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This chapter explores the civil rights campaigns
of the 1950s and early 1960s. It begins with Brown v. Topeka
Board of Education which provides the text of the major part
of the landmark 1954 decision. Rosa Parks Refuses to Move: The
Montgomery Bus Boycott and The Montgomery Victory, 1956 describe
the first successful challenge of segregation in the Deep South.
The vignettes Elizabeth Eckford at Little Rock’s Central
High School and President Eisenhower Sends Troops to Little
Rock, 1957 recall this major confrontation between segregationists
and the federal government. The table With All Deliberate Speed,
however, shows how little progress had been made in integrating
Southern schools six years after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
The next set of vignettes analyzes the turbulent pace of change
in the 1960s particularly in the South. The first one, however,
is about the west in the late 1950s. In The First Sit-in: Wichita,
Kansas, 1958 we see the demonstration that inspired Southern
black students to engage in widespread civil disobedience while
The Greensboro Sit-In profiles the earliest demonstration in
the South. The Fight for the Vote: Fayette County, Tennessee,
1960, Revolution in Mississippi, and James Meredith at "Old
Miss" all describe the early 1960s. In Letter From A Birmingham
Jail and Martin Luther King and the FBI we see the thoughts
of the most famous of the civil rights leaders as well as the
federal government’s efforts to discredit him. Letters
From Mississippi remind us that the campaign for black rights
excluded no one willing to participate. Black and white women
in the Civil Rights movement are profiled in the vignettes,
Black Women and the Civil Rights Movement, Fannie Lou Hamer
Testifies at the Democratic National Convention, 1964 and Sex,
Race and the Movement. Murder in Mississippi describes the brutal
killing of three civil rights workers in 1964. The frustrations
generated by those murders are revealed in David Dennis Speaks
at the Memorial for James Chaney. President Johnson Proposes
the Voting Rights Act discusses the last major legislative victory
by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The controversial
Moynihan Report signals shifting focus of the nation from civil
rights campaigns in the rural South to the ghettos of the North
and West. The final vignette, Loving v. Virginia describes the
removal of intermarriage bans as the last major racial restrictions.
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. Part of the decision as read
by Chief Justice Earl Warren is reprinted below.
These cases come to us from the States of
Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. They are premised
on different facts and different local conditions, but a common
legal question justifies their consideration together in this
In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their
legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining
admission to the public schools of their community on a non
segregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission
to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or
permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was
alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of
the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment…
The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not
"equal" and cannot be made "equal," and
that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the
In approaching this problem…we must consider public education
in the light of its full development and its present place in
American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it
be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these
plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.
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. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening
the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional
training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.
In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably
be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity
of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken
to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all
on equal terms.
We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of
children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even
though the physical facilities and other "tangible"
factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group
of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…
We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine
of "separate 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 Fourteenth Amendment…
Source: Brown et al. v. Board of Education
of Topeka et al., 347 U.S. 483, (Supreme Court, May 17, 1954).
ROSA PARKS REFUSES TO MOVE: THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
The story of Rosa Park’s fateful decision
on December 1, 1955 to refuse to relinquish her seat under the
segregation rules of Montgomery, Alabama is often recounted.
Here however, in her own words, Parks recalls the episode.
The custom for getting on the bus for black
persons in Montgomery in 1955 was to pay at the front door,
get off the bus, and then re-enter through the back door to
find a seat. On the buses, if white persons got on, the col¬ored
would move back if the white section was filled. Black people
could not sit in the same row with white people. They could
not even sit across the aisle from each other. Some customs
were humiliating, and this one was intolerable since we were
the majority of the rider ship.
On Thursday evening, December l, I was riding
the bus home from work. A white man got on, and the driver looked
our way and said, "Let me have those seats." It did
not seem proper, particularly for a woman to give her seat to
a man. All the passengers paid ten cents, just as he did. When
more whites boarded the bus, the driver, J. E Blake, ordered
the blacks in the fifth row, the first row of the colored section
(the row I was sitting in), to move to the rear. Bus drivers
then had police powers, under both municipal and state laws,
to enforce racial segregation. However, we were sitting in the
section designated for colored.
At first none of us moved.
"Y'all better make it light on yourselves
and let me
have those seats," Blake said.
Then three of the blacks in my row got up,
but I stayed in my seat and slid closer to the window. I do
not remember being frightened. But I sure did not believe I
would "make it light" on myself by standing up. Our
mistreatment was just not right, and I was tired of it. The
more we gave in, the worse they treated us. I kept think¬ing
about my mother and my grandparents, and how strong they were.
I knew there was a possibility of being mistreated, but an opportunity
was being given to me to do what I had asked of others.
I knew someone had to take the first step.
So I made up my mind not to move. Blake asked me if I was going
to stand up.
"No. I am not," I answered.
Blake said that he would have to call the
police. I said, "Go ahead." In less than five minutes,
two police¬men came, and the driver pointed me out. He said
that he wanted the seat and that I would not stand up. "Why
do you push us around?" I said to one of the policemen.
"I don't know," he answered, "but
the law is the law and you're under arrest."
Source: Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed, Quiet
Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of a Woman Who
Changed a Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,
THE MONTGOMERY VICTORY, 1956
In 1956 Montgomery blacks won a year-long
boycott of the segregated city-owned bus line, achieving the
first victory over segregation in a Deep South city. In the
following document E. D. Nixon, Martin Luther King, and other
boycott leaders suggest how blacks should behave on the newly
Within a few days....each of you will be
reboarding integrated buses. This places upon us all a tremendous
responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some
unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens
and members of our race. If there is violence in word or deed
it must not be our people who commit it. For your help and convenience
the following suggestions are made. Will you read, study and
memorize them so that our non-violent determination may not
be endangered. First, some general suggestions:
1. Not all white people are opposed to integrated
buses. Accept goodwill on the part of many.
2. The whole bus is now for the use of all
people. Take a vacant seat.
3. Pray for guidance and commit yourself
to complete non-violence in word and action as you enter the
4. Demonstrate the calm dignity of our Montgomery
people in your actions. In all things observe ordinary rules
of courtesy and good behavior. Remember that this is not a victory
for Negroes alone, but for all Montgomery and the South. Do
not boast! Do not brag!
5. Be quiet but friendly; proud, but not
arrogant; joyous, but not boisterous.
6. Be loving enough to absorb evil and understanding
enough to turn an enemy into a friend.
Now for some specific suggestions:
1. The bus driver is in charge of the bus
and has been instructed to obey the law. Assume that he will
cooperate in helping you occupy any vacant seat.
2. Do not deliberately sit by a white person,
unless there is no other seat. sitting down by a person, white
or colored, say "May I" or "Pardon me" as
you sit. This is a common courtesy. If cursed, do not curse
back. If pushed, do not push back. Do not get up from your seat!
Report all serious incidents to the bus driver.
3. For the first few days try to get on the
bus with a friend in whose non-violence you have confidence.
You can uphold one another by a glance or a prayer. If another
person is being molested, do not arise to go to his defense,
but pray for the oppressor and use moral and spiritual force
to carry on the struggle for justice.
4. According to your own ability and personality,
do not be afraid to experiment with new and creative techniques
for achieving reconciliation and social change.
Source: Leaflet distributed to bus protesters,
reprinted in Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom, (New
York, 1984) pp. 144-45.
ELIZABETH ECKFORD AT LITTLE ROCK’S CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL
In September 1957 Elizabeth Eckford was one
of nine African American high school students selected to desegregate
Little Rock’s Central High School. A photographer’s
snapshot of Eckford bravely walking through a white mob toward
the school house door made her the most recognized of the students,
an instant celebrity and enduring symbol of the episode and
the era. In the vignette below she describes that day.
I was about the first one up. While pressing my black and white
dress -I had made it to wear on the first day of school -my
little brother turned on the TV set. They started telling about
a large crowd gathered at the school. The man on TV said he
wondered if we were going to show up that morning...
Before I left home Mother called us into
the living room. She said we should have a word of prayer. Then
I caught the bus and got off a block from the school. I saw
a large crowd of people standing across the street from the
soldiers guarding Central. As I walked on, the crowd suddenly
got very quiet. Superintendent [Virgil] Blossom told us to enter
by the front door. I looked at all the people and thought, "Maybe
I will be safer if I walk down the block to the front entrance
behind the guards."
At the corner I tried to pass through the
long line of guards around the school so as to enter the grounds
behind them. One of the guards pointed across the street. So
I pointed in the same direction and asked whether he meant for
me to cross the street and walk down. He nodded "yes."
So, I walked across the street conscious of the crowd that stood
there, but they moved away from me.
For a moment all I could hear was the shuffling
of their feet. Then someone shouted, "Here she comes, get
ready!" I moved away from the crowd on the sidewalk and
into the street. If the mob came at me I could then cross back
over so the guards could protect me.
The crowd moved in closer and then began
to follow me, calling me names. I still wasn't afraid. Just
a little bit nervous. Then my knees started to shake all of
a sudden and I wondered if I could make it to the center entrance
a block away. It was the longest block I ever walked in my whole
Even so, I still wasn't too scared because
all the time I kept thinking that the guards would protect me.
When I got in front of the school, I went
up to a guard again. But this time he just looked straight ahead
and didn't move to let me pass him. I didn't know what to do.
Then I looked and saw that the path leading to the front entrance
was a little further ahead. So I walked until I was right in
front of the path to the front door.
I stood looking at the school -it looked
so big! Just then the guards let some white students through.
The crowd was quiet. I guess they were waiting to see what was
going to happen. When I was able to steady my knees, I walked
up to the guard who had let the white students in. He too didn't
move. When I tried to squeeze past him, he raised his bayonet
and then the other guards moved in and they raised their bayonets.
They glared at me with a mean look and I
was very frightened and didn't know what to do. I turned around
and the crowd came toward me.
They moved closer and closer. Somebody started
yelling, "Lynch her! Lynch her!"
I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the mob -someone
who maybe would help. I looked into the face of an old woman
and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again she
spat on me.
They came closer, shouting, "No nigger
bitch is going to get in our school! Get out of here."
I turned back to the guards but their faces
told me I wouldn't get any help from them. Then I looked down
the block and saw a bench at the bus stop. "If I can only
get there I will be safe." I don't know why the bench seemed
a safe place to me, but I started walking toward it. I tried
to close my mind to what they were shouting, and kept saying
to myself, "If I can only make it to the bench I will be
When I finally got there, I don't think I
could have gone another step. I sat down and the mob crowded
up and began shouting all over again. Someone hollered, "Drag
her over to this tree! Let's take care of that nigger."
Just then a white man sat down beside me, put his arm around
me and patted my shoulder.
Source: Elizabeth Eckford, "The First
Day: Little Rock, 1957," in Growing Up Southern: Southern
Exposure Looks at Childhood, Then and Now, ed. Chris Mayfield
(New York: Random House, 1981).
PRESIDENT EISENHOWER SENDS TROOPS TO LITTLE ROCK, 1957
When angry white parents and the Governor
of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, refused to allow eight black students
to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, after
the school was ordered desegregated by a federal court, President
Dwight Eisenhower sent in federal troops to enforce the court
decision. Here is President Dwight D. Eisenhower's television
address to the nation announcing his decision.
For a few minutes this evening I want to talk
to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little
Rock....In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists,
disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out
of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have
not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I
yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front
of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the
purpose of again preventing the carrying out of the Court's
order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate
to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch
of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to
uphold Federal Courts, the President's responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I
have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops
under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law
at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation
of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice
Our personal opinions about the decision
have no bearing on the matter of enforcement; the responsibility
and authority of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution
are very clear. Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decision
of our courts.
At a time when we face grave situations abroad
because of the hatred that Communism bears toward a system of
government based on human rights, it would be difficult to exaggerate
the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence and,
indeed, to the safety of our nation and the world.
Our enemies are gloating over this incident
and using it everywhere to misrepresent our whole nation. We
are portrayed as a violator of those standards of conduct which
the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of
the United Nations. There they affirmed "faith in fundamental
human rights" and "in the dignity and worth of the
human person," and they did so "without distinction
as to race, sex, language, or religion."
And so, with deep confidence, I call upon
citizens of the State of Arkansas to assist in bringing to an
immediate end all interference with the law and its processes.
If resistance to the Federal Court order ceases at once, the
further presence of Federal troops will be unnecessary and the
city of Little Rock will return to its normal habits of peace
and order-and a blot upon the fair name and high honor of our
nation will removed.
Source: Vital Speeches, XXIV, 11-12 (Oct.
15, 1957; address of Sept. 24, 1957).
Table: With All Deliberate Speed: Integration in Southern Schools,
The phrase "with all deliberate speed"
was added to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court one year after
its famous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The
Court's second ruling was intended to amplify the previous ruling
and to indicate to segregated districts throughout the country
that they should initiate plans immediately to end de jure segregation.
However as the table below indicates, most southern states reluctantly
embraced the decision. Six years after the original ruling and
three years after U.S. Army troops were used to enforce a federal
court order to integration Little Rock's Central High School,
five states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South
Carolina, had not integrated a single school district.
Total Black Number of Blacks Enrollment in
of Blacks in Integrated Schools
District of Columbia
Source: Richard Current, American History:
A Survey, (New York, 1961), p. 848.
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 taught political science at
Howard University and who in 1984 became one of the managers
of the Jesse Jackson for President Campaign.
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.
THE GREENSBORO SIT-IN
In the passage below historian Clayborne Carson
describes the first major civil rights demonstration in the
South, the Greensboro, North Carolina, demonstration in July
1960, and its impact on the region.
Late Monday afternoon, February 1, 1960,
at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, four black
college students ignited one of the largest of all Afro-American
protest movements. The initial spark of the movement was a simple,
impulsive act of defiance, one that required no special skills
or resources. Planned the previous night, the "sit-in"--as
it would be called--was not the product of radical intellectual
ferment. Rather, it grow out of "bull sessions" involving
college freshmen who were, in most respects, typical southern
black students of the time, politically unsophisticated and
The initial sit-in was a tentative challenge
to Jim Crow. Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair, roommates at the
predominately black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical
College, along with two other students, Franklin McCain and
David Richmond, purchased a few items at Greensboro's downtown
F. W. Woolworth store and then sat down at the lunch counter
reserved by custom for whites. They asked to be served but were
refused. When a waitress asked them to leave, they explained
politely that as they had bought items in other sections of
the store, they should be allowed to sit on the stools rather
than stand. They received no sympathy from a black woman who
worked behind the counter. "Your are stupid, ignorant!"
she chastised them. "You're dumb! That's why we can't get
anywhere today. You know you are supposed to eat at the other
end." Although refused service, the four students became
more confident as they observed the lack of forceful opposition
by store employees. When informed that the four students were
continuing to sit at the lunch counter, the store manager merely
ordered his employees to ignore them. The students had expected
to be arrested, but instead they discovered a tactic that not
only expressed their long-suppressed anger but also apparently
did not provoke severe retaliation from whites. "Now it
came to me all of a sudden," Mc Cain remembered thinking.
"Maybe they can't do anything to us. Maybe we can keep
They did. The four remained on the stools
for almost an hour, until the store closed. After returning
to campus, they contacted the student body president and recruited
more students for another sit-in. The following morning a group
of thirty students returned to the store and occupied the lunch
counter. There were no confrontations, but the second sit-in,
which lasted about two hours, attracted the attention of local
reporters. A national news service carried an account of the
protest, mentioning a group of "well-dressed Negro college
students" who ended their sit-in with a prayer. In the
afternoon three white students from Greensboro College joined
them. Officials at North Carolina A & T. resisted attempts
by state officials to force them to restrict the activities
of their students and by Thursday morning hundreds of black
students had been drawn into the expanding protest. Many white
youth had also gathered in the downtown section of Greensboro,
cursing and threatening the black protesters and attempting
to hold seats for white patrons. By the end of the week, after
continued disruption of business activities and a telephoned
bomb threat, the store manager decided to close the store. The
mayor of Greensboro then called upon black students and business
leaders to forgo temporarily "individual rights and financial
interests" while city officials sought "a just and
honorable resolution" of the controversy. The demonstrators,
by this time organized as the Students' Executive Committee
for Justice, agreed to halt the protests for two weeks to give
local leaders a chance to find a solution.
Although the Greensboro sit ins were discontinued
temporarily, students at nearby black colleges followed news
accounts of the protest and quickly organized sit-ins.... Carl
Matthews, a black college graduate working in Winston-Salem,
conducted that city's first sit-in on Monday, February 9. Later
that afternoon Matthews was joined by about twenty-five other
blacks, many of them students at Winston-Salem Teachers College.
The same day, seventeen students from North Carolina College
and four from Duke University staged a sit-in at the Woolworth
lunch counter in Durham.
By the end of the week, more sit-ins had
occurred in the North Carolina communities of Charlotte, Fayetteville,
High Point, Elizabeth City, and Concord. On February 10, Hampton,
Virginia, became the first community outside North Carolina
to experience student sit-ins. Protests occurred soon afterward
in the Virginia cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth. By the end
of February, Nashville, Chattanooga, Richmond, Baltimore, Montgomery,
and Lexington were among over thirty communities in seven states
to experience sit-ins. The protests reached the remaining southern
states by mid-April. By that time, according to one study, the
movement had attracted fifty thousand participants.
Source: Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC
and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, (Cambridge, 1981), pp.
THE FIGHT FOR THE VOTE: FAYETTE COUNTY, TENNESSEE, 1960
In 1960 John McFerren, Chair of the Fayette
County Voters League, presented testimony to the Volunteer Civil
Rights Commission at a hearing in Washington, D.C. McFerren
who assisted black farmers and sharecroppers to register to
vote, described the intimidation directed against the African-American
population which was the majority in the county. Part of the
testimony is reprinted below.
What is your name?
John McFerren. I was born and raised in Fayette County, in…Tennessee.
On August 1, 1959, the members and myself went up to the courthouse
to vote… I pulled out my registration card and handed
it to the registration lady. She looked at it and…called
one of the other men over and he asked her, "What are you
going to do with these people?" She said to the man, "If
we turn all of these people down, we will get in trouble with
the federal government." Then I immediately…went
out and called our legal counsel [who] advised us later we would
bring a federal suit against the county. During the federal
suit, the F.B.I. came out…and investigated me. [They]
brought back the report and gave the report to the sheriff…
Immediately after then, my life was threatened.
Will you pick up where you left off?
The F.B.I…came out there while I was picking cotton. They
told me to go to tell the sheriff everything I know, and…that
night, I received a threatening telephone call. From that day
to this, my wife and family and myself were threatened…
We … talked with our legal counsel and we wrote to [J.
Edgar] Hoover here in Washington. They sent another investigator
out… Now, the teachers in the county are scared to register.
They are even scared to talk to me on the street… on account
that we want to be first class citizens.
Source: Testimony of John McFerren, Chairman
of the Original Fayette County Voters’ League, presented
to the Volunteer Civil Rights Commission Hearings January 31,
REVOLUTION IN MISSISSIPPI
In his book Revolution in Mississippi, Tom
Hayden recounts the experiences of civil rights workers in Mississippi
in 1961. In the following passage Hayden describes a letter
written by Bob Moses and smuggled from a Mississippi jail.
We are smuggling this note from the drunk
tank of the county jail in Magnolia, Mississippi. Twelve of
us are here, sprawled out along the concrete bunker; Curtis
Hayes, Hollis Watkins, Ike Lewis and Robert Talbert, four veterans
of the bunker, are sitting up talking--mostly about girls; Charles
McDew ("Tell the story") is curled into the concrete
and the wall; Harold Robinson, Stephen Ashley, James Wells,
Lee Chester Vick, Leotus Eubanks, and Ivory Diggs lay cramped
on the cold bunker; I'm sitting with smuggled pen and paper,
thinking a little, writing a little; Myrtis Bennett and Janie
Campbell are across the way wedded to a different icy cubicle.
Later on Hollis will lead out with a clear
tenor into a freedom song; Talbert and Lewis will supply jokes;
and McDew will discourse on the history of the black man and
the Jew. McDew--a black by birth, a Jew by choice and a revolutionary
by necessity--has taken on the deep hates and deep loves which
America, and the world, reserves for those who dare to stand
in a strong sun and cast a sharp shadow.
In the words of Judge Brumfield, who sentenced
us, we are "cold calcula¬tors" who design to disrupt
the racial harmony (harmonious since 1619) of McComb into racial
strife and rioting; we, he said, are the leaders who are causing
young children to be led like sheep to the pen to be slaughtered
(in a legal manner). "Robert," he was addressing me,
"haven't some of the people from your school been able
to go down and register without violence here in Pike county?"
I thought to myself that Southerners are most exposed when they
It's mealtime now: we have rice and gravy
in a flat pan, dry bread and a "big town cake"; we
lack eating and drinking utensils. Water comes from a faucet
and goes into a hole.
This is Mississippi, the middle of the iceberg.
Hollis is leading off with his tenor, "Michael, row the
boat ashore, Alleluia; Christian brothers don't be slow, Alleluia;
Mississippi's next to go, Alleluia." This is a tremor in
the middle of the iceberg--from a stone that the builders rejected.
Source: Tom Hayden, Revolution in Mississippi,
SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) Special Report, 1962,
JAMES MEREDITH AT "OLD MISS"
In October 1962, James Meredith integrated
the University of Mississippi only after federal marshals enforced
a court decision which allowed his entry. On the weekend that
Meredith entered "Old Miss" segregationists attacked
federal marshals and in the ensuing riot two people were killed
and 5,000 federal troops were called in to restore order and
protect Meredith. Here is Mere¬dith's account of his first
days at Old Miss.
....Negroes in Mississippi did not have the
rights of full citizens, including the right to the best education
the state offered. Someone had to seek admission to the University
of Mississippi, and I decided to do it. But there were many
of us involved. Although the lawsuit was mine, the others were
with me, and I sought their advice on every move I made.
People have asked me if I wasn't terribly
afraid the night we went to Oxford [location of the University].
No, my apprehensions came a long time before that....I was sure
that if I were harmed or killed, somebody else would take my
place one day. I would hate to think another Negro would have
to go through that ordeal, but I would hate worse to think there
wouldn't be another who would do it.
When we landed at Oxford [Sunday] it was
almost dark. We got in a car and I remember seeing a truckload
of marshals in front of us and one behind. I went straight to
the university and was taken to my rooms--an apartment, I guess
you could call it. Since they knew some Government men would
be staying with me, I had two bedrooms and a living room and
a bathroom....When the trouble started, I couldn't see or hear
very much of it. Most of it was at the other end of the campus....
I think I read a newspaper and went to bed around 10 o'clock.
I was awakened several times in the night by the noise and shooting
outside, but it wasn't near me, and I had no way of knowing
what was going on....I woke up about six-thirty in the morning
and looked out and saw the troops. There was a slight smell
of tear gas in my room, but I still didn't know what had gone
on during the night, and I didn't find out until some marshals
came and told me how many people were hurt and killed.
Monday morning at eight o'clock I registered,
and at nine I went to a class in Colonial American History.
I was a few minutes late and took a seat in the back of the
room. The professor was lecturing on the background in England....and
he paid no special attention when I entered. I think there were
about a dozen students in the class. One said hello to me, and
the others were silent. I remember a girl--the only girl there,
I think--and she was crying, but it might have been from the
tear gas in the room. I was crying from it myself.
One day a fellow from my home town sat down
at my table in the cafete¬ria. "If you're here to get
an education, I'm for you," he said. "If you're here
to cause trouble, I'm against you." That seemed fair enough
....In the past the Negro has not been allowed
to receive the education he needs. If this is the way it must
be accomplished, and I believe it is, then it is not too high
a price to pay.
Source: James Meredith, "I'll Know Victory
or Defeat," Saturday Evening Post, November 10, 1962, pp.
LETTER FROM A BIRMINGHAM JAIL
By 1963 Martin Luther King had emerged as
the most important civil rights leader of the era. However as
the campaign to desegregate public accommoda¬tions in Birmingham
proved far more difficult than King or his followers had anticipated,
some white Birmingham clergy openly criticized his efforts as
harmful to the harmonious relationship between the races and
questioned his commitment to Christianity. In his letter written
while he was under arrest for violating Birmingham's segregationist
ordinances, King answers the ministers.
I think I should indicate why I am here in
Birmingham since you have been influenced by the view which
argues against "outsiders coming in." Several months
ago the [SCLC] affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on
call to engage in a non violent direct action program if such
were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour
came we lived up to our promise....But more basically, I am
in Birmingham because injustice is here....I cannot sit idly
by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere....Never
again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside
agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States
can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place
in Birmingham. But your statement fails to express a similar
concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations....It
is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham,
but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power
structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
We know through painful experience that freedom
is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded
by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct
action campaign that was "well timed" in the view
of those who have not suffered from the disease of segregation.
For years now I have heard the word "wait!" This "wait"
has almost always meant "Never."
We have waited for more than 340 years for
our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia
and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political
independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward
gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy
for those who have never felt segregation to say, "Wait."
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers
and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen
hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers
and sisters....when you have to concoct an answer for a five
year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people
treat colored people so mean?"....when your first name
becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last
name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are
never given the respected title "Mrs." then you will
understand why we find it difficult to wait.
Source: Martin Luther King, Why We Can't Wait,
(New York, 1964), Chapter 5.
MARTIN LUTHER KING AND THE FBI
In 1964 Martin Luther King, shortly after
his notification that he was the Nobel Peace Prize recipient,
got an anonymous letter suggesting he was a fraud and that he
commit suicide. It was later determined that the letter origi¬nated
with the FBI which was trying to discredit King and retard the
Civil Rights Movement. The letter is reprinted below.
In view of your low grade...I will not dignify
your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your
last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry
King, look into your heart. You know you
are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes.
White people in this country have enough frauds of their own
but I am sure they don't have one at this time anywhere near
your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you
are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could
not believe in God.... Clearly you don't believe in any personal
King, like all frauds your end is approaching.
You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early
age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal
moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our older leaders
like Wilkins, a man of character and thank God we have others
like him. But you are done. Your "honorary" degrees,
your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not
save you. King, I repeat you are done.
No person can overcome facts, not even a
fraud like yourself....I repeat- no person can argue successfully
against facts.... Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness....King
you are done. The American public, the church organizations
that have been helping -Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know
you for what you are -an evil, abnormal beast. So will others
who have backed you. You are done.
King, there is only one thing left for you
to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to
do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason,
it has definite practical significant [sic]). You are done.
There is but one way out for you. You better take it before
your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
Source: “Martin Luther King, Jr.,”
1 December 1964, FBI file no. 100-106670-647, pp. 10-11.
LETTERS FROM MISSISSIPPI
The following letters written between June
and August, 1964, provide a brief glimpse of the impressions
and emotions of the largely white college students who worked
in Mississippi during that "Freedom Summer."
...Us white kids here are in a position we've never been in
before. The direction of the whole program is under Negro leadership--almost
entirely. And a large part of that leadership is young people
from the South--Negroes who've had experience just because they're
Negroes and because they've been active in the movement. And
here "we" are, for the most part never experiencing
any injustice other than "No, I won't let you see your
Dear Mom and Dad,
A lot of the meetings have been run by a
Negro Mennonite minister from Georgia, a member of the National
Council of Churches. (The NCC is paying for this orientation,
and has some excellent staff people here.) His name is Vincent
Harding, plump, bespectacled, and brilliant moderator in discussions
because he reacts so honestly and humorously to every question.
Yesterday he gave a long talk about people using each other
and where to watch out for this within the movement itself (Negro
man accuses white girl of being a racist if she won't go to
bed with him, or vice versa; or white girl looking for "my
summer Negro"; or Negroes in the community using volunteers
as the only available victims of their suppressed hostility
to whites in general, etc., etc). These are examples of the
kind of honesty that characterizes the whole training session.
His main point was that people within the movement must not
use each other because it is that very exploitation of someone
else, which turns him from a human being into an object, that
the movement is fighting against.
…Before the first bus pulled out last night Bob Moses,
his head hanging, his voice barely audible, tried to tell us
what he feels about being responsible for the creation of situations
in which people get killed… He talked of the problem of
good and evil…of a book which is one of my greatest favorites,
a rather unknown book by the Englishman, J.R.R. Tolkien, The
Lord of the Ring…the hero gains a means of ultimate power
which he does not want. Yet this power becomes a necessity to
him until in the end he is unable to yield it voluntarily, and
in a very great sense, he must sacrifice that which is best
in himself… For those of use who knew the book, it was
a great and beautiful moment and it gave us an understanding
which we might otherwise never have had…
Dear Mom and Dad, June 27
This letter is hard to write because I would
like so much to communicate how I feel and I don't know if I
can. It is very hard to answer to your attitude that if I loved
you I wouldn't do this--hard, because the thought is cruel.
I can only hope you have the sensitivity to understand that
I can both love you very much and desire to go to Mississippi.
I have no way of demonstrating my love. It is simply a fact
and that is all I can say....
I hope you will accept my decision even if you do not agree
with me. There comes a time when you have to do things which
your parents do not agree with.... Convictions are worthless
in themselves. In fact, if they don't become actions, they are
worse than worthless--they become a force of evil in themselves.
You can't run away from a broadened awareness.... This doesn't
apply just to civil rights or social consciousness but to all
the experiences of life....
...Fear of The Man, fear of Mr. Charlie...Occasionally it is
the irrational fear of something new and untested. But usually
it is a highly rational emotion, the economic fear of losing
your job, the physical fear of being shot at. Domestic servants
know that they will be fired if they register to vote; so will
factory workers, so will Negroes who live on plantations. In
Mississippi, registration is no private affair...
The county superintendent of schools ordered that neither foreign
languages nor civics shall be taught in any Negro schools, nor
shall American history from 1860 to 1875 be taught…
Moss Point, Monday, July 6
Tonight the sickness struck. At our mass meeting as we were
singing “We Shall Overcome” a girl was shot in the
side and in the chest. We fell to the floor in deathly fear;
but soon we recovered and began moving out of the hall to see
what had happened. When I went out I saw a woman lying on the
ground clutching her stomach. She was so still and looked like
a statute with a tranquil smile on her face. I ran to call an
ambulance and police…
Dear Mother and Father: Gulfport, August 12
I have learned more about politics here from running my own
precinct meetings than I could have from any Government professor...For
the first time in my life, I am seeing what it is like to be
poor, oppressed, and hated. And what I see here does not apply
only to Gulfport or to Mississippi or even to the South....The
people we're killing in Viet Nam are the same people whom we've
been killing for years in Mississippi. True, we didn't tie the
knot in Mississippi and we didn't pull the trigger in Viet Nam--that
is, we personally--but we've been standing behind the knot-tiers
and the trigger-pullers too long. This summer is only the briefest
beginning of this experience, both for myself and for the Negroes
Your daughter, Ellen
Source: Elizabeth Sutherland, ed., Letters
From Mississippi, (New York, 1965), pp. 3-4 9, 14, 22-23, 31-32,
68, 93, 119, 157-59, 229-230.
FANNIE LOU HAMER TESTIFIES AT THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION,
Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi native, emerged
as one of the major leaders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party (MFDP) which represented all the state’s voters
regardless of race. In 1964 she testified before the Credential
Committee of the National Democratic Convention urging the party
to seat the MFDP delegation rather than the “regular”
Democrats who represented the state’s white voters. Her
testimony, which describes the terror campaign against her and
other black voters, appears below.
Mr. Chairman and the Credentials Committee,
my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 Fast Lafayette
Street, Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County, the home of
Senator James O. Eastland, and Senator [John] Stennis.
It was the 31st of August in 1962 that eighteen
of us traveled twenty six miles to the county courthouse in
Indianola to try to register to try to become first class citizens.
We was met in Indianola by Mississippi men, highway patrolmens,
and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test
at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to
Ruleville, we was held up by the City Police and the State Highway
Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola, where the bus driver
was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.
After we paid the fine among us, we continued
on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles
in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper
for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told
me the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down to
try to register. After they told me, my husband carne, and said
the plantation owner was raising cain because I had tried to
register, and before he quit talking the plantation owner came,
and said, "Fannie Lou, do you know -did Pap tell you what
I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "I mean that," he said.
"If you don't go down and withdraw your registration, you
will have to leave," said, "Then if you go down and
withdraw," he said. "You will -you might have to go
because we are not ready for that in Mississippi."
And I addressed him and told him and said,
"I didn't try to register for you. I tried to register
for myself." I had to leave that same night.
On the 10th of September 1962, sixteen bullets
was fired into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker for me.
That same night two girls were shot in Ruleville, Mississippi.
Also Mr. Joe McDonald's house was shot in.
And in June, the 9th, 1963, I had attended
a voter registration workshop, was returning back to Mississippi.
Ten of us was traveling by the Continental Trailways bus. When
we got to Winona, Mississippi, which is Montgomery County, four
of the people got off to use the washroom, and two of the people
-to use the restaurant -two of the people wanted to use the
washroom. The four people that had gone in to use the restaurant
was ordered out. During this time I was on the bus. But when
I looked through the window and saw they had rushed out, I got
off the bus to see what had happened, and one of the ladies
said, "It was a State Highway Patrolman and a chief of
police ordered us out."
I got back on the bus and one of the persons
had used the washroom got back on the bus, too. As soon as I
was seated on the bus, I saw when they began to get the four
people in a highway patrolman's car. I stepped off the bus to
see what was happening and somebody screamed from the car that
the four workers was in and said, "Get that one there,"
and when I went to get in the car, when the man told me I was
under arrest, he kicked me.
I was carried to the county jail, and put in the booking room.
They left some of the people in the booking room and began to
place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman
.... After I was placed in the cell I began to hear sounds of
licks and screams. I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible
screams, and I could hear somebody say, "Can you say, yes
sir, nigger? Can you say yes, sir?"
And they would say other horrible names.
She would say, "Yes, I can say yes, sir."
"So say it."
She says, "I don't know you well enough."
They beat her, I don't know how long, and
after a while she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy
on those people.
And it wasn't too long before three white
men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman
and he asked me where I was from, and I told him Ruleville.
He said, "We are going to check this." And they left
my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said,
"You are from Ruleville all right," and he used a
curse word, and he said, "We are going to make you wish
you was dead."
I was carried out of that cell into another
cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolman
ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro
prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman
for me, to lay down on a bunk bed on my face, and I laid on
my face. The first Negro began to beat, and I was beat by the
first Negro until he was exhausted, and I was holding my hands
behind me at that time on my left side because I suffered from
polio when I was six years old. After the first Negro had beat
until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered
the second Negro to take the blackjack.
The second Negro began to beat and I began
to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the
first Negro who had beat to set on my feet to keep me from working
my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began
to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. One white man -my
dress had worked up high, he walked over and pulled my dress
down -and he pulled my dress back, back up ....
All of this on account we want to register,
to become first class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic
Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America,
the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have
to sleep with our telephone off the hooks because our lives
be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human
beings, in America?
Source: "Testimony of Fannie Lou Homer
Before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National
Convention," August 22, 1964, Joseph Rauh Papers, Library
SEX, RACE, AND THE MOVEMENT
In the following passage Sara Evans describes
delicate balance between love across interracial boundaries
among white and black civil rights workers and the crass exploitation
by black males of white guilt and anxiety over the sexual fears
of white Southerners which provided the cultural underpinnings
of most of the segregationist system.
The presence of white women inevitably heightened
the sexual tension that runs as a constant current through racist
culture..... But it also became a divisive and explosive force
within the civil rights movement itself. The entrance of white
women in large numbers into the movement could hardy have been
anything but explosive. Interracial sex was the most potent
social taboo in the south. And the struggle against racism brought
together young, naive, sometimes insensitive, rebellious, and
idealistic white women with young, angry black men, some of
whom had hardly been allowed to speak to white women before.
They sat in together. if they really believed in equality, why
shouldn't they sleep together? In many interracial relationships
there was much warmth and caring. Several marriages resulted.
One young woman described how
My sexuality....was confirmed by black men
for the first time ever in my life, see. In white society I
am too large... So I had always had to work very hard to be
attractive to white men... Black men assumed that I was a sexual
person....and I needed that very badly... It's a positive advantage
to be a big woman in the black community.
Powerful, irresistible needs existed on both
sides. For black men, sexual access to white women challenged
the culture's ultimate symbol of their denied manhood. And some
of the middle-class white women whose attentions they sought
had experienced a denial of their womanhood in failing to achieve
the cheerleader standards of high school beauty and popularity
so prevalent in the fifties and early sixties. Both, then were
hungry for sexual affirmation and appreciation....Where such
needs came together with genuine mutual regard, there was a
sense in which the "beloved community" of black and
white together took on concrete reality in the intimacy of the
[But] clearly the boundary between sexual
freedom and exploitation was a thin one.... The first angry
response came not from the surrounding white community (which
assumed sexual excess far beyond the reality) but from young
black women in the movement. A black woman pointed out that
white women would perform the domestic....tasks, "while
black women were out in the streets battling with the cops.....
We became amazons, less than, and more than women at the same
time." And a white woman, asked whether she experienced
any hostility from black women, responded, "Oh! tons and
tons. I was very afraid of black women, very afraid." Thought
she admired them and was continually awed by their courage and
strength, her sexual relationships with black men placed a barrier
between herself and black women. Was it really racist to say
"no"? Maybe it was racist to say "yes"?
Guilt lurked in all directions and behind that guilt lay anger....
Source: Sara Evans, Personal Politics: The
Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement &
the New Left, (New York, 1979), pp. 78-81.
MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI
During the 1964 Freedom Summer hundreds of
black and white civil rights workers from throughout the United
States assisted black Mississippians to register to vote and
to challenge the racially discriminatory laws of the state.
Three of those workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and
James Chaney, were killed near Philadelphia. The passage below
from William Bradford Huie's Three Lives for Mississippi, describes
The murder was done in the "cut"
on Rock Cut Road, less than a mile from Highway 19, about four
miles from where the three were taken from the station wagon.
It was before midnight, and the moon was still high. Three cars
were in the cut. I was told that the three victims said nothing,
but that they were jeered by the murderers. Several of the murderers
chanted in unison, as though they had practiced it:
"Ashes to ashes, Dust to dust,
If you'd stayed where you belonged, You wouldn't be here with
Another said: "So you wanted to come
to Mississippi? Well, now we're gonna let you stay here. We're
not even gonna run you out. We're gonna let you stay here with
When Schwerner was pulled from the car and
stood up to be shot, I was told that the man with the pistol
asked him: "You still think a nigger's as good as I am?"
No time was allowed for a reply. He was shot straight through
the heart and fell to the ground.
Goodman was next, with nothing said. Apparently
he stood as still as Schwerner did, facing his executioner,
for the shot that killed him was the same precise shot. I was
told that another man fired the shot, using the same pistol,
but my opinion remains that one man fired both shots.
Chaney was last, and the only difference
was that he struggled while the others had not. He didn't stand
still; he tried to pull and duck away from his executioner.
So he wasn't shot with the same precision, and he was shot three
times instead of once.
The three bodies were tossed into the station
wagon and driven along dirt roads to a farm about six miles
southwest of Philadelphia. All three bodies were buried in darkness
with a bulldozer. They were also uncovered, forty ¬four
days later, with a bulldozer. After the burial the station wagon
was driven to a point fifteen miles northeast of Philadelphia,
to the edge of the Bogue Chitto swamp. There it was doused with
diesel fuel and burned. Afterwards the murderers began drinking
though none could be called drunk. They were met by an official
of the state of Mississippi.
"Well, boys," he said, "you've
done a good job. You've struck a blow for the White Man. Mississippi
can be proud of you.... Go home now and forget it. But before
you go, I'm looking each one of you in the eye and telling you
this: the first man who talks is dead! If anybody who knows
anything about this ever opens his mouth to any Outsider about
it, then the rest of us are going to kill him just as dead as
we killed those three sonsofbitches tonight. "Does everybody
understand what I'm saying? The man who talks is dead... dead...
Source: William Bradford Huie, 3 Lives for
Mississippi, (New York, 1968) pp. 118-121.
DAVID DENNIS SPEAKS AT THE MEMORIAL FOR JAMES CHANEY
On August 7, 1964,, David Dennis, the Assistant
Director of the Mississippi Summer Project for COFO spoke to
approximately 120 who filled a small black church in Meridian,
Mississippi, during a memorial service for recently slain James
Chaney. His remarks, understandably laced with anger and bitterness
over the death a friend, nonetheless challenged the listeners
to turn their grief into a renewed commitment to voter registration.
"I am not here to memorialize
James Chaney, I am not here to pay tribute I am too sick and
tired. Do YOU hear me, I am S I C K and T I R E D. I have attended
too many memorials, too many funerals. 'This has got to stop.
Mack Parker, Medgar Evers, Herbert Lee, Lewis Allen, Emmett
Till, four little girls in Birmingham, a 3 year old boy in Birmingham,
and the list goes on and on. I have attended these funerals
and memorials and I am SICK and TIRED.
But the trouble is that YOU are NOT sick
and tired and for that reason YOU, yes YOU, are to blame, Everyone
of your damn souls. And if you are going to let this continue
now then you are to blame, yes YOU. Just as much as the monsters
of hate who pulled the trigger or brought down the club; just
as much to blame as the sheriff and the chief of police, as
the governor in Jackson who said that he `did not have time'
for Mrs. Schwerner when she went to see him, and just as much
to blame as the President and Attorney General in Washington
who wouldn't provide protection for Chancy, Goodman and Schwerner
when we told them that protection was necessary in Neshoba County…
Yes, I am angry, I AM. And it's high time
that you got angry too, angry enough to go up to the courthouse
Monday and register everyone of you. Angry enough to take five
and ten other people with you. Then and only then can these
brutal killings be stopped. Remember it is your sons and your
daughters who have been killed all these years and you have
done nothing about it, and if you don't do nothing NOW, I say
God Damn Your Souls…
Source: Elizabeth Sutherland, ed., Letters
from Mississippi (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1965),
PRESIDENT JOHNSON PROPOSES THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT
On March 7, 1965, Martin Luther King led demonstrations
at Selma, Alabama, to secure voting rights for black Americans.
One week later President Lyndon Johnson spoke before a joint
session of Congress to urge passage of voting rights legislation
that would guarantee that right. Johnson for the first time
placed the full support of the Presidency behind Dr. King and
the Civil Rights Movement. Here is his address to Congress:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress:
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and
the destiny of democracy. I urge every member of both parties,
Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section
of this country, to join me in that cause.
Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed
to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote. This bill
will strike down restrictions to voting in all elections....which
have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote. We cannot
refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every
election that he may desire to participate in. We have already
waited one hundred years and more, and the time for waiting
But even if we pass this bill, the battle
will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger
movement which reaches into every section and State of America.
It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves
the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too. Because
it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must
overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.
As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern
soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult
it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.
But a century has passed, more than a hundred
years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.
The time of justice has now come. I tell
you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back.
It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come.
And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of
For Negroes are not the only victims. How
many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families
have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been
scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance
to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?
So I say to all of you here, and to all in
the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on
to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.
This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and
education and hope to all: black and white, North and South,
sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty,
ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow
man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease
and ignorance, we shall overcome...
Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of
the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, vol. 1 (Washington: Federal
Register Division, National Archives and Records Service, General
Services Administration, 1966), pp. 281-287
THE MOYNIHAN REPORT
In 1965 White House staffer Daniel Patrick
Moynihan, a sociologist by training, wrote a report titled “The
Negro Family: The Case for Action” which discussed conditions
facing the most impoverished African Americans in the urban
ghettos. That report, highly controversial at the time, nonetheless
anticipated the growth of what would later be labeled ‘the
underclass.” Part of Moynihan’s report appears below.
To read this document in its entirety, please visit TheBlackPast
The United States is approaching a new crisis
in race relations…The fundamental problem…is that
of family structure... The evidence…is that the Negro
family in the urban ghettos is crumbling... The percent of nonwhite
families headed by a female is more than double the percent
for whites. Fatherless nonwhite families increased by a sixth
between 1950 and 1960, but held constant for white families.
It has been estimated that only a minority of Negro children
reach the age of 18 having lived all their lives with both of
their parents… At present, 14 percent of Negro children
are receiving AFDC assistance, as against 2 percent of white
children… The steady expansion of this welfare program,
as of public assistance programs in general, can be taken as
a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure
over the past generation in the United States…
American slavery was profoundly different
from…and…indescribably worse than, any recorded
servitude, ancient or modern... Most important of all, slavery
vitiated family life... Since many slaveowners neither fostered
Christian marriage among their slave couples nor hesitated to
separate them on the auction block, the slave household often
developed a fatherless matrifocal (mother-centered) pattern.”
With the emancipation of the slaves, the
Negro American family began to form in....an atmosphere markedly
different from that which has produced the white American family.
When Jim Crow made its appearance towards the end of the 19th
century…it was the Negro male who was most humiliated…
Keeping the Negro "in his place" can be translated
as keeping the Negro male in his place: the female was not a
threat to anyone...Unquestionably, these events worked against
the emergence of a strong father figure. The very essence of
the male animal, from the bantam rooster to the four-star general,
is to strut. Indeed, in 19th century America, a particular type
of exaggerated male boastfulness became almost a national style.
Not for the Negro male. The "sassy nigger[sic]" was
The gradual shift of American society from
a rural to an urban basis over the past century and a half has
caused abundant strains, many of which are still much in evidence.
Negroes are now more urbanized than whites...
There is much evidence that children are
being born most rapidly in those Negro families with the least
financial resources… A cycle is at work; too many children
too early make it most difficult for the parents to finish school.
(In February, 1963, 38 percent of the white girls who dropped
out of school did so because of marriage or pregnancy, as against
49 percent of nonwhite girls.) Low education levels in turn
produce low income levels, which deprive children of many opportunities,
and so the cycle repeats itself.
That the Negro American has survived at all
is extraordinary--a lesser people might simply have died out,
as indeed others have. That the Negro community has not only
survived, but in this political generation has entered national
affairs as a moderate, humane, and constructive national force
is the highest testament to the healing powers of the democratic
ideal and the creative vitality of the Negro people. But…[t]hree
centuries of injustice have brought about deep-seated structural
distortions in the life of the Negro American. At this point,
the present tangle of pathology is capable of perpetuating itself
without assistance from the white world. The cycle can be broken
only if these distortions are set right… A national effort
towards the problems of Negro Americans must be directed towards
the question of family structure. The object should be to strengthen
the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its
members as do other families. After that, how this group of
Americans chooses to run its affairs, take advantage of its
opportunities, or fail to do so, is none of the nation's business.
Source: “The Negro Family: The Case
for National Action,” Office of Planning and Research,
United States Department of Labor (March 1965)
LOVING v. VIRGINIA
In a landmark 1967 decision the U.S. Supreme
Court struck down the Virginia statute outlawing interracial
marriages. Reprinted below is an account of the case.
On a warm night when she was a new bride
of 17, Mildred Loving awoke in terror to a sheriff standing
over her bed. Her crime? She was a black woman married to a
white man. That night marked the beginning of a legal battle
that led to the Supreme Court's rejection 25 years ago of all
laws forbidding interracial marriage. "I believe that's
why we were put here," Mrs. Loving says softly. "That's
why we were married."
But in 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving
were simply a young couple in love who wanted to become husband
and wife. "I didn't know it was against any law. We were
just happy to be together' she says. Her husband-to-be may have
known about Virginia's anti-misce¬genation, or race-mixing,
law, but he said nothing. She didn't ask him why they traveled
80 miles from Caroline County, Virginia, to Washington to marry.
"We weren't out to change nothing," she says. But
the marriage of the pretty, slim woman and the shy, gangly bricklayer
changed everything. It put them in jail. It forced them to leave
the hilly countryside near some of the storied battlefields
of a war over race fought a century before. And, in 1967, it
resulted in a ruling that overturned one of the last legal struts
to racism and segregation in Virginia and 15 other states.
"It was taken for granted before
1954 and never questioned," says Erwin Griswold, former
dean of Harvard University Law School and U.S. solicitor general
from 1967 to 1973. "It was all part of the Jim Crow pattern
in force throughout the South." The prosecutor, who did
not take part in the case, says the law served the same public
interests as those barring polygamy and incest...
Mildred Loving is alone now; the marriage
that entered her name in law school textbooks ended in 1975
when a drunken driver broadsided the couple's car killing her
husband. She lives quietly in the small cinderblock house Mr.
Loving built for his wife and three children after the Supreme
Court decision allowed them to return to Virginia. At 52, Mrs.
Loving is hobbled by arthritis and rarely ventures more than
a few miles from the tiny town where she and Mr. Loving grew
up. She thinks of the case only rarely, and it is rarer still
that anyone mentions it to her. Her grandchildren have heard
the story hundreds of times, but she's not sure they can really
understand it. "It's history" she says. "It's
all different now from how it was then."
Then, the Lovings were the only black-white
married couple they knew. Now there are about 231,000 such couples
in the United States. In rural Caroline County in the 1950s,
blacks and whites socialized frequently, although schools and
churches were strictly segregated. Mrs. Loving knew her husband
from childhood. Richard Loving began courting her when she was
11 and he would come to her family's farmhouse to hear her seven
brothers play "hillbilly music." No one in their tight
knit community gave them any trouble or voiced objections to
their plans to marry, Mrs. Loving says. "But we had one
enemy, I guess," she says. That anonymous enemy was the
person who called authorities a month after the wedding. Three
officers came to the house and woke the couple at 2 a.m. "I
was scared to death," Mrs. Loving says.
With the flood of a flashlight full on their
faces, the officers de¬manded that Richard Loving iden¬tify
the woman lying beside him. "At first, he didn't say anything.
So I spoke up. I said I was his wife" Mrs. Loving says.
They were charged under the 1922 anti-miscegenation law that
stated: "If any white person inter¬marry with a colored
person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person,
he shall be guilty of a felony." Punishment was one to
five years in prison.
"It does seem incredible now"
says Bernard Cohen, who was a 33 ¬year old lawyer just starting
his practice when he took the Lovings' case for free in 1964.
That was long after Mildred and Richard Loving were convicted
and sentenced to a year in prison. The judge suspended the sentence
on the condition the couple leave the state, but told them:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay
and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but
for the interference with his arrangement there would be no
cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races
showed that he did not intend for the races to mix."
The Lovings spent several unhappy years in
a cramped apartment in Washington, unable to travel to Virginia
together for visits. In 1964, Mildred Loving wrote to then Attorney
General Robert Ken¬nedy, asking if the just passed Civil
Rights Act would help them return home. She received a personal
reply. No, Kennedy wrote, the law would not apply. But he urged
her to contact the American Civil Liberties Union. The Lovings
were afraid to cross the Potomac River to Mr. Cohen's office
in Alexandria, so they met at the ACLU office in Washington.
"I couldn't believe it," Mr. Cohen says. "I knew
it was going to be a landmark case. I knew it was going to the
Supreme Court. And I definitely thought there was something
serendipitous about the fact that the case would be called Loving
vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia."
Mr. Cohen sued Virginia under an obscure
law that allowed him to challenge the Lovings' conviction even
though they had never appealed. The case bounced back and forth
between state and federal courts for several years, before the
Virginia Supreme Court ruled the law valid. Before arguing the
case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Cohen says he tried
to explain to Richard Loving the legal doctrines he would use.
"He was very country, sort of rough" Mr. Cohen says.
"He just said, 'Tell them I don't understand why if a man
loves a woman he can't marry her no matter what her color.'
Source: Washington Times, October 26, 1992,