, the Congress of Racial

Equality (CORE), was founded in 1942 to challenge segregation in public

accommodations in the North. During the war, black newspapers campaigned for a

Double V, victories over both fascism in Europe and racism at home. The war

experience gave about one million blacks the opportunity to fight racism in

Europe and Asia, a fact that black veterans would remember during the struggle

against racism at home after the war. Perhaps just as important, almost ten

times that many white Americans witnessed the patriotic service of black

Americans. Many of them would object to the continued denial of civil rights to

the men and women beside whom they had fought. After World War II the momentum

for racial change continued. Black soldiers returned home with determination to

have full civil rights. President Harry Truman ordered the final desegregation

of the armed forces in 1948. He also committed to a domestic civil rights policy

favoring voting rights and equal employment, but the U.S. Congress rejected his

proposals. School Desegregation

In the postwar years, the NAACP’s legal strategy for civil rights continued to

succeed. Led by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund challenged and

overturned many forms of discrimination, but their main thrust was equal

educational opportunities. For example, in Sweat v. Painter (1950), the Supreme

Court decided that the University of Texas had to integrate its law school.

Marshall and the Defense Fund worked with Southern plaintiffs to challenge the

Plessy doctrine directly, arguing in effect that separate was inherently unequal.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on five cases that challenged elementary-

and secondary-school segregation, and in May 1954 issued its landmark ruling in

Brown v. Board of Education that stated that racially segregated education was

unconstitutional. White Southerners received the Brown decision first with shock

and, in some instances, with expressions of goodwill. By 1955, however, white

opposition in the South had grown into massive resistance, a strategy to

persuade all whites to resist compliance with the desegregation orders. It was

believed that if enough people refused to cooperate with the federal court order,

it could not be enforced. Tactics included firing school employees who showed

willingness to seek integration, closing public schools rather than

desegregating, and boycotting all public education that was integrated. The

White Citizens Council was formed and led opposition to school desegregation all

over the South. The Citizens Council called for economic coercion of blacks who

favored integrated schools, such as firing them from jobs, and the creation of

private, all-white schools. Virtually no schools in the South were desegregated

in the first years after the Brown decision. In Virginia one county did indeed

close its public schools. In Little 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&T

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