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The Civil civil liberties Movement:1919-1960s

Kenneth R. Janken Professor, department of African and Afro-American studies andDirector the Experiential Education, Office of Undergraduate CurriculaUniversity of phibìc CarolinaNational Humanities center Fellow ©National humanities Center


When most Americans think the the Civil legal rights Movement, they have actually in mental a expectancy of time beginning with the 1954 supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plank of Education, which outlawed segregated education, or the Montgomery Bus Boycott and culminated in the so late 1960s or early 1970s. The movement incorporated both advertisement hoc local groups and also established organizations like the National Association for the breakthrough of Colored human being (NAACP), the conference of gyeongju Equality (CORE), the southerly Christian leadership Conference (SCLC), and also the student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Regardless of the reality that they to be not constantly united about strategy and also tactics and also drew members from various classes and also backgrounds, the movement nonetheless cohered roughly the target of removed the device of Jim raven segregation and the revolutionary of few of the worst elements of racism in American institutions and life.

Much the our storage of the polite Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is embodied in dramatic photographs, newsreels, and also recorded speeches, which America encountered in everyday papers and also the nightly news. As the movement rolled across the nation, Americans absorbed images of hopeful, disciplined, and specialized young world shaping your destinies. They to be met with hostility,

Students of central High institution in small Rock, AR, 1957.

"Freedom Riders,"Anniston, AL, 1961.
federal ambivalence and indifference, and mob and also police violence. African Americans fought earlier with direct action protests and also keen political organizing, such together voter registration drives and the Mississippi Freedom democratic Party. The crowning accomplishments were the Civil legal rights Act of 1964 and also the Voting civil liberties Act of 1965. The photos are alternately angering and also inspiring, powerful, iconic even. However, by themselves they cannot tell the background of the Civil legal rights Movement. They must be contextualized.

The drama the the mid-twentieth century arised on a foundation of previously struggles. 2 are an especially notable: the NAACP’s campaign against lynching, and also the NAACP’s legit campaign versus segregated education, i m sorry culminated in the supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision.

The NAACP’s anti-lynching project of the 1930s linked widespread publicity around the causes and also costs the lynching, a effective drive to defeat supreme Court nominee man J. Parker because that his white supremacist and anti-union views and also then defeat senators that voted for confirmation, and a skillful effort to lobby Congress and the Roosevelt management to pass a federal anti-lynching law. Southerly senators filibustered, yet they can not avoid the formation of a nationwide consensus versus lynching; by 1938 the number of lynchings declined steeply. Other organizations, such as the left-wing nationwide Negro Congress, combated lynching, too, but the NAACP emerged from the project as the most significant civil rights company in nationwide politics and also maintained that place through the mid-1950s.


Charles Hamilton Houston
The project for desegregated education and learning was component of a larger struggle come reshape the border of America—in regards to race, but likewise in the means political and economic power is exercised in this country. Plans for the legal project that culminated v Brown to be sketched in 1929 by the nationwide Association for the advance of colored People. Charles Hamilton Houston, the black attorney many responsible for developing the legal concept underpinning Brown, concentrated on segregated education due to the fact that he thought that it to be the focused expression of all the inequalities blacks endured.

Houston to be unabashed: lawyers to be either social designers or they were parasites. He wanted equal access to education, yet he additionally was involved with the kind of culture blacks to be trying to integrate. The was among those that surveyed American society and witnessed racial inequality and the ruling powers that promoted racism to divide black employees from white workers. Due to the fact that he thought that gyeongju violence in Depression-era America to be so pervasive regarding make massive direct action untenable, he emphasized the redress the grievances with the courts.

The developers of the Brown strategy occurred a potent combination of gradualism in legit matters and advocacy of significant change in other political arenas. V the 1930s and much of the 1940s, the NAACP initiated suits the dismantled elements of the edifice of segregated education, each structure on the precedent of the previous one. Not until the so late 1940s go the NAACP think it politics feasible to difficulty directly the constitutionality the “separate however equal” education and learning itself. Concurrently, polite rights institutions backed efforts to radically transform the balance that power between employers and also workers in the joined States. Lock paid unique attention to creating an alliance with organized labor, whose background of racial exemption angered blacks. In the 1930s, the national Negro Congress brought blacks right into the newly developed United steel Workers, and the union paid attention to the details demands of afri Americans. The NAACP assisted the Brotherhood the Sleeping auto Porters, the biggest black labor company of the day. In the 1940s, the unified Auto Workers, v NAACP encouragement, make overtures to black color workers. The NAACP’s effective fight versus the autonomous white primary in the southern was much more than a bid for inclusion; it was a stiff challenge to what was in truth a regional one-party dictatorship. Recognizing the interdependence of domestic and also foreign affairs, the NAACP’s routine in the 1920s and also 1930s supported solidarity through Haitians that were do the efforts to end the American military occupation and also with conquered blacks in other places in the Caribbean and in Africa. African Americans’ assistance for WWII and the battle against the master Race ideological background abroad to be matched by equal determination to eradicate the in America, too. In the post-war year blacks sustained the decolonization of Africa and Asia.


Gradualism to be a clever legal strategy, but Charles Houston likewise knew the it to be a mistake come trim political demands to fit the nation’s leaders’ principles of propriety. He supported Henry Wallace’s steady Party presidential bid in 1948. Wallace dubbed racism the nation’s and also the South’s “number one enemy.” he promised come defuse the Cold War, encourage working class political participation, and limit the influence of enterprise in American polite life. Houston saw college desegregation no as an end in itself, no to promote part amorphous “inclusion,” yet as a significant way come revolutionize American society.

The Cold War and McCarthyism put a host on such expansive conceptions the civil/human rights. Critics of ours domestic and also foreign policies who exceeded directly defined boundaries were labeled un-American and also thus sequestered indigenous Americans’ consciousness. In a supreme irony, the supreme Court rendered the Brown decision and then the federal government suppressed the an extremely critique of American society that animated numerous of Brown’s architects.

White southerly resistance come Brown to be formidable and the slow-moving pace of change stimulated impatience especially among younger african Americans as the 1960s began. They concluded the they can not wait for change—they had to do it. And also the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted the entire year that 1956, had demonstrated the mass direct action could undoubtedly work. The 4 college students from Greensboro that sat at the Woolworth lunch counter set off a decade of task and organizing that would kill Jim Crow.

Elimination of segregation in windy accommodations and the remove of “Whites Only” and also “Colored Only” indications was no typical feat. Yet from the very first sit-in, Ella Baker, the grassroots leader who activism dated from the 1930s and who to be advisor to the student who started the student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), pointed out that the battle was “concerned through something much bigger 보다 a hamburger or even a giant-sized Coke.” Far an ext was at stake because that these activists than changing the hearts of whites. When the sit-ins swept Atlanta in 1960, protesters’ demands consisted of jobs, health and wellness care, reform of the police and also criminal justice system, education, and the vote. (See: “An very nice one for human Rights.”) Demonstrations in Birmingham in 1963 under the management of Fred Shuttlesworth’s Alabama Christian movement for person Rights, which was affiliated with the SCLC, inquiry not only an end to distinction in downtown stores but likewise jobs because that African american in those businesses and municipal government. The 1963 in march on Washington, most frequently remembered as the event at i m sorry Dr. King proclaimed his dream, to be a demonstration because that “Jobs and also Justice.”

Movement activists native SNCC and also CORE asked sharp questions about the exclusive nature of American democracy and advocated solutions come the disfranchisement and violation that the human rights of african Americans, including Dr. King’s nonviolent populism, Robert Williams’ “armed self-reliance,” and Malcolm X’s incisive critiques of worldwide white supremacy, among others. (See: Dr. King, “Where execute We go from Here?”; Robert F. Williams, “Negroes with Guns”; and also Malcolm X, “Not simply an American problem, but a people problem.”) What they proposed was breathtakingly radical, particularly in light of today’s politics discourse and also the simplistic ways it prefers to remember the flexibility struggle. King called for a guaranteed annual income, redistribution that the national wealth to accomplish human needs, and an finish to a battle to colonize the Vietnamese. Malcolm X proposed come internationalize the black American freedom struggle and to connect it with liberation activities in Asia, Africa, and also Latin America. Therefore the civil Rights activity of the 1950s and also 1960s to be not concerned exclusively v interracial cooperation or segregation and discrimination as a character issue. Rather, as in earlier decades, the prize was a redefinition the American culture and a redistribution that social and economic power.

Guiding student Discussion

Students mentioning the polite Rights motion will often direct their attention to individuals’ motives. For example, castle will inquiry whether chairman Kennedy sincerely thought in racial equality when he sustained civil rights or only did so out of political expediency. Or they may ask just how whites can be so cruel as to attack peaceful and also dignified demonstrators. Lock may also express awe in ~ Martin Luther King’s forbearance and calls because that integration while mirroring discomfort v Black Power’s separatism and proclamations the self-defense. Yet a focus on the character and moral fiber the leading people overlooks the movement’s make the efforts to readjust the methods in which political, social, and economic power room exercised. Leading fertile discussions the consider more comprehensive issues will certainly likely have to involve debunking some conventional wisdom around the Civil rights Movement. Guiding students to discuss the extent to i m sorry nonviolence and also racial integration were taken into consideration within the movement to it is in hallowed goals can lead them to higher insights.

Nonviolence and also passive resistance were prominent tactics the protesters and also organizations. (See: SNCC explain of Purpose and also Jo Ann Gibson Robinson’s memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the women Who started It.) however they were not the only ones, and also the number of protesters who were ideologically committed to lock was fairly small. Return the surname of one of the necessary civil rights institutions was the student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the members soon concluded the advocating nonviolence together a rule was irrelevant to many African americans they were trying come reach. Movement participants in Mississippi, for example, did no decide forward to engage in violence, but self-defense was just considered typical sense. If some SNCC members in Mississippi were persuaded pacifists in the challenge of escalating violence, castle nevertheless appreciated the defense of local human being who mutual their goals yet were no yet all set to beat their swords into ploughshares.

Armed self-defense had been critical component the the black liberty struggle, and also it was no confined come the fringe. Return soldiers fought back against white mobs throughout the Red Summer that 1919. In 1946, civilization War 2 veterans likewise protected black communities in areas like Columbia, Tennessee, the site of a bloody gyeongju riot. Their self-defense undoubtedly carried national fist to the oppressive problems of afri Americans; the NAACP’s nationwide project prompted chairman Truman to choose a civil rights commission that produced To Secure these Rights, a landmark report that called for the remove of segregation. Military veteran Robert F. Williams, who was a proponent the what he dubbed “armed self-reliance,” top a prospering branch that the NAACP in Monroe, phibìc Carolina, in the beforehand 1950s. The poet Claude McKay’s “If We have to Die” dramatically records the heart of self-defense and violence.

Often, deciding whether violence is “good” or “bad,” essential or ill-conceived relies on one’s perspective and also which allude of watch runs through background books. Students need to be encouraged to take into consideration why activists may have taken into consideration violence a necessary component of their work and also what duty it played in their in its entirety programs. Are violence and also nonviolence have to antithetical, or deserve to they it is in complementary? For instance the black Panther Party might be best remembered by photos of members clad in leather and carrying rifles, but they likewise challenged extensive police brutality, advocated reform the the criminal justice system, and established ar survival programs, including medical clinics, schools, and also their signature breakfast program. One concern that can lead to an extensive discussion is to ask college student what the distinction is between people that rioted in the 1960s and supported violence and the attendees in the Boston Tea Party in ~ the outset the the American Revolution. Both groups wanted the end from oppression, both witnessed that violence can be efficacious, and both to be excoriated through the rulers of your day. Teachers and also students can then discover reasons why those Boston hooligans are commemorated in American history and even if it is the same standards should be applied to those who used arms in the 1960s.

An necessary goal of the polite Rights movement was the removed of segregation. Yet if students, that are now a generation or more removed from Jim Crow, room asked to specify segregation, lock are most likely to allude out examples of individual gyeongju separation such as blacks and whites eating at various cafeteria tables and also the presence of black and whitehouses that worship. Like many of our political leaders and public opinion, theyplace King’s injunction to judge people by the content of their character andnot the shade of their skin solely in the context of personalrelationships and interactions. Yet segregation to be a social, political, andeconomic mechanism that put African american in an inferior position,disfranchised them, and was enforced by custom, law, and also official and also vigilanteviolence.

The conversation of segregation need to be expanded past expressions of an individual preferences. One way to do this is come distinguish between black and white college student hanging the end in different parts the a school and a regulation mandating racially different schools, or in between black and also white students eat separately and also a laws or personalizeds excluding afri Americans native restaurants and also other public facilities. Put an additional way, the civil rights activity was not fought merely come ensure that students of various backgrounds could end up being acquainted with each other. The score of an integrated and multicultural America is not accomplished simply by proximity. Schools, the economy, and other social institutions needed to it is in reformed to satisfy the requirements for all. This to be the larger and also widely understood an interpretation of the score of finishing Jim Crow, and it is said forcefully through James Farmer in “Integration or Desegregation.”

A guided discussion should suggest out the manyof the ideologies to ending segregation go not adopt integration orassimilation, and also students need to become mindful of the appeal of separatism. W. E. B.Du Bois thought in what is today dubbed multiculturalism. Yet by the mid-1930she concluded that the good Depression, virulent racism, and the unreliabilityof white progressive reformers who had actually previously express sympathy because that civilrights calculation an combined America a remote dream. In an important article,“Doesthe Negro need Separate Schools?” Du Bois argued for the strengthening ofblack pride and also the fortification of different black schools and also other importantinstitutions. Black communities throughout the country were in major distress; itwas counterproductive, that argued, come sacrifice black color schoolchildren at thealtar that integration and also to gain them right into previously all-white schools, wherethey would certainly be shunned and worse. It to be far better to invest in strengtheningblack-controlled education to meet black communities’ needs. If, in the future,integration came to be a possibility, afri Americans would certainly be positioned toenter that brand-new arrangement on equal terms. Du Bois’ dispute found echoes inthe 1960s writing of Stokely Carmichael (“TowardBlack Liberation”) and also Malcolm X (“The Ballot or theBullet”).

Scholars Debate

Any short discussion of historical literature onthe polite Rights movement is bound to be incomplete. The publications offered—abiography, a examine of the black freedom struggle in Memphis, a quick study ofthe Brown decision, and also a controversy over the unfolding that the movement—were selected because that their ease of access variety, and usefulness come teaching, aswell as the soundness of their scholarship.

Walter White: Mr. NAACP, by Kenneth Robert Janken, is a story of among the most well known civil rights figureof the first half the the twenty century. White do a name for himself as the NAACP’s risk-taking investigator the lynchings, riots, and also other gyeongju violence in the years after human being War I. He to be a formidable persuader and was prominent in the halls the power, counting Eleanor Roosevelt, senators, representatives, cabinet secretaries, supreme Court justices, union leaders, Hollywood moguls, and diplomats among his circle of friends. His style of work depended upon rallying enlightened elites, and also he favored a placing effort into arising a polite rights bureaucracy over local and mass-oriented organizations. Walter White to be an skilled in the practice of “brokeragepolitics”: During years when the majority of african Americans were legallydisfranchised, White led the company that gave them an reliable voice,representing them and also interpreting your demands and desires (as he understoodthem) to those in power. Two examples of this to be highlighted in the firstpart of this essay: the anti-lynching crusade, and also the lobbying of PresidentTruman, which caused To Secure these Rights. A 3rd example is hisessential duty in developing Marian Anderson’s iconic 1939 Easter Sunday concertat the Lincoln Memorial, which drew the avid support of president Roosevelt andmembers the his administration, the Congress, and also the supreme Court. His styleof leadership was, before the development of direct mass activity in the yearsafter White’s fatality in 1955, the leading one in the Civil legal rights Movement.

There are numerous excellent publications that study the advancement of the polite Rights motion in one locality or state. One excellentaddition come the repertoire of neighborhood studies is Battling the PlantationMentality, by Laurie B. Green, which concentrates on Memphis and the surroundingrural locations of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi in between the so late 1930s and1968, when Martin Luther King to be assassinated there. Prefer the best of thelocal studies, this book presents one expanded definition of civil rights thatencompasses not only desegregation of publicly facilities and the attainment oflegal civil liberties but additionally economic and also political equality. Central to this wereefforts by afri Americans to define themselves and also shake turn off the culturalimpositions and also mores that Jim Crow. Throughout WWII, unionized black males went onstrike in the defense industry to upgrade their task classifications. Component oftheir grievances revolved about wages and also working conditions, yet blackworkers take it issue, too, through employers’ and also the government’s thinking thatonly short status tasks were open to blacks since they were less intelligent andcapable. In 1955, 6 black female employee at a white-owned restaurantobjected to the owner’s new method of attracting customers together degrading andredolent that the plantation: placing among them exterior dressed together a mammy dollto ring a dinner bell. When the employees tried come walk turn off the job, the ownerhad them arrested, which provided rise to local protest. In 1960, black Memphisactivists helped support black sharecroppers in surrounding counties who wereevicted native their dwellings when lock initiated voter registration drives. The1968 sanitation employees strike mushroomed into a mass community protest bothbecause of wage issues and also the strikers’ decision to rest theperception of their being dependent, epitomized in your slogan “I to be aMan.” This book likewise shows that not everyone to be able to actors off theplantation mentality, as black workers and also energetic students in ~ LeMoyneCollege challenged established black color leaders who positions and statusdepended top top white elites’ sufferance.

Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief background with Documents, edited through Waldo E. Martin, Jr., contains an insightful 40-page essay that locations both the NAACP’s legal strategy and also 1954 Brown decision in many contexts, including alternating approaches to incorporating african American citizens right into the American nation, and the impact of world War II and the Cold war on the roadway to Brown. The accompanying files affirm the ancient black flexibility struggle, including demands for integrated schools in Boston in 1849, proceeding with protests versus the separate but equal judgment in Plessy v. Ferguson the 1896, and also important items from the NAACP’s situations leading as much as Brown. The records are prefaced by thorough head notes and also provocative discussion questions.

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Debating the Civil civil liberties Movement, by Steven F. Lawson and Charles Payne, is likewise focused top top instruction and discussion. This essay has actually largely focused on the development of the civil Rights motion from the standpoint of afri American resistance to segregation and also the formation organizations to fight for racial, economic, social, and also political equality. One area the does not discover is how the federal federal government helped to shape the movement. Steven Lawson traces the federal response to afri Americans’ demands for polite rights and also concludes the it was legislation, judicial decisions, and also executive actions between 1945 and 1968 the was many responsible for the nation’s advancement toward racial equality. Charles Payne vigorously disagrees, focusing instead on the protracted grassroots arranging as the motive pressure for everything incomplete readjust occurred during those years. Each essay runs around forty pages, complied with by smart selections of papers that assistance their cases.