martin luther king jr. African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968

The African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) refers to the movements in the United States aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring voting rights to them. This article covers the phase of the movement between 1955 and 1968, particularly in the South. The emergence of the Black Power Movement, which lasted roughly from 1966 to 1975, enlarged the aims of the Civil Rights Movement to include racial dignity, economic and political self-sufficiency, and freedom from oppression by white Americans.
The movement was characterized by major campaigns of civil resistance. Between 1955 and 1968, acts of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience produced crisis situations between activists and government authorities. Federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and communities often had to respond immediately to these situations that highlighted the inequities faced by African Americans. Forms of protest and/or civil disobedience included boycotts such as the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955–1956) in Alabama; "sit-ins" such as the influential Greensboro sit-ins (1960) in North Carolina; marches, such as the Selma to Montgomery marches (1965) in Alabama; and a wide range of other nonviolent activities.
Noted legislative achievements during this phase of the Civil Rights Movement were passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964,[1] that banned discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin" in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that restored and protected voting rights; the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, that dramatically opened entry to the U.S. to immigrants other than traditional European groups; and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. African Americans re-entered politics in the South, and across the country young people were inspired to action.

After the disputed election of 1876 resulted in the end of Reconstruction, Whites in the South regained political control of the region, after mounting intimidation and violence in the elections. Systematic disfranchisement of African Americans took place in Southern states from 1890 to 1908 and lasted until national civil rights legislation was passed in the mid-1960s. For more than 60 years, for example, blacks in the South were not able to elect anyone to represent their interests in Congress or local government.[2]
During this period, the white-dominated Democratic Party regained political control over the South. The Republican Party—the "party of Lincoln"—which had been the party that most blacks belonged to, shrank to insignificance as black voter registration was suppressed. By the early 20th century, almost all elected officials in the South were Democrats.[citation needed]
During the same time as African Americans were being disfranchised, white Democrats imposed racial segregation by law. Violence against blacks increased. The system of overt, state-sanctioned racial discrimination and oppression that emerged out of the post-Reconstruction South became known as the "Jim Crow" system. It remained virtually intact into the early 1950s. Thus, the early 20th century is a period often referred to as the "nadir of American race relations". While problems and civil rights violations were most intense in the South, social tensions affected African Americans in other regions as well.[3]
Characteristics of the post-Reconstruction period:
  • Racial segregation. By law,[4] public facilities and government services such as education were divided into separate "white" and "colored" domains. Characteristically, those for colored were underfunded and of inferior quality.
  • Disfranchisement. When white Democrats regained power, they passed laws that made voter registration more inaccessible to blacks. Black voters were forced off the voting rolls. The number of African American voters dropped dramatically, and they no longer were able to elect representatives. From 1890 to 1908, Southern states of the former Confederacy created constitutions with provisions that disfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans.
  • Exploitation. Increased economic oppression of blacks, Latinos, and Asians, denial of economic opportunities, and widespread employment discrimination.
African Americans and other racial minorities rejected this regime. They resisted it in numerous ways and sought better opportunities through lawsuits, new organizations, political redress, and labor organizing (see the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1896–1954)). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909. It fought to end race discrimination through litigation, education, and lobbying efforts. Its crowning achievement was its legal victory in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that rejected separate white and colored school systems and by implication overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson.
The situation for blacks outside the South was somewhat better (in most states they could vote and have their children educated, though they still faced discrimination in housing and jobs). From 1910 to 1970, African Americans sought better lives by migrating north and west. A total of nearly seven million blacks left the South in what was known as the Great Migration.
Invigorated by the victory of Brown and frustrated by the lack of immediate practical effect, private citizens increasingly rejected gradualist, legalistic approaches as the primary tool to bring about desegregation. They were faced with "massive resistance" in the South by proponents of racial segregation and voter suppression. In defiance, African Americans adopted a combined strategy of direct action with nonviolent resistance known as civil disobedience, giving rise to the African-American Civil Rights Movement of 1955–1968.

Mass action replacing litigation

The strategy of public education, legislative lobbying, and litigation in the court system that typified the Civil Rights Movement in the first half of the 20th Century broadened after Brown to a strategy that emphasized "direct action"—primarily boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches and similar tactics that relied on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. This mass action approach typified the movement from 1960 to 1968.
Churches, the centers of their communities, local grassroots organizations, fraternal societies, and black-owned businesses, mobilized volunteers to participate in broad-based actions. This was a more direct and potentially more rapid means of creating change than the traditional approach of mounting court challenges.
In 1952, the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), led by T. R. M. Howard, a black surgeon, entrepreneur, and planter, organized a successful boycott of gas stations in Mississippi that refused to provide restrooms for blacks. Through the RCNL, Howard led campaigns to expose brutality by the Mississippi state highway patrol and to encourage blacks to make deposits in the black-owned Tri-State Bank of Nashville which, in turn, gave loans to civil rights activists who were victims of a "credit squeeze" by the White Citizens' Councils.[5]
The Montgomery Improvement Association—created to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott managed to keep the boycott going for over a year until a federal court order required Montgomery to desegregate its buses. The success in Montgomery made its leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a nationally known figure. It also inspired other bus boycotts, such as the highly successful Tallahassee, Florida, boycott of 1956–1957.[6]
In 1957 Dr. King and Rev. John Duffy, the leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association, 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. The SCLC, with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, did not attempt to create a network of chapters as the NAACP did. It offered training and leadership assistance for local efforts to fight segregation. The headquarters organization raised funds, mostly from Northern sources, to support such campaigns. It made non-violence both its central tenet and its primary method of confronting racism.
In 1959, Septima Clarke, Bernice Robinson, and Esau Jenkins, with the help of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, began the first Citizenship Schools in South Carolina's Sea Islands. They taught literacy to enable blacks to pass voting tests. The program was an enormous success and tripled the number of black voters on Johns Island. SCLC took over the program and duplicated its results elsewhere.

Key events

Brown v. Board of Education, 1954

Spring 1951 was the year in which great turmoil was felt amongst Black students in reference to Virginia state's educational system. At the time in Prince Edward County, Moton High School was segregated and students had decided to take matters into their own hands to fight against two things: the overpopulated school premises and the unsuitable conditions in their school. This particular behavior coming from Black people in the South was most likely unexpected and inappropriate as White people had expectations for Blacks to act in a subordinate manner. Moreover, some local leaders of the NAACP had tried to persuade the students to back down from their protest against the Jim Crow laws of school segregation. When the students did not accept the NAACP's demands, the NAACP automatically joined them in their battle against school segregation. This became one of the five cases that made up what is known today as Brown v. Board of Education.[7]
School integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C., 1955
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision regarding the case called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in which the plaintiffs charged that the education of black children in separate public schools from their white counterparts was unconstitutional. The opinion of the Court stated that the "segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group."
The lawyers from the NAACP had to gather some plausible evidence in order to win the case of Brown vs. Education. Their way of addressing the issue of school segregation was to enumerate several arguments. One of them pertained to having an exposure to interracial contact in a school environment. It was said that it would, in turn, help to prevent children to live with the pressures that society exerts in regards to race. Therefore, having a better chance of living in democracy. In addition, another was in reference to the emphasis of how "'education’ comprehends the entire process of developing and training the mental, physical and moral powers and capabilities of human beings”.[8] In Goluboff's book, it has been stated that the goals of the NAACP was to bring to the Court’s awareness the fact that African American children were the victims of the legalization of school segregation and were not guaranteed a bright future. Without having the opportunity to be exposed to other cultures, it impedes on how Black children will function later on as adults trying to live a normal life.
The Court ruled that both Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had established the segregationist, "separate but equal" standard in general, and Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education (1899), which had applied that standard to schools, were unconstitutional. The following year, in the case known as Brown v. Board of Education, the Court ordered segregation to be phased out over time, "with all deliberate speed".[9] Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) did not overturn Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Plessy v. Ferguson was segregation based on transportation. Brown v. Board of Education dealt with segregation in education. Brown v. Board of Education did set in motion the future overturning of 'separate but equal'.
On May 18, 1954 Greensboro became the first city in the South to publicly announce that it would abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling which declared racial segregation in the nation’s public schools unconstitutional. ‘It is unthinkable,’ remarked School Board Superintendent Benjamin Smith, ‘that we will try to [override] the laws of the United States.’ In agreement with Smith’s position, the school board voted six to one to support the court’s ruling. This positive reception for Brown, together with the appointment of African American Dr. David Jones to the school board in 1953, convinced numerous white and black citizens that Greensboro was heading in a forward direction and would likely emerge as a leader in school integration. Integration in Greensboro occurred rather peacefully compared to that of other Southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Virginia where “massive resistance” took hold.[10]

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955–1956

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (the "mother of the Civil Rights Movement") refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger. She was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and had recently returned from a meeting at the Highlander Center in Tennessee where nonviolent civil disobedience as a strategy had been discussed. Parks 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 demand a more humane bus transportation system. However, after many reforms were rejected, the NAACP, led by E.D. Nixon, pushed for full desegregation of public buses. With the support of most of Montgomery's 50,000 African Americans, 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 partook in the boycotts, which reduced bus revenue by 80% until a federal court ordered Montgomery's buses desegregated in November 1956, and the boycott ended.[11]
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.

Desegregating Little Rock, 1957

Troops from the 327th Regiment, 101st Airborne escorting the Little Rock Nine African-American students up the steps of Central High.
Little Rock, Arkansas, was in 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 entry to the nine African-American students who had sued for the right to attend an integrated school, Little Rock Central High School.[12] The nine students had been chosen to attend Central High because of their excellent grades. On the first day of school, only one of the nine students showed up because she did not receive the phone call about the danger of going to school. She was harassed by white protesters outside the school, and the police had to take her away in a patrol car to protect her. Afterward, the nine students had to carpool to school and be escorted by military personnel in jeeps.
Faubus was not a proclaimed segregationist. The Arkansas Democratic Party, which then controlled politics in the state, put significant pressure on Faubus after he had indicated he would investigate bringing Arkansas into compliance with the Brown decision. Faubus then took his stand against integration and against the Federal court order that required it.
Faubus' order received the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was determined to enforce the orders of the Federal courts. Critics had charged 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. 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. Although federal troops escorted the students between classes, the students were still teased and even attacked by white students when the soldiers were not around. One of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown, was suspended for spilling a bowl of chili on the head of a white student who was harassing her in the school lunch line. Later, she was expelled for verbally abusing a white female student.[13]
Only one of the Little Rock Nine, Ernest Green, got the chance to graduate; after the 1957–58 school year was over, the Little Rock school system decided to shut public schools completely rather than continue to integrate. Other school systems across the South followed suit.

Sit-ins, 1960

The Civil Rights Movement received an infusion of energy with a student sit-in at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina.[14] On February 1, 1960, four students Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now known as Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College, an all-black college, sat down at the segregated lunch counter to protest Woolworth's policy of excluding African Americans.[15] The four students purchased small items in other parts of the store and kept their receipts, then sat down at the lunch counter and asked to be served. After being denied service, they produced their receipts and asked why their money was good everywhere else at the store, but not at the lunch counter.[16] These protesters were encouraged to dress professionally, to sit quietly, and to occupy every other stool so that potential white sympathizers could join in. The sit-in soon inspired other sit-ins in Richmond, Virginia;[17] Nashville, Tennessee; and Atlanta, Georgia.[18][19]
As students across the south began to "sit-in" at the lunch counters of a few of their local stores, local authority figures sometimes used brute force to physically escort the demonstrators from the lunch facilities.
The "sit-in" technique was not new—as far back as 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia library.[20] In 1960 the technique succeeded in bringing national attention to the movement.[21] The success of the Greensboro sit-in led to a rash of student campaigns throughout the South. Probably the best organized, most highly disciplined, the most immediately effective of these was in Nashville, Tennessee.[22]
On March 9, 1960 an Atlanta University Center group of students released An Appeal for Human Rights [23] as a full page advertisement in newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta Journal, and Atlanta Daily World.[24] This student group, known as the Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), initiated the Atlanta Student Movement [25] and began to lead in Atlanta [26] with sit-ins starting on March 15, 1960.[19]
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. Upon being arrested, student demonstrators made "jail-no-bail" pledges, to call attention to their cause and to reverse the cost of protest, thereby saddling their jailers with the financial burden of prison space and food.
In April, 1960 activists who had led these sit-ins held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[27] SNCC took these tactics of nonviolent confrontation further, to the freedom rides.[28]

Freedom Rides, 1961

John Lewis and James Zwerg in 1961 after being beaten by a mob in Montgomery, Alabama during the Freedom Ride.
Freedom Rides were journeys by Civil Rights activists on interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to test the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia, (1960) 364 U.S. that ended segregation for passengers engaged in interstate travel. Organized by CORE, the first Freedom Ride of the 1960s left Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.[29]
During the first and subsequent Freedom Rides, activists traveled through the Deep South to integrate seating patterns and desegregate bus terminals, including restrooms and water fountains. That proved to be a dangerous mission. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed, forcing its passengers to flee for their lives. In Birmingham, Alabama, an FBI informant reported that Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor gave Ku Klux Klan members fifteen minutes to attack an incoming group of freedom riders before having police "protect" them. The riders were severely beaten "until it looked like a bulldog had got a hold of them." James Peck, a white activist, was beaten so hard he required fifty stitches to his head.[30]
Mob violence in Anniston and Birmingham temporarily halted the rides, but SNCC activists from Nashville brought in new riders to continue the journey from Birmingham. In Montgomery, Alabama, at the Greyhound Bus Station, 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.[30]
On 24 May 1961, the freedom riders continued their rides into Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested for "breaching the peace" by using "white only" facilities. New freedom rides were organized by many different organizations. As riders arrived in Jackson, they were arrested. By the end of summer, more than 300 had been jailed in Mississippi.[29]
"...When the weary Riders arrive in Jackson and attempt to use 'white only' restrooms and lunch counters they are immediately arrested for Breach of Peace and Refusal to Obey an Officer. Says [sic] Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett in defense of segregation: 'The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him.' From lockup, the Riders announce 'Jail No Bail' — they will not pay fines for unconstitutional arrests and illegal convictions — and by staying in jail they keep the issue alive. Each prisoner will remain in jail for 39 days, the maximum time they can serve without loosing [sic] their right to appeal the unconstitutionality of their arrests, trials, and convictions. After 39 days, they file an appeal and post bond..."[31]
The jailed freedom riders were treated harshly, 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 Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, 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.
Public sympathy and support for the freedom riders led the Kennedy administration to order the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue a new desegregation order. When the new ICC rule took effect on November 1, passengers were permitted to sit wherever they chose on the bus; "white" and "colored" signs came down in the terminals; separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated; and lunch counters began serving people regardless of skin color.
The student movement involved such celebrated figures as John Lewis, a single-minded activist; 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 Mississippi; 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, Hosea Williams, and Stokely Carmichael.

Voter registration organizing

After the Freedom Rides, local black leaders in Mississippi such as Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, and others asked SNCC to help register black voters and to build community organizations that could win a share of political power in the state. Since Mississippi ratified its constitution in 1890, with provisions such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests, it made registration more complicated and stripped blacks from the polls. After so many years, the intent to stop blacks from voting had become part of the culture of white supremacy. In the fall of 1961, SNCC organizer Robert Moses began the first such project in McComb and the surrounding counties in the Southwest corner of the state. Their efforts were met with violent repression from state and local lawmen, White Citizens' Council, and Ku Klux Klan resulting in beatings, hundreds of arrests and the murder of voting activist Herbert Lee.[32]
White opposition to black voter registration was so intense in Mississippi that Freedom Movement activists concluded that all of the state's civil rights organizations had to unite in a coordinated effort to have any chance of success. In February 1962, representatives of SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP formed the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). At a subsequent meeting in August, SCLC became part of COFO.[33]
In the Spring of 1962, with funds from the Voter Education Project, SNCC/COFO began voter registration organizing in the Mississippi Delta area around Greenwood, and the areas surrounding Hattiesburg, Laurel, and Holly Springs. As in McComb, their efforts were met with fierce opposition—arrests, beatings, shootings, arson, and murder. Registrars used the literacy test to keep blacks off the voting roles by creating standards that even highly educated people could not meet. In addition, employers fired blacks who tried to register and landlords evicted them from their homes.[34] Over the following years, the black voter registration campaign spread across the state.
Similar voter registration campaigns—with similar responses—were begun by SNCC, CORE, and SCLC in Louisiana, Alabama, southwest Georgia, and South Carolina. By 1963, voter registration campaigns in the South were as integral to the Freedom Movement as desegregation efforts. After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[1] protecting and facilitating voter registration despite state barriers became the main effort of the movement. It resulted in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Integration of Mississippi universities, 1956–1965

Beginning in 1956, Clyde Kennard, a black Korean War-veteran, tried to enroll at Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) under the GI Bill at Hattiesburg. Dr. William David McCain, the college president, tried to prevent his enrollment by appealing to local black leaders and the segregationist state political establishment. He used the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, of which he was a member. It was a state-funded organization that tried to counter the civil rights movement by positively portraying segregationist policies. More significantly, it collected data on activists, harassed them legally, and used economic boycotts against them by threatening their jobs (or causing them to lose their jobs) to try to suppress their work.
Kennard was twice arrested on trumped-up charges, and eventually convicted and sentenced to seven years in the state prison.[35] After three years at hard labor, Kennard was paroled by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Journalists had investigated his case and publicized the state's mistreatment of his colon cancer.[35]
McCain’s role in Kennard's arrests and convictions is unknown.[36][37][38][39] While trying to prevent Kennard's enrollment, McCain made a speech in Chicago, with his travel sponsored by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. He described the blacks' seeking to desegregate Southern schools as "imports" from the North. (Kennard was a native and resident of Hattiesburg.)
"We insist that educationally and socially, we maintain a segregated society. ... In all fairness, I admit that we are not encouraging Negro voting," he said. "The Negroes prefer that control of the government remain in the white man's hands."[36][38][39]
Note: Mississippi had passed a new constitution in 1890 that effectively disfranchised most blacks by changing electoral and voter registration requirements; although it deprived them of constitutional rights authorized under post-Civil War amendments, it survived US Supreme Court challenges at the time. It was not until after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that most blacks in Mississippi and other southern states gained federal protection to enforce their right to vote.
In September 1962, James Meredith won a lawsuit to secure admission to the previously segregated University of Mississippi. He attempted to enter campus on September 20, on September 25, and again on September 26. He was blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, who said, "[N]o school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor." The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held 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.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent in a force of U.S. Marshals. On September 30, 1962, Meredith entered the campus under their escort. Students and other whites began rioting that evening, throwing rocks and then firing on the U.S. Marshals guarding Meredith at Lyceum Hall. Two people, 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 John F. Kennedy sent regular US Army forces to the campus to quell the riot. Meredith began classes the day after the troops arrived.[40]
Kennard and other activists continued to work on public university desegregation. In 1965 Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong became the first African-American students to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. By that time, McCain helped ensure they had a peaceful entry.[41] In 2006, Judge Robert Helfrich ruled that Kennard was factually innocent of all charges for which he had been convicted in the 1950s.[35]

Albany Movement, 1961–1962

The SCLC, which had been criticized 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 because of the canny tactics of Laurie Pritchett, the local police chief, and divisions within the black community. The goals may not have been specific enough. Pritchett contained the marchers without violent attacks on demonstrators that inflamed national opinion. He also arranged for arrested demonstrators to be taken to jails in surrounding communities, allowing plenty of room to remain in his jail. Prichett also foresaw King's presence as a danger and forced his release to avoid King's rallying the black community. King left in 1962 without having achieved any dramatic victories. The local movement, however, continued the struggle, and it obtained significant gains in the next few years.[42]

Birmingham Campaign, 1963–1964

Alabama governor George Wallace stands against desegregation at the University of Alabama and is confronted by US Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbachat in 1963.
The Albany movement was shown to be an important education for the SCLC, however, when it undertook the Birmingham campaign in 1963. Executive Director Wyatt Tee Walker carefully planned strategy and tactics for the campaign. It focused on one goal—the desegregation of Birmingham's downtown merchants, rather than total desegregation, as in Albany. The movement's efforts were helped by the brutal response of local authorities, in particular Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety. He had long held much political power, but had lost a recent election for mayor to a less rabidly segregationist candidate. Refusing to accept the new mayor's authority, Connor intended to stay in office.
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.[43]
While in jail, King wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail"[44] on the margins of a newspaper, since he had not been allowed any writing paper while held in solitary confinement.[45] Supporters appealed to the Kennedy administration, which intervened to obtain King's release. King was allowed to call his wife, who was recuperating at home after the birth of their fourth child, and was released early on April 19.
The campaign, however, was faltering because the movement was running out of demonstrators willing to risk arrest. James Bevel, SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education, came up with a bold and controversial alternative, to train high school students to take part in the demonstrations. As a result, more than one thousand students skipped school on May 2 to meet at the 16th Street Baptist Church to join the demonstrations, in what would come to be called the Children's Crusade. More than six hundred ended up in jail. This was newsworthy, but in this first encounter, the police acted with restraint. On the next day, however, another one thousand students gathered at the church. When they started marching, Bull Connor unleashed police dogs on them, then turned the city's fire hoses water streams on the children. Television cameras broadcast to the nation the scenes of water from fire hoses knocking down schoolchildren and dogs attacking individual demonstrators.
Congress of Racial Equality march in Washington DC on 22 September 1963 in memory of the children killed in the Birmingham bombings.
Widespread public outrage led the Kennedy administration to intervene more forcefully in 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— the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was particularly critical, since he was skeptical about the good faith of Birmingham's power structure from his experience in dealing with them. Parts of the white community reacted violently. They bombed the Gaston Motel, which housed the SCLC's unofficial headquarters, and the home of King's brother, the Reverend A. D. King.
Kennedy prepared to federalize the Alabama National Guard if the need arose. Four months later, on September 15, a conspiracy of Ku Klux Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls.
Other events of the summer of 1963:
On June 11, 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, tried to block[46] the integration of the University of Alabama. President John F. Kennedy sent a force to make Governor Wallace step aside, allowing the enrollment of two black students. That evening, President Kennedy addressed the nation on TV and radio with his historic civil rights speech.[47] The next day, Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi.[48][49] The next week, as promised, on June 19, 1963, President Kennedy submitted his Civil Rights bill to Congress.[50]

March on Washington, 1963

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the National Mall
Civil Rights March on Washington, leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial
Civil Rights marchers at the Lincoln Memorial
A. Philip Randolph had planned a march on Washington, D.C. in 1941 to support 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 racial discrimination and creating an agency to oversee compliance with the order.
Randolph and Bayard Rustin were the chief planners of the second march, 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 major focus was on passage of the civil rights law that the Kennedy administration had proposed after the upheavals in Birmingham.
Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.
National media attention also greatly contributed to the march's national exposure and probable impact. In his section "The March on Washington and Television News,"[51] 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. One camera was positioned high in the Washington Monument, to give dramatic vistas of the marchers". By carrying the organizers' speeches and offering their own commentary, television stations literally framed the way their local audiences saw and understood the event.

The march was a success, although not without controversy. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 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 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 not doing more to protect southern blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South.
After the march, King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy at the White House. While the Kennedy administration appeared sincerely committed to passing the bill, it was not clear that it had the votes in Congress to do it. However when President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963,[50] the new President Lyndon Johnson decided to use his influence in Congress to bring about much of Kennedy's legislative agenda.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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