Chapter 12: Sixties Freedom
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white rider, as required by law. (p.275)
This was not a one time situation that Rosa found herself in. She was particularly tired on this day as she thought of how she and other African Americans were treated on other occasions. Rosa was aware of possible consequences for not giving up her seat on the bus. She had served as secretary of the NAACP and later the Advisor to the NAACP Youth Council. She had tried to register to vote on several occasions when it was almost impossible to do so and had previous conflicts with bus drivers causing her to be evicted from buses. This time, she did not intend to be humiliated as in the past. On occasion, she had paid her fare, and then had to go to the back door of the bus to board. The back door had remained closed and the bus drove off, leaving her. Her brave act on this day led to her arrest and trial and led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association called for a boycott of Montgomery’s city owned bus company. The boycott that lasted 381 days and brought the cause to national attention. This led to the November 1956 Supreme Court’s ruling that segregation on transportation was unconstitutional. In Mrs. Parks later years, she said that it still pained her that there remained a lot of Klan activity and racism. She also said that she thought that when one says they’re happy, they have everything they need and everything they want, and there is nothing more to wish for. She concluded by saying that she had not reached that stage yet.
The Freedom Movement
African Americans were merely demanding that prior promises of freedom perceived in the Declaration of Independence, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Emancipation Proclamation be met. (p.278)
The mass movement for civil rights found in the black church the organizing power for a militant, non-violent assault on the edifice of segregation. (p.276)
Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to bundle and weld together the many comprehensions of freedom into a rational unit. He was a master at appealing to the conscience of white America without appearing to be dangerous or threatening. (p.279) King was very eloquent in speaking and bridged the black experience to the nations’, while connecting races. He incorporated the Bible in his speeches to send a message of justice and forgiveness when speaking of deprivation of freedom. King appealed to white America by insisting that the protesters were motivated by love of country and devotion to national values. (p.279) He clarified his vision to include the total of American society, not just blacks. In 1964, when King called for a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged”, he suggested that after,” doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years,” the United States had an obligation to “do something special for him now”. (p.282)
This movement began with sit-ins by black and white college students. At sit-ins which began on May 28, 1963, participants were sprayed with paint and had pepper thrown in their eyes. Those who sang movement songs after the bombing of NAACP field director Medgar Evers’ home, were beaten. Evers was a native of Mississippi. The mood of white Mississippians was that if Medgar Evers were killed, the problem would be solved. He told a crowd at a NAACP rally in June that, “Freedom has never been free…….”. Five days later, he was shot and killed while returning home around midnight.
As the Vietnam War got into gear, students were denied deferments and were drafted. This caused students to widen their agenda to include the Vietnam War. It was said that revolution was in the air and some were getting ready for it.
In November 1963, President Diem of South Vietnam was overthrown and executed. The North Vietnamese then began a drive to conquer South Vietnam with the help of China and Russia. Because Communism had become an evil thorn to the United States, and fearing a communist takeover of Vietnam by Soviet rule, since it had expanded into Eastern Europe, Korea and Cuba, Americans were determined to stop the spread. The largest involvement of the U.S. came under the tenure of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson held the power to halt the way in Vietnam, but because he was so concerned about his image, he could not face being remembered as the first president in history to loose a war. Johnson and Kennedy both felt the Vietnam War was part of “the struggle for freedom everywhere.” (p.291) He did not run for a second term and handed the hot embers to Richard Nixon.
Referring to Johnson;….The President mocks freedom if he insists that the war in Vietnam is a defense of American freedom. (p.292)
When voting right marchers in Selma, Alabama were assaulted by the state police in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson, requested legislation securing the right to vote. (p.280)
Johnson’s Great Society programs provided health services to the poor and elderly (in the new Medicare and Medicaid programs) and poured federal funds into education and housing. (p.284) The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission was formed to assist in Johnson’s crusade to eradicate poverty. The War on Poverty provided food stamps to those in need and focused on training the poor so they would be skilled, rebuilding self-esteem, legal services, and community development programs. (p.285)
Economic freedom had prior to 1965, been defined as equality of opportunity; however, Johnson believed his plan would allow for more expansive meanings – “freedom to learn,” “freedom to grow,” “freedom to hope,” freedom to “live as [people] want to live.” (p.286) Johnson’s War on Poverty proved to be a success in healthcare, education, and employment to an extent but black employment was much lower than white employment.
The Eisenhower administration was slack in addressing the issue of integration so the Supreme Court was left with the agenda. Both felt there was little need for immediate attention. This spurred resistance, especially in the South.
In 1957, at Little Rock Central High School, an all white school was brought to the forefront with the Governor Faubus instructing the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High and to keep all blacks out. This was accomplished on the first day but on the second day, nine black students planned to enter the school. They decided to enter together but were unable to make the plan for entering known to one girl because she did not have a phone. She tried to enter the school alone through the front of the school. An angry mob threatened to hang her as the Guard watched. Two whites came to her defense and so she escaped without being hurt. The other eight were turned away by the Guard as per Faubus’ orders. An injunction was immediately in place to prevent Faubus from using the Guard to keep blacks out of the school. He suggested that the nine students stay away anyway for their own safety. That is when Eisenhower finally sent federal troops to enforce the court order. (p.280)
In 1966 Dr. King launched the Chicago Freedom Movement. He, unfortunately, had a white advisor Stanley Levison, who once had ties to the Communist Party. This led to the FBI director viewing the entire civil rights movement as a Communist conspiracy.
The New Left
“For the new Left,” one scholar concluded, “the meaning of freedom began with the struggle of African-Americans.”(p.288)
The black movement and white New Left shared certain basic assumptions: that the evils to be corrected were endemic to social institutions and that direct confrontation was necessary to persuade Americans of the urgency of change. (p.288)
By 1964, sit-ins at UC Berkeley were brought about because students were prohibited from participating in political activities and exercising freedom of speech on their own campus. This started the Free Speech Movement. Some students were beaten, arrested, and suspended from school. As one university would resolve the problem, another would take up the cause for their students. One display of excessive police brutality occurred when students and residents of Berkley, California turned a dusty campus parking lot into a “People’s Park”. They fixed it up for the use of the community. Governor Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard who fenced off, and guarded the park in response to their liberating movement. Governor Reagan said, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with!”
In 1964 racial segregation was removed from American life by a stroke of the pen. For the first time establishments like motels and restaurants were patronized without having to search for a “colored” sign. Freedom meant both positive and negative liberty and more – equality, power, recognition, rights, and opportunities. (p.277) It also meant righting many wrongs, from segregation, low paying jobs, the threat of incarceration or police brutality and harassment to courteous treatment. This also included not being talked down to, but being spoken to as “Mr.,” for example.
Students organized a sit-in at the Liberty Bell in 1965 to support the southern drive for voting rights.
The generational rebellion established some two thousand communes nationwide. Sexual pleasure was the route to freedom. (p.294) Mass marketing of birth control pills made the separation of sex from reproduction possible. This spawned an “erotic revolution”. With this new revolution also came a “second wave” of feminism. Some women were described as dependent on alcohol, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills; victims of domestic abuse; “a compulsive baby–machine; an obsessive cleaner; a duplicitous housewife with secret lovers. Other women began to feel power in seeking to fulfill their potential self outside their comfortable concentration camp where the kitchen had still been the center of women’s lives. (p.295) Young women who had absorbed personal freedom encountered inequality and sexual exploitation and found they were excluded from positions of leadership. This brought the women’s liberation movement. Women trashed feminine articles like bras, girdles and high heels.
“Without the full capacity to limit her own reproduction,” wrote one activist, “woman’s other ‘freedoms’ are tantalizing mockeries that cannot be exercised.”
The Rights Revolution
To many people, the civil rights revolution is thought of as the passing of pieces of civil rights-related legislation every year from 1964 until today
With Chief Justice Warren from 1953 to 1969, the Court greatly expanded the rights enjoyed by all American citizens. This right overrode the legislative and local majorities. The Court revitalized the Bill of Rights as a broad protection of citizens’ liberties.
In the 1964 freedom of the press ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Court overturned libel judgments by an Alabama jury against the nation’s leading newspaper for carrying an advertisement critical of how local officials treated civil rights demonstrators. (p.301) As per the First Amendment, it was decided that the citizens had the right to criticize their government.
The constitutional right to privacy was first referred to as protection against journalistic intrusion. By the 1960’s, it meant the ability to conduct private life without fear of governmental invasion. (p.302)
Legal rights of women within the domestic sphere expanded to include – “No-fault” divorce laws replaced laws that made adultery, cruelty, or desertion the only acceptable reasons for terminating marriages. The acceptance of prosecuting marital rape and assault also helped free women bound to a bad marriage.
The sixties carries all the baggage relating to crime, drug abuse, and teenage pregnancy, not to mention Vietnam, Watergate, and endless years of complex racism. Still, because of the sixties, the United States is a more open, more tolerant, and a freer country. (p.305)
What did Ned Cobb’s perception of “the bottom rail would come to the top….” as a promise by the freedom movement mean? ( p.278) I first thought this meant that the poor and lowly bottom classes perceived at the time, such as blacks, would overcome those middle rails of despair and rise to the top. They would come out of poverty with intellect, education, and by both mental and physical labor. The problem is that when the more peaceful ways of shedding poverty do not produce results, frustration can cause violence. If the lower classes rose to the top rail, does this mean that those residing at the top will be knocked down or will they bond and form a stronger top rail? I believe that the stronger top rail keeps trying to form, but for selfish reasons like jealousy or frustration, devious thoughts propel people to keep popping up trying to cut a chunk from the rail. We, as the United States are a united people and yet, we are a divided people on many issues.
How did the SNCC define “freedom high”? (p.278) as a sense of individual purpose and personal fulfillment that encouraged hostility to structure and authority of all kinds
What point was King driving home when he proclaimed, “we as a people will get to the promised land?”(p.279) individual rights and group empowerment were interdependent and reinforcing
Do you feel Dr. King was right? Since we as individuals make up the United States, are we each responsible for doing something special for the Negro now? I hope this won’t be taken the wrong way, but I personally feel that every time some blacks don’t get the job they want or get called a bad word, or can’t afford the house they want, they yell discrimination and are supported by organizations so they can sue. I, as a white female, am probably the most discriminated against and yet I don’t have a leg to stand on to sue if I don’t get that certain job or if someone calls me the “B” word. Maybe my forefathers were discriminated against. Do the Negroes owe me for that?