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NINE: The Civil Rights Movement in the West
Most Americans typically identify the black
civil rights movement of the 1960s with the states of the South.
This chapter, however, will explore the movement's ramifications
in the West. The first vignette, Segregation in Public Schools
in the West, is actually a table that shows the extent of school
integration in the region before 1954. A remarkable direct-action
campaign against racial discrimination by the students of the
University of New Mexico in 1947 is described in An Early Civil
Rights Victory in New Mexico. The next vignette, School Desegregation:
The Arizona Victory, 1953, shows the prelude to the famous Brown
Case. The decision in that landmark case appears in the next
vignette, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. The sit-ins come
to the West fairly early. Those efforts in Oklahoma City are
outlined in Sit-Ins: The Oklahoma City Campaign, 1960, The Katz
Drug Store Sit In, 1958, and Charlton Heston Protests in Oklahoma
City. The Sit-In Movement Comes to Houston, and The Movement
in San Antonio describe similar protests in Texas cities. The
Watts uprising is described in the next two vignettes, The End
of Non-Violence: The Watts Riot and Marquette Frye: From Wyoming
to Watts. The rise of Black Militancy in the West is detailed
in Black Omaha: From Non-Violence to Black Power, The Black
Panther Party, Angela Davis on Black Men and the Movement, and
The University of Washington Black Student Union. Finally, Oregonians
React to the Death of Martin Luther King, shows the response
in this state to the changing goals of "the movement."
Terms for Week Nine:
- Phoenix Union High School Case, 1953
- Thurgood Marshall
- Linda Brown
- Clara Luper, Oklahoma City NAACP Youth
- Central Area Civil Rights Committee
- Rev. John H. Adams
- Rev. Samuel McKinney
- Tracy Simms
- Tom Bradley
- Marquette Frye
- Jackson Street Community Council
- Ernest Chambers
- Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party
- Ron Karenga, US
- Angela Davis
- Elaine Brown
- Aaron Dixon
- Walter Hundley
- Larry Gossett
SEGREGATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE WEST,
Most students of the civil rights era assume
that public school segregation was a distinctly Southern occurrence.
As the table below illustrates, school segregation extended
into the West as well. Indeed it was a nationwide practice before
the Brown decision. The table below lists the status of school
segregation in all forty-eight states. I have highlighted the
states of the West to show where each stood on the question
of separation of pupils solely on the basis of race.
in Various Degrees
District of Columbia
Source: Carl E. Jackson and Emory J. Tolbert,
ed., Race and Culture in America: Readings in Racial and Ethnic
Relations, (Edina, Minn., 1989), p. 106
ADA LOIS SIPUEL FISHER AND THE U.S. SUPREME COURT
The following is Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher's
account of her entrance into the University of Oklahoma by order
of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1949.
It was a cold day, but one of crystalline
purity. There I was, a preacher’s daughter from Little
Chickasha, Oklahoma, climbing the steps of the United States
Supreme Court building. My eyes caught the words “Equal
Justice under Law.” Amos Hall, Thurgood Marshall, and
I entered the building ahead of schedule. We walked down the
wide corridor, its way marked with uniformed military personnel
standing at attention at spaced intervals. Finally we came to
the Court’s chamber. The awesome sight seemed a fitting
end of a journey two years in the making.
The chamber had plush carpet and carved, heavily
padded pews for spectators. The Court’s sergeant-at-arms
sat in a high chair facing the audience. Behind him was the
judge’s bar, beautifully carved and long enough to accommodate
nine large, overstuffed leather chairs, one for each of the
nine justices. Behind the chairs was a heavy velvet curtain.
The bailiff announced the imminent appearance of the justices,
and everyone stood. The judges then stepped through the nine
slits in the curtain.
I was thrilled. I recognized a few of them
from photos that I had seen. The real thrill came from my sense
that this August body was assembled that morning because of
me--to recognize and affirm my rights of citizenship...
As had been true at the state supreme court,
the judges were free to interrupt counsel for either side at
any point. This time, however, it was the state’s counsel
that was being interrupted. Marshall carefully presented his
argument with scarcely an interruption. I believed that only
one decision was plausible: my immediate admission to the University
of Oklahoma. That seemed the only way Oklahoma could comply
with the United States Constitution.
Attorneys Hansen and Merrill had a much harder
and slower go of it. The state attorneys reiterated their position
concerning out-of-state tuition and my failure to give the board
of regents notice of my desire to study law within the state.
They also spoke of the Oklahoma law prohibiting whites and blacks
from attending classes together. Various justices cut in on
the arguments with rather pointed questions that seemed to indicate
they were leaning in my direction. At least as important as
the questions’ wording was their tone, a tone that ran
all the way from incredulity to frustration with Oklahoma’s
Justice William O. Douglas cut in on Merrill’s
and Hansen’s point about the lack of prior notification
to observe that I had attempted to enroll on January 14, 1946,
and filed suit almost two years ago. Douglas opined that would
appear to be clear notice. He said that at the rate the state
was moving I would be an old lady before I would be able to
practice law. Justice Robert Jackson wanted to know why, after
two years, Oklahoma had made no effort to do anything about
the problem. Justice Hugo Black also specifically wanted to
know whether the regents had taken any action to satisfy my
effort. Hansen had no direct response, saying only that the
regents had no money to set up any other law school, adding
that they believed I would refuse to accept a segregated law
Justice Felix Frankfurter systematically explored
various alternatives and asked whether the state would admit
me for the term beginning in a few days if the Court mandated
it to do so. Hansen answered yes, if necessary, although he
added that doing so would violate the laws of Oklahoma. Frankfurter
then asked if a separate course of study could be arranged within
the existing law school. Hansen answered that it could. Could
I be admitted temporarily pending the establishment of a separate
law school? Hansen said that the Oklahoma Board of Regents for
Higher Education had authority to do any or all of those things.
Justice Robert Jackson interrupted to ask
if counsel really believed that a school with a single student
could afford an acceptable legal education. Merrill answered
yes. Justice Jackson disagreed. He said such foolishness was
neither reasonable nor equitable.
Dean Merrill noted that Oklahoma was one of
many states with a public policy of segregation. He reminded
the Court that for decades rulings had upheld that arrangement.
Now, he told the Court, plaintiff is unwilling to recognize
that settled policy. He was right on that.
Justice Jackson asked why I should be required
to abide by a given policy more than any other person. Should
I, he asked, be required to waive my constitutional rights for
the benefit of the state’s public policy?
They were good questions--great questions,
it seemed to me. They were exactly the questions that every
other court and public official had ignored. This time, this
Court asked them.
Only four days after the hearing, the Court
issued a terse one-page, unsigned unanimous order. With OU’s
second semester’s enrollment to begin in exactly one week,
the judgment was that I was “entitled to secure legal
education afforded by a state institution.” The Court
ordered that Oklahoma “provide it for her in conformity
with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other
Source: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, A Matter of
Black and White; The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher
(Norman, 1996), pp. 119-122.
GEORGE McLAURIN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA
George McLaurin, who entered the graduate
program at the University of Oklahoma in 1948 was the first
African American student to attend the university. Here below
is a brief account of his initial days at the institution.
George McLaurin officially enrolled in four
graduate education courses on October 13, 1948. At the time,
the College of Education used several classrooms in the old
Carnegie Building. All of McLaurin’s classes were assigned
to the same one: room 104. The scheduling was no accident. The
large lecture room had a little anteroom (Marshall later termed
it a “broom closet”) off to its north side. Separated
from the remainder of the room by columns, the anteroom allowed
an occupant to peer out at a forty-five-degree angle to see
the front of the room and the blackboard. Thus the choice.
It was under such surreal and humiliating
conditions that George W. McLaurin became the First African
American to attend the University of Oklahoma. By the end of
the year about twenty others had also enrolled. All of them
were completely segregated within the university. They had designated
sitting areas in the classrooms and the library. They entered
the cafeteria by a side door and sat at folding tables set up
in a corner away from other diners, surrounded by a heavy iron
chain, and manned by an armed guard.
McLaurin, a senior citizen when he entered,
left the university at the end of his second semester because
of unsatisfactory grades. His age and the humiliation he suffered
probably affected his performance...
Source: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, A Matter of
Black and White; The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher,
(Norman, 1996), pp. 144-145.
AN EARLY CIVIL RIGHTS VICTORY IN NEW MEXICO
The following vignette describes a remarkable
three year direct action campaign between 1947 and 1950 by University
of New Mexico students against segregated facilities near their
campus. The campaign generated the first UNM anti-discrimination
regulations and eventually generated the first such ordinance
for Albuquerque and law for the state of New Mexico.
The first non-violent direct action protest
in the post-war West came in an unlikely place, Albuquerque,
New Mexico. Black Albuquerque did not experience the enormous
growth that affected African American communities on the west
coast. Its population slowly expanded from 547 in 1940 to 613
in 1950 despite the city's overall population growth from 35,000
to 96,000. Nonetheless black newcomers and natives, particularly
at the University of New Mexico, chafed under "traditional"
racial restrictions and in the immediate post-war period they
joined liberal whites and Hispanics to launch a campaign to
end discrimination. The most important of those coalitions initiated
a direct action campaign that predated by more than a decade
the sit-in movement begun in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In September 1947, the university newspaper,
The New Mexico Lobo published an article describing how George
Long, a university student was denied service at a nearby cafe,
Oklahoma Joe's. In response the Associated Students of the university,
not having the power to prohibit discrimination in private establishments
off campus, enacted a boycott resolution, which declared "If
any student of the University is discriminated against in a
business establishment on the basis of race, color or creed,
I will support a student boycott of that establishment."
The resolution gave the ASUNM Judiciary Committee the authority
to investigate cases of discrimination and, "have the power
to declare a student boycott." The boycott passed a university-wide
student referendum on October 22, 1947, by a three to one margin
with approximately 75% of the students casting ballots. Shortly
after its enactment, students boycotted Oklahoma Joe's, forcing
the management to change its policy. Three months later university
students initiated a similarly successful boycott against a
downtown Walgreen drug store. The widespread student support
for challenging local discrimination also generated the university's
first NAACP chapter with Herbert Wright as its first president.
Using as a model a Portland, Oregon anti-discrimination
ordinance, Wright and George Long, now a university law student,
worked for nearly two years to perfect the Albuquerque Civil
Rights Ordinance and to persuade sympathetic members of the
Albuquerque City Commission to introduce the measure in October,
1950. On October 21, 1950, Wright, now president of the campus
NAACP, Long, and Joe Passaretti, president of the Associated
Students, made speeches for the ordinance before the commission.
After considerable study by Commission subcommittees, the Albuquerque
Civil Rights Ordinance was passed on Lincoln's birthday, 1952.
Three years later, in 1955, the state legislature enacted a
similar statue, nine years before the national Civil Rights
Act was passed by the U.S. Congress. Taking advantage of student
opposition to discrimination, George Long and Herbert Wright
had formed a remarkable coalition of students and sympathetic
off campus organizations including the NAACP, several churches
and Hispano organizations to enact the first civil rights ordinance
in the intermountain West.
Source: Quintard Taylor, "African Americans
in the Enchanted State: Black History in New Mexico, 1529-1990,"
Historical introduction to the "A History of Hope: The
African American Experience in New Mexico," Exhibit, The
Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 4 to April
7, 1996. See pp. 13-14.
SCHOOL DESEGREGATION: THE ARIZONA VICTORY, 1953
Most historians characterize the 1954 U.S.
Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education
as the death knell for de jure public school segregation. Yet
a little known legal victory by school desegregation victory
by the Arizona NAACP before the Arizona State Supreme Court
in 1953 provided an important precedent for the ruling by the
highest court in the land. Ironically the local effort began
with a court ruling ending the segregation of Latino students.
The Arizona NAACP's campaign is described below.
In 1951 the NAACP's Legal Aid Division won
a court suit against the Tolleson School District concerning
its practice of segregating Mexican-American students. Although
the court's ruling did not affect Negro students, it was a step
forward. Encouraged by the Legislature's passage of the desegregation
bill in 1951, the NAACP filed a suit against Phoenix Union High
School, which had refused to comply with the newly enacted order...
As the NAACP's suit against Phoenix Union High School moved
through the court, the state's civil rights groups focused their
attention upon school desegregation, labeling it as their first
priority.... Everything else hinged upon complete integration
of the state's school system. As one prominent Phoenix businessman
put it, "As long as they [blacks] attend separate schools,
I won't let them drink in my bar or sit in my theatre..."
To gain public support the NAACP sponsored
a number of massive rallies at which black leaders and state
officials openly voiced their opinions on the matter. To finance
the case the NAACP sought donations from the state's elite.
Their efforts were successful. More than a thousand state residents
donated thousands of dollars to the cause, including four hundred
dollars from Barry M. Goldwater.
The first major breakthrough came in the winter
of 1953. Two Maricopa County Superior Court Judges ordered Phoenix
Union High School to desegregate immediately. From this point
the pace of desegregation quickened. During the following summer
Phoenix school officials announced that henceforth Negro students
could enroll in previously all-white schools. In the fall the
Legislature passed another school desegregation bill which called
for the immediate desegregation of all elementary and secondary
schools throughout the state. The bill also provided that violators
would lose all state support, including funds, unless they desegregated
by December, 1954. Then in January, 1954, the bill was amended
to cover the hiring of Negro teachers and other personnel on
a fair and equal basis. By 1960 only a handful of the state's
black teachers were working in districts which lacked Negro
pupils. The majority were still teaching in schools whose enrollment
was predominately black.
Desegregation of the state's school system,
as it concerned student enrollment, was a success. By December,
1954 literally every school district had repealed its segregation
ordinances. Even some of the all-Negro schools either were closed
or integrated. Integration of schools was not accomplished without
some instances of hostility, though. Jean Gossett, a Negro student,
was dismayed, as were her black classmates, when, on her first
day as a Phoenix Union High School student, the teacher in Jean's
first class remarked, "I see that we have a few darkies
with us today." Also at Phoenix Union High School, the
first school dance raised the question of mixed racial dancing
and dating; but with the aid of the NAACP such issues were quickly
put to rest.
The success of school desegregation carried
over into other areas as well. Theaters, movie houses, some
restaurants and a few [previously] all-white churches immediately
Source: Robert Kim Nimmons, "Arizona's
Forgotten Past: The Negro in Arizona, 1539-1965," (MA Thesis,
Northern Arizona University, 1971), pp. 227-232.
BROWN V. TOPEKA BOARD OF EDUCATION
The 1954 Brown decision outlawing public school
segregation was one of the most sweeping and controversial decisions
rendered by a U.S. Supreme Court. While primarily known for
its national impact on legal segregation, the decision was the
culmination of a seventy year campaign by African American residents
in Kansas to desegregate public schools in their state. Part
of the Brown decision is reprinted below.
Today education is perhaps the most important
function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance
laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate
our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic
society. It is required in the performance of our most basic
public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It
is the very foundation of good citizenship....
We come then to the question presented. Does
segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis
of race, even though the physical facili¬ties and other
"tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children
of the minority group of equal education opportunities? We believe
that it does....¬To separate them from others of similar
age and qualifications solely because of their race generates
a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community
that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever
to be undone....
We conclude that in the field of public education
the doctrine of "sepa¬rate but equal" has no place.
Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore,
we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for
whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation
complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws
guaranteed by the 14th Amendment....
Source: Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The
History of Brown v. Board of Education, (New York: 1975), pp.
THE BROWN DECISION: ONE WOMAN REMEMBERS
Cheryl Brown Henderson, the sister of Linda
Brown and daughter of Rev. Oliver L. Brown, the lead plaintiff
in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, recalls the
events leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The case that became known as Brown v. Board
of Education of Topeka was one of a long line of cases that
sought equal education as a tool for social equality. For many
years segregated schooling was sanctioned by the 1896 U.S. Supreme
Court decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which permitted
separate-but-equal classrooms for African American children.
In 1950, attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP) chose Topeka as one of the places
in which to challenge that decision. The final documents were
filed on behalf of 13 African American families for their 20
children. As fate would have it, Oliver L. Brown headed the
list of plaintiffs and my family's name became forever linked
to this case.
The circumstances for each of the families
in the case were similar. My father agreed to participate because
my oldest sister, Linda, and the other African American children
in our integrated neighborhood had to walk through a railroad
switching yard, cross a busy boulevard, and await a rickety
school bus--sometimes for an hour in all types of weather--to
travel nearly two miles to Monroe School. This was despite the
fact that we lived only four blocks from Sumner Elementary School,
which served the neighborhood's white children. During the case,
much was made of the fact that the board of education provided
bus service for African American children and not for white
children. But that was so much window dressing since white children
almost always lived within walking distance of their neighborhood
In August 1951, a three-judge federal panel
found against my father and the other plaintiffs. The decision
acknowledged that segregation had a detrimental effect on Topeka's
African American children, but found that it was not illegal
since school facilities and programs were equal to that of white
students. The NAACP appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where
the Kansas case was joined with similar cases from Delaware,
the District of Columbia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Because
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was first on the list,
all of the cases eventually became associated with its name.
It was an important case because it was not
from a southern state and because it delineated the issue so
well. It was acknowledged that in most ways Topeka's white and
African American schools were equal. To overturn the lower court's
decision the Supreme Court would have to strike down the separate-but-equal
doctrine. On May 17, 1954, at 12:52 p.m., the Supreme Court
announced its decision that "separate educational facilities
are inherently unequal." The decision effectively denied
the legal basis for segregation in Kansas and 20 other states
which segregated classrooms and would forever change race relations
in this country.
Ironically, the decision came too late to
affect the children of some of the case's plaintiffs, including
my sister, Linda. That fall these children would enter junior
high school, and since only elementary school had been segregated
in Kansas, they were already scheduled to begin their first
integrated schooling. In 1959 our family left Topeka because
our father had accepted a new parish. Two years later, my father
died at the age of 42. My family returned to our old Topeka
neighborhood, where, in the fall of 1961, I enrolled at the
by-then integrated Sumner Elementary School. Each day, with
the other African American children in our neighborhood, I would
walk those short four blocks to the school my sister had not
been able to attend a decade before...
Source: Cheryl Brown Henderson, "Landmark
Decision: Remembering the Struggle for Equal Education,"
Land and People 6:1 (Spring 1994):2-5.
THE FIRST SIT-IN: WICHITA, KANSAS, 1958
Although the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins
in 1960 are generally credited with initiating a spontaneous
movement that soon swept across the South, the first sit-ins
actually occurred in Wichita, Kansas in July, 1958, followed
closely by similar demonstrations in Oklahoma City in September.
The following is a personal recollection of the Wichita demonstrations
by Professor Ronald Walters who now teaches Political Science
at Howard University.
Forget the tales of John Brown and the Kansas
that bled to keep slavery out of the state--that was the 1850s.
IN the 1950s, Wichita, Kansas, was a midsize city of more than
150,000 people, of whom only 10,000 were black. Agribusiness
and defense industries were its economic base; farmers and defense
workers, its social foundation. Isolated in the middle of the
country, with an ascetic religious heritage and a tradition
of individual farming, its people were genuinely and deeply
conservative. Kansas, the family home of war hero and president
Dwight Eisenhower, was the most Republican state in the nation...
Social and economic progress in those years
were exceedingly difficulty for Wichita's small, closely knit
black community, a product of turn-of-the-century migration.
We faced an implacably cold, dominant white culture. Blacks
in the '50s attended segregated schools up to high school and
were excluded from mixing with whites at movie theaters, restaurants,
nightclubs and other places of public accommodation, except
for some common sports events. Even though the signs "black"
and "white" were not publicly visible as in the South,
we lived in separate worlds, just as blacks and whites did in
the Southern states... In the spring of 1958, I started a new
job without a car, which anchored me to the downtown area for
lunch. I remember going to F. W. Woolworth one day for lunch
and standing in a line with other blacks behind a 2-foot board
at one end of a long lunch counter. Looking at the whites seated
at the counter, some staring up at us, I suddenly felt the humiliation
and shame that others must have felt many times in this unspoken
dialogue abut their power and our humanity. Excluded from the
simple dignity of sitting on those stools, blacks had to take
their lunch out in bags and eat elsewhere...
No flash of insight led me to confront this
humiliation. It was, like other defining moments in that era,
the growing political consciousness within the black community,
born of discrete acts of oppression and resistance. That consciousness
told me that my situation was not tolerable, that it was time
at last to do something... As head of the local NAACP Youth
Council and a freshman college student, I knew a range of youths
who might become involved in a protest against lunch counter
segregation... We targeted Dockum drugstore, part of the Rexall
chain, located on Wichita's main street, Douglas Avenue. Because
any action here would swiftly attract attention, we tried to
anticipate what we might encounter. In the basement of [St.
Peter Claver] Catholic Church we simulated the environment of
the lunch counter and went through the drill of sitting and
role-playing what might happen. We took turns playing the white
folks with laughter, dishing out the embarrassment that might
come our way. In response to their taunts, we would be well-dressed
and courteous, but determined, and we would give the proprietors
no reason to refuse us service, except that we were black.
We were motivated by the actions of other
people in struggle, especially by the pictures of people in
Little Rock and King's Montgomery bus boycott... Like others
who would come after us, we held a firm belief that we would
be successful simply because we were right; but our confidence
was devoid of both the deep religious basis of the Southern
movement and the presence of a charismatic leader...
* * *
Ten of us began the sit-in on Saturday morning
at 10 a.m., July 19, 1958. We decided to take the vacant seats
one by one, until we occupied them all, and then to just sit
until whatever happened, happened. It was the prospect of being
taken to jail--or worse--that led some parents to prohibit their
sons and daughters from taking part in the protest... The sit-in
went as planned. We entered the store and took our seats. After
we were settled, the waitress come over and spoke to all of
us, saying, "I can't serve you here. You'll have to leave."
Prepared for this response, I said that we had come to be served
like everyone else and that we intended to say until that happened.
After a few hours, the waitress placed a sign on the counter
that read, "This Fountain Temporarily Closed," and
only opened the fountain to accommodate white customers. This
was what we were hoping for--a shut-off of the flow of dollars
into this operation.
By the second week of the protest, we felt
that we were winning because we were being allowed to sit on
the stools for long periods. Surely the store was losing money.
As we sat, we seldom spoke to each other, but many things crossed
my mind. How would I react if my white classmates came in? How
would they react? Would my career in college be affected, and
would I be able to get another job? What did my family think
about what I was doing? How would it all turn out? I am sure
that the others were thinking the same things, but they never
wavered. I was proud of our group...
Despite the fact that some whites spat at
us and used racist taunts, we kept the pressure on as the movement
grew. It became a popular movement among youth, especially from
Wichita University, and at least two white students came down
to participate. What had begun as a two-day-a-week demonstration
escalated into several days a week. Just as we were realizing
our success in generating a mobilization, I began to worry because
school was approaching, and it would be difficulty to maintain
the pressure with school becoming the main priority. Then suddenly,
on a Saturday afternoon, into the fourth week of the protest,
a man in his 30s came into the store, stopped, looked back at
the manager in the rear, and said, "Serve the. I'm losing
too much money." This was the conclusion of the sit-in--at
once dramatic and anticlimactic.
What happened in the aftermath of our sit-in
was completely typical: blacks and whites were served without
incident, giving the lie to the basic reason for our exclusion--that
whites would cease to patronize the establishment... Not wanting
to rest on our laurels, we targeted another drugstore lunch
counter, across form East High School on Douglas Avenue and
there segregation was even more quickly ended. Other lunch counters
in the city followed suit...
The Dockum sit-in was followed in a few days
by the beginning of a much longer campaign of sit-ins in Oklahoma
City. This protest was also initiated by the NAACP Youth Council,
under the leadership of the courageous 16-year-old Barbara Posey...
The link between the Midwest actions and the Greensboro sit-in
was more than mere sequence. Ezell Blair and Joseph McNeil,
tow of the four originators of the Greensboro protest, were
officers in Greensboro's NAACP Youth Council. It is highly unlikely
that they were unfamiliar with the sit-ins elsewhere in the
country led by their organizational peers. Indeed, at the 51st
Conference of the NAACP held in 1960, the national office recognized
its local youth councils for the work they were doing in breaking
down lunch counter segregation. In his speech at that conference,
Robert C. Weaver, the Unites States's first black cabinet official,
said, "NAACP youth units in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma
City started these demonstrations in 1958 and succeeded in desegregating
scores of lunch counters in Kansas and Oklahoma." NAACP
Executive Director Roy Wilkins paid tribute to the sit-in movements
as "giving fresh impetus to an old struggle," and
"electrifying the adult Negro community..."
By summer 1960, the NAACP Youth Council-inspired
protests had occurred in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia,
Maryland, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, West Virginia, Tennessee,
Texas, Kentucky and Mississippi. There was one ironic historical
twist:" On July 21, 1960, the Woolworth Company in Greensboro
began to serve everyone without regard to color, nearly two
years to the day after the beginning of the "first"
sit-in in Wichita.
Source: Ronald Walters, "Standing Up
in America's Heartland: Sitting in Before Greensboro,"
American Visions 8:1 (February 1993):20-23.
SIT-INS: THE OKLAHOMA CITY CAMPAIGN, 1958
In the following vignette historian Jimmie
Lewis Franklin describes the sit-in movement in Oklahoma City
and the crucial leadership provided by a local schoolteacher
turned civil rights activist, Clara Luper. The first Oklahoma
City sit-in occurred in September 1958, two months after the
Wichita demonstrations but two years before the more well-known
direct action demonstration in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Three years after [Martin Luther] King led
the movement again the city of Montgomery's segregated buses,
young blacks in Oklahoma City employed nonviolent tactics against
segregated public accommodations. Cities of the Sooner State,
in common with may other places in America, had sanctioned by
custom separate public and private facilities. Signs reading
"For Whites Only" were found in Oklahoma as they were
in other southern states. Determined to change old patters,
blacks in Oklahoma City began a sit-in campaign to overthrow
segregation. Oklahoma's capital city was a logical target for
black activists: it had the state's largest black population
and a respectable leadership: it was the political center of
power; and it had a history of persistent agitation. Black leaders
also realized that a victory in Oklahoma City would have a strategic
importance and that it would take on both real and symbolic
significance in other parts of the state...
The dynamic engineer of the sit-in was a forceful
black woman named Clara Luper, Director of the Oklahoma City
NAACP Youth Council. A public school teacher with a special
interest in social studies, Luper had been involved in civil
rights for many years before the attack on public accommodations.
Born in Okfuskee County, she attended Langston University after
graduation from high school in Grayson. She later earned a Master's
degree at the University of Oklahoma. A woman of intense zeal
and self-assurance, Luper viewed segregation as a personal affront
and an undemocratic practice that degraded black people. Inspired
by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., she argued the immorality
of segregation, and she called upon the churches to take a stand
against racism. A legal attack alone, the Oklahoma City teacher
concluded, would not topple Jim Crow in public accommodations;
thus she moved toward peaceful demonstrations...
The initial "sit and wait" demonstration
took place at Katz Drug Store on one of those hot days in August
that Oklahomans have grown to tolerate. Whites were shocked
when thirteen black children between the ages of six and sixteen...quietly
moved into the establishment in defiance of past custom. Traditionally,
the Katz store, like so many other businesses, had sold blacks
food "to go," but the children inside the store demanded
the same service on the premises that whites received, and they
refused to remove themselves from the counter where they sat
quietly. Whites grumbled, but after days of demonstrations,
the Katz store capitulated. A few other stores soon followed.
The S.H. Kress Company, [now K-Mart] however took out the stools
at its food counter and offered blacks service on a "stand
up" basis, but this half measure did not appeal to them
and the demonstrations continued. In time, Kress, too, gave
Following the youth-inspired demonstrations
in Oklahoma City, the sit-in movement spread to other cities
in the state but attention remained focused upon Oklahoma City...
Success did not come easily even with appeals for desegregation
from some white church groups. The General Board of the Oklahoma
Council of Churches bluntly condemned segregation as undemocratic
and inhumane, and it threw its support behind the removal of
all racial barriers in eating establishments. Total victory
for Luper and her children's crusade would not be achieved until
Source: Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward
Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman, 1982), pp. 187-190.
THE KATZ DRUG STORE SIT-IN, 1958
In the following account Clara Luper, the
leader of many Oklahoma City civil rights demonstrations between
1958 and 1964, describes the first sit-in at the city's Katz
Drug Store in 1958.
Katz Drug Store was located in the Southwestern
corner of Main and Robinson in downtown Oklahoma City. It was
a center of activity with its first class pharmacy department,
unique gifts, toys and lunch counter. Blacks were permitted
to shop freely in all parts of the store. They could order sandwiches
and drinks to go. Orders were placed in a paper sack and were
to be eaten in the streets...
As I was thinking about what should have been
done, Lana Pogue, the six-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
Louis J. Pogue, grabbed my hand; and, we moved toward the counter.
All of my life, I had wanted to sit at those counters and drink
a Coke or a Seven-Up. It really didn't matter which, but I had
been taught that those seats were for "whites only."
Blacks were to sweep around the seats, and keep them clean so
whites could sit down. It didn't make any difference what kind
of white person it was, thief, rapist, murderer, uneducated;
the only requirement was that he or she be white. Unbathed,
unshaven--it just didn't make any difference. Nor did it make
any difference what kind of black you were, B.A. Degree black,
Dr. Black, Attorney black, Rev. Black, old Black, pretty Black,
ugly Black; you were not to sit down at any lunch counter to
eat. We were all seated now in the "for whites only territory."
The waitress suffered a quick psychological stroke and one said
in a mean tone, "What do you all want?"
Barbara Posey spoke, "We'd like thirteen
"You may have them to go,' the waitress
"We'll drink them here," Barbara
said as she placed a five dollar bill on the counter. The waitress
nervously called for additional help.
Mr. Masoner, the red, frightened-faced manager,
rushed over to me as if he were going to slap me and said, "Mrs.
Luper, you know better than this. You know we don't serve colored
folks at the counter."
I remained silent and looked him straight
in the eyes as he nervously continued. "I don't see what's
wrong with you colored folks--Mrs. Luper, you take these children
out of here--this moment! This moment, I say." He yelled,
"Did you hear me?"
"Thirteen Cokes please," I said.
"Mrs. Luper, if you don't move these
colored children, what do you think my white customers will
say? You know better, Clara. I don't blame the children! I blame
you. You are just a trouble maker."
He turned and rushed to the telephone and
called the police. In a matter of minutes, we were surrounded
by policemen of all sizes, with all kinds of facial expressions.
The sergeant and the manager had a conference; additional conferences
were called as different ranks of policemen entered. Their faces
portrayed their feelings of resentment. The press arrived and
I recognized Leonard Hanstein of Channel 9 with his camera and
I sat silently as they threw him out and a whole crew of cameramen.
The whites that were seated at the counter
got up, leaving their food unfinished on the table and emptied
their hate terms into the air. Things such as "Niggers
go home, who do they think they are? The nerve!" One man
walked straight up to me and said, "Move, you black S.O.B."
Others bent to cough in my face and in the faces of the children.
Linda Pogue was knocked off a seat, she smiled and sat back
on the stool. Profanity flowed evenly and forcefully from the
crowd. One elderly lady rushed over to me a fast as she could
with her walking cane in her hand and yelled, "The nerve
of the niggers trying to eat in our places. Who does Clara Luper
think she is? She is nothing but a damned fool, the black thing."
I started to walk over and tell her that I
was one of God's children and He had made me in His own image
and if she didn't like how I looked, she was filing her complaint
in the wrong department. She'd have to file it with the Creator.
I'm the end product of His Creation and not the maker. Then,
I realized her intellectual limitations and continued to watch
the puzzled policemen and the frightened manager.
Tensions were building up as racial slurs
continued to be thrown at us. Hamburgers, Cokes, malts, etc.,
remained in place as pushing, cursing, and "nigger,"
became the "order of the day."
As the news media attempted to interview us,
the hostile crowd increased in number. Never before had I seen
so many hostile, hard, hate-filled white faces. Lana, the six-year-old,
said, "Why do they look so mean?"
I said, "Lana, their faces are as cold
as Alaskan icicles."
As I sat quietly there that night, I prayed
and remembered our non-violent philosophy. I pulled out what
we called Martin Luther King's Non-Violent Plans and read them
over and over...
As I folded the paper, I looked up and saw
a big burly policeman walking toward me. When he got within
two feet of me, another officer called him to the telephone.
I wondered why the policeman had to stand over us. We had no
weapons and the only thing that we wanted was 13 Cokes that
we had the money to pay for.
Amid the cursing, I remembered the words of
Professor Watkins, my elementary principal and teacher in Hoffman,
Oklahoma. He told us to "consider, always, consider the
My daughter, Marilyn, walked over and pointed
out a big, fat, mean-looking, white man, who walked over to
me and said, "I can't understand it. You all didn't use
to act this way; you all use to be so nice."
We remained silent and as he bumped into me,
the police officers told him that he had to move on. An old
white woman walked up to me and said, "If you don't get
those little old poor ugly-looking children out of here, we
are going to have a race riot. You just want to start some trouble."
I remained silent. "Don't you know about the Tulsa race
riots?" the woman asked.
I moved down to the south end of the counter,
then back to the other end. This was repeated over and over.
As I passed by Alma Faye Posey she burst out laughing and when
I continued to look at her, she put her hands on the counter
and pointed to a picture of a banana split.
It had been a long evening. Barbara, Gwen
and I had a quick conference and we decided to leave without
cracking a dent in the wall. Mr. Portwood Williams, Mrs. Lillian
Oliver and Mrs. Mary Pogue were waiting. We loaded in our cars
and left the hecklers, heckling.
We passed our first test. They...called us
niggers and did everything, the group said.
"Look at me, I'm really a non-violent
man," Richard Brown yelled. "Look at me. I can't believe
Source: Clara Luper, Behold the Walls, (Oklahoma
City, 1979), pp. 8-10, 11-12.
CHARLTON HESTON MARCHES IN OKLAHOMA CITY
Today Charlton Heston is known primarily for
the politically conservative causes and candidates he publicly
supports. However in 1961 Heston was one of the first Hollywood
celebrities to join the picket line established by Clara Luper
to protest racial discrimination. Here is a brief description
of his presence in Oklahoma City.
It was the last Saturday in May 1961, and
Charlton Heston, Hollywood's Oscar-winning Biblical actor, was
on his way to Oklahoma City where he, Dr. Jolly West, nationally-known
psychiatrist, and Dr. Chester M. Pierce, black scientist on
the staff of the Veterans' Administration Hospital, were scheduled
to lead a protest march against Segregation in public accommodations
in Oklahoma City.
The news had spread like wild fire and large
crowds had assembled on Main Street to get a quick glimpse of
Charlton Heston was met by the NAACP Youth
Officers led by the president and about one-hundred black and
white demonstrators, six policemen, a number of newsmen and
Trudy, the black dog that took part in all the marches.
I was stationed with a large crowd of NAACP
workers, friends, well-wishers and people of all ages, creeds
I have never seen anything more dramatic,
more historical as those three handsome, dignified, successful
men walking down the streets carrying signs that they had prepared
themselves. The blue and black sign that Charlton Heston carried
said, "All men are created equal--Jefferson" on the
front and "Racial discrimination is Un-American" on
The crowd was caught up in the unbelievable
realities of the moment and when the trio reached our group,
wild applause went up in the air. Oklahomans sounded like they
do when the Big Red football scores against Texas or Nebraska.
We waved flags, sang songs and in a military sounding voice,
Dr. West issued a command. The trio marched with the crowd following.
Charlton Heston stopped, shook hands, talked and marched.
A few hecklers yelled, "Go back to Hollywood,
you Jew!!" "West, you are no psychiatrist, you're
a damn fool!"
But the march continued. We marched slowly
by the John A. Brown' Department Store, Anna Maude's Cafeteria
and Bishop's Restaurant--the three strongholds of Segregation.
There was no violence.
Elliott Tyler, Jerry Nutt and John Fast carried
anti-Heston signs which read, "Is Beverly Hills integrated?"
Charlton Heston's face was lighted with love
and understanding of an oppressed people. He told the group
that he sincerely believed that most Americans agreed with Thomas
This was his first demonstration. He said
that a great many of us have only paid lip service to the equality
of man and this is a very bitter thing for me to do.
Every step that Heston, West and Pierce took
was adding tons of Freedom vitamins to our tired bodies that
had been protesting for three years.
Heston took pictures with NAACPers, car hops,
and the three got into a waiting automobile after the hour's
march and went to Calvary Baptist Church where a large crowd
was waiting. There he told the crowd, "I was very pleased
with the march and I was prepared for some hostility at the
start of the march. I'm used to taking part in marches and chariot
races only when they're fixed, but today I didn't have a script!"
he said, smiling.
He explained that as far as he knew Beverly
Hills was integrated, however, he had been in Spain making a
movie... The audience went wild and Charlton Heston looked as
if he was enjoying every moment...
Source: Clara Luper, Behold the Walls, (Oklahoma
City, 1979), pp. 134-136.
THE SIT-IN MOVEMENT COMES TO HOUSTON
The following is an account of the sit-in
movement in Houston in 1960 by historian F. Kenneth Jensen.
The momentary lull in the national civil rights
struggle was dramatically ended in February of 1960 when black
students at Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at a segregated,
all-white lunch counter; they requested service and continued
to sit and wait after they had been refused. This sin-down/sit-in
tactic immediately caught on. Throughout the South similar demonstrations
soon took place... In Houston, students at predominately black
Texas Southern University paid close attention to the dramatic
actions of black student in other parts of the South. They were
angered when U.S. Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas remarked
the black students in the Lone Star State were too complacent
to engage in public protests. This remark, in combination with
the momentum created by student activists across the South,
inspired T.S.U. students to begin sit-in demonstrations in the
Houston's first sit-in occurred on March 4,
1960, at Weingarten's Store... Thirteen T.S.U. students marched
from the....campus to the store. By the time they arrived at
the store their numbers had quadrupled. They immediately occupied
the thirty lunch counter stools and requested service. "We
filled the counter," Holly Hogrobrooks recalls... The store
manager quickly closed the counter, after which nobody really
know what to do. "Many stood around," Hogrobrooks
recalls. "....Within fifteen minutes the law enforcement
officers got here, and they stood around. Everybody stood around!"
The students occupied the lunch counter for almost four hours
before leaving the store unmolested.
The students resumed their sit-in at Weingarten's
the next day and also sent a detachment to integrate Mading's
drugstore a few blocks away. A brawl between whites and blacks
in Weingarten's parking lot left one black, James Gates, with
a knife wound in the back. None of the sit-in students, however,
were involved in the incident. The manager of the store was
persuaded to close it for the remainder of the day to avoid
further trouble. Nevertheless, the actions of the students dominated
the attention of the local news media--attention that the Weingarten
family deeply regretted. "We weren't anxious to be the
spearhead in this movement," Jack Weingarten recalls, adding
that his family's greatest desire at the time was "to get
out of the spotlight."
The rapid growth of the sit-in Movement in
Houston did, in fact, soon dilute the pressure on the Weingarten
family. The following Monday sit-in activists appeared at the
Henke and Pillot supermarket... There twenty-five blacks, almost
half of them women, demonstrated. Sit-ins resumed at Mading's
but Weingarten's lunch counter was kept closed. On Tuesday a
fourth store, Walgreen's drugstore.... was struck. Although
one white youth was arrested on the scene for brandishing a
razor blade, no actual violence ensued. Mading's management
followed the Weingarten example and closed its lunch counter.
At Henke and Pillot, the entire lunch counter was torn out and
replaced with a display of carpets. When students turned their
attention on Wednesday to Woolworth's...management quickly closed
the lunch counter for "remodeling."
The sit-in blitzkrieg caught Houston unprepared.
Support from the black community, however, was evident from
the very beginning. Holly Hogrobrooks, who participated in the
original Weingarten's sit-in, recalls that black patrons spontaneously
abandoned their grocery carts in the check out line, closed
their purses, and left the store. As the sit-ins spread, support
in the black community grow. "It had become kind of a military
thing," Hogrobrooks recalls. She likened community supporters
to soldiers and supply sergeants who lined up to provide gasoline
as well as automobiles and other necessities to the activists....
The effectiveness of black economic and political solidarity
[Otis] King remembers, "taught us a valuable lesson of
just how powerful the black community was, and how effective
our actions could be by withholding our economic support of
businesses that did not treat us fairly."
Source: F. Kenneth Jensen, "The Houston
Sit-In Movement of 1960-61," in Howard Beeth and Cary D.
Wintz, eds., Black Dixie: Afro-Texan History and Culture in
Houston (College Station, 1992), pp. 213-215.
THE MOVEMENT IN SAN ANTONIO
The vignette below, part of an article by
historian Robert Goldberg, suggests, that "massive resistance"
was not the standard response of all Southwestern cities to
the civil rights thrust of black and white activists in the
1950s and 1960s.
San Antonio, Texas, with a population in 1960
of almost 588,000, was the third largest city in Texas... Only
41,605 blacks resided in the city, constituting 7% of the population.
The number of blacks in San Antonio had increased by 12,876
since 1950, but they had barely maintained their percentage
of the population. It was estimated that [Mexican Americans]
formed approximately 40% of the city's inhabitants. San Antonio...followed
the color line. The city had never passed a segregation ordinance,
but custom and the Police Department enforced a racial separation
that proved as binding. Blacks and whites patronized their respective
municipal parks and playgrounds, rest rooms, drinking fountains,
hotels, restaurants, and schools. Where segregation proved unwieldy,
as in public transportation or motion picture theaters, blacks
were expected to retreat to the back of the bus or to [the balcony].
Housing in most of San Antonio was unavailable to blacks, and
they were restricted to an overcrowded and decaying east side
neighborhood. Blacks were economically depressed, with nearly
70% employed in semiskilled, unskilled or domestic service jobs.
Blacks in San Antonio opposed racial segregation
and inequality, but the moderate racial climate tempered their
opposition. Harry Burns, a leader of the local NAACP characterized
San Antonio as "heaven on earth" when compared to
other southern cities. Joseph Scott, a black schoolteacher agreed:
"San Antonio was not a city that dictated a Martin Luther
King. San Antonio was a mildly discriminatory city... It was
A variety of factors combined to moderate
the racial atmosphere in San Antonio. Most obviously, the black
community was quite small... Whites did not perceive blacks
as having the numerical base, and thus the potential power,
to mount an effective challenge to their political, economic,
social, or racial status... A significant Mexican American population
also obscured the dividing line of color. The Mexican Americans
were considered nonwhite and were subjected to social and economic
discrimination. Yet, they enjoyed civil rights, had access to
public accommodations, and were recognized as a legitimate constituency
by the local political structure. Mexican Americans, then, blurred
the "us-them" perception of racial conflict, weakened
a strict segregationist orientation based upon color inferiority,
and deflected prejudice and attention away from blacks. The
five military bases located in and around San Antonio also lessened
the noxiousness of segregation. During the 1950s, the military
integrated its units, on-base schools, stores, and recreational
facilities, and provided working models of an interracial society.
Finally, though most religious leaders remained silent about
the racial situation in the 1950s...the Catholic church under
the leadership of Archbishop Robert Emmet Lucey condemned color
prejudice and acted to remove barriers between parishioners
of the different races. Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision
in Brown v. Board of Education, Archbishop Lucey announced on
April 5, 1954, that all of San Antonio's parochial schools and
the two Catholic colleges would be integrated... A small but
vocal group of liberal Protestant ministers also stressed that
true Christians were color blind.
Thus, while much of the South delayed or resisted
the civil rights movement, San Antonio pursued a policy of gradual
progress and boosted itself as "the most liberal city in
the region." In 1954, prodded by a lawsuit by the NAACP,
the City Council passed an ordinance desegregating municipal
parks, golf courses, and tennis courts but maintaining the racial
barrier in swimming pools. In 1956, again with NAACP prompting,
the city desegregated its swimming pools, buses, railroad stations,
and all activities in municipal buildings. Unlike many Southern
communities, San Antonio accepted the Supreme Court's Brown
decision calmly... The junior colleges were integrated as well.
This gradual approach effectively eliminated de jure segregation
Source: Robert A. Goldberg, "Racial Change
on the Southern Periphery: The Case of San Antonio, Texas, 1960-1965,"
Journal of Southern History 49:3 (August 1983):350-354.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND BLACK CIVIL RIGHTS PROTEST
The following assessment of the pivotal role
of the U.S. government in assisting, supporting and inspiring
the non-violent direct action protests comes from an account
of the sit-in campaign in Oklahoma City in the early 1960s.
However much of the discussion applies to the rest of the nation
Non-violent direct action protest was effectively
supplemented by federal enactments in effecting desegregation.
For a decade, beginning in the late 1950s, the federal government
stimulated local action, directly and indirectly. Negroes in
Oklahoma City, as elsewhere, derived encouragement from the
knowledge that the federal government was generally in agreement
with their desires, as evidenced by the many pieces of legislation
and executive orders enacted during this time span. The enactments
of this period reinforced local protest actions not only by
encouraging the protest leadership, but also by enabling white
leaders to repeatedly cite, as they often did, the fact that
they had no other recourse but to obey national laws. Further,
these desegregation laws, covering housing, federal disbursement
of funds, voting, public accommodations and other areas created
a standard of uniform desegregation that helped dissipate economic
fears of desegregation. Overall, the pattern and pace of race
relations changes was significantly affected by federal government
However, the local protest movement fully
understood that the moves toward desegregation generated by
federal fiat could not be effectively utilized until Negroes
possessed adequate schooling, jobs, money and political power.
The local Negro protest was encouraged by federal enactments
and they utilized them fully; but they were aware that a locally
segregated society could only be effectively dismantled at the
local level. With this in mind, the local protest pursued its
By the end of 1963 most of Oklahoma City's
eating establishments had been desegregated or were in the process
of doing so. The sit-in had been effectively utilized for over
four years; the NAACP Youth Council had constructed untold variations
upon the original sit-in theme. For the next few years, segregated
laundries, amusement parks, swimming pools, and funeral homes
operating in the public sector would be challenged by "look-ins,"
"walk-ins," "swim-ins," "wash-ins,"
and other novels forms of protest action. Usually, shortly after
the initial confrontation, the segregated facility announced
its willingness to admit Negro patrons.
Source: Allan Saxe, "Protest and Reform:
The Desegregation of Oklahoma City," (Ph.D. Dissertation,
University of Oklahoma, 1969), pp. 174-176.
A NATIVE AMERICAN NEWSPAPER ASSESSES THE CIVIL
In the following piece titled, “Problems
of Negro and Indian Differ: Indian Resists ‘Forced Assimilation,’”
The Voice of Brotherhood, the newspaper for the Alaska Native
Brotherhood, reprints an editorial which originally appeared
in the newspaper Indian Progress. The editorial suggests that
the stated goals of the black civil rights movement then prominent
in the national debate were irrelevant to most Indian people.
Since the public’s attention is being
turned toward civil rights, may people are equating the struggle
of the American Indian with that of the American Negro. Actually,
their situations are almost exactly opposite. The Negroes are
striving to attain assimilation with the dominant white society,
while the Indians are striving to resist this forced assimilation
with the rest of society.
The Negro at the present time, unlike the
Indians, has nothing to preserve in the way of land, culture,
language or traditional arts and crafts. He is an uprooted people
who is concentrating his struggle in legal rights. The Indians
already have full citizenship rights and so their legal struggle
is to retain rather than attain.
The Negro seems to look toward the white figure
at the top of society as a desirable goal, while the Indian
views the white man as a threat to their very position. This
explains why many Indians view the Negro as part of the institutionalized
urbanized what of life that they are now forced to accept.
Once senses a certain frenzy in the Negro’s
desire to “become just like everyone else” and yet
this frenzy is admittedly justifiable. Perhaps they have learned
through years of bitter suffering that “to be right in
American you gotta be white.” One would hope that this
is not the case and yet everywhere one senses a certain weary
adherence to the average, the normal and the “white.”
As civil rights measures gain support we might well ask ourselves
what we are really protecting. Yes, we are protecting and promoting
individual rights and freedoms, but it does not necessarily
follow that we are protecting and promoting individuality in
America. For the Negro rights that we are promo9ting are our
own rights and we quickly concur that Negroes should be “just
On a different scale, one notices the apparent
lack of support that the Indians have obtained both from the
public and the American government. Yet if one has ever lived
among Indian people or seen their dances or listened to their
songs, one is aware of a great cultural richness.
Everywhere lip service has been given by churchmen
and government officials alike that the great Indian heritage
ought to be preserved. And everywhere there is the same support
of measures which lead to the destruction of Indian culture.
All the educational relocation bills have been aimed at getting
the Indian off the reservation and into the city.
“Yes, but some tribes have voted to
terminate, you say?” This is correct, but in every case
there has been pressure applied. The Klamath tribe in Oregon
and the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin were reluctant to terminate.
This reluctance was met by a flat refusal to allow them access
to their own funds unless they would signify such consent.
Are we willing to protect and promote individual rights when
they are not similar to our own? The answer seems to be “no,”
and the Indian tribes who are receiving this “no”
may well have a right to scoff at the so-called individuality
Source: Indian Progress, reprinted in The
Voice of Brotherhood, Juneau, Alaska, August 1964, p. 2.
THE END OF NON-VIOLENCE: THE WATTS RIOT
The four days of rioting that swept the Watts
section of Los Angeles in August, 1965 proved a turning point
in the Civil Rights struggle. The nation's attention, which
had previously been focused on the rural South now shifted to
the ghettos of the North and West as African Americans demonstrated
their anger with the prevailing political and economic status
quo. The passage below describes the death of Charles Patrick
Fizer, one of the 34 people killed during the riot.
Charles Patrick Fizer, born in Shreveport
Louisiana, sang because he loved to--and for money. People paid
to hear Charles Fizer sing. For a brief time, he made it big.
Most of the Fizer family migrated to California during World
War II to take jobs in the buzzing Los Angeles area aircraft
plants and shipyards. In 1944, when he was only three, Charles
Fizer was taken there by his grandparents. He lived with them
for a time. Then, when he was seven, he moved to Watts with
The Fizer family was a religious one. Charles
attended the Sweet Home Baptist Church and became an enthusiastic
choir member. He had a good voice. By the time he was fifteen,
he was singing in night clubs....He became part of a successful
group of entertainers. He broke in singing second lead with
the Olympics, as the group was known....Came the Olympics' recording
of "Hully Gully," and Charles Fizer was something
to be reckoned with as an entertainer. The record sold nearly
a million copies. The Olympics won television guest shots. Charles
came up with a snaky dance to fit the "Hully Gully"
music. Other hit songs followed, and it seemed nothing could
stop Charles Fizer from reaching the top. [But] Charles became
restless. With his fellow performers, he became impatient. His
testy attitude and souring views cost him his job with the singing
group. He and another entertainer formed a night-club duo, but
it flopped. The summer of the Los Angeles riot, he hit bottom.
He served six months at hard labor on a county prison farm after
being arrested with illegal barbiturates.
He was released Thursday, August 12. The riot
already was in progress. Even as the violence spread in Los
Angeles, Charles Fizer wakened early Friday, went job-hunting
and found work as a busboy....But there would be no work Saturday-the
restaurant manager decided to close until peace was restored
in the city... But that night Charles Fizer drove through Watts
after the curfew hour. In the center of the fire-blackened community,
he stopped short of a National Guard roadblock at 102nd and
Beach Streets. Inexplicably, he backed the Buick away from the
barricade. Suddenly, he turned on the car's headlights and shifted
into forward gear. What compelled him to jam the accelerator
to the floor only he could say-and soon he was past explaining.
Too many white faces challenging him? Perhaps. A white man giving
him an order? Perhaps. In any event, he pointed the car straight
for the roadblock. Guardsmen cried to him to halt and fired
warning shots into the air. Then came the roar of M-1 carbines.
The Buick spun crazily and rammed a curb. Charles Fizer never
realized his resolve to make a new life. Inside the car he lay
dead, a bullet in his left temple. The time was 9:15 P.M.
Source: Jerry Cohen and William S. Murphy,
Burn, Baby, Burn: The Los Angeles Race Riot August, 1965, (New
York, 1966), pp. 211-213.
MARQUETTE FRYE: FROM WYOMING TO WATTS
Most students of the Watts Riot have assumed
incorrectly that the background of Marquette Frye, whose arrest
triggered the confrontation, was a typical South Central youth--born
in the South and migrated with parents to the city during or
immediately after World War II. The following account describes
his background and suggests the role it played in propelling
him toward the incident that changed both his life and the city
of Los Angeles.
Marquette Frye had lived in Los Angeles for
eight years, but he was still a stranger in the city. He had
grown up in the coal-mining town of Hanna, Wyoming, where every
one of the 625 residents was a neighbor to everyone else, and
he had a sense of belonging. Not here. Here he didn't know what
he was.... He had no plans, because it seem to him as if he
had been dumped into a dead end--a dead end with but one exit:
an exit that both frightened and repelled him....
Hanna sits astride the Continental Divide
just south of what had been the Overland Trail up the Platte
and down the Sweetwater River; and the high, rolling land retains
much of the flavor that had greeted the settlers. The population
of Carbon County, an areas about the size of Vermont, still
is less than 15,000, 9,000 of whom are crowded into the city
of Rawlins. For the first thirteen years of his life Marquette
had the great all-American boyhood of romantic legend. The fact
that he was a Negro had made no impact upon him. There was a
large Greek community, and they had a Mediterranean tolerance
for dark-skinned people. Most of the neighbors were white. His
friends were white. He would go over to their houses for dinner,
and they would come and spend the night with him....
Then, in the mid-1950s, the....coal mine in
Hanna, like that of many small mines from Kentucky to Washington,
had begun to peter out. Wallace Frye, an Oklahoma cotton farmer
who had been recruited by the United Mine Workers in 1944 when
there had been a shortage of miners, had to start thinking about
moving. Nor was it only a question of moving. Wallace Frye had
two skills; cotton farming and coal mining. Technological changes
had made a manpower surplus in both. Now, in middle age, he
was cast out to become part of that vast minority army, jobless
and with no real prospect of ever again being able to gain anything
but marginal employment. Having relatives in Los Angeles, he
decided to transport his second wife Rena, his stepson Marquette,
and the other children to Southern California.
The Fryes arrived in Los Angeles in 1957.
From a truly integrated community they were plunged into the
heart of a ghetto.... Wallace Frye went from job to job--service
station attendant, paper-factory worker, parking lot attendant.
Rena supplemented his income by working as a domestic. The children,
who hardly knew what a policeman was [in Wyoming] were picked
up on their very first day in the city. They had gone out to
get some ice cream, when they were spotted by a truant officer.
He took them home, and, when it was explained to him that they
were not in school because they had just arrived, he tried to
give the family an insight into the area. He warned the children
that they would have to work at staying out of trouble--there
was an element in the community that would do its best to draw
them into it.
For no one was the transition so difficult
as it was for Marquette. A thin, intelligent 13-year-old who
had all of his life lived as part of a white community, he was
suddenly dropped like a character from a Jules Verne balloon,
into a new environment where almost all the faces he saw were
colored. In them he could see himself--yet he felt no identity
with them. He felt different. He was different. And his problems
"Hey! How come you talks funny like that?
You from Mars or sometin'?" the other kids in the junior
high school, the majority of whom had migrated from the South
or had parents who came from the South, challenged his English.
It was not difficult for them to sense that he did not feel
himself part of them. They retaliated by ostracizing him. "White
boy, what happened to you? You fall in a puddle of ink and come
up black?" He was an outsider...his motivation dropped
off... In his senior year at Fremont High School he became a
Source: Robert Conot, Rivers of Blood, Years
of Darkness (New York, 1968), 3-5.
BLACK OMAHA: FROM NON-VIOLENCE TO BLACK POWER
The year, 1966, proved pivotal for African
Americans nationally as they reached a crossroads between continued
support of the non-violent protest tactics utilized in the first
years of the decade, and the growing calls by other blacks for
violent confrontation with the "power structure."
Omaha in 1966 was typical of this change in the West and the
nation. The account below profiles the transition.
Omaha never had a formal segregation system;
denial of rights took subtle forms. The vast majority of Omaha
blacks lived in a jammed-in district on the Near North Side.
Few black youth went to college or for that matter finished
high school. Job opportunities had not improved measurably since
the Great Depression... Militancy spread among blacks in Omaha.
Ernest Chambers, a Creighton [University] graduate, barber shop
owner, and emerging black leader, gained a following and received
media coverage for his anti-establishment views. He headed a
committee of the Near North Side Police-Community Relations
Council which presented to city officials a long list of complaints
against Omaha police practices. All this was somewhat puzzling
to whites, used to having the Omaha Urban League and the local
chapter of the NAACP claim to speak for blacks at large.
Mayor A.V. Sorensen said that he felt that
blacks would make more rapid progress if they got together and
agreed upon what they wanted... He indicated his respect for
several Omaha black leaders including Lawrence W.M. McVoy, president
of the NAACP, and Douglas Stewart, Urban League executive director.
Sorensen said he had met with Chambers, "although he has
heaped a lot of abuse on me." The mayor indicate that he
would "be perfectly glad" to call a top level conference
to discuss minority complaints against policemen. This was in
March 1966, eight months after the bloody Watts civil disorder
in Los Angeles had focused national attention on the plight
of urban blacks. Few whites in Omaha envisioned such a thing
happening in their city. After all, Nebraska was not California
and unusual things always seemed to happen on the West Coast.
Omaha blacks were reasonable, so whites thought when Sorensen
claimed his administration was "maintaining communication"
on race matters. It turned out that was not enough.
The first of two disturbance that broke out
in Omaha in the summer of 1966 occurred during an early July
heat wave. For three straight nights there were confrontations
between black teenagers and the police. Trouble developed after
youth gathered late at night in food store parking lots; as
one observer said, they were the places to go, in lieu of recreational
facilities. Rioters threw rocks and bottles, smashed windows,
and looted several stores... The police made sixty arrests,
concentrating on containing the mobs and holding down violence.
On the third night the police had trouble with a milling and
rock-throwing crowd of around 150 people and authorities called
in a small contingent of steel-helmeted Nebraska National Guardsmen
to restore order. They cleared the streets without violence
as those involved quickly dispersed. It was one thing to taunt
the police and another to face troops carrying guns and bayonets...
Chambers who met with Mayor Sorensen on the
last day of the disorders attacked the police response, giving
no specific reasons beyond suggesting that arrests during the
first two nights inflamed the crowd. In addition, they complained
about unemployment and a lack of recreational opportunities...
The Omaha black ghetto exploded again for
three nights in a row in early August. The outbreak was in may
ways similar to that of the previous month... Rocks were thrown
and there were several arrests... Several places hit during
the July rioting were targets a second time.... Taking a hard
line [Mayor] Sorensen indicated "We simply are not going
to tolerate this lawlessness, whether it is teenagers or young
adults." Urging black parents to keep closer track of their
children, he warned, "Many whites wish to help the Negro
achieve first-class citizenship, but this lawlessness stiffens
attitudes and makes it difficult to help." The vandalism
ended and conditions on the Near North Side returned to normal.
Source: Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J.
Cottrell, The Gate City: A History of Omaha (Boulder, 1982),
THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
By 1967 the black nationalist movement dominated
earlier by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, had divided into
two major factions. One group, the cultural nationalists, led
by Imamu Amiri Baraka and Ron Karenga, argued that blacks must
"liberate their minds" before embarking on the inevitable
armed revolu¬tionary struggle. The Black Panther Party,
founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, however, called for
revolutionary nationalism, claiming that the armed struggle
and mental liberation must occur simultaneously and immediately.
Huey Newton explains the Panther Party philosophy, and particularly
the party's relationship with revolutionary whites, in a 1968
interview, part of which is reprinted below.
The imperialistic or capitalistic system occupies
areas. It occupies Vietnam now. It occupies areas by sending
soldiers there, by sending police¬men there. The policemen
or soldiers are only a gun in the establishment's hand, making
the racist secure in his racism, the establishment secure in
its exploitation. The first problem, it seems, is to remove
the gun from the establishment's hand. Until lately, the white
radical has seen no reason to come into conflict with the policeman
in his own community. I said "until recently," because
there is friction now in the mother country between the young
revolutionaries and the police; because now the white revolutionaries
are attempting to put some of their ideas into action, and there's
the rub. We say that it should be a permanent thing.
Black people are being oppressed in the colony
by white policemen, by white racists. We are saying they must
As far as I'm concerned, the only reasonable
conclusion would be to first realize the enemy, realize the
plan, and then when something happens in the black colony when
we're attacked and ambushed in the black colony then the white
revolutionary students and intellectuals and all the other whites
who support the colony should respond by defending us, by attacking
the enemy in their community.
The Black Panther Party is an all black party,
because we feel, as Malcolm X felt, that there can be no black
white unity until there first is black unity. We have a problem
in the black colony that is particular to the colony, but we're
willing to accept aid from the mother country as long as the
mother country radicals realize that we have, as Eldridge Cleaver
says in Soul on Ice, a mind of our own. We've regained our mind
that was taken away from us and we will decide the political,
as well as the practical, stand that we'll take. We'll make
the theory and we'll carry out the practice. It's the duty of
the white revolutionary to aid us in this.
Source: Thomas R. Frazier, Afro American History:
Primary Sources, (Chicago, 1988), pp. 400 401.
ANGELA DAVIS ON BLACK MEN AND THE MOVEMENT
In the account below Angela Davis provides
a candid look at the stereotypical assumptions of black male
leadership and the impact those assumptions on black political
organizations in the 1960s.
I ran headlong into a situation which was
to become a constant problem in my political life. I was criticized
very heavily, especially by male members of [Ron] Karenga's
[US] organization, for doing a "man's job." Women
should not play leadership roles, they insisted. A woman was
to "inspire" her man and educate his children. The
irony of their complaint was that much of what I was doing had
fallen to me by default.
A year later [I] confronted similar problems
in the newly organized Los Angeles chapter of SNCC. On the original
central staff were six men and three women [one of whom was
Davis]. However.... two of the men and all of the women were
doing a disproportionate share of the work. Some of the brothers
came around only for staff meetings (sometimes), and whenever
we women were involved in something important, they began to
talk about "women taking over the organization"--calling
it a matriarchal coup d'etat. All the myths about Black women
surfaced. (We) were too domineering; we were trying to control
everything, including the men--which meant by extension that
we wanted to rob them of their manhood. By playing such a leading
role in the organization, some of them insisted, we were aiding
and abetting the enemy, who wanted to see Black men weak and
unable to hold their own.
. . . If I suggested [proposals], the suggestion
might be rejected; if they were suggested by a man the suggestion
would be implemented. It seemed throughout the history of my
working with the [Black Panther] Party, I always had to struggle
with this.... The suggestion itself was never viewed objectively.
The fact that the suggestion came from a woman gave it some
lesser value. And it seemed that it had something to do with
the egos of the men involved. I know that the first demonstration
that we had at the courthouse for Huey Newton which I was very
instrumental in organizing, the first time we met out on the
soundtracks, I was on the soundtracks, the first leaflet we
put out, I wrote, the first demonstration, I made up the pamphlets.
And the members of that demonstration for the most part were
women. I've noticed that throughout my dealings in the Black
movement in the United States, that the most anxious, the most
quick to understand the problem and quick to move are women.
Source: Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter:
The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York,
1984), pp. 316-317.
THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON BLACK STUDENT UNION
By 1968 Black Student Unions had emerged on
virtually every major university campus in the United States
including the University of Washington. The vignettes below
provide rare glimpses into the campus mood which generated the
In March  the U of W Athletic department
was jolted by charges of racism and discrimination made by some
13 black athletes. Among the 13 was basketball player Dave Carr,
who later spoke .... about the feelings of the Negroes on campus.
“Except for some talk of ‘niggers,’ racism
is not so noticeable these days,” says Carr. “White
students just look at us like, ‘What are you doing on
our campus.’ Or we’re considered exceptional Negroes.
Hell, I’m not exceptional, I’m just lucky. So many
of us are now hungry to compete and able to compete if we get
“There’s other aspects,”
he continued. “Like not being able to find a place to
live in the U. District. But you know the single thing that
bothers me most? Nobody will talk to me about anything except
basketball. ‘You keepin’ in shape? You goin’
to play pro ball?’ I’m supposed to be a dumb black
athlete who can’t do anything else. I like basketball
but I’m also taking a degree in business, and ultimately,
I intend to go into personnel work. But no one’s interested
* * *
Hidden away in a far corner in the basement
of the UW HUB is Room 92. Though nothing on the door proclaims
it, Room 92 houses the UW Black Students’ Union (BSU).
Little more than a cubby hole, the room is jammed with furnishings,
and on one recent afternoon, a half dozen BSU members. Among
those present are E. J. Brisker, BSU vice-president; Jesse Crowder,
the BSU’s sole Mexican American; Richard Brown, one of
the four young men who had been charged with firebombing; and
Larry Gossett, one of those involved in the Franklin High sit-in.
The conversations are a mixed bag of self-kidding, Whitey put-ons,
and serious discussions; Brown and Gossett do most of the talking.
“The Black Student Union is for anything
that advances the cause of black people,” says Gossett.
“For example, we’re in full support of the Olympic
Games boycott. This country has been using its black athletes
far too long, showing them off in foreign lands to convince
people that racism doesn’t exist in America--when we know
it does.” Adds Brown, “Yeah, a black athlete is
Mister when he goes overseas, but he is nothing when he gets
home--can’t find housing, can’t get a job.”
Gossett wears black-frame glasses and a big
Afro; he gestures as he speaks, and he has a habit of gnawing
his lower lip. “In general,” he explains, ”the
Black Students’ Union is a political organization set
up to serve the wants and needs of black students on white campuses.
The educational system is geared for white, middle class kids,
so it’s never served black students. We’re educated
to fit into some non-existent slot in white society, rather
than be responsible to the needs of our own brothers in the
ghetto. To combat this, one thing we want to do is establish
courses in Afro-American culture and history.” On Richard
Brown’s lapel is a button which displays a leaping black
panther. “No black person will be free,” he says,
ending the conversation, “until all blacks are free.”
Source: Ed Leimbacher, “Voices from
the Ghetto,” Seattle Magazine 5:51 (June 1968), 41-44.