Through the fifties, many parts of America still had Jim Crow Laws segregating blacks in society. This practice was just as common in the North as the South. However, the federal government began to initiate changes primarily as a result of the Cold War. If America was promoting democracy around the world, how could it accept segregation in America?
Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1893 ruled “separate but equal” is constitutional
This Supreme Court case involved the question of whether or not schools could legally segregate. In Topeka, Ks., the NAACP lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, represented the Brown family who wanted their daughter to be able to attend the white school. Topeka and other school systems were permitted to segregate schools according to the decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1893 that rule “separate but equal” is constitutional.In the Brown case, the Supreme Court overruled the earlier decision and declared that in public schools, separate but equal is inherently unequal. This case opened the door for the integration of public schools. However, that would be a slow process for many school districts. Because of the wording of the decision, “…. Integration will be enacted with all deliberate speed…” a few school districts began integration the following year and some like Alvin did not until the early 1970s.
Little Rock Crisis
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was the site of the first integration of public schools. Nine blacks students enrolled at Central High School in 1955 but administrators and even the governor of Arkansas was determined not to let those students attend the traditionally all white school. The governor, with state police troopers and the Arkansas National Guard stood in defiance as those black students approached the school. En route to school, they were tormented by white students and after enduring that hatred, they were then denied access to the school. The entire event was shown on national television and President Eisenhower was thoroughly disgusted by what he saw. He immediately ordered the 101st Airborne troops to escort those nine black students to school and stand guard over them throughout the school year. Integration did occur at Central High School and many more blacks enrolled in the subsequent years their.
In 1955, Rosa Parks just finished a hard days work and got on the bus to return home. Public transportation was the primary mode of travel for many African-African Americans but they had their designated sitting areas on the bus. Parks was tired and disgusted with segregation so she sat in the whites only section, the front, of the bus. She was immediately ordered to the back and after refusing ordered off the bus. Her defiance and removal sparked a bus boycott by blacks that lasted nearly a year.Blacks were determined to end segregation on the buses by hurting the economic well being of the city’s public transportation system.
Martin Luther King
As the boycott continued in Montgomery, Alabama, Martin Luther King arrived to give his support. Until this moment, he was just one of many obscure black ministers who also wished for equality. However, King’s eloquence and leadership in Montgomery enabled him to emerge as the voice and leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
Southern Leadership Christian Conference
King formed the SCLC which was a coalition of church ministers who promoted equality and African American rights through the black churches. They all stressed passive resistance. Taking a cue from Ghandi, King called on his followers to resist segregation through peaceful means such as sit-ins in all white facilities.
Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee
Beginning the early 60s a group of young people consisting of college students both black and white began traveling throughout the South conducting sit-ins in the major cities. Their goal was to change southern attitudes and policies of segregation by filling the jails if necessary to show their defiance.
Freedom Riders SNCC members often traveled on Greyhound buses and were sometimes referred to as Freedom Riders. Their other goal was to persuade African Americans to register to vote. By voting, blacks could elect people to office who would support their cause
As SNCC members traveled throughout the South, they were often beaten or sometimes killed by KKK members. Many members of the KKK were local businessmen, government officials, and law enforcement personnel. Therefore, the SNCC members had no one to appeal to for their safety.
In 1964, 3 SNCC members were reported missing following a sit-in and their release from jail. One of them was a white student from an influential New York family. The parents reported his disappearance to the FBI and an investigation followed. The investigation led to the discovery of many human remains believed to be of not only the 3 missing SNCC workers but also other local black people who were reported missing over the years.
March on Washington
Having traveled throughout the South protesting against segregation with little success, blacks decided to take the fight to Congress. In August 1963, 250,000 African American led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. They were there to lobby Congress for change and this is where Martin Luther King gave his “I have a Dream…” speech.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
African-Americans nearly gave up hope with the assassination of President Kennedy because that meant Johnson; a southerner from Texas would become president. However, he surprised many with his support for African American rights. The first bill he signed into law was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law legally abolished segregation.
In 1964, Congress also passed the 24th Amendment, which abolished the poll tax The Voting Rights Act of 1965 took away the power of local officials to register voters and gave it to the federal government. No longer did blacks have to fill out a registration form and give it to a white registrar. The possibility of it getting “lost” and intimidation began to disappear as a result of this law.