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BHM 2017 – Day 10: Murder in Mississippi (last one)

This is my last Black History Month piece. I’m sorry that I couldn’t do more. I have learned SO MUCH.  I was born in 1964 at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement. For some strange, probably deliberate, reason, the Civil Rights Movement was not taught in either American History class that I took. Over the years, I have learned bits and pieces, but nothing as comprehensive as what I have learned this month. I have no doubt that those of you who are significantly older than me could write a book on the subject. And maybe those of you who were younger were lucky enough to learn about it in school. I envy you. 53 is late to learn this stuff, but better late than never. I hope you also have learned a few things that you didn’t know before, and have a better picture of all that went on, because there was SO MUCH. And perhaps you will be inspired to read more.

 

Happy Black History Month!

 

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I really didn’t think it could get worse than Alabama… until I started reading about Mississippi. (And yes, this is another long one.) The white people of Mississippi were so committed to segregation that they didn’t even need Jim Crow laws. Integration simply wasn’t permitted, and the level of force and violence that was used to enforce these codes was horrific. As historian Charles Payne recounts in detail, Mississippi had the highest rate of  lynchings of any state, recording 539 between the end of Reconstruction and the early 1960s.  And in the state’s plantation economy, conditions for many black farm workers weren’t much better than slavery. African Americans had virtually no education, no rights and no legal recourse against whites who exploited, cheated or attacked them. In the early 1960’s, Mississippi was the poorest state in the nation and 86% of all non-white families lived below the poverty line.

 

This was the backdrop of the actions of thousands of civil rights activists who, between 1956 and 1968, made the effort to integrate Mississippi and secure African-Americans the right to register, vote and elect black representatives to Congress.

 

I want to start with an acknowledgement of Mississippi’s civil rights martyrs:

 

1955:  NAACP leader Rev. George Wesley Lee was shot in the face and killed in Belzoni, MS for urging blacks to vote.  Lamar Smith, sixty-three-year-old farmer and World War II veteran, was shot in cold blood on the crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. Fourteen-year old Emmett Till, visiting family from Chicago, was kidnapped and murdered near Money, MS, allegedly  for whistling at a white woman… who has recently admitted that she lied. And Black businessman Clinton Melton was gunned down at a Glendora gas in an apparent follow-up to the Emmett Till case.

 

1957: Clyde Kennard attempted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College. He was arrested and convicted on false charges of possession of liquor. He was sentenced to seven years at Parchman Penitentiary, where he was denied proper care for serious health conditions that eventually led to his death.

 

1959: Mack Charles Parker, a resident of Poplarville, Mississippi, was jailed for allegedly raping a white woman. A white mob abducted Mr. Parker from his jail cell, beat him, took him to Louisiana, and then shot him

 

1961 farmer Herbert Lee was shot and killed in Liberty, Mississippi, by E.H. Hurst, a member of the Mississippi State Legislature, because of Lee’s participation in the voter registration campaign.

 

1963: NAACP State Director Medgar Evers was gunned down in 1963 in his Jackson driveway by Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith from Greenwood, Mississippi

 

1964: CORE workers James Chaney and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner (white) and volunteer Andrew Goodman (white) disappeared near Philadelphia, MS. After several weeks of searching and recovering more than a dozen other bodies, the authorities finally found the civil rights workers buried under an earthen dam. Later that year, the lower half of Charles Eddie Moore’s body and the headless body of Henry Hezekiah Dee are pulled from the Mississippi River near Tallulah, LA; FBI believes they were kidnapped near Meadville, Mississippi, and murdered by Klansmen, 2 months prior. 14-year-old Herbert Oarsby’s body was pulled from the Big Black River near Canton, MS, dressed in a CORE t-shirt.

 

Additionally, in the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer:

  • 1,062 people were arrested (out-of-state volunteers and locals)
  • 80 Freedom Summer workers were beaten
  • 37 churches were bombed or burned
  • 30 Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned
  • 4 people were critically wounded

1966: Local NAACP President Vernon Dahmer was killed in a dynamite blast to his home in Hattiesburg and Ben Chester White was killed by Klansmen in Natchez.

 

1967: NAACP activist Wharlest Jackson was killed by bomb after promotion to a “white” job in Natchez and  National Guardsmen fired on a black student protest at Jackson State University, killing civil rights worker Benjamin Brown.

 

On the first day that I presented information about the Civil Rights movement, I noted that one of the catalysts was WWII. Interestingly enough, James Meredith and Medgar Evers were both veterans who felt that it was time for change to come to Mississippi. Social transformations following World War II that affected all of the South were especially potent in Mississippi. The increasing mechanization of farm work made for substantial dislocation among whites and blacks in the state. Thousands upon thousands left the land to find work. “In cities, blacks and whites competed for jobs, housing, recreation and seats on public transportation, and the problem of the color line assumed pressing urgency,” historian Pete Daniel writes. Like African Americans across the South, many returning to Mississippi from military service had experienced life in other countries with far less racial prejudice. Having fought to secure democratic freedoms abroad, they were determined to fight for freedom at home.

 

In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education was ruled on by the Supreme Court, pronouncing that school segregation was unconstitutional. In response, in 1956, the Southern Manifesto was signed by 19 U.S. Senators and 82 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the entire congressional delegations of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. The Manifesto, written in response to the Brown decisions, accused the Supreme Court of “clear abuse of judicial power.” It further promised to use “all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”

 

Mississippi whites took their efforts to prevent integration to new levels. With all levels of government involved, two organizations came into being: the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the White Citizens’ Council.  . These white supremacy organizations used many techniques, including surveillance, severe economic reprisals, and brutal violence to thwart civil rights activists; they also were quick to ostracize whites who didn’t openly join their ranks or support their cause. Those whites who retained a moderate or even liberal perspective were targeted by extremists. Some were forced to leave the state; others remained, but under constant threat. And the political process was blatantly affected. . “The fear was that black people would take over and destroy the [Southern] way of life. And the politicians jumped on it. ‘Elect me and we will maintain segregation.’ That’s all you had to say to get elected.” By 1956, the Citizens’ Council had chapters in a majority of Mississippi counties and had attracted some 80,000 members. Central to the Council’s message was the widely-held conviction that the civil rights movement was run by communists and that northern participants such as CORE members were ‘outside agitators’ in the truest sense of the term, representing forces hostile and alien to American values.”  Membership tended to be highest in counties where the population was more than 50 percent black. Headed by the most prominent local businessmen, professionals and governing officials, the goal of the Citizens’ Council was to use every possible means to lawfully resist desegregation. The Council routinely used the economic “squeeze” to punish black agitators. For instance, when African Americans signed a petition to desegregate schools in Yazoo County in 1955, the Citizens’ Council moved quickly. It paid for a local newspaper ad listing the names of the petitioners. The Council then coordinated reprisals against the signers. Charles Bolton writes:

 

The president of one local bank called all his customers on the list “and told them to come down and get their money out, that the bank did not want to do business with them any longer.” James Wright, a plumber with primarily white customers, not only lost his patrons but also was refused plumbing supplies by a wholesale house, and notified by his grocer that a loaf of bread would cost him a dollar. He soon left for Detroit.

 

The danger of challenging Jim Crow in Mississippi led the state to produce more than its share of powerful civil rights leaders, including Fannie Lou Hamer, James Meredith, Medgar Evers, Aaron Henry and many others. These seemingly ordinary people were propelled by a conviction that the racial order had to change. Activist and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party leader Fannie Lou Hamer described her determination: “Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off that and no one will have to cover the ground I walk as far as freedom is concerned.”

 

NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was a force to be reckoned with in Mississippi as early as the 1950’s when he helped organize a boycott of gasoline stations that denied blacks the use of the stations’ restrooms. Named field secretary in 1954, he organized boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP all over the state, with both efforts toward voter registration, and legal defense. Evers also organized demonstrations, and economic boycotts of white-owned companies that practiced discrimination. Within three years he had nearly doubled NAACP membership in Mississippi to more than 15,000. Evers played a pivotal role in investigating Emmett Till’s death in 1955 helping to launch a separate investigation and find witnesses to Till’s abduction.

 

The first and little known event in Mississippi civil rights history was the Biloxi Wade-ins, where a black physician, Gilbert Mason, and 7 friends tried to integrate the Biloxi waterfront beaches.  Turned away while swimming in 1959, they asked to see the law saying that they couldn’t be there. There was none. A protest with 125 people was held a year later; violence erupted in what has become known as “Bloody Sunday or the Bloody Wade-in. Shots were fired, rocks were thrown, and there was fighting in the streets over the entire weekend. Ten people were shot and a large number were injured in fights. Gilbert Mason was arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace for his role in the protest.

 

The another notable event by African Americans to make a difference in civil rights was in 1961, when nine students from Tougaloo College, members of the NAACP Youth Council, were arrested for attempting to desegregate the “white only” Jackson  Public Library. The group became known as the Tougaloo Nine. Students from Jackson State marched to the jail in support and were met and attacked with clubs, tear gas and dogs.

 

Next, in 1962, James Meredith applied to University of Mississippi. When James Meredith set his sights on integrating The University of Mississippi he intentionally targeted what was perhaps the most hallowed symbol of white prestige in Mississippi. No African American had ever been knowingly admitted (at least one, brief instance is known of a light-skinned man passing as white in the 1940s). Plantation owners and the rest of the Mississippi gentry sent their children to what they called affectionately Ole’ Miss for the finest education the state could offer. Although his application was rejected, the Supreme Court ordered his admittance. On September 13, 1962, Mississippi Governer Ross Barnett rallied his people on statewide television and radio. “I speak to you now in the moment of our greatest crisis since the War Between the States,” Barnett declared. “We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them, never! I submit to you tonight, no school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your governor!”  When Meredith tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Barnett. On September 28, the governor was found guilty of civil contempt and was ordered to cease his interference with desegregation at the university or face arrest and a fine of $10,000 a day. On Sunday, September 30, Meredith arrived at the campus in Oxford with an escort of federal officials. Southern radio stations broadcast a call to arms and carloads of people rolled into town to defend Ole’ Miss against what they called an invasion by Meredith and the feds. A mob started pelting federal marshals with rocks, bottles and bricks. The phalanx of marshals responded with tear gas. Two people were killed and more wounded. Kennedy wound up sending 30,000 army troops to Oxford and the next morning Meredith walked across the debris-strewn campus to register. None of the rioters were ever prosecuted. Federal marshals protected Meredith during his time at Ole’ Miss. In 1963, Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science.

 

As a result of the riots of Ole Miss, the Citizens’ Council began to erode and in their place, came the Klan. Within 6 months of the riots, one man organized chapters in 76 counties in the state. These were the United Klans of America. But a rival Klan emerged in Mississippi at the same time, the White Knights of the KKK. They were more secretive than the UKA, and more deadly. In the summer of 1964, the White Knights soon attracted a following of nearly 10,000 white Mississippians. The racial terrorism ranged from cross-burnings and church-bombings to beatings and murder. According to sociologist David Cunningham: “The White Knights were responsible for most of the highly visible acts of violence in MS throughout ‘60s,”.

But as the Klan intensified its reign of terror, civil rights activists pumped up the pressure for change in Mississippi.

 

The efforts at voter registration escalated in the 1960’s. Mississippi had a terrible record of black voting rights violations. In the 1950s, Mississippi was 45% black, but only 5% of voting age blacks were registered to vote. Some counties did not have a single registered black voter. Whites insisted that blacks did not want to vote, but this was not true. Many blacks wanted to vote, but they worried, and rightfully so, that they might lose their job. In 1962, over 260 blacks in Madison County overcame this fear and waited in line to register. 50 more came the next day. Only seven got in to take the test over the two days, walking past a sticker on the registrar’s office door that bore a Confederate battle flag next to the message “Support Your Citizens’ Council.” Once they got in, they had to take a test designed to prevent them from becoming registered. In 1954, in response to increasing literacy among blacks, the test, which originally asked applicants to “read or interpret” a section of the state constitution, was changed to ask applicants to “read and interpret” that document. This allowed white registrars to decide whether or not a person passed the test. Most blacks, even those with doctoral degrees, “failed.” In contrast, most whites passed, no matter what their education level.

 

In July 1960, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) came to Mississippi to begin a month-long voter registration campaign in the town of McComb, in conjunction with C.C. Bryant of the NAACP. SNCC organized a voter registration education program, teaching a weekly class that showed people how to register. SNCC worker Marion Barry (yes, the notorious DC mayor) arrived on August 18 and started workshops to teach young blacks nonviolent protest methods. Many of the blacks, too young to vote, jumped at the opportunity to join the movement. They began holding sit-ins. Some were arrested and expelled from school. . At sit-ins which began on May 28, 1963, participants were sprayed with paint and had pepper thrown in their eyes. Students who sang movement songs during lunch after the bombing of NAACP field director Medgar Evers’ home were beaten. After Evers was killed in 1963, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella organization of local and national civil rights groups founded in 1962, organized the Freedom Vote.

 

The Freedom Vote had two main goals:

  1. To show Mississippi whites and the nation that blacks wanted to vote and
  2. To give blacks, many of whom had never voted, practice in casting a ballot

 

The mock vote pitted the actual candidates against candidates from the interracial Freedom Party. 60 white students from Yale and Stanford Universities came to Mississippi to help spread word of the Freedom Vote. 93,000 voted on the mock election day, and the Freedom Party candidates easily won. After the success of the Freedom Vote, SNCC decided to send volunteers into Mississippi during the summer of 1964, a presidential election year, for a voter registration drive. It became known as Freedom Summer. Bob Moses outlined the goals of Freedom Summer to prospective volunteers at Stanford University:

  1. to expand black voter registration in the state
  2. to organize a legally constituted “Freedom Democratic Party” that would challenge the whites-only Mississippi Democratic party
  3. to establish “freedom schools” to teach reading and math to black children
  4. to open community centers where indigent blacks could obtain legal and medical assistance

800 students gathered for a week-long orientation session at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, that June. They were mostly white and young, with an average age of 21. They were also from well-to-do families, as the volunteers had to bring $500 for bail as well as money for living expenses, medical bills, and transportation home. SNCC’s James Forman told them to be prepared for death. “I may be killed. You may be killed. The whole staff may go.” He also told them to go quietly to jail if arrested, because “Mississippi is not the place to start conducting constitutional law classes for the policemen, many of whom don’t have a fifth-grade education.” The volunteers helped provide basic services to blacks in the South. “Freedom clinics” provided health care, Northern lawyers worked in legal clinics to secure basic constitutional rights, and “Freedom Schools,” though illegal, taught blacks of all ages traditional subjects as well as black history. The Freedom Schools were  a great success. The proposal was a network of schools  that would foster political participation among Mississippi elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. A curriculum planning conference was held in March 1964. The three sections of the Freedom School curriculum were the Academic Curriculum, the Citizenship Curriculum, and the Recreational Curriculum. The purpose of these sections was to teach students social change within the school; regional history; black history; how to answer open-ended questions; and the development of academic skills. The Academic Curriculum consisted of reading, writing, and verbal activities that were based on the student’s own experiences. The Citizenship Curriculum was to encourage the students to ask questions about the society. The Recreational Curriculum required the student to be physically active.

 

. Over the course of Freedom Summer,  more than 40 Freedom Schools were set up in black communities throughout Mississippi. Students were encouraged to become active citizens and socially involved within the community. Over 3,000 African American students attended these schools in the summer of 1964. Students ranged in age from small children to the very elderly. Freedom Schools were established with the help and commitment of local communities, who provided various buildings for schools and housing for the volunteer teachers. While some of the schools were held in parks, kitchens, residential homes, and under trees, most classes were held in churches or church basements with the average approximately 15 years old. Teachers were volunteers, most of whom were college students themselves.

 

Approximately fifty Freedom Libraries were also established throughout Mississippi. These libraries provided library services and literacy guidance for many African Americans, some who had never had access to libraries before. Freedom Libraries ranged in size from a few hundred volumes to more than 20,000. The Freedom Libraries operated on small budgets and were usually run by volunteers. Some libraries were housed in newly constructed facilities while others were located in abandoned buildings

 

One of Freedom Summer’s most important projects was the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the all-white regular Democratic party in the state. In June, the names of four MFDP candidates were on the Democratic primary ballot as delegates to be sent to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, but all four lost. Later that month, the regular Democratic party adopted a platform that explicitly rejected the national party platform in the area of civil rights. The MFDP held a convention two days after the bodies of the CORE workers were found and selected a 68-person delegation, which included four whites and the formidable Fannie Lou Hamer, to go to the national convention.  The delegates wanted to be seated instead of the regular delegates at the convention. To do so, they had to persuade eleven of the more than 100 members of the Credentials Committee to vote in their favor. Senator Hubert Humphrey offered a compromise, with the blessing of the president. The white delegates would be seated if they pledged loyalty to the party platform. Two MFDP delegates, Aaron Henry and Ed King would also be seated, but as at-large delegates, not Mississippi delegates. Neither side liked the agreement, but in the end, both sides accepted. The trouble, however, was not over. When all but three of the Mississippi delegates refused to pledge allegiance to the party, the MFDP delegates borrowed passes from sympathetic delegates and took the seats vacated by the Mississippi delegates until they were thrown out. Though the MFDP did not fully accomplish its goals, it showed blacks that they could have political power.

 

There is no denying the effect that Freedom Summer had on Mississippi’s blacks. In 1964, 6.7% of Mississippi’s voting-age blacks were registered to vote, 16.3% below the national average. By 1969, that number had leaped to 66.5%, 5.5% above the national average.

 

The last pivotal event in Mississippi’s Civil Rights history was  in 1966, when James Meredith organized a March against Fear. It was meant to be a solidary march from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS, a distance of 220 miles, to counter the continuing racism he saw in the South and to encourage African Americans to register to vote.  He invited only black men to join him and did not want it to be a large media event dominated by major organizations, but Meredith was shot on the second day of the march. He was shot with buckshot, and survived, but could not continue the march. By 1966, there was tremendous infighting between the SNCC, SCLC, MFDP and CORE, but they came together for the march. While, they struggled over tactics and goals, they were able to cooperate in community organizing and voter registration. They registered over 4,000 African Americans for voting in counties along the way. Ordinary people, both black and white, came from across the South and all parts of the country to participate. The marchers slept on the ground outside or in large tents, and were fed mainly by local black communities. Some people marched for a short time, others stayed through all the events; some national leaders took part in intermittent fashion, having commitments in other cities. On the early evening of June 16, when the marchers arrived in Greenwood, and tried to set up camp at Stone Street Negro Elementary School, Stokely Carmichael was arrested for trespassing on public property. He was held for several hours by police before rejoining the marchers at a local park, where they had set up camp and were beginning a night-time rally. According to one civil rights historian, an angry Carmichael took the speaker’s platform, delivering his famous “Black Power” speech, arguing that blacks had to build their own political and economic power to attain independence: “This is the twenty-seventh time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power!”.

 

In Canton on June 23, the march was attacked and tear-gassed by the Mississippi State Police who were joined by other police agencies, after marchers tried to erect tents on the grounds of McNeal Elementary School.  As the march headed south, the number of participants grew. The march stopped at HBCU Tougaloo College before entering Jackson. Marchers could rest and get food and showers. Many more people joined the march at that point; national leaders returned to it from commitments in other parts of the country. The growing crowd was entertained by James Brown, Dick Gregory and other major musicians and entertainment figures, including actor Marlon Brando who spoke briefly.

 

Finally, an estimated 15,000 mostly black marchers entered Jackson on June 26, making it the largest civil rights march in the history of the state. The march served as a catalyst for continued community organizing and political growth over the following years among African Americans in the state. They have maintained a high rate of voting and participation in politics since then.

 

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And that ends my notes on Mississippi’s Civil Rights History. Long and bloody. My husband says it hasn’t changed much. I have no intention of going down there and testing his theory. If you read all the way to the end, I commend you because, as I said, it was long. But I hope it was worth it. With knowledge comes power.

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BHM 2017: Day 9 – Atrocities in Alabama

When I first began to notice how much of the activities in the civil rights movement focus on Alabama, I thought I’d devote a day to it. And then when I started reading up on it, I thought I’d give it three days. But I’ll stick to one, so be ready. This is LONG. Read it in spurts. Come back to it, read some more. And be prepared to be overwhelmed by a sense of pride in what was accomplished in Alabama.

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Four major Civil Rights battles were fought in Alabama.

In 1955-56, the black citizens of Montgomery fought to integrate the buses. Retaliation included the bombing of King’s home in January 1956.

In 1961, the Freedom Riders were bombed and beaten in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery, and finally arrested in Jackson.

In the spring of 1963, the effort to desegregate Birmingham was launched. Retaliation included the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (in which 4 children were killed).

In 1965, three protest marches were carried out from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery to protest for voting rights.

I think I’ve covered the Freedom Riders. So let me talk a bit about the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In early 1955, 15 year old Claudette Colvin, a member of the NAACP Youth Council, refused to give up her seat on a bus. The way it worked was, 10 back rows for black, 10 front rows for white, 16 middle rows for extra and the two didn’t mix. Once the white rows were full, the whites filled each middle row going back, and the blacks stood. Claudette was in one of the early middle rows. When she refused to get up, she was  arrested… but the NAACP decided not to showcase her because she was unmarried and pregnant. Instead, they trained Rosa Parks in civil disobedience and let her be the champion. Parks, the secretary of the chapter, let herself get arrested in November. ED Dixon, president of the NAACP chapter, bailed her out, but the Women’s Political Council decided to organize a one-day boycott. The flyer they distributed said:

Another woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three-fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother. This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses Monday

 

Thirty-thousand African Americans boycotted the buses on December 5th. That afternoon Martin Luther King, Jr. was called in by Ralph Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association, and the black citizens of Montgomery decided to continue the boycott. Organizers met with the mayor explaining that the boycott would continue until the bus company hired black drivers for routes through black neighborhoods and instructed white drivers to treat black passengers with courtesy and professionalism. At that point, they weren’t trying to integrate the buses, just make the seating arrangements fair with a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to give up their seats to whites. The mayor rejected the terms. So the boycott got serious, and a lawyer named Fred Gray took up Claudette Colvin’s case and sued for integration of the buses.

Several hundred drivers coordinated a carpool system to get black workers to and from their jobs. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work. When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd’s of London, a company which once insured slave cargo ships.And in retaliation, King’s home was bombed, Dixon’s home was bombed, and Ralph Abernathy’s home was bombed. The boycott continued. For 381 days. The support was nationwide. Shoes wore out and churches took up collections for new shoes. Black taxis charged 10 cents, same as bus fare. When they were arrested for charging less than 45 cents, money was raised to bail them out. People walked, rode bicycles, rode mules, and hitchhiked. Eighty-nine boycott leaders, including King, were arrested. It just increased the national attention.

In November 1956, the Supreme Court upheld Claudette Colvin’s case – Browder v. Gayle, to desegregate city buses, and the buses integrated in December, ending the boycott. Score one for King, score one for Civil Rights, score one for African-Americans in Alabama.

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The effort to desegregate Birmingham actually started in 1956. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth worked diligently to integrate his city, starting the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) when the NAACP was banned from Alabama, and giving respite to the Freedom Riders in 1961.Birmingham, Alabama was, in 1963, “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,” according to King. Although the city’s population was 60% white and 40% black, Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers, or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham’s steel mills, work in household service and yard maintenance, or work in black neighborhoods. Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. Only 10 percent of the city’s black population was registered to vote in 1960. Fifty unsolved racially motivated bombings between 1945 and 1962 had earned the city the nickname “Bombingham”.

In 1962, Shuttlesworth secured a promise from white civic leaders to desegregate downtown water fountains and restrooms. . When the white leaders reneged on the agreement a few months later, Shuttlesworth appealed to King for help. King and the SCLC organized an elaborate plan to desegregate Birmingham with sit-ins, marches and boycotts of downtown stores: “The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”.

Oddly enough, it may not have worked if it weren’t for the intense hatred and violence with which the white citizens responded to the King’s tactics, and in particular, the hostility of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Connor, who even said that we “ain’t gonna segregate no niggers and whites together in this town”. Protest actions in Birmingham began in 1962, when students from local colleges arranged for a year of staggered boycotts. They caused downtown business to decline by as much as 40 percent; the City punished the black community by withdrawing $45,000 ($360,000 in 2017) from a surplus-food program. Economic pressure on white business continued. In the spring of 1963, before Easter, the SCLC and Shuttlesworth initiated Project C, with a series of sit-ns, boycotts and marches designed to put Birmingham’s and Connor’s ugliness in the national spotlight. For example, a Birmingham boycott intensified during the second-busiest shopping season of the year. Pastors urged their congregations to avoid shopping in Birmingham stores in the downtown district. For six weeks supporters of the boycott patrolled the downtown area to make sure blacks were not patronizing stores that promoted or tolerated segregation. King was arrested on Good Friday, and wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in which he chastised white clergy for not getting involved in the freedom struggle.  But the response from the white citizens was not controversial enough to draw national attention, nor were there enough arrests to crowd the jails. When the stores tried to integrate in response to the boycotts, Connor threatened to take their business licenses.

When enthusiasm for the efforts began to wane, a new plan was formed – D-Day, also known as the Children’s Crusade. D-Day called for students from colleges, high schools and even elementary schools to take part in demonstrations throughout the city. Actually, a lot of people were horrified at the risk involved, and even King was hesitant. But the plan went ahead anyway, and the students were trained in non-violence tactics, teaching them to overcome their fears of dogs and jails, and showing them the success of sit-ins in Nashville. On May 2nd over 1000 students skipped school for the demonstrations. Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area, to meet with the Mayor, and integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until arrested. More than 600 students were arrested; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old, and the jail held 1200 protesters, with a 900-man capacity. The demonstrations continued the next day with another 1000+ students, and Connor brought out the hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, to be turned on the children. Boys’ shirts were ripped off, and young women were pushed over the tops of cars by the force of the water. When the students crouched or fell, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks. The protest ended at 3pm. And the damage was done. Northern reporters photographed it, and it made Life magazine. Television cameras broadcast to the nation the scenes of fire hoses knocking down schoolchildren and police dogs attacking unprotected demonstrators. A New York Times editorial called the behavior of the Birmingham police “a national disgrace.” The Washington Post editorialized, “The spectacle in Birmingham … must excite the sympathy of the rest of the country for the decent, just, and reasonable citizens of the community, who have so recently demonstrated at the polls their lack of support for the very policies that have produced the Birmingham riots. The authorities who tried, by these brutal means, to stop the freedom marchers do not speak or act in the name of the enlightened people of the city.” But it didn’t end there. The jail count swelled to 2500, and news went worldwide. News of the mass arrests of children had reached Western Europe; the Soviet Union devoted up to 25 percent of its news broadcast to the demonstrations, sending much of it to Africa, where Soviet and U.S. interests clashed. Soviet news commentary accused the Kennedy administration of neglect and “inactivity”.

Meanwhile, the protests continued. Protesters shut down businesses in the town, set off false fire alarms, picketed and sat in stores singing freedom songs. All totaled, there were 3000 protestors in downtown Birmingham.

On May 8 at 4 a.m., white business leaders agreed to most of the protesters’ demands. Political leaders held fast, however. The rift between the businessmen and the politicians became clear when business leaders admitted they could not guarantee the protesters’ release from jail. On May 10, Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. told reporters that they had an agreement from the City of Birmingham to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms, drinking fountains and fitting rooms within 90 days, and to hire blacks in stores as salesmen and clerks. Those in jail would be released on bond or their own recognizance.

And then there’s Selma.

In the 1960’s, a group called the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL) launched a voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama, joined by organizers from SNCC. Alabama had both a poll tax and a literacy test to keep blacks, and some poor whites from registering to vote. Selma was 57% black with 15,000 eligible voters, but only 130 were registered. The literacy test was administered subjectively, and even most educated blacks couldn’t pass it. Other tactics included restricted registration hours; economic pressure, including threatening people’s jobs, firing them, evicting people from leased homes, and economic boycotts of black-owned businesses; and violence against blacks who tried to register.

The DCLV and SNCC even held a special Freedom Day on October 7th, 1963, on one of the two days of the month that residents could register to vote. SNCC members who tried to bring water to the blacks waiting on line were arrested, as were those who held signs saying “Register to Vote.” After waiting all day in the hot sun, only a handful of the hundreds in the line were allowed to fill out the voter application, and most of those applications were denied by white county officials. United States Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents were present and observing the scene, but took no action against local officials. On July 6, 1964, one of the two registration days that month, John Lewis led 50 black citizens to the courthouse, but the county sheriff arrested them all rather than allowing them to apply to vote. Three days later an injunction was passed forbidding any gathering of three or more people under the sponsorship of civil rights organizations or leaders. This injunction made it illegal for more than two people at a time to talk about civil rights or voter registration in Selma, suppressing public civil rights activity there for the next six months.

When resistance from white officials proved overwhelming, King and the SCLC were called in to help in 1965. Local protests resulted in 3000 arrests by the beginning of February as organized efforts were made toward voter registration. Up to this point, the overwhelming majority of registrants and marchers were sharecroppers, blue-collar workers and students. On January 22, the DCVL president, finally convinced his colleagues to join the campaign and register en masse. When they refused Sheriff Clark’s orders to disperse at the courthouse, an ugly scene commenced. Clark’s posse beat the teachers away from the door, but they rushed back only to be beaten again. The teachers retreated after three attempts. On February 1st, King was arrested, this time for refusing to cooperate with traffic directions, and Malcolm X responded, stating: if your present racist agitation against our people there in Alabama causes physical harm…you and your KKK friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation from those of us who … believe in asserting our right to self-defense – by any means necessary.” And yet, only 100 African-Americans were successfully registered.

The idea of the march was in response to the shooting death of activist/deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson who was killed by a state trooper at the end of February, during a protest march in Marion. The SCLC decided that the march would run 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, specifically to ask Governor George Wallace if he had ordered the conditions that led to Jackson’s death, and if he would protect black registrants. Governor Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety; he said that he would take all measures necessary to prevent it from happening. “There will be no march between Selma and Montgomery,” Wallace said on March 6, 1965, citing concern over traffic violations. He ordered Alabama Highway Patrol Chief Col. Al Lingo to “use whatever measures are necessary to prevent a march”. On March 7, 1965, an estimated 525 to 600 civil rights marchers headed southeast out of Selma on US Highway 80. The protest went according to plan until the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettis Bridge and entered Dallas County, where they encountered a wall of state troopers and county posse waiting for them on the other side.  The demonstrators were told to disband at once and go home. Rev. Hosea Williams tried to speak to the officer, but Cloud curtly informed him there was nothing to discuss. Seconds later, the troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them with nightsticks. Another detachment of troopers fired tear gas and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback. Televised images of “Bloody Sunday”, the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign.

A second march was then planed for Tuesday, March 9, 1965. They issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of Civil Rights Movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to SCLC’s call. But there was an injunction against the march, so King cut a deal and agreed to turn around on the bridge and not enter the county, in return for a promise of no violence. This decision created a major rift between King with the SCLC and the students of SNCC who no longer trusted him. SNCC led their own demonstrations in Montgomery with hundreds of demonstrators including Alabama students, Northern students, and local adults, in protests near the capitol complex. The Montgomery County sheriff’s posse met them on horseback and drove them back, whipping them. The SNCC students responded violently, throwing bricks and bottles. One leader said later, “If we can’t sit at the table of democracy, we’ll knock the fucking legs off.”

Finally, on March 17th, the injunction against marching was lifted and the third march was organized. To ensure that this march would not be as unsuccessful as the first two marches were, President Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20 to escort the march from Selma. On Sunday, March 21, close to 8,000 people assembled at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church to commence the trek to Montgomery. In the first legs of the journey, the march was limited to 300 people over the two lane section of Highway 80. So at the end of the day most left and 300 camped in muddy fields so that they could walk the two lane section. When the highway was back to 4 lanes,  additional marchers were ferried by bus and car to join the line, with over several thousand marchers participating on the outskirts of Montgomery. That night on a makeshift stage, a “Stars for Freedom” rally was held, with singers Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Baez, Nina Simone and The Chad Miller Trio all performing. Thousands more people continued to join the march.

On Thursday, March 25, 25,000 people marched from St. Jude to the steps of the Montgomery Alabama State Capitol Building where King delivered the speech How Long, Not Long. He said:

The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. … I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long.”

After delivering the speech, King and the marchers approached the entrance to the capitol with a petition for Governor Wallace. A line of state troopers blocked the door. One announced that the governor was not in. Undeterred, the marchers remained at the entrance until one of Wallace’s secretaries appeared and took the petition.

The third march received national and international coverage; it publicized the marchers’ message without harassment by police and segregation supporters. Gaining more widespread support from other civil rights organizations in the area, this march was considered an overall success, with greater influence on the public. Voter registration drives were organized in black-majority areas across the South, but it took time to get people signed up.

The marches had a powerful effect in Washington. After witnessing TV coverage of “Bloody Sunday,” President Johnson met with Governor Wallace in Washington to discuss the civil rights situation in his state. He tried to persuade Wallace to stop the state harassment of the protesters. Two nights later, on March 15, 1965, Johnson presented a bill to a joint session of Congress. The bill was passed that summer and signed by Johnson as the Voting Rights Act.

Johnson’s televised speech in front of Congress was carried nationally; it was considered to be a watershed moment for the civil rights movement. He said:

“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.”

 

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BHM 2017 – Day 8: Acts of Congress

OK readers, this is LONG. But I think it’s interesting and informative. It gives some insight on the politics of the civil rights movement, and how non-violent efforts (always televised) were able to influence government. I hope you will take the time to read it all, even if it takes a while. Just come back to it, digest it. And learn from it.

And also, if you have a minute, write back and tell me what you think.

-L

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In US history, there have been 11 Civil Rights Acts. Three were during Reconstruction. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 extended the rights of emancipated slaves by stating that any person born in the United States regardless of race is a U.S. citizen.  It was overridden by Andrew Jackson, and then followed by the 14th Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 was intended to prohibit ethnic violence against African-Americans. (Obviously worked well… ) and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibiting discrimination in “public accommodations” was found unconstitutional in 1883.

No effort was made my Congress to protect African-Americans from discrimination until 1957.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957, signed into law by Eisenhower, was primarily a voting rights bill intended to ensure that all Americans could exercise their right to vote. But all it did was set up a Civil Rights Commission in the Executive Branch to gather information on deprivation of citizens’ voting rights, and that Commission only had a two year life. Even though it was intended to have provisions to prosecute those who discriminated against African-Americans trying to vote, it had no teeth. This would not surprise anyone as it was so greatly protested.  Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) pointed out that there was already a Federal Statute that prosecuted citizens who denied or intimidated voters at voting booths under a fine and/or imprisonment, but that the civil rights bill then under consideration could legally deny trial by jury to those that continued to do so. (As if Southern jury trials were fair…) In fact, Thurmond filibustered the bill for over 24 hours, droning on about anything he could, from state election laws to his grandmother’s biscuit recipe.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1960, also passed by Eisenhower, extended the Commission another two years, and established the right of the federal government to inspect voter registration polls. It had a number of other interesting provisions. You could not obstruct a court order. You could not flee a state for damaging or threatening to damage property by fire or explosives. But the majority of the Act was around voting, including registration, casting a ballot and having the ballot counted. The act was weak in that the onus on proving discrimination was so taxing. For example, For example, to win a discrimination lawsuit against a state that maintained a literacy test, the Department needed to prove that the rejected voter-registration applications of racial minorities were comparable to the accepted applications of whites. This involved comparing thousands of applications in each of the state’s counties in a process that could last months. The Department’s efforts were further hampered by resistance from local election officials, who would claim to have misplaced the voter registration records of racial minorities, remove registered racial minorities from the electoral rolls and resign so that voter registration ceased. Moreover, the Department often needed to appeal lawsuits several times before the judiciary provided relief because many federal  district court judges opposed racial minority suffrage. Thus, between 1957 and 1964, the African-American voter registration rate in the South improved marginally even though the Department litigated 71 voting rights lawsuits

It is interesting to note that most of the civil rights efforts of the 1950’s and early 1960’s were around ending segregation, not voting. Brown v. Board of Education had been won in in 1954. In 1955, the Supreme Court banned segregation in parks and playgrounds. Emmett Till was killed, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  In 1957 the National Guard was called out to integrate Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. In 1958, Bethel Baptist Church was bombed. The Greensboro sit-ins took place in 1960, in 1961, the first Freedom Riders left DC on a Greyhound bus. And in 1963, the March on Washington was held as well as the Children’s Crusade which televised thousands of children being  hosed, sic’d on by police dogs, and ultimately arrested. So, in my humble opinion, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an indication that Southern Democrats had way too much power in Washington, and the North was afraid to do the right thing.

Nonetheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally came into being, in part as a response to the Children’s Crusade. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. It prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. It ended segregation in public places, schools, federally-assisted programs and banned employment discrimination.  It also gave the federal courts and the attorney general the power to enforce all aspects of the law. The bill was proposed by President Kennedy shortly before he died, and when Johnson became president, he said it was a number one priority that it pass. As a result,  it survived strong opposition from southern members of Congress such as Strom Thurmond who said: This so-called Civil Rights Proposals, which the President has sent to Capitol Hill for enactment into law, are unconstitutional, unnecessary, unwise and extend beyond the realm of reason. This is the worst civil-rights package ever presented to the Congress and is reminiscent of the Reconstruction proposals and actions of the radical Republican Congress”, and from Senator Barry Goldwater: “You can’t legislate morality.” Nonetheless, the bill was finally passed, and was then signed into law. Johnson signed the Act with at least 75 pens, which he handed out to congressional supporters of the bill such as Hubert Humphrey and Everett Dirksen and to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins. The first and only time that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met was at the signing of the bill.

 I want to take a moment to say that the bill – which was still called “weak” by some civil rights leaders, because it did not include a number of provisions deemed essential including protection against police brutality, ending discrimination in private employment, or granting the Justice Department power to initiate desegregation or job discrimination lawsuits – was amazing in conferring power to the federal government to prosecute anyone who did not abide by the law. Much of the Act detailed exactly how this would be done, and what a person could expect for not complying with the law. By putting the power in the hands of the federal government, the Act bypassed all of the states’ claims to be able to enact their own Jim Crow laws. I took some time to read it, and offer the link for anyone who is interested. https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=97&page=transcript

Interestingly enough in the same year, the 24th Amendment was ratified, abolishing the poll tax, which originally had been instituted in 11 southern states after Reconstruction to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was yet another act to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. It was the result of a push from the SCLC and SNCC to address voting rights, followed by a determination by Johnson have “the goddamndest, toughest voting rights act that you can.” after Democrats won the House and Senate. In off-year elections. (Sound familiar??? Think Tea Party…) King was initiating countless marches in Selma and Montgomery to press for voting rights. Malcolm X gave a speech in Selma about rejecting the non-violent approach – it was designed to pressure whites into wanting to support King. The march in Selma, the one that was repeated in 2015 with Obama in attendance, was called Bloody Sunday, was televised, and featured police spraying tear gas into the crowd and trampling marchers. A month later, Johnson televised a joint session of Congress pressing for expansive voting rights legislation.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most effective pieces of civil rights legislation, again, not because of its stated intent, but because of the provisions it makes for the federal government to enforce the law. State and local governments can’t impose any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities. Literacy testes are banned. There is a special provision that applies to certain jurisdictions which prohibits them from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the Attorney General or US District Court. The bill authorized the assignment of federal examiners to register voters, and of federal observers to monitor elections, to covered jurisdictions that were found to have engaged in egregious discrimination. However, the bill set these special provisions to expire after five years. As a result, Congress enacted major amendments to the Act in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and 2006. Each amendment coincided with an impending expiration of some or all of the Act’s special provisions.

The last (finally) civil rights act to be passed during the civil rights movement (1954 -1968) was the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed or national origin and made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone [seeking housing] by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin. Again, the law was designed to put teeth into previous laws, this time around the sale, rental, and financing of housing, along with . coercing, threatening, intimidating, or interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights. A few other things were tacked onto the act around Indian Civil Rights, and a rider to make it a felony to “travel in interstate commerce…with the intent to incite, promote, encourage, participate in and carry on a riot”.

Sadly, the bill was contested by both Republicans and Democrats, because, according to Senator Walter Mondale: A lot of [previous] civil rights [legislation] was about making the South behave and taking the teeth from [Alabama Governor] George Wallace…This came right to the neighborhoods across the country. This was civil rights getting personal.” Nonetheless, between the 1967 “ghetto” riots of “The Long Hot Summer” (159 of them! Could it be the impetus behind Spike Lee’s movie, Do The Right Thing? Maybe…) and the civil unrest following King’s assassination, Johnson was able to push the bill through.

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BHM 2017 – Day 7: A digression – 101 Black History Facts you may not have known

My husband posted this list on Facebook, and I was sure that I would know at least half, maybe most of them. Boy was I wrong! So I’m sharing them with you… since my next Civil Rights Movement blurb isn’t done yet. My plan is to have it done by Wednesday. I’m going to review the acts of Congress that were passed in response to all of the protests, boycotts, marches and negotiations that were done to create change. Should be interesting. Now, here are the facts.

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101 Little Known Black History Facts

101.

In 1770, Crispus Attucks, whose father was African and mother was a Nantucket Indian, became the first casualty of the American Revolution when he was shot and killed in what became known as the Boston Massacre.

 

100.

The largest woman’s organization happens to be the National Council of Negro Women.

 

99.

Alexander Lucius Twilight was the first African American to receive a college degree. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in 1823.

 

98.

Elbert Frank Cox became the first Black to hold a doctorate degree in mathematics which he received from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY in 1925.

 

97.

William Sanders Scarborough (1852-1926) was the first black member of the venerable Modern Language Association. Scarborough, who was president of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, was born into slavery and secretly taught himself to read and write. When he mastered those skills, he went on to learn Greek and Latin.

 

96.

W.E.B. Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. He is perhaps best known for his work in founding the National Association for the

Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and helping it to become the country’s single most influential organization for African Americans.

 

95.

Ernest Everett Just prepared for college at Kimball Hall Academy, New Hampshire, where he completed the four-year course of study in only three years. In the graduating Dartmouth College class of 1907, Ernest Just was the only person to be graduated magna cum laude.

 

94.

In 1634, French Catholics provided education for all laborers regardless of race in Louisiana, despite the belief and laws that Blacks should not be educated.

 

93.

Louis Latimer was the only African American engineer/scientist member of the elite Edison Pioneers research and development organization. Until Latimer’s process for making carbon filament, Edison’s light bulbs would burn only for a few minutes. Latimer’s filament burned for hours.

 

  1. Not only did George Washington Carver research 300 products made from peanuts and 118 products from the sweet potato, but 75 from the pecan as well.

 

91.

An inventor as well as physicist, Dr. George Carruthers was instrumental in the design of lunar surface ultraviolet cameras. He was also Head of the Ultraviolet Measurements Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory.

 

90.

A tailor in New York City, Thomas L. Jennings is credited with being the first African American to hold a U.S. patent. The patent, which was issued in 1821, was for a drycleaning process

 

89.

Xavier University, a historically black college in Louisiana, has one of the highest success rates in the country getting their graduates into medical school.

 

88.

Spelman College in Atlanta is NOT the only historically black college for women, Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina is the other one.

87.

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams was born in Pennsylvania and attended medical school in Chicago, where he received his M.D. in 1883. He founded the Provident Hospital in Chicago in 1891, the oldest free-standing Black-owned hospital in the United States. Dr. Williams was also the only African-American in a group of 100 charter members of the American College of Surgeons in 1913.

 

86.

Dr. Charles Drew was a leading researcher in the field of blood plasma preservation, and led a massive blood donation drive to provide the British with much-needed blood supplies during World War II.

 

85.

Benjamin Bradley, a slave, was employed at a printing office and later at the Annapolis Naval Academy. In the 1840s he developed a steam engine for a war ship. Unable to patent his work, he sold it and used the proceeds to purchase his freedom.

 

84.

Garrett Augustus Morgan invented a smoke hood in 1916 that he used to rescue several men trapped by an explosion in tunnels under Lake Erie. This invention was later refined by the U.S. Army into the gas mask, which was used to protect soldiers from chlorine fumes during World War I. He also invented an early version of a  traffic signal that featured automated STOP and GO signs.

 

83.

Born in Nashville, TN, David Crosthwait, Jr. was an expert in on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; he designed the hearing system for Radio City Music Hall in New York. During his lifetime he received some 40 U.S. patents relating to HVAC systems.

 

82.

Otis Boykin’s most noteworthy invention was an electrical mechanism, created in 1955, as a regulating unit for the heart pacemaker. Boykin also invented a type of resistor (an electric circuit element) commonly in use today in radios, computers, and television sets.

 

81.

Born the son of a French planter and a slave in New Orleans, Norbert Rillieux was educated in France. Returning to the U.S., he developed an evaporator for refining sugar, which he patented in 1846. Rillieux’s evaporation technique is still used in the sugar industry and in the manufacture of soap and other products.

 

80.

Victor Blanco was the Black mayor of San Antonio in 1809, before slavery was abolished, while Texas was still part of Mexico.

 

79.

The first Blacks to settle in Alabama were Moors that arrived with the Spanish in 1540— 80 years before the pilgrims.

 

78.

The son of escaped slaves from Kentucky, Eijah McCoy was born in Canada and educated in Scotland. Settling in Detroit, Michigan, he invented a type of lubricator for steam engines (patented 1872) and established his own manufacturing company. During his lifetime he acquired 57 patents.

 

77.

Jefferson Franklin Long becomes first Black person to speak in the House of Representatives as a congressman in 1871.

 

76.

Matthew Henson, a Black explorer, accompanied Admiral Robert E. Peary on the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909.

 

 

75.

Dr. Henry Sampson co-invented and co-patented the gamma electric cell in 1968, which produced stable high voltage output and current. He also holds three patents concerning solid rocket motors and one on the direct conversion of nuclear energy into electricity.

 

74.

During the First World War the U.S. Army would not press African Americans into combat assignments. The French Army, which had traditionally accepted all men who volunteered for the fight, eagerly accepted the black troops. Most of these Black troops received the French Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) for their outstanding bravery in combat.

 

73.

Frank Wills, a Black security guard, discovered President Nixon’s cover-up which later caused his resignation as President of the United States. Despite Wills’ discovery he struggled to find work for the rest of his life.

 

72.

Of the estimated 35,000 cowboys that worked the ranches and rode the trails of the American West frontier, 5,000–9,000 or more were Black. They participated in almost all of the drives northward, and were assigned to every job except that of trail boss.

 

71.

Diahann Carroll was the first African American woman to have her own weekly television series, “Julia.”

 

70.

Benjamin T. Montgomery, a former slave, bought the plantations of Confederate President Jefferson Davis at the end of the Civil War, and became one of the biggest cotton planters in Mississippi.

 

69.

The U.S. Capitol and the White House were both constructed with the help of free Blacks and slaves, working alongside white laborers and craftsmen.

 

67.

To offset the stigma of “race color,” the phrase “Black is beautiful” was used to ease color pressure and dignify the use of the word “Black” to describe African Americans.

 

66.

Autherine Lucy becomes the first Black student at the University of Alabama in February 1956.

 

65.

In 1954, with Barbara Jordan as the leader, the all-Black Texas Southern University debate team stunned and beat the Harvard debate team.

 

64.

Ernest Green becomes the first Black person to graduate from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in May of 1958.

 

63.

Harriet Tubman usually comes to mind when discussing the Underground Railroad; however, Levi Coffin was the President of the Underground Railway.

 

62.

The oldest Black sorority is Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) Inc. The first Black Greek sisterhood was founded in 1908 at Howard University by Ethel Hedgeman-Lyle.

 

61.

Adolph Plessey, a Black man arrested for entering a railroad, took his case to the Supreme Court, which ended with the “separate but equal” decision of Plessey vs. Ferguson.

 

60.

There is a college named after Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.: Malcolm-King College, located in Harlem.

 

59.

T.J. Boyd becomes the first to patent an apparatus for detaching horses from carriages in 1872.

 

58.

Rex Ingram, a Black actor, bypassed the stereotypes by playing a meaningful role in the film “The Green Pastures” in 1936.

 

57.

William Harwell, an African American inventor, created an attachment for the arm of the shuttle. This device is used to capture satellites.

56.

Alfred L. Cralle invented the ice cream scooper. His invention was patented on February 2, 1897.

 

55.

Born into a family of free blacks in Maryland, Benjamin Banneker learned the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic from his grandmother and a Quaker schoolmaster. Later he taught himself advanced mathematics and astronomy. He is best known for publishing an almanac based on his astronomical calculations.

 

54.

Sophia Tucker and Harriet Giles, the founders of Spelman College, used just $100 to found this Historically Black College.

 

53.

Estine Cowner became a scaler on a construction crew at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, CA, to construct the Liberty ship George Washington Carver. The demand for qualified labor in WWII opened up new opportunities for Black women.

 

52.

Harry C. Hopkins received a patent for enhancing the hearing aid.

 

51.

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Charles Henry Turner received a B.S. (1891) and M.S. (1892) from the University of Cincinnati and a Ph.D. (1907) from the University of Chicago. A noted authority on the behavior of insects, he was the first researcher to prove that insects can hear.

 

50.

Estevanico was a black slave who participated in an exploration from Mexico into North America in 1540. During his explorations he discovered the territory that would become Arizona and New Mexico.

 

49.

Frederick Jones invented the ticket dispensing machine, the starter generator and the two-cycle gasoline engine.

 

48.

In response to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision the White Citizens Council was formed. Their primary goal was to continue segregation, despite the ruling that “separate but equal was unconstitutional.”

 

47.

In 1965, Bill Cosby became the first African American to star in a television series with his role opposite Robert Culp in “I Spy.”

 

46.

Tennessee was the first state to pass a law for the enlistment of “all male free persons of color between the ages of fifteen and fifty years of age.”

 

45.

Fredrick Eversley, an African American sculptor, created a stainless steel sculpture of two wing-like shapes framed by neon lights at the entrance to the Miami International Airport.

 

44.

A.W. Martin is the African American inventor that created the door lock.

 

43.

Fanny Jackson Coppin, bought into freedom by her aunt, was an educator and missionary. Her innovations as head principle of the Institute of Colored Youth included a practice teaching system and an elaborate industrial training department.

 

42.

The African American Advisors to President Franklin D. Roosevelt were called the “Black Brain Trust.”

 

41.

Iowa-born Archibald Alexander attended Iowa State University and earned a civil engineering degree in 1912. While working for an engineering firm, he designed the Tidal Basin Bridge in Washington, D.C. Later he formed his own company, designing Whitehurst Freeway in Washington, D.C. and an airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama, among other projects.

 

40.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Edward Alexander Bouchet was the first African American to graduate (1874) from Yale College. In 1876, upon receiving his Ph.D. in physics from Yale, he became the first African American to earn a doctorate. Bouchet spent his career teaching college chemistry and physics.

 

39.

Vermont was the first U.S. territory, in 1777, to abolish slavery. Pennsylvania was the first state to do so, in 1780.

 

38.

George Washington Carver designed the concept of a moveable school, with teachers and equipment traveling to remote areas to instruct the poor in agriculture and nutrition. This concept was later adopted in underdeveloped areas around the world.

 

37.

Dr. William Hinton, a Black physician, is credited with creating a test to detect the syphilis disease.

 

36.

Allen Allensworth, in 1908, founded a Black town where African Americans could run their own businesses and government.

 

35.

Philip Emeagwali wrote a computer program that won a prize in the Price/Performance category of the 1989 Gordon Bell competition (for “price-performance ratio as measured in megaflop/s per dollar on a genuine application”). The program performed operations at a rate of 3.1 gigaflops per second.

 

34.

Sojourner Truth’s real name was Isabella Baumfree.

 

33.

Joseph N. Jackson invented a programmable remote control for television.

 

32.

In a 22-hour operation in 1984, Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr., an African American surgeon, successfully separated a pair of twins born joined at the head.

 

31.

Poet Rita Dove served as the nation’s poet laureate from 1993 to 1995. She also won a Pulitzer Prize for a collection of her poems published in 1986, only the second African American poet to win that prize

 

30.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Cole was the second black woman to graduate from medical school (1867). She joined Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first white woman physician, in New York and taught hygiene and childcare to families in poor neighborhoods.

 

29.

Lincoln University is the oldest Historically Black University in the U.S. It was founded in 1854.

 

28.

Andrew Brimmer was appointed the first Black person to serve on the Federal Reserve Board in 1966.

 

27.

Nelson Mandela, South African president and political activist, was released from prison after 27 years in February 1990.

 

26.

On August 20, 1948, a 42-year-old Satchel Paige pitched the Cleveland Indians to a 1-0 victory over the White Sox in front of 78,382 fans, a night game attendance record that still stands. He also holds the record for the oldest “rookie” debut, at 42 years old, and the oldest player to compete at 59 years old.

 

25.

M.C. Harney, an African American inventor, invented the lantern lamp, which replaced the use of candles as the primary source of lighting when daylight was unavailable. His device was patented on August 19, 1884.

 

24.

Marie V. Brittan Brown, a female African American inventor, designed a security system which was patented on December 2, 1969.

 

23.

Andrew “Rube” Foster organized the Negro National League, the first Black baseball league, in 1920. The first independent Black professional baseball team was the Cuban Giants, formed in 1885.

 

22.

In 1959, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors in Prince Edward Co., Virginia, voted to close its public schools in a show of “massive resistance” against integration. The vast majority of the county’s 1,700 African American students and some white students went without formal education from 1959–1964.

 

21.

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., became the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force in 1954.

20.

Joseph Hayne Rainey was the first African American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a congressman from South Carolina elected to that post in

1890 and enjoyed the longest tenure of any Black during Reconstruction.

 

Sir William Arthur Lewis, a professor of economics at Princeton University, was the first African American to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. He received the award in 1979 which represents the highest level of accomplishment for an economist.

 

18.

February was chosen as Black History Month because two important birthdays occur in February—that of Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that of Frederick Douglass, an early African American abolitionist

 

17.

In 1959, Dr. William C. Davis, invented instant mashed potatoes. Not too surprisingly, he invented them while doing research on potatoes at the University of Idaho

 

16.

If you enjoy buying fresh food from across the country at your local supermarket, you have an African American inventor named Frederick McKinley Jones to thank. He invented the air-cooling units used in food transporting trucks in the 1930s, and was awarded more than 60 patents over the course of his life, 40 of which involved refrigeration equipment.

 

15.

African American Sarah Boone patented an improvement to the ironing board on April 26, 1892. Sarah Boone’s ironing board was designed to be effective in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies’ garments.

 

14.

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, an African American from Sainte-Domingue (Haiti), built the first permanent settlement in what would become Chicago in 1779.

 

13.

William Tucker was the first African born in the colony in Jamestown, Virginia. There are reports that he lived to be 108 years old.

 

12.

Alonzo Pietro, a Black Spaniard explorer, set sail with Christopher Columbus to the “New World.”

 

11.

Ruth Ella Moore received a Ph.D. in Bacteriology from Ohio State University in 1933 becoming the first black female to do so. Dr. Moore served as the Head of the Department of Bacteriology at Howard University Medical College from 1947 to 1958.

 

10.

Walter S. McAfee is the African American mathematician and physicist first calculated the speed of the moon. On January 10, 1946 a radar pulse was transmitted towards the moon. Two and a half seconds later, they received a faint signal, proving that transmissions from earth could cross the vast distances of outer space.

 

9.

In 1900, James Weldon Johnson wrote with his brother the song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” on the occasion of Lincoln’s birthday. The song became immensely popular in the black community and became known as the “Negro National Anthem.”

 

8.

Jesse Owens broke 4 world records in one afternoon at the Big Ten Championships on May 25, 1935; a year later, he upstaged Adolf Hitler by winning 4 golds (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump) at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

 

7.

Henry Highland Garnett, born a slave in Kent County, MD was named Minister of Liberia in 1881. He was also President of Avery College in Allegany, PA.

 

6.

In 1972 President Nixon named Benjamin Hooks, a lawyer and Baptist minister from Memphis, to the Federal Communications Commission, making him its first black member. From 1977 to 1993 he was the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

 

5.

Brig. Gen. Sherian Grace Cadoria was the highest ranking African American woman officer ever in the U.S. Armed Forces when she retired in November 1990.

 

4.

Alice Parker, in 1918, created a heating furnace that could be used to heat an entire living space.

 

3.

Carter G. Woodson organized the first Negro History Week Celebration on the second week of February in 1926. The week celebration eventually became a month long celebration which is now known as Black History Month

 

2.

Phillis Wheatley, a slave brought from Africa as a child and sold to a Boston merchant, spoke no English. By the time she was sixteen, however, under the tutelage of her owners, she had mastered the language. Her interest in literature led her to write and publish “Poems on Various Subjects” in 1773. She is one of, if not the, earliest published African American author.

 

1.

Col. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Ph.D. (USAF) was the first African American in space. He has flown missions on STS–8, STS 61–A, STS–39, and STS–53

 

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BHM 2017 – Day 4: Civil Rights Lawyers Across America

I hope to make these interesting. And if not, to show just how many lawyers were involved in the civil rights effort. Aside from Marshall and Motley, I haven’t heard of Any of them. So again, I hope their stories are compelling, even if I can only share a piece of who they were.

Arthur Shores (1904 – 1996) was considered Alabama’s “drum major for justice”. A member of Alpha Phi Alpha, he graduated from Talladega, spent one year at the law school of  U Kansas, then did the rest of his law training by correspondence school, passing the bar in 1937. He went straight into civil rights law, fighting for the right to vote, fighting to open unions to black firemen, fighting for equal pay. He fought before the Supreme Court for Autherine Lucy to be able to attended U Alabama in 1955. His hope was fire-bombed twice, in 1963 when he was trying to integrate Birmingham public schools, 11 days before the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church.

Spottswood Robinson III (1916-1977) joined the NAACP LDF in 1947. Previously he went to school at Virginia Union University and graduate from Howard Law School in 1939. He was part of the team that argued Brown v. Board of Education. Robinson was initially involved in the case when in 1951, a group of Virginia students wanted to obtain equal facilities in their school (Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County)  He convinced them instead to argue for integration. Robinson returned to Howard University School of Law to become dean from 1960-1964. He left to become the first African American to be appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In 1966, Judge Robinson became the first African American appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. He retired from the bench in 1989.

Oliver Hill (1907 – 2007) was another NAACP LDF lawyer. He was a student of Charles Houston at Howard, having attended undergraduate and graduate school there. He graduated 2nd in his class behind Marshall in 1933. He worked with Robinson on the Davis case, ending up on the team of lawyers working on the Brown case in front of the Supreme Court. He continued practicing law up to 1998 and was honored with the NAACP Spingarn Award as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jack Greenberg, (1924- ) was the first white and youngest lawyer on the NAACP team. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at Columbia University, graduating in 1948 and went straight into the NAACP LDF in 1949. The piece of the Brown case that Greenberg worked on was the Delaware case, Gebhart v. Belton. Delaware was one of the 17 states with segregated schools, in fact, it was written into the state constitution, and while the schools were supposed to be equal, African-American schools in Delaware were generally decrepit, with poor facilities, substandard curricula, and shoddy construction.  Delaware had a special court system, with a Court of Chancery for deciding cases involving equity vs. money.  The court ruled that segregation was untenable, but since it would overrule the original Plessy v. Ferguson case (separate but equal – 18xx), it needed to be argued in the supreme court. After the Brown case, when Marshall went on to the Supreme Court, from 1961 to 1984, Greenberg served as director-counsel. In 1984, he became a member of the faculty at Columbia University Law School. He was the dean of Columbia College from 1989-1993, after which he remained on the faculty of the law school.

John (1919–1984) and Charles(1921–1989) Scott. John Scott received his formal education at Topeka High School and the University of Kansas. After graduation, John followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1942 entered the law school at Washburn University. He completed only two years before he was called for active duty in World War II. In 1946 John Scott returned to Washburn University to complete his law degree. He graduated on June 8, 1947, and joined the family law firm. Charles Scott attended Topeka Public Schools and graduated from Topeka High School. In 1940 he began pursuing a career in law by enrolling at Washburn, only to be interrupted by World War II. During the war he was assigned to the all-black Second Calvary Division and served in southern France.. In 1946, after the war, Charles Scott reenrolled in Washburn University and acquired his law degree in 1948. From there he joined the family practice where he, his father and brother were successful in securing the racial integration of elementary schools in South Park, Johnson County, Kansas as well as several cases that sought to allow blacks access to swimming pools, theaters, and restaurants in Topeka. In 1951 Charles and John Scott were among the attorneys who represented the NAACP in filing their landmark case, Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka. Only in their early thirties, Charles and his brother had gained national attention as a result of the Brown case. Charles chose to stay in Topeka to pursue civil and human rights issues, while John relocated to Washington dc, where he took a position in the Department of the Interior as assistant solicitor.

James Nabrit Jr. (1900 – 1997) was born in Georgia, attended Morehouse and went on to school at Northwestern U Law School in 1927. He then taught colleges in Louisiana and Arkansas and had a private practice in Texas. Nabrit began teaching law at Howard in 1936, served as dean of the law school in1958 and became Howard’s president from 1960-1965. During the 1940’s – 1950’s he helped with NAACP LDF cases. He handled the Bolling vs. Sharpe case around desegregating DC public schools, which went forward to the Supreme Court as part of the Brown case.

James Nabrit III (1932 – 2013), son of Nabrit Jr., was educated in the then-segregated public schools of Washington, D. attended, Bates College in Maine and Yale Law School.  Prior to joining LDF, Mr. Nabrit was in private practice was in active duty service for two years in the United States Army Signal Corps. Nabrit joined the LDF in 1959. He was a quiet, but forceful presence at LDF.  He was known for his meticulous preparation of briefs and brilliant appellate advocacy.  During his long tenure at LDF, Nabrit played a critical role in the series of cases involving issues that helped transform American society, including school desegregation, public accommodations, prison conditions and criminal defense.  He argued on twelve occasions in the United States Supreme Court, prevailing in nine of those cases. Nabrit was part of the team that wrote the plan presented to Judge Frank Johnson in Alabama in 1965 for the final Selma to Montgomery march that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  He served on the team that litigated the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, represented civil rights activists arrested during sit-ins in Louisiana, and was a key figure in the litigation desegregating schools in Northern Virginia.  He played a seminal role in the Keyes v. Denver School District No.1 school desegregation litigation.  Nabrit’s Supreme Court and appellate practice also included the representation of inmates on death row, and he recalled these cases as the ones of which he was most proud.

Frank D. Reeves (1916-1973) Reeves was born in Montreal, Canada. He earned undergraduate and law degrees at Howard University. After receiving his law degree in 1939, Reeves worked for the NAACP in New York City. In the 1950s he worked with Thurgood Marshall, James Nabrit, and others on the battle to desegregate public schools. He was the first African American chosen to sit on the DC Board of Commissioners, the three-man panel that ran the city from 1874 until limited home rule was instituted in 1967. Reeves helped argue the Brown case in 1954. In 1960 Reeves became the first African American member of the Democratic National Committee. He served as an advisor on minority affairs to Senator John F. Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency.

Reeves taught at the Howard University School of Law during the 1960s. At the same time he was legal counsel to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and helped negotiate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom as well as the Poor Peoples Campaign in 1967.

Louis Lorenzo Redding (October 25, 1901 – September 28, 1998) was born in Alexandria, VA, attended Brown U graduating with honors, taught at Morehouse and then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1928. He passed the Delaware bar in 1929 and became the first black lawyer in Delaware, and the only one in the state for 25 years. Before the Brown case, Redding argued a successful case to integrate the University of Delaware. In 1952, he brought a case to Delaware’s Chancery court to integrate the public schools. The judge wanted to rule in favor, but did not want to contradict the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” doctrine, and pushed the case to the Supreme Court, where it was combined into the Brown case. Later in 1961, Redding argued a case upholding the Supreme Court decision that public accommodations be integrated. All totaled, Redding practiced law for 57 years.

Simpson Tate (1900 – 1968) was born in Alabama, attended Lincoln U for his bachelors and masters, then went on to Howard U for his law degree in 1947. In 1948 he moved to Texas and became the attorney for the Southwest Region of the NAACP. In 1949, he filed a legal challenge to improve a black public school in Arkansas,  alleging that the black high school was old and unsafe.  He also noted the omission of certain subjects at the African American school such as chemistry, physics, and the romance languages—courses that were available at the white high school. He then embraced the NAACP strategy to desegregate colleges, starting with Louisiana State University Law School. By 1954, 11 Texas junior colleges were integrated. He also filed against several institutions, including the University of North Texas College, Lamar College, Midwestern University, and the University of Texas, El Paso. Tate won dozens of lawsuits that desegregated schools, parks, hospitals, and other public facilities across the Southwest. Tate worked on other cases as well, including a 1951 challenge to voting discrimination in Harrison County, Texas. Tate also filed a successful lawsuit against the United Steelworkers of America which helped to end segregation in the steel industry in Texas. Tate died of a stroke in 1968 at the age of 68. Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP in 1955, remarked that “Mr. Tate rendered invaluable service not only to the NAACP but to the entire southwest region.”

 

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BHM 2017 – Day 3: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund – Beyond Brown

Yesterday I wrote about the LDF’s “equalization policy”. The sweeping efforts of this organization are probably under-reported. The LDF was instrumental in critical lower court cases like getting MLK out of jail, or getting clemency for sit-in demonstrators.  Even with Brown v. Board of Education, there was a process that the LDF organized on several fronts. Each of the 5 cases in Brown v. Board was brought to a district court, then a state supreme court, and then, finally, to the Supreme Court. One of the other things I think about is how much money this must of cost. Lawyers have to be paid, staffers have to be paid, research and investigations have costs. I have no doubt that white Northerners were the beneficent donors who funded the LDF. True unsung heroes. The NAACP was always a multi-racial organization.

I say all this to say – we couldn’t have done it alone. Sometimes it’s important to remember.

One of the things that the LDF went after was fair pay and employment issues. In two lawsuits in 1940, the LDF argued cases for fair wages for teachers, so that black and white teachers got the same pay. Also in 1940, the LDF fought and won against the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen who enacted a statute such that “non-promotables” would be excluded from being firemen, no more than 50% of a fire unit could be black, and seniority rights for “non-promotables” would be restricted. In the case, a fireman was laid off for 16 days, then rehired to a lower position, in line with the statute. In 1967 in a lawsuit against the cigarette company Philip Morris, they won a fight against practice of “departmental seniority”, which had forced non-white workers to give up their seniority rights when they transferred to better jobs in previously white-only departments. In a 1971 suit against Duke Power, the court ruled that tests for employment or promotion that produce different outcomes for blacks and whites are to be presumed discriminatory, and must measure aptitude for the job in question or they cannot be used.

The LDF fought desegregation on several fronts beyond public schools. In 1946, they won a case to integrate interstate buses. In 1948, they were able to overturn the legality of racially discriminatory real estate covenants which kept African-Americans out of white suburbs. In 1963, they won cases to integrate public parks and hospitals receiving federal funding. In 1964, they won a case to integrate public facilities such as restaurants.

In the famous Loving v. Virginia case argued before the Supreme Court in 1967, anti-miscegenation laws in 15 states were made unconstitutional, permitting people of different races to marry.

The LDF came to the aid of civil rights activists on several occasions. In 1963, LDF attorneys defended Martin Luther King, Jr. against contempt charges for demonstrating without a permit in Birmingham, AL. In 1965, they obtained a court order to allow a voting-rights march in Alabama, led by King., which had previously been stopped twice by state police. The LDF also won a case to overturn all convictions of demonstrators’ participating in civil rights sit-ins and they got courts to reverse state convictions of Alabama and Mississippi Freedom Riders.

The LDF took on cases specifically dealing with criminal justice. LDF defended against “coerced confessions”, especially for felonious charges. In 1947, they won a case against strategies that excluded African Americans from criminal juries. In 1971, they won a case which upheld the right of prisoners to challenge prison conditions in federal court. Change of venue laws were upheld in 1971, to defend the right of a criminal defendant in a misdemeanor case to a venue where jurors are not biased against him. The LDF also led a fight in the 1970’s against the death penalty.

While researching this blog, I came across a document written for the University of Alabama Law School entitled “Making Bricks without Straw: The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Development of Civil Rights Law in Alabama 1940-1980”.  It’s a fascinating article, which actually covers the history of black lawyers from 1869 forward, explaining that even though Harvard trained a few black lawyers, such as Charles Hamilton Houston, senior counsel for the NAACP in the 1930’s, whites and blacks alike didn’t believe that the lawyers could win cases. In contrast, the Howard Law School pumped out hundreds of lawyers where lawyers like Thurgood Marshall thrived. Alabama’s fight to end segregation started with voter registration. To register to vote, a black person had to have two white registered voters to vouch for him, and that was still no guarantee that he would be registered. This law was challenged in 1945. Another challenged law was that registration was only permitted of persons who could understand and explain any article of the Federal Constitution. Still another challenged case was one of three black men who sat in line to register but were denied for three straight days while all of the whites in line were registered. When the city of Tuskegee was redistricted into a “sea dragon” so that blacks were disenfranchised, bringing the number of black voters from 400 to 5, the case went up to the Supreme Court. Even Tuskegee Institute had been gerrymandered out of the City Limits of Tuskegee and this action turned the court.

Even after Brown v. Board of Education, legal fights to gain entry into colleges and universities in the South continued. The article detailed the fights for admission into University of Alabama and Auburn University’s graduate schools, particularly the fight of Autherine Lucy, which spanned from 1952 to 1963, long after the Brown case in 1954.

Suffice to say, the lawyers of the NAACL LDF were busy. Yet, as I said yesterday, winning court cases is no guarantee of enforcement. It truly takes a change in attitude, followed by a change in practices, sometimes the other way around, and sometimes, attitudes never change.

On Monday, I plan to give some brief biographies of the lawyers in the LDF and then I’ll move on to the congressional acts that came out of the Supreme Court cases and mass actions in the South.

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BHM 2017 Day 2: The NAACP Equalization Strategy

Hi all,

Today I’m just going focus on efforts to end segregation of public schools and colleges. Tomorrow, I’ll go over some of the other cases.

In 1909, the NAACP commenced what has become its legacy of fighting legal battles to win social justice for African-Americans and indeed, for all Americans. The most significant of these battles were fought and won under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston and his student and protégée, Thurgood Marshall.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Houston trained the first generation of Civil Rights lawyers during his years as Dean of Howard University’s Law School. Houston was appointed in 1935 to be the first Special Counsel of the NAACP. Often referred to as the “Moses of the civil rights movement,” Houston was the architect and chief strategist of the NAACP’s legal campaign to end segregation. Houston amassed a consortium of Black lawyers including Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley as part of a “West Point of Negro Leadership” according to the organization’s account. These attorneys would combat racial segregation alongside Houston.

In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the “separate but equal” principle – as long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment (“no State shall … deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws”). In a study commissioned by the NAACP in the 1930s, Nathan Margold found that under segregation, the facilities provided for blacks were always separate, but never equal to those maintained for whites. This, Margold argued, violated the equality aspect of Plessy’s “separate but equal” principle. Margold proposed a series of lawsuits that would challenge the system.

After joining the NAACP, Houston refined Margold’s recommendations, developed a strategy, and implemented a battle plan. Under Houston’s “equalization strategy,” lawsuits were filed demanding that the facilities provided for black students be made equal to those available to white students, carefully stopping short of a direct challenge to Plessy. Houston predicted that the states that practiced segregation could not afford to maintain black schools that were actually equal to those reserved for whites. From 1935 to 1940, Houston successfully argued several cases using this strategy, including Murray v. Maryland, (1936) which resulted in the desegregation of the University of Maryland’s Law School and State ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the admission of a black student to the Law School at the University of Missouri (1938).

When Thurgood Marshall succeeded Houston as NAACP’s Special Counsel, he continued the Association’s legal campaign. In 1950, Marshall won cases that struck down Texas and Oklahoma laws requiring segregated graduate schools. In Sweatt v. Painter, the court ruled against a Texas attempt to circumvent Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada with a hastily established inferior law school for black students. In McLaurin v. Oklahoma, the court ruled against practices of segregation within a formerly all-white graduate school insofar as they interfered with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students. In those cases, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required those states to admit black students to their graduate and professional schools.

In 1953, Thurgood Marshall and a team of NAACP LDF lawyers argued Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in front of the US Supreme Court.  The case combined five cases: Brown itself, Briggs v. Elliot – filed in South Carolina, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County – filed in Virginia, Gebhart v. Belton – filed in Delaware and Bolling v. Sharpe – filed in Washington DC. All were NAACP-sponsored cases being appealed from lower courts where Plessy v. Ferguson was upheld and in nearly all cases, discrimination was found to be lawful.

The plaintiffs in Brown asserted that this system of  racial segregation while masquerading as providing separate but equal treatment of both white and black Americans, instead perpetuated inferior accommodations, services, and treatment for black Americans. Racial segregation in education varied widely from the 17 states that required racial segregation to the 16 in which it was prohibited. The “doll test” research presented substantial arguments to the Supreme Court about how segregation affected black schoolchildren’s mental status.

In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of experiments known colloquially as “the doll tests” to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children.  Drs. Clark used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Their subjects, children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem. In a particularly memorable episode while Dr. Clark was conducting experiments in rural Arkansas, he asked a black child which doll was most like him. The child responded by smiling and pointing to the brown doll: “That’s a nigger. I’m a nigger.”

(Although Dr. Kenneth Clark is most famous for the “Doll Tests,” his personal achievements are equally as prestigious. He was the first African American to earn a PhD in psychology at Columbia; to hold a permanent professorship at the City College of New York; to join the New York State Board of Regents; and to serve as president of the American Psychological Association. His wife Mamie Clark was the first African-American woman and the second African-American, after Kenneth Clark, to receive a doctorate in psychology at Columbia.)

The United States and the Soviet Union were both at the height of the Cold War during this time, and U.S. officials, including Supreme Court Justices, were highly aware of the harm that segregation and racism played on America’s international image. When Justice William O. Douglas traveled to India  in 1950, the first question he was asked was, “Why does America tolerate the lynching of Negroes?” Douglas later wrote that he had learned from his travels that “the attitude of the United States toward its colored minorities is a powerful factor in our relations with India.” In December 1952, the Justice Department filed a friend of the court brief in the case. The brief was unusual in its heavy emphasis on foreign policy considerations of the Truman administration in a case ostensibly about domestic issues. Of the seven pages covering “the interest of the United States,” five focused on the way school segregation hurt the United States in the Cold War competition for the friendship and allegiance of non-white peoples in countries then gaining independence from colonial rule.  Attorney General James P. McGranery noted that

The existence of discrimination against minority groups in the United States has an adverse effect upon our relations with other countries. Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills.

The brief also quoted a letter by Secretary of State Dean Acheson lamenting that:

The United States is under constant attack in the foreign press, over the foreign radio, and in such international bodies as the United Nations because of various practices of discrimination in this country.

In spring 1953, the Court heard the case but was unable to decide the issue and asked to rehear the case in fall 1953, with special attention to whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks. The Court reargued the case at the behest of Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who used reargument as a stalling tactic, to allow the Court to gather a consensus around a Brown opinion that would outlaw segregation. The justices in support of desegregation spent much effort convincing those who initially intended to dissent to join a unanimous opinion. Although the legal effect would be same for a majority rather than unanimous decision, it was felt that dissent could be used by segregation supporters as a legitimizing counter-argument. .Chief Justice Vinson was a key stumbling block. After Vinson died in September 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice. Warren had supported the integration of Mexican-American students in California school systems. Warren convened a meeting of the justices, and presented to them the simple argument that the only reason to sustain segregation was an honest belief in the inferiority of Negroes. Warren further submitted that the Court must overrule Plessy to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty, and it must do so unanimously to avoid massive Southern resistance. He began to build a unanimous opinion.

The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, segregation by itself was harmful to black students and unconstitutional. They found that a significant psychological and social disadvantage was given to black children from the nature of segregation itself, drawing on research conducted by City College of NY psychologist Kenneth Clark assisted by NAACP staffer June Shagaloff.  This aspect was vital because the question was not whether the schools were “equal”, which under Plessy they nominally should have been, but whether the doctrine of separate was constitutional. The justices answered with a strong “no”:

[D]oes 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. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

“To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone”

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.

The 17 Southern states requiring segregation of schools were not convinced of the legitimacy of the Court’s decision. Some states’ lower courts found it acceptable to dismiss the decision altogether. The reality was that unless the ruling was enforced, it was not sufficient.  And so the actual integration of schools became a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement for the next 15 years.

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