Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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History 322:
Timbuktu to Katrina
Manual - Chapter 5
We Shall Overcome: 1950-1965

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8

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.


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 consolidated opinion.

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 laws…

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).


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, 1994), p.21-23.


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 integrated busses.

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 bus.

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.


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 life.

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 safe."

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).


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 still continues....

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, 1960

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 Integrated Schools


Total Black Enrollment Number of Blacks in Integrated Schools
Alabama  267,259








District of Columbia
























North Carolina






South Carolina












West Virginia







Source: Richard Current, American History: A Survey, (New York, 1961), p. 848.


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.


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 socially conventional....

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 it up."

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. 9-11.


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, 1960.


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 boast.

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, p. 4.


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 to me.

....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. 14-17.


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.


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 the VIII...

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 moral principles.

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.


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."

June 15
...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 exam paper..."

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.
Love, Susan

June 27
…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....
Love, Bonnie

...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...

Mound Bayou
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 of Mississippi.
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, 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?"

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 of Congress.


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 bedroom.

[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.


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 their deaths.

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 us."

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 us."

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... dead!"...

Source: William Bradford Huie, 3 Lives for Mississippi, (New York, 1968) pp. 118-121.


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), 191-192.


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 is gone....

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 every American.

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


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 at www.blackpast.org

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 lynched.

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)


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, p. D3.