Civil rights movement in the southern states USA
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The developing range and types of campaign methods used by southern civil rights campaigners in the 1950s and early 1960s shaped the outcome of the movement. Apart from the numerous legal challenges, boycotts demonstration sit -in and marches the involvement of white racists, the media, white liberals such as Truman and the infamous Martin Luther King also changed the direction of the movement and contributed to its development and progress. Truman was the first president to set up a commission in 1946, which recommended action on civil rights.
However, no legislation followed since the President could not persuade the Congress to pass it. Therefore, by the end of his presidency in 1953, Truman’s civil rights achievements were limited. However, he had at least identified civil rights as a moral issue. The legal efforts of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP came to fruition. There was a very significant legal challenge that produced a landmark verdict, it created an important precedent and was expected to produce major change for the civil rights movement. It did so in a number of places outside the Deep South where segregation still prevailed up to this point.
The crucial legal case regarding segregation in education reached the Supreme Court in 1954; it was called the Brown versus Board of Education. The Brown case was a major breakthrough for the Civil Rights Movement. The NAACP concentrated on legal campaigns and eventually achieved success in 1954, although a white backlash to its success led to the destruction of many southern branches, and it was even outlawed in Alabama in 1956. The NAACP used persuasive and formal tactics to put forward their beliefs but soon other methods became more popular as they attracted immediate attention and would widen support.
Direct action was a method from used by campaigners to attract attention towards the movement and make a difference to the civil rights movement. White racists in reaction to the campaigns carried out many acts of brutality and agression. An example of this was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Montgomery, Alabama, 1955. Mrs. Rosa Parks, a Black widow in her early 50s, refused an order to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was dragged off the bus and was fined $10. Rosa Parks had boarded the bus and sat behind the whites section.
When asked to give up her seat she refused. She said she was tired from work and tired of giving in. Her brother, Ed Nixon was a Brotherhood union organizer. He approached Montgomery’s most famous preacher, Martin Luther King and impressed upon him the need to organize a mass bus boycott. The boycott was 100% effective. Not a single passenger stood at the bus stops “. The racists counter-attacked they carried out eight bombings in the course of the campaign. The White House became increasingly alarmed as boycotts spread through the south.
After six months, the Supreme Court made segregation illegal. However, the boycott continued until after almost a year, the state of Alabama finally agreed to desegregate the buses. This victory triggered a protest movement that would shake the very foundations of white supremacy in the southern states of America. The ensuing struggle threw up forms of resistance and new militant Black organizations. This was why non violence was the main strategy adopted in the early period of the civil rights movement. The struggle in the 1950s culminated in a new law: the Civil Rights Act.
This was rightly dismissed by the movement as a token measure, designed more to take the steam out of the movement rather than seriously address the problem of civil rights. Thus, far from appeasing the movement, the 1957 Act served to embolden it. The whole of the south quickly became a seething cauldron of revolt. In city after city, Blacks were rising up to challenge the laws of racial segregation. What made this campaign so significant was that the view taken by King was that if the Montgomery authorities were not prepared to move an inch neither would his side.
Due to the boycott, another important civil rights organization came into being- the Southern Christian leadership conference, SCLC. Martin Luther king began to develop his ideas in the direction of more confrontational non-violent protest. The bus boycott had been essentially non-confrontational. Now at the end of the 1950s, the campaign methods were moving towards more vigorous and organized but still peaceful protests- protests that would force a reaction and maintain the moral high ground for the civil rights movement.
After the ‘fallow years’ of the late 1950s, the civil rights movement took off dramatically at the start of the 1960s this was due to a new generation of black students who were in keeping with the social changes which put then in a better position to act against segregation. As a result, new organizations formed and new styles of protest developed. Building on the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the new organisation, the SNCC the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee decided to confront a wide range of issues concerning equality and discrimination.
Peaceful protests had moved into a more organized and vigorous form of direct action. In Greensboro, North Carolina, four students from the Local Agricultural and Technical College entered a branch of Woolworths and ordered food and drink at the ‘whites only’ counter. The majority were college students -idealistic, determined, and spontaneous with no jobs to lose. The sit in spread very widely and very quickly; by April 78 different places were involved. The tactic was to create a crisis and establish a tension out of which action would occur. The reaction of the police was revealing. There were over 2000 arrests in all the sit-in in 1960.
Police frequently arrested the protesters for breaking the law, but ignored the white people who attacked them. Television cameras showed the rest of the USA the well-dressed, peaceful, book-reading mainly black students and the loud-mouthed, uncouth whites swearing and frequently attacking them. US citizens could draw their own conclusions. The bitterness of the white southern reaction to the protests began to play into the hands of the demonstrators. These protests were clearly linked with Gandhi’s philosophy, which inspired King. The protestors were non-violent merely covering their heads when beaten, and not striking back.
Moreover, they were merely insisting on their rights under the existing law and looking to gain sympathy from liberal white people especially in the north. The Freedom Rides in 1961 were another example of direct action; however, this time it was a different organisation involved it was called CORE (commission on racial equality) James farmer was interested in the issue surrounding federal regulations about inter-state transport. The extremities of segregation varied from north to south, so Farmer decided to challenge this and planned to travel the whole distance between Washington and New Orleans.
If the mixed race team were allowed to stay together on the bus and in the waiting rooms, then segregation would have received a blow, however if they were set on then their racist attackers would be seen to be aggressive, bigoted, unreasonable, and acting illegally. In addition, the media publicity would spread the word and expose the offensive behavior of southern white people. This plan of action would bring about a similar result as the Montgomery boycott. The reactions to the rides were bad there was a lot of trouble the protesters were attacked in Rock Hill, South Carolina and then in Anniston, Alabama.
The worst treatment was when the Bus crossed the Birmingham city boundary all protection had disappeared as the policy chief had failed to organize protection for them. The riders were subject to a vicious attack. Race traitors were severely punished, one student was temporarily disfigured. One objective of the freedom rides was to show the viciousness of racism this had been achieved. The other aim was to get the federal authorities to act; the new figure in the White House was John F. Kennedy a younger more liberal figure his brother Robert Kennedy organised the desegregation of all inter-state travel.
It is wrong to assume that the consecutive campaigns were building up momentum with every protest there were drawbacks, which hindered the developing civil rights movement. For example, there was a limit to federal government action; they wanted to prevent violent disturbances at all costs, so it would allow southern state governments to arrest demonstrators as long as the state officials also prevented white attacks on the protesters. When the freedom riders got to Jackson, Misssisippi, for example the police controlled the white people who were panning to attack them, but proceeded to arrest the riders and imprison them.
The Kennedy’s had done a deal with Missisippi Senator James O. Eastland that the federal government would not intervene if order could be maintained. However, this was not good for the Civil Rights Movement, which wanted a change either in the law, or to appear martyrs in order to provoke such a change. The publicity generated from the arrests and imprisonments were limited; television pictures of white people attacking peaceful black demonstrators would have had much more impact. The other strategy employed by campaigners was passive resistance an example of this occurred in the town of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Its central high school was the focus of the campaign. In 1957 in the aftermath of the Brown verdict, 75 children had applied to this premier school, but 50 had been rejected. A further 16 changed their minds when the white community made it very clear they were hostile to the idea. This meant only nine were left, when they attempted to enter the school they met a hostile crowd and even the Governor of Arkansas denied access into the school despite the Brown verdict and Eisenhower’s demands.
At one point, Faubus withdrew state troopers and the white racists had the streets to themselves, violence broke out and the children had leave to avoid serious injury. There was a film produced it showed respectable well dressed middle aged ladies push down barriers in anger when news came that the children had finally entered the school was to see real hatred in action. By this time, considerable change had come on the civil rights front. Black people were becoming more willing to protest and not just rely on federal protection.
The case of James Meredith was another example of passive resistance. James Meredith was a black student and was physically barred by the governor of Mississippi despite this he attempted to register but angry mobs assembled and violence erupted and 170 federal marshals desperately tied to keep order. Meredith survived but two onlookers, including a French journalist were killed. Meredith’s brave achievement was an inspiration to others. A similar resistance was carried out in Alabama the governor personally barred two black students from entering the University of Alabama in June 1963.
However, this was largely a complaint against what Wallace considered an infringement of state liberties. After making his protest, he accepted federal authority and the students were subsequently allowed in. There were many changes and developments in the methods employed by civil rights protestors in order to bring success to the campaign. From arguing cases formally in court and using persuasive tactics, to direct action but in a non-violent way such as passive resistance. The campaigns gained wider support exploiting the media and asking for support from the federal government including the involvement of white liberals.