The NAACP’s legal strategy against segregated education culminated in the 1954 Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. African Americans gained the formal, if not the practical, right to study alongside their white peers in primary and secondary schools. The decision fueled an intransigent, violent resistance during which Southern states used a variety of tactics to evade the law.
In the summer of 1955, a surge of anti-black violence included the kidnapping and brutal murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, a crime that provoked widespread and assertive protests from black and white Americans. By December 1955, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr., began a protracted campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to protest segregation that attracted national and international attention.
During 1956, a group of Southern senators and congressmen signed the “Southern Manifesto,” vowing resistance to racial integration by all “lawful means.” Resistance heightened in 1957–1958 during the crisis over integration at Little Rock’s Central High School. At the same time, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights led a successful drive for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and continued to press for even stronger legislation. NAACP Youth Council chapters staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters, sparking a movement against segregation in public accommodations throughout the South in 1960. Nonviolent direct action increased during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, beginning with the 1961 Freedom Rides.
Hundreds of demonstrations erupted in cities and towns across the nation. National and international media coverage of the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against child protesters precipitated a crisis in the Kennedy administration, which it could not ignore. The bombings and riots in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 11, 1963, compelled Kennedy to call in federal troops.
On June 19, 1963, the president sent a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28 roused public support for the pending bill. After the president’s assassination on November 22, the fate of Kennedy’s bill was in the hands of his vice president and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the United States Congress.
Roy Wilkins NAACP’s Longest Serving Leader
Roy Wilkins (1901−1981) was born in St. Louis, the son of a minister. While attending the University of Minnesota he served as secretary of the local NAACP. After graduation he began work as the editor of the Kansas City Call, a black weekly. The headline coverage Wilkins gave the NAACP in the Call attracted the attention of Walter White, who hired him as NAACP assistant secretary in 1931.
From 1934 to 1949, Wilkins served concurrently as editor of The Crisis, the NAACP’s quarterly journal. In 1950 he became NAACP administrator and cofounded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He succeeded Walter White as executive secretary of the NAACP in 1955. Under his leadership the NAACP achieved school desegregation, major civil rights legislation, and its peak membership. Wilkins retired in 1977 as the longest serving NAACP leader.
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A Fact Sheet on Cloture
In February 1952 the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) held a meeting in Washington to discuss Senate Rule XXII on cloture, a procedure that Southern senators utilized to block civil rights bills in debate by filibuster. In 1952, Rule XXII required a two-thirds vote of the entire Senate to invoke cloture to break a filibuster. Senators had also liberalized Rule XXII by subjecting “any measure, motion, or other matter” to cloture. At the start of each new Congress the LCCR lobbied for a revision of Rule XXII to lessen the obstacles to passage of civil rights bills. Joseph Rauh was the chief strategist for the LCCR’s Rule XXII campaigns.
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Educator and Civil Rights Activist Harry Tyson Moore
Educator and civil rights activist Harry Tyson Moore was one of the earliest leaders to be assassinated during the modern phase of the civil rights movement. Moore was a leader in voter registration efforts and worked as a statewide organizer for the NAACP in Florida and concentrated on establishing branches in rural areas. He began his career teaching in the public school system in Brevard County, Florida, first in an elementary school and later as principal of Mims Elementary School. He and his wife, Harriette, who also taught school, joined the NAACP in 1933. They organized a local chapter in Brevard and filed a lawsuit in 1937 challenging the unequal salaries of black and white teachers, the first of its kind in the South. In 1951, Moore and his wife were the victims of Ku Klux Klan terror, when a bomb exploded in their home.
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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.”
Writer Ralph Waldo Ellison completed only one novel during his lifetime, the critically acclaimed Invisible Man, published in 1952. It is recognized as one of the most influential masterpieces of the twentieth century, earning honors and awards for Ellison. In the novel Ellison addresses what it means to be an African American in a world hostile to the rights of a minority, on the cusp of the emerging civil rights movement.
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Work with African Freedom Movements
In 1952, Bayard Rustin joined A. Philip Randolph, George Houser, William Sutherland, and others to form Americans for South African Resistance, the first organized effort in the U.S. on behalf of the liberation struggle in Africa. Later that year, Rustin traveled to West Africa under the auspices of the American Friends Service Community and Fellowship of Reconciliation to assist African leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe with organizing nonviolent campaigns against colonialism. In 1953, Rustin became executive secretary of the War Resisters League. In this letter Rustin reports on William Sutherland’s work with African freedom movements cosponsored by the League.
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Supplemental Brief in the Brown Cases
Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed moment for American civil rights law. The Supreme Court of the United States held that Jim Crow laws that segregated public school students on the basis of race were unconstitutional, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Brown explicitly overturned the court’s prior decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, where it had held that segregated public facilities were constitutional, provided they were separate but substantially equal. This event was the culmination of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund’s campaign against segregation in schools. Despite this landmark decision, desegregation of public schools was often met with delays or outright opposition.
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Attorneys for Brown v. Board of Education
The Supreme Court bundled Brown v. Board of Education with four related cases and scheduled a hearing for December 9, 1952. A rehearing was convened on December 7, 1953, and a decision rendered on May 17, 1954. Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit (right), attorneys for the Bolling case, are shown standing on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court congratulating each other after the court’s decision declaring segregation unconstitutional.
George E. C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit congratulating each other on the Brown decision, May 17, 1954. Photograph. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (083.00.00)
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NAACP Secretary Mildred Bond Roxborough Interviewed by Julian Bond in 2010
Longtime secretary of the NAACP Mildred Bond Roxborough (b. 1926) discusses the achievements of the organization in an interview conducted by Julian Bond (b. 1940) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2010.
Warren’s Reading Copy of the Brown Opinion, 1954
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s reading copy of Brown is annotated in his hand. Warren announced the opinion in the names of each justice, an unprecedented occurrence. The drama was heightened by the widespread prediction that the Court would be divided on the issue. Warren reminded himself to emphasize the decision’s unanimity with a marginal notation, “unanimously,” which departed from the printed reading copy to declare, “Therefore, we unanimously hold. . . .” In his memoirs, Warren recalled the moment with genuine warmth. “When the word ‘unanimously’ was spoken, a wave of emotion swept the room; no words or intentional movement, yet a distinct emotional manifestation that defies description.” “Unanimously” was not incorporated into the published version of the opinion, and thus exists only in this manuscript.
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"A Great Day for America"
Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) was a triumphant moment for Civil Rights and underscored Chief Justice Earl Warren’s effectiveness in leading the Court. Chief Justice Warren recognized the importance of issuing Brown v. Board as a unanimous decision, ensuring opponents of the decision would not be emboldened by a dissenting opinion. Associate Justice Harold H. Burton sent this note to Chief Justice Warren on the day that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board was announced. He said, “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court. . . . I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.” In a tribute to Warren’s judicial statesmanship, Burton added, “To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.”
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Two Reactions to the Brown v. Board U.S. Supreme Court Decision
In this live television discussion, broadcast on May 23, 1954, Illinois Senator Paul Douglas (1892–1976) and Texas Senator Price Daniel (1910–1988) answer questions about the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision handed down six days earlier. In response to Brown v. Board, Daniel, along with 100 other lawmakers, signed the Southern Manifesto two years later, protesting the Supreme Court’s “abuse of judicial power.” This excerpt is from American Forum of the Air: The Supreme Court’s Desegregation Decision, broadcast on NBC.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Courtesy of NBC News
NAACP lawyer Benjamin Hooks interviewed by Renee Poussaint in 2003
NAACP lawyer and minister Benjamin Hooks (1925–2010) explains the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2003.
Six Years after Brown, Atlanta Citizens Discuss Their Schools
In response to the Brown v. Board decision, Georgia passed legislation requiring the closing of public schools that had been forced to integrate by court orders and their conversion to private schools. After a federal judge ordered the Atlanta School Board to submit a desegregation plan, Governor Ernest Vandiver established a committee to hold public forums on the issue. The March 1960 hearings in Atlanta, portions of which were broadcast nationally in CBS Reports: Who Speaks for the South? on May 27, 1960, drew a large crowd and speakers with diverse opinions. In 1961, the Georgia legislature revoked its school segregation law. A court-ordered desegregation plan did not take effect, however, for another decade.
“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”
The song “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” was composed by jazz pianist and educator Dr. Billy Taylor (1921−2010). Although penned in 1954, the piece did not enjoy popularity until the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and became notable in the 1960s with a recording of the song by singer Nina Simone. The title expresses one of the fundamental themes of the movement—the wish to live free with dignity in America.
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Paul Robeson’s Telegram about the Till Trial
Singer, actor, and civil liberties advocate Paul Robeson (1898–1976) sent this telegram in response to an all-white jury acquittal of two white men accused of the murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago, who went to visit relatives in Leflore County, Mississippi, in the summer of 1955. The verdict stirred the nation to outrage. A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and elder statesman of the civil rights movement, called for a mass demonstration.
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The Murder of Teenager Emmett Till
Emmett Till was brutally murdered on August 28, 1955, at the age of fourteen, for allegedly whistling at a white woman while visiting in Money, Mississippi, with friends. The woman’s husband and his friends kidnapped Till, beat and shot him, and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River where it was discovered three days later. He could only be identified by a ring on his finger. The decision by Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Bradley, to have his body returned to their home in Chicago and her insistence in having an open casket resulted in bringing national attention to social conditions within the country. Published photos of Till created a global uproar for change and an end to discrimination and white supremacy.
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Civil Rights Activist Joyce Ladner Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Civil rights activist Joyce Ladner (b. 1943) discusses post-war Southern black youth in the movement in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
NAACP Field Secretary Medgar W. Evers
Medgar W. Evers (1925–1963), the son of a farmer, was born in Decatur, Mississippi. After graduating from Alcorn Agriculture and Mechanical College in 1952, he went to work for a black insurance company in the Mississippi Delta. At the same time Evers began organizing for the NAACP. In 1954 he became the NAACP’s first field secretary in the state. His main duties were recruiting new members and investigating incidents of racial violence. Evers also led voter registration drives and mass protests, organized boycotts, fought segregation, and helped James Meredith enter the University of Mississippi. In May 1963 his home was bombed after he stepped up protests in Jackson, Mississippi. On June 11, he was murdered in his driveway.
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Medgar Evers and the Jackson Movement: “Until Freedom Comes”
NAACP field secretary in Mississippi Medgar Evers (1925–1963) was assassinated at his home in Jackson, Mississippi, a few hours after President Kennedy made a nationally televised speech in which he announced he soon would ask Congress to enact civil rights legislation. A portion of a speech by Evers during a direct action campaign to desegregate Jackson was featured in this excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, which also includes footage of sit-ins, beatings, and arrests of protesters in Jackson.
The NAACP’s Report on the Emmett Till Murder
In the fall of 1955, NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers, Southeast Regional Director Ruby Hurley, and Amzie Moore, president of the Bolivar County branch in Mississippi initiated an investigation of Emmett Till’s lynching and secured key witnesses. In his annual report, Evers included an account of Till’s kidnapping, lynching, and the trial of his killers.
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Rosa Parks Arrested and Fingerprinted
Rosa Parks was a leader in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which demonstrated that segregation would be contested in many social settings. A federal district court decided that segregation on publicly operated buses was unconstitutional and concluded that “in the Brown case, Plessy v. Ferguson has been implied, though not explicitly, overruled.” The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court without opinion, a common procedure it followed in the interim between 1954 and 1958.
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Civil Rights Activist Ruby Sales Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Civil rights activist Ruby Sales (b. 1948) describes the central role and importance of Rosa Parks and other working women for the freedom struggle in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Rosa Parks Being Fingerprinted
On December 1, 1955, forty-three-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested for disorderly conduct for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her arrest and fourteen-dollar fine for violating a city ordinance led African American bus riders and others to boycott Montgomery, Alabama, city buses. It also helped to establish the Montgomery Improvement Association led by a then unknown young minister from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted for one year and brought the civil rights movement and Dr. King to the attention of the world.
Mrs. Rosa Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama. Photograph, 1956. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (090.00.00)
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Rosa Parks’ Instructions for Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was formed in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1955, to direct the black boycott of the city’s segregated buses. Martin Luther King, Jr., was elected its president and Rosa Parks served on the executive board of directors. Parks also worked briefly as a dispatcher for the MIA Transportation Committee. In this capacity, she was responsible for connecting people who needed rides with drivers of private cars and church owned station wagons. In these notes, Parks describes the creation of this volunteer transportation system and offers detailed instructions to riders and drivers to resolve "Transportation Problems."
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Rosa Parks’ notes concerning the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, . Autograph notes. Page 2 - Page 3. Rosa Parks Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (277.00.00, 277.00.01) Courtesy of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development
Montgomery Fair date book with Rosa Parks’ notes concerning the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955–1956. Rosa Parks Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (322.00.00) Courtesy of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development
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Rosa Parks’ Travels on Behalf of the Boycott
In 1956 Rosa Parks traveled across the U.S. making appearances on behalf of the bus boycott and the NAACP. In the spring she flew to Detroit, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, and Indianapolis, before spending two weeks in New York. There she addressed a civil rights rally and fundraiser at Madison Square Garden and met Roy Wilkins, Thurgood Marshall, and A. Philip Randolph. She left New York to address the annual NAACP Convention in San Francisco. After a summer respite in Montgomery, Parks resumed her tour as the featured speaker at a September mass meeting in Baltimore organized by Lillie Jackson, the NAACP branch president and mother-in-law of Clarence Mitchell.
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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) was a Southern Baptist minister who followed in the footsteps of his father by embracing a pacifist philosophy. One of his first roles as a civil rights leader was with the Montgomery bus boycott, inspired by the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat. At the end of the year-long boycott, King emerged as a central figure in the struggle for civil rights by using his considerable oratorical skills to take his message on the road in speaking engagements across the country.
King led nonviolent protest marches in one of the South’s most segregated states—Alabama. As the founder and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), he was approached to join with the five key civil rights groups to support the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where he delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech, solidifying his place in the history of the civil rights movement. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The next year, he began the Selma Voting Rights movement and in 1966, began his “northern campaign” in Chicago.
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Martin Luther King, Jr., on Nonviolence
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) discusses the tactic and philosophy of nonviolence in excerpts from an interview conducted by Martin Agronsky at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King was the pastor. The interview was broadcast on October 27, 1957, in the NBC television Look Here series.
Civil Rights Activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth on Bombings and Beatings in 1950s Birmingham
In an interview broadcast May 18, 1961, on CBS Reports: Who Speaks for Birmingham? Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (1922–2011), one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the leading civil rights figure in Birmingham, Alabama, discusses the violence he suffered in 1955 and 1957 (shown in archival footage).
The original English language comic book, published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in 1957, was discovered by Egyptian activist Dalia Ziada in 2006. Determining that a nonviolent protest should be the preferred method for reform, Ziada translated the comic book into Arabic, received approval from the government censors, and published the work in 2008. It is credited with helping to inspire the Egyptian Arab Spring protests at Cairo’s Tahrir Square that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, 2011.
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Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, Arabic edition, 2008. Comic Book Collection, Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (093.00.00)
Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, 1957. Comic Book Collection, Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (093.01.00)
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Southern Negro Leaders Conference
In the fall of 1956, Bayard Rustin discussed with Martin Luther King, Jr., the need for an organization larger than the Montgomery Improvement Association that could sustain protest in the South. With contributions from civil rights activists Ella Baker and Stanley Levison, Rustin drafted seven working papers for a workshop on nonviolent social change. After studying the papers, King called a conference at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in January 1957. There he discussed with more than sixty ministers their common problems of the Southern struggle. The group voted unanimously to form a permanent organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
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Bayard Rustin. Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration, Working Paper # 1, . Bayard Rustin Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (096.00.00) Courtesy of Walter Naegle
Bayard Rustin. Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Non-Violent Integration, Working Paper # 7, . Bayard Rustin Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (096.01.00)
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Attorney Clarence Mitchell
Baltimore native Clarence Mitchell attended the University of Maryland Law School. He began his career as a reporter. During World War II he served on the War Manpower Commission and the Fair Employment Practices Committee. In 1946 Mitchell joined the NAACP as its first labor secretary. From 1950 to 1978, he served concurrently as director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, the NAACP’s chief lobbyist, and legislative chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Mitchell waged a tireless campaign on Capitol Hill to secure the passage of a comprehensive series of civil rights laws—the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., (1911–1984), director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, February 28, 1957. Reproduction. NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (098.00.00) Courtesy of NAACP
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Prayer Pilgrimage, 1957
In 1957, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Roy Wilkins cosponsored the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom to demand federal action on school desegregation and demonstrate support for the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Held at the Lincoln Memorial on May 17, the third anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Pilgrimage attracted a crowd of about 25,000. The turnout was smaller than the organizers had predicted but was still the largest civil rights demonstration to date. The Pilgrimage launched the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and helped establish Martin Luther King, Jr., as a national leader.
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Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom. Program, 1957. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (099.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Seated on speakers’ platform at May 17 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C. (left to right): Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Rev. Thomas Kilgore, Jr., and Martin Luther King, Jr., May 17, 1957. Gelatin silver print. NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (099.01.00)
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Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Johnson (1908–1973) grew up in Texas ranch country. After graduating from Southwest State Teachers College in 1930, he taught high school. His political career began in 1937, when he won a congressional seat. In 1948, he was elected to the Senate. In 1960, he was elected vice president on the Democratic ticket with John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was assassinated, he was sworn in as president and, in 1964, he was elected for a full term. The Great Society became his agenda for Congress in January 1965. The program included aid to education, Medicare, expansion of the war on poverty, and enforcement of civil rights. During his presidency, Johnson sent three landmark civil rights bills to Congress: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
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Civil Rights Act of 1957
In 1957 Clarence Mitchell marshalled bipartisan support in Congress for a civil rights bill, the first passed since Reconstruction. Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson opposed Part III, a provision authorizing the attorney general to file civil injunction suits in civil rights cases, where local police denied rights of peaceable assembly by jailing, beating, or orchestrating economic reprisals against citizens attempting to register to vote or protest segregation. The part was omitted as a concession to Southern Democratic senators. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created a new Commission on Civil Rights to investigate civil rights violations and expanded a small Civil Rights Section into its own Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice headed by an assistant attorney general.
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U.S. Congress. Public Law 85-315, 85th Congress, H.R. 6127 (Civil Rights Act of 1957), September 9, 1957. Printed document. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (101.00.00) Courtesy of NAACP
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Ghana Diplomat Refused Service on U.S. Visit
Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, the finance minister of the new African nation of Ghana, visited the United States on official business in October 1957. On October 9, Gbedemah dined with labor arbitrator Theodore Kheel and Roy Wilkins at the Waldorf Astoria. The next day he was refused service at a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant in Dover, Delaware, en route from New York to Washington, D.C. President Eisenhower later invited Gbedemah to breakfast at the White House to make amends. This incident was one of many involving dark-skinned diplomats and Jim Crow.
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Ella Baker Cofounder of the Southern Christian leadership Conference
Ella Baker (1903−1986) was reared in Littleton, North Carolina, and educated at Shaw University in Raleigh. During the 1930s she worked as a community organizer in New York. She joined the NAACP staff in 1940 as a field secretary and served as director of branches from 1943 to 1946. Baker traveled throughout the South recruiting new members and registering voters.
Baker was an advisor for the Montgomery bus boycott; and, in 1957, she cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). As executive director of SCLC, she organized the 1960 conference that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Baker remained a key advisor, helping SNCC organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
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Civil Rights Activist Chuck McDew Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Civil rights activist Chuck McDew (b. 1938) recounts the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and disagreements about nonviolent philosophy in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Daisy Bates Reports on Little Rock Students’ Progress
Daisy Bates, publisher of The Arkansas State Press and president of the Arkansas State Conference of NAACP Branches, led the NAACP’s campaign to desegregate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thurgood Marshall served as chief counsel. The Little Rock school board approved the admission of nine black teenagers to Central High School. The decision outraged many white citizens including Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. He ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School on the pretext of preserving law and order, and the black students were repeatedly blocked by the guardsmen and angry white mobs. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling on September 25, 1957, to safely escort the students into Central High School. In the midst of the crisis, Daisy Bates wrote this letter.
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Cecil Layne. Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates posed in living room. Photograph, ca. 1957. NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (104.00.00) Courtesy of Barbara Layne-Hicks
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Youth March for Integrated Schools
In August 1958, A. Philip Randolph proposed a Youth March for Integrated Schools to take place on October 25. Bayard Rustin chiefly organized the event with the help of his protégés Rachelle Horowitz and Tom Kahn. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Roy Wilkins served as honorary chairmen. On September 20, King was stabbed by a woman at a Harlem department store while autographing copies of his book, Stride Towards Freedom. On the day of the march, a crowd of 10,000 massed at the Lincoln Memorial. Coretta Scott King delivered her husband’s speech. A second youth march on April 18, 1959, drew a crowd of 40,000.
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Tom Mboya of Kenya: “A World Struggle, A Human Struggle”
On April 18, 1959, Kenyan labor leader Tom Mboya (1930–1969) addressed a crowd of more than 20,000 who had marched to the Washington Monument to urge implementation of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision. The Youth March for Integrated Schools was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Other speakers included Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) Roy Wilkins (1901–1981), and Harry Belafonte (b. 1927). Mboya, later a government official after Kenya achieved independence, was assassinated in 1969. He had been a mentor to the father of President Barack Obama. This excerpt is from the film Integration: Report 1, produced in 1960 by Andover Productions, Inc.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Courtesy of Madeline Anderson and Icarus Films - http://icarusfilms.com/ (external link)
“Fables of Faubus”
“Fables of Faubus” by composer and bassist Charles Mingus (1922−1979) was composed as a satirical protest against Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus who, in 1957, had deployed Arkansas National Guard soldiers to Little Rock Central High School to prevent the integration of African American students. The original 1959 recording on the album Mingus Ah Um did not include lyrics due to objections by executives at Columbia Records.
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Charles Mingus. Mingus Ah Um. New York: Columbia, 1959. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (268.00.00) Courtesy of Sue Mingus
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The Day They Changed Their Minds
On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina A & T College sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. All were members of NAACP youth councils. Within weeks, similar demonstrations by white and black students spread across the South. Many students were arrested. The NAACP provided attorneys and raised money for fines or bail bonds. At a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960, the students formed their own organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This pamphlet recounts the beginning of the student sit-in movement organized by NAACP youth councils.
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Oklahoma City Sit-ins
History teacher Clara Luper (1923–2011) and the NAACP Youth Council in Oklahoma City that she advised initiated some of the first sit-ins in the civil rights movement, beginning in 1958. The efforts of Luper and the Youth Council succeeded in desegregating lunch counters at all the stores of a major drug store chain in four states and nearly all the restaurants in Oklahoma City. In this excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, Luper challenges the opinion of the owner of a segregated amusement park that Oklahoma City is not ready for integration.
Sit-ins in Nashville, Tennessee
Shortly after the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in began on February 1, 1960, Nashville students, who had initiated “test sit-ins” in 1959, followed suit. Despite beatings, arrests, jailing of protesters, and a bombing, six stores agreed in May to desegregate their lunch counters. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) called the Nashville movement “the best organized and most disciplined in the Southland.” In this excerpt from NBC White Paper: Sit-In, broadcast December 20, 1960, protesters, including John Lewis (b. 1940), describe the experience.
Nashville—Confrontation at City Hall
Diane Nash (b. 1938), one of the unofficial leaders of the Nashville sit-ins, and Mayor Ben West (1911–1974) describe a confrontation occurring on April 19, 1960, on the steps of City Hall that was captured by television cameras and broadcast December 20, 1960, as part of the documentary NBC White Paper: Sit-In. Many believed this incident to be a turning point that led to the desegregation of six lunch counters in Nashville stores a few weeks later.
Civil Rights Activist Marilyn Luper Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Civil rights activist Marilyn Luper (b. 1947) discusses her mother Clara's leadership in the NAACP Youth Group in Oklahoma City in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
“Freedom Now Suite”
“We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite” is a multi-part, music composition depicting African American history from slavery to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The world premiere took place on January 15, 1961, at a benefit for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The title is derived from a quote by civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, “Youth and idealism are unfurling. Masses of Negroes are marching onto the stage of history and demanding their freedom now!”
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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed in April 1960 to coordinate the widespread student protests initiated by the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-in. In the spring of 1961, SNCC emerged as a major force in the civil rights movement through its involvement in the Freedom Rides and other nonviolent protests across the South. In the fall, SNCC shifted its focus to long-term voter registration campaigns in the Deep South and joined the Voter Education Project (VEP). In 1964, the SNCC-led Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) sponsored Freedom Summer, a massive voter education and registration drive in Mississippi. This project put enormous pressure on President Johnson to move toward what would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
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Meeting with Senator Lyndon Johnson
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 strengthened the provisions of the 1957 act for court enforcement of voting rights and required preservation of voting records. It also included limited criminal penalty provisions related to bombing and obstruction of federal court orders, aimed particularly at school desegregation. In this letter, Clarence Mitchell reports on his meeting with Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson to discuss the bill and the need for closer coordination on civil rights propositions between Johnson and Senate liberals.
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President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1940. After distinguished military service during World War II, he served as a U.S. representative (1947–1953) and then as senator from Massachusetts (1953–1960). As the Democratic candidate for president in 1960, Kennedy supported his party’s commitment to a strong civil rights program. He won 70 percent of the black vote in a tight election defeating opponent Richard Nixon.
As president, Kennedy appointed an unprecedented number of blacks to government posts and believed that executive action and executive orders would be the only effective tools to advance civil rights. However, Kennedy argued the issue of civil rights could divide the Democratic Party and cost him the chance to pass other vital legislation. The Birmingham crisis in the spring of 1963, which drew the world’s attention to racial segregation in the South, moved him to send a full and comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress.
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NAACP Labor Secretary Herbert Hill
Born in Brooklyn, Herbert Hill studied at New York University and the New School for Social Research, then worked as an organizer for the United Steelworkers before joining the NAACP staff in 1948. He was named labor secretary in 1951. In this capacity, he filed hundreds of lawsuits against labor unions and industries that refused integration or fair employment practices. He also used picket lines and mass demonstrations as weapons. Recognized as a major authority on race and labor, Hill testified frequently on Capitol Hill and served as a consultant for the United Nations and the State of Israel. He left the NAACP in 1977 to accept a joint professorship in Afro-American studies and industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin, where he retired in 1997.
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Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity
On March 6, 1961 President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925 creating the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity to combat discrimination in government employment and in private employment stemming from government contracts. He made Lyndon Johnson chairman, and appointed Louis Martin to the committee’s advisory group. Unlike similar executive measures taken by Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower, this order mandated “affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial, ethnic, or religious bias. In 1965 President Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 amended the order by adding sex to the list attributes.
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Report on President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity
A week after President Kennedy created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation was awarded a $1 billion federal contract to build C-141 jets through the efforts of Richard Russell and House Armed Services chairman Carl Vinson. The NAACP, which had been investigating racial discrimination at Lockheed’s plant in Marietta, Georgia since 1956, filed a complaint against Lockheed the first day of the Committee’s operation. Vice President Johnson worked with the NAACP to remedy the discrimination. By the end of 1961 the plant had hired more than two-hundred black workers and promoted fifty-nine.
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U.S. Representative Patsy T. Mink
Representative Patsy T. Mink (D-HI) (1927–2002) was the first woman of color to be elected to Congress. Mink, a third generation Japanese American was born and raised on Maui. She received her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951. Returning to Hawaii, Mink served in the State Senate when Hawaii became the fiftieth state and delivered a speech during the 1960 Democratic National Convention convincing the party to maintain its stance on civil rights. Mink was elected to Congress in 1964 and served a total of six consecutive terms. While in Congress she co-authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act extending more of the 1964 act’s antidiscrimination protections to women.
“What greater weapon for peace do we have than our victory over bigotry and race hatred which for many centuries past have torn the world apart.”
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Patsy T. Mink’s handwritten notes for speech given in support of the civil rights plank at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Envelope, July 12, 1960. Page 2. Patsy T. Mink Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (114.00.00) Used with permission of Gwendolyn Mink.
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CORE’s Freedom Rides
In 1961 CORE organized Freedom Rides into the Deep South to test the 1960 Supreme Court’s decision in Boynton v. Virginia, which held that segregation in railway and bus terminal facilities serving interstate passengers was illegal. On May 4, 1961, thirteen black and white riders, including CORE’s National Director, James Farmer, departed Washington, D.C., by bus en route to New Orleans. On May 14, in Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed and riders on another were assaulted. In this letter, Farmer asks A. Philip Randolph for help in raising money to support the Freedom Rides.
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Events Involving the Freedom Rides
After the incident in Anniston, Alabama, SNCC students from the Nashville freedom movement, led by Diane Nash, resumed the Freedom Rides to Mississippi. On May 20, a group of Freedom Riders boarded a Birmingham-to-Montgomery Greyhound bus. They were met in Montgomery by a riotous mob. Among the injured was John Seigenthaler (b. 1927), a Justice Department aide. Throughout the summer more than 300 Freedom Riders came by bus, plane, and train to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested on breach of peace and jailed in Parchman Prison. This document chronicles events involving the Freedom Rides and corresponding actions taken by civil rights organizations and government agencies from May 21 to July 19, 1961.
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Journalist Moses Newson Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Journalist Moses Newson (b. 1927) remembers the terror of taking part in the first bus ride of Freedom Riders in 1961 in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Map of the Freedom Rides
The Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), rode through the South seeking to integrate the bus, rail, and airport terminals. This Associated Press release includes a map and descriptive text (not shown) that illustrates the routes taken and the history behind the freedom rides.
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Percy Sutton on the Freedom Rides
Prominent civil rights lawyer and activist Percy Sutton (1920–2009) describes psychological aspects of participating in the Freedom Rides in this television interview included in the documentary Walk in My Shoes, broadcast on September 19, 1961, over the ABC network in the Bell & Howell Close-Up! series.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Courtesy of ABC News VideoSource
Civil Rights Leader Whitney M. Young, Jr.
Whitney Young, Jr., (1921–1971) grew up in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky. He graduated from Kentucky State College at the age of eighteen, and earned a master’s degree at University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work in 1947. The same year, he became director of industrial relations for the St. Paul Urban League and, in 1950, moved to Omaha to serve as executive secretary. In 1954 Young was named dean of the School of Social Work at Atlanta University. Under his leadership, Atlanta became one of the top social work schools in the South. In 1961 he became executive director of the National Urban League, and later he proposed a domestic recovery program to increase economic and educational opportunities for blacks. President Johnson incorporated some of Young’s ideas in his War on Poverty program.
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Robert F. Kennedy
Robert F. Kennedy (1925–1968) was a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law. During the 1950s Kennedy’s work, as counsel for two major Senate investigating committees, was paired with a deepening involvement in John F. Kennedy’s political career. He directed his brother’s 1960 presidential campaign and served as his most trusted advisor. Kennedy approved the most far-reaching civil rights plank ever adopted by the Democratic Party.
As Attorney General, Robert Kennedy built a strong Civil Rights Division, which included Burke Marshall and John Doar, and a greatly expanded staff of lawyers. The division aggressively pursued the prosecution of voting rights violations in the South and initiated suits to advance school desegregation. It was RFK who persuaded JFK to deliver his famous civil rights speech on June 11 and introduce civil rights legislation, crafted by the lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
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Civil Rights Activist Courtland Cox Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Activist Courtland Cox (b. 1941) remembers a 1962 protest with Stokely Carmichael at Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's office in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier (b. 1962) for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Civil Rights Activist Vernon Jordan Discusses Albany Movement
Vernon Jordan, a lawyer and civil rights activist, served as the NAACP’s Georgia field secretary from 1961 to 1963. This transcript provides an early history of the Albany Movement, which was founded by local activists, SNCC, and the NAACP on November 17, 1961, to challenge racial segregation in Albany, Georgia. Martin Luther King, Jr., and SCLC became involved in assisting the movement when King and Ralph Abernathy arrived in Albany on December 15, following the arrest of almost 500 protesters. The mass demonstrations in Albany continued for six years.
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The Albany Movement
The Albany Movement formed in 1961 in Albany, Georgia, as a collaboration between local activists, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It became the first major initiative of the civil rights movement to try to desegregate an entire city. In this excerpt from CBS News Eyewitness: The Albany Movement, broadcast on August 3, 1962, teenage demonstrators are arrested for singing and praying in front of the public library—the SNCC Freedom Singers originated in this movement—and SCLC’s executive director, Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker (b. 1929), discusses the intent of nonviolent direct action.
The Freedom Singers
Organized by SNCC in 1962, The Freedom Singers were originally four black students, Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson, Charles Neblett, and Rutha Mae Harris. The group originated in Albany, Georgia, with the objective of educating communities about civil rights issues through performances and songs. The movement was closely connected to the church, and the use of both secular and spiritual songs served as the link that tied the two together for the cause of racial equality. The group gave more than 200 performances at college campuses, demonstrations, marches, and even jails. Singing provided a means for demonstrators to endure the pain and frustrations of assaults, dog attacks, fire hoses, and jail time.
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Activist Bernice Johnson’s Arrest Statement
Bernice Johnson joined SNCC in 1961, while a student at Albany State University. On December 10, 1961, a group of SNCC Freedom Riders and SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman were arrested for integrating the train station in Albany, Georgia. On December 12, the day of the SNCC trial, 267 students marching in peaceful protest were arrested. The following day, Bernice Johnson participated in a prayer protest led by Albany leader Slater King and a march at City Hall. She and 300 others were arrested and sent out to the Lee County Stockade. Johnson recounts her experience in this statement.
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Status Report on the Voter Education Project
In April 1962, the NAACP, CORE, SNCC, SCLC, and the National Urban League launched the Voter Education Project (VEP), a coordinated effort to register black voters in the South. Attorney General Robert Kennedy secured $870,000 from the Taconic Foundation and other private foundations to give VEP tax exempt status. He also offered federal protection to civil rights workers engaged in the project. VEP recorded a jump in Southern black adults who were registered to vote from twenty-five to forty percent between 1962 and 1964. The increase, however, was mainly in the urban and upper South. In Mississippi, where most of VEP’s money had been spent, the proportion rose from 5.3 to 6.7 percent.
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CORE Voter Registration in Louisiana
In July 1963, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sent a task force to Plaquemine, Louisiana, to initiate a voter registration drive, responding to the request of a local schoolteacher and activist for help. The summer drive was documented in Louisiana Diary, broadcast March 16, 1964, on National Educational Television. In these excerpts, Ronnie Moore, CORE’s field secretary for Louisiana, explains that through voter registration, they hope to achieve laws to protect African Americans from violence and ensure justice and fair law enforcement. CORE executive director James Farmer (1920–1999), who speaks to activists in one excerpt, arrived in Plaquemine in August for a mass march to City Hall after demands were ignored by officials. Farmer’s arrest at the march prevented him from attending the March on Washington.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Courtesy Thirteen Productions LLC, WNET
NAACP Requests Assistance for James Meredith
In September 1962, a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to accept James Meredith, a twenty-eight-year-old Air Force veteran, after a sixteen-month legal battle. Governor Ross Barnett (1898−1987) disavowed the decree and physically barred Meredith from enrolling. President Kennedy responded by federalizing the Mississippi National Guard and sending U.S. Army troops to protect Meredith. After days of violence and rioting by whites, Meredith, escorted by federal marshals, enrolled on October 1, 1962. Two men were killed in the turmoil and more than 300 were injured. Because he had earned credits in the military and at Jackson State College, Meredith was eligible to graduate the following August, which he did without incident.
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John A. Morsell, assistant to NAACP executive secretary, to President John F. Kennedy requesting the assistance of the federal government, September 21, 1962. Typed letter. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (126.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Birmingham News, October 1, 1962. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (127.00.00)
St. Louis Globe-Democrat (Missouri), October 1, 1962. Newspaper Section, Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (127.01.00)
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Civil Rights Activist James Forman
James Forman (1928–2005) graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He received a master’s degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from Union Institute. A Chicago Defender assignment to cover the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School ignited Forman’s interest in the burgeoning civil rights movement. He became involved in CORE and the NAACP and, in 1961, became executive secretary of SNCC. From 1967 to 1969, Forman was director of SNCC’s International Affairs Commission and played a crucial role in coalescing SNCC’s activities with other civil rights organizations and elevating the organization to national and international prominence. Forman continued to devote the rest of his life to human rights issues.
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James Forman on Organizing in the Rural South
James Forman (1928–2005), the executive director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), describes to interviewer Kenneth Clark the goals, tactics, and dangers of SNCC voter registration drives in the rural South in this excerpt from the television documentary We Shall Overcome, broadcast August 14, 1963, on National Educational Television.
Thurgood Marshall’s Goodwill Tour to East Africa
In July 1963, Thurgood Marshall was asked by the State Department to travel to East Africa as a representative of the Kennedy administration. Marshall toured the newly independent nations of Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda, conferring with African leaders and providing advice on civil rights and economic development. He was accompanied by Berl Bernhard, director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. The trip particularly strengthened relations between the U.S. and Kenya. In 1960 Marshall had been involved in writing the Kenyan Constitution.
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Journalist and Advisor Louis Martin
Louis Martin (1912–1997), a renowned journalist and newspaper publisher, served as the principal black advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter, and as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1961 to 1969. Martin kept this notebook to chronicle his travels and activities during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In the passage shown here, he reports on the reaction at the White House to the 1963 Birmingham campaign.
“In the last few weeks Negro demonstrations in Birmingham and the South and North have intensified the race-relations dilemma and forced the attention of everyone from the President on down. Civil Rights’ items dominate all media and it the is the central theme of private and public discussion.”
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Civil Rights Leader Louis Martin
Louis Martin grew-up in Savannah, Georgia, the son of a Cuban–born physician. Educated at the University of Michigan, he began his career as a reporter for the Chicago Defender in 1936, and within a year became the editor and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. In 1944 Martin took a leave of absence to work as assistant publicity director for President Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign. From 1947 to 1959 he served as editor-in-chief of the Defender, and in 1949 became founding president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Martin returned to politics in 1960 as a member of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign team. He served as an advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter, and as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1961 to 1969. Dubbed “the godfather of black politics,” Martin helped to establish African Americans as a political power in the Democratic Party and promote them to high government posts. He aided the appointments of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, Andrew Brimmer to the Federal Reserve Board, and Robert Weaver as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In 1970 Martin cofounded the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank, serving as its first chairman for nine years.
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Civil Rights Activist Julian Bond
In this letter to A. Philip Randolph, Julian Bond (b. 1940) affirms SNCC’s participation in the March on Washington in the absence of “SNCC Chairman Charles McDew, who is presently in Greenwood, Mississippi where eight of our members—including our Executive Secretary, James Forman—are being held in the county jail.” SNCC launched a major voter registration drive in Greenwood in 1962. White segregationists retaliated with relentless acts of violence. Police arrested McDew, Forman, Robert Moses, and others SNCC workers on March 27, following a demonstration at the Leflore County Courthouse in Greenwood. SNCC activities in Greenwood were crucial to building the voting rights movement.
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Julian Bond to A. Philip Randolph, April 1, 1963. Typed letter. Bayard Rustin Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (137.00.00)
Julian Bond and Stokely Carmichael conducting a news conference in the parking lot of a filling station in Atlanta . . . in support of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell. Gelatin silver print, January 9, 1967. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (138.01.00)
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Activism and Violence in Greenwood, Mississippi
In 1962, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began a voter registration drive in Greenwood, Mississippi, the county seat of Leflore County, which was more than two-thirds black, but only five percent of the voting-age African American population was registered to vote. African American poverty in the area was widespread and threatened to intensify, which Bob Moses (b. 1935), the leader of SNCC in Mississippi, notes in this excerpt from the documentary The Streets of Greenwood (1964). SNCC organizers in Greenwood were shot and arrested, as the city was the state headquarters for the White Citizens’ Council, which Moses also discusses.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. A film by Jack Willis, Fred Wardenburg, John Reavis
Professor Freeman Hrabowski Interviewed by Joseph Mosnier in 2011
Professor Freeman Hrabowski (b. 1950), President of UMBC, remembers joining the Birmingham Children's Crusade at the age of 12 in an interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier for the Civil Rights History Project in 2011.
Birmingham, Alabama, Protests
In May 1963, police in Birmingham, Alabama, responded to marching African American youth with fire hoses and police dogs to disperse the protesters, as the Birmingham jails already were filled to capacity with other civil rights protesters. Televised footage of the attacks shocked the nation, just as newspaper coverage shocked the world. This excerpt from CBS Eyewitness: Breakthrough in Birmingham, broadcast on May 10, 1963, includes televised footage seen by millions, as well as a brief interview with Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968), one of the leaders of the movement in Birmingham, who discusses the importance of achieving success there.
Television and Birmingham
Ralph McGill (1898–1969), the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and columnist of the Atlanta Constitution and supporter of the civil rights movement, discusses the momentous effect of televised coverage of police brutality during the Birmingham protests. The interview was included in NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963. In the months following the protests in Birmingham, nearly 800 racial demonstrations occurred in cities throughout the U.S.
The Cambridge Movement
The Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) formed in 1962 to target segregation and racial inequality in the Eastern Shore of Maryland city of Cambridge. This excerpt from NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, documents violent encounters that led in June 1963 to a declaration of martial law. Intervention by the Kennedy Administration to resolve the crisis with CNAC leader Gloria Richardson (b. 1922) resulted in what became known as the “Treaty of Cambridge,” but that failed to last, and conflicts continued in Cambridge for many years.
Courtesy of NBC News
Protesters and Desegregation in Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama, had the distinct record of being one of the last strongholds of discrimination, regardless of the many laws in place to prevent racial injustice. Images like this one of a fire hose being turned on peaceful protesters shocked the nation and awakened the conscience of the American people. Nine years after the Brown v. Broad of Education decision, the University of Alabama was forced to desegregate when three potential black students were identified. In a scene heavily reported in the press and covered on television and radio, Governor George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, physically preventing their enrollment.
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Warren K. Leffler. Governor George Wallace attempting to block integration of the University of Alabama. Photograph, June 11, 1963. U.S. News and World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (139.00.00)
Bruce Davidson. Civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. Prayers outside municipal building. Photograph, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (130.01.00) © Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos
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President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Message
On June 11, following the standoff with Governor George Wallace (1919–1998) at the University of Alabama, President Kennedy appeared on national television at 8:00 p.m. to announce his plan to submit a civil rights bill to Congress. In an impromptu speech that was partially extemporaneous, he described civil rights as “a moral issue . . . as old as the Scriptures and as clear as the American Constitution.” He highlighted the subjects of voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation, and the high rate of black unemployment. Acknowledging the urgency of the moment, Kennedy warned, “The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand.” Later that evening NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers was murdered in front of his home in Jackson, Mississippi.
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President Kennedy Ponders Making a Major Civil Rights Address
On June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) delivered a major televised address to the nation announcing that he soon would ask Congress to enact civil rights legislation. Kennedy allowed documentary filmmaker Robert Drew unprecedented access to Oval Office discussions with his advisors, which were included in the film Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, first broadcast October 21, 1963, on ABC, and rebroadcast in this re-edited version, Kennedy v. Wallace: A Crisis Up Close, twenty-five years later on the PBS series The American Experience, which included new interviews with participants.
Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Excerpt from "The American Experience: Kennedy v. Wallace: A Crisis Up Close," © 1998 Drew Associates. www.drewassociates.net (external)
President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address
In his civil rights address of June 11, 1963, delivered to the nation over radio and television, President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) announced that he soon would ask Congress to enact landmark civil rights legislation. Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) called the speech “one of the most eloquent, profound, and unequivocal pleas for Justice and Freedom of all men ever made by any President.” This excerpt of the speech appeared in CBS News Eyewitness: The President Faces the Racial Crisis, broadcast June 14, 1963.
Divergent Views of President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address
On the morning after President John F. Kennedy’s (1917–1963) June 11, 1963, televised address to the nation, announcing that he soon would ask Congress to enact landmark civil rights legislation, civil rights leaders discussed the speech in a panel moderated by Richard D. Heffner (1925–2013) for The American Experience, broadcast June 16, 1963, on Metromedia Broadcasting Television. The participants in this clip were Minister Malcolm X (1925–1965), a Nation of Islam leader; Allan Morrison (1916–1968), New York editor of Ebony magazine; and James Farmer (1920–1999), executive director of the Congress of Racial Equality. Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker (not shown in this clip), also participated in the discussion.
Kennedy Sends Civil Rights Bill to Congress
On June 19 President Kennedy sent a civil rights bill to Congress. The bill retained the voting rights provisions of the 1957 and 1960 acts (Title I); prohibited discrimination in public accommodations affecting interstate commerce (Title II); authorized the Justice Department to bring school desegregation suits (Title III); created the Community Relations Service (Title IV); extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission (Title V); cut off federal funds to state and local programs that discriminated (Title VI); and made permanent the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity (Title VII). The bill was introduced in the House by Chairman Emanuel Celler of the House Judiciary Committee as H.R. 7152. Celler immediately referred the bill to his antitrust subcommittee, renamed Subcommittee No. 5, a panel favorable to civil rights.
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The LCCR Considers Civil Rights Bill
On July 2, 1963, NAACP’s Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins called a meeting of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel to consider President Kennedy’s civil rights bill. The LCCR agreed to support the bill but insisted on the addition of a FEPC provision that included private industry; a grant of authority to the attorney general to intervene in all civil rights cases (the old Part III stripped from the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960); coverage of all public accommodations; and extended voting protections for state and federal elections. The LCCR began pressing Subcommittee No. 5 for these additions. The NAACP followed by convening a National Civil Rights Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., August 6–8, to lobby congressmen and senators.
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Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was reared in New York City. After graduating from Colgate University in 1930, he studied for the ministry. During the Depression he established a reputation as a fiery civil rights leader in Harlem, N.Y. In 1937 he succeeded his father as the pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, one of the largest black congregations in the U.S. Powell was elected New York’s first black city councilman in 1941, and in 1944, the first black member of the House of Representatives from the Northeast, where he served for twenty-four years. As a freshman legislator, he introduced substantial civil rights measures and pushed for the desegregation of District of Columbia schools and federal buildings. With the support of the NAACP, in 1946 he began to routinely attach a provision known as the “Powell Amendment” to bills that called for the denial of federal funds to any project that discriminated. The principle was later enacted into law as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From 1961 to 1969, Powell served as chairman of the powerful House Education and Labor Committee. He used his position to effectively pass antipoverty legislation.
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Proposed Use of “Calendar Wednesday” for FEPC
In 1961 Representative Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) became chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and the highest ranking African American in Congress. In 1963 the committee had reported out a Fair Employment Practices Committee bill that was awaiting action in the House Rules Committee, chaired by Representative Howard W. Smith (D-VA), an avid segregationist. Powell proposed that the bill bypass the Rules Committee through the “Calendar Wednesday” procedure, whereby a committee chairman could bring a bill to the floor on a particular Wednesday without going through the Rules Committee. He later dropped the idea for fear that it would undermine President Kennedy’s pending civil rights bill.
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The Preamble for the March on Washington
In December 1962, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, proposed a mass march on Washington during the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, calling for jobs to reduce the high rate of black unemployment. Randolph asked his colleague, Bayard Rustin, to draft a blueprint for the march. Rustin delivered this outline to Randolph after conferring with Norman Hill, assistant program director of CORE, and Tom Kahn. Hill and Kahn had previously assisted Rustin with organizing the Youth Marches for Integrated Schools.
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Organizers Plan March Strategy
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized in New York City in a Harlem office building. A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr., decided in May 1963 that the March would be held in August while Congress was in session, and on a Wednesday so as not to conflict with religious services over a weekend. Bayard Rustin, a leading strategist with experience in organizing protest demonstrations, was put in charge of coordinating the massive undertaking. Shown are organizers A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Anna Arnold Hedgeman planning the route for the march.
In 1941 Hedgeman (1899−1990) joined A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement and became executive secretary of his National Council for a Permanent FEPC in 1944. Two years later she became Dean of Women at Howard University, and in 1949 assistant to the administrator of the Federal Security Agency. From 1954 to 1958, Hedgeman was an assistant to Mayor Robert F. Wagner, the first black female member of a New York City mayoral cabinet. During the 1960s Hedgeman advised the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) appointed by John F. Kennedy. The PCSW also drew leadership and advice from Pauli Murray, Dorothy Height, Dollie L. Robinson, and other civil rights activists. These same women pushed to include sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and helped to found the National Organization for Women. Hedgeman was the only woman on the organizing committee of the 1963 March on Washington.
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Roy Wilkins at the March on Washington
Roy Wilkins (1901–1981), executive secretary of the NAACP, spoke about pending civil rights legislation at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.
“I Have a Dream” Speech
A skilled and charismatic orator who delivered many speeches in support of African American civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., is perhaps best known for his remarks at the 1963 March on Washington. After reading a prepared text, he began to extemporize with the words, “I have a dream,” envisioning a time when blacks and whites would work, pray, and struggle together and when character rather than color would matter most. Quoting a line from “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” he called on the nation to “let freedom ring.” King’s oratory electrified the diverse crowd of 250,000 and captivated a vast television audience. More attention was given to King’s remarks than to those of any other speaker.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Copy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech submitted for copyright registration, August 28, 1963. Typescript. Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (146.00.00)
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The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
A pivotal point in the civil rights movement was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More than 250,000 people from all walks of life gathered on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. The historic event helped to turn the tide for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by demonstrating to the nation and the world that it was time for change. The events of that day would echo across the world, through extensive media coverage, as others would take up the cry, “We Shall Overcome.” This photograph depicts how thousands came together and peacefully demonstrated, answering the call of the leaders of the March.
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Protestors and demonstrators participating in the civil rights events of the 1960s were conscious of the way they presented themselves during public gatherings. It was important to show through their attire they were deserving of the respect and dignity they were seeking. To that end, most organizers of events stressed proper presentation, although for this generation there was hardly the need. They were well aware of what was at stake and would not have jeopardized the end goals. Here Johnson has captured that feeling in this dignified image of a woman dressed in a hat and a fur trimmed jacket, closely holding her bible along with the “WE DEMAND” flyer.
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NAACP Lawyer Constance Baker Motley Interviewed by Renee Poussaint in 2002
NAACP lawyer Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005) discusses her surprise at crowds at the March on Washington and how it led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in an interview conducted by Renee Poussaint for the National Visionary Leadership Project in 2002.
Support of Hollywood Entertainers at the March
Like so many others heeding the call to participate in the March on Washington in 1963, Hollywood stars lent support to the movement and participated in the march. They came as ordinary citizens, and many supported the movement financially. Seen here are photographs of Hollywood actors and entertainers Paul Newman, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sidney Poitier, Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, and Harry Belafonte.
Roosevelt Carter. Paul Newman, and Sammy Davis, Jr.; Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster; Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, Burt Lancaster, and Josephine Baker at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Facsimile of photographs. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (270.00.00, 270.01.00, 270.02.00, 144.00.00) © Estate of Roosevelt H. Carter
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Civil Rights Leader John Lewis
At the age of twenty-three, John Lewis (b. 1940) was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. As chairman of SNCC, John Lewis planned to deliver a speech denouncing the Kennedy civil rights bill as “too little and too late.” When copies of the speech were distributed on August 27, other chairs of the march insisted that it be revised. James Forman re-wrote Lewis’s speech on a portable typewriter in a small anteroom behind Lincoln’s statue during the program. SNCC’s initial assertion “we cannot support, wholeheartedly the [Kennedy] civil rights bill” was replaced with “We support it with great reservations.”
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Bob Adelman. John Lewis, leader of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) rises to speak at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (257.00.00) © Bob Adelman
John Lewis and James Forman. Text of speech to be delivered by John Lewis, SNCC chairman, at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963 (original and revised). Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3. James Forman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (147.00.00)
John Lewis and James Forman. Text of speech to be delivered by John Lewis, SNCC chairman, at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963 (original and revised). Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. James Forman Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (148.00.00)
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Civil Rights Leaders Meet President Kennedy
Immediately after the March on Washington, its leaders met with President Kennedy at the White House. They focused the conversation on the civil rights bill’s economic shortcomings. Whitney Young insisted that the bill was directed at the South whereas the major problems were in the North. A. Philip Randolph reiterated the need for job creation and training. Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Walter Reuther tried to persuade Kennedy to support an FEPC provision and Part III, which authorized the attorney general to intervene in all civil rights cases, many of which involved violent repression of peaceful protests.
Warren K. Leffler. Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy in the oval office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963. Photograph. U.S. News and World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (150.00.00)
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White Citizens’ Council Head W. J. Simmons
For NBC’s The American Revolution of ’63, broadcast September 2, 1963, white supremacist W. J. Simmons (1916–2007), head of the Citizens’ Council of America, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, gave his evaluation of the civil rights “revolution.”
The Bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
On Sunday, September 15, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by white supremacists—a planned act of terrorism by men who were later identified as members of a Ku Klux Klan organization. The explosion killed four young African American girls—Addie Mae Collins (age fourteen), Denise McNair (age eleven), Carole Robertson (age fourteen), and Cynthia Wesley (age fourteen). There was a great public outcry for immediate justice nationally and internationally and the event marked a major turning point in the movement. It created urgency to usher the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
UPI. Casket with the body of 14-year-old Carole Robertson, one of four girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. Photograph, 1963. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (152.00.00)
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Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-WI), William M. McCulloch (R-OH), and Robert Kennedy on the Subcommittee Bill
On September 15, 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, killing four African American girls during their Sunday school classes. In response to the attack and to the recent March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, liberal members of the House Judiciary subcommittee responsible for crafting the civil rights bill, strengthened the bill that the Kennedy Administration had sent to Congress in June to the displeasure of those who believed it now could not pass. In this excerpt from CBS Reports: Filibuster—Birth Struggle of a Law, broadcast March 18, 1964, Representatives Robert W. Kastenmeier (1924–2015), Democrat of Wisconsin and William M. McCulloch (1901–1980), Republican of Ohio, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925–1968) discuss the revised bill.
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, 1963
One of the most important books ever published on race relations, James Baldwin’s two-essay work comprises a letter written to his nephew on the role of race in U.S. history and a discussion of how religion and race influence one another. Baldwin’s angry prose is balanced by his overall belief that love and understanding can overcome strife. In the book, Baldwin predicted the political and social unrest that occurred after 1963.
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James Baldwin in San Francisco
In May 1963, during the Birmingham, Alabama, protests, novelist, essayist, playwright, and poet James Baldwin (1924–1987) visited San Francisco to interview African American youth. The encounters, occurring a few months after the publication of The Fire Next Time, Baldwin’s foreboding analysis of race in America, were filmed for the documentary Take This Hammer, broadcast in January 1964 on National Educational Television.
White Backlash in the North
In this excerpt from the documentary Confronted, examining northern whites who felt personally confronted by African Americans demanding freedom, residents of a suburban town near Philadelphia react with violence when a black family moves into the neighborhood. Confronted was broadcast in December 1963 on National Educational Television.
Hubert Humphrey Pledges Support
As mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey held membership in the National Urban League and assisted the League’s efforts to fight discrimination in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He first met Whitney Young, then director of industrial relations for the St. Paul Urban League, in 1947. In this letter then Senator Humphrey congratulates Young on the March on Washington and pledges his “total commitment to President Kennedy’s civil rights bill.” In 1964 Senate Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield named Humphrey the Democratic floor leader for the bill.
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Negotiations to Support a Bipartisan Compromise Bill
House Judiciary Subcommittee No. 5 held public hearings on the civil rights bill from May 8 to August 2, 1963. In September the subcommittee approved a draft of the bill that accommodated all the demands of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). Attorney General Robert Kennedy appeared before the full Judiciary Committee on October 15 to ask for a “more reasonable” bill. The Kennedy administration was convinced that the subcommittee’s draft could not win enough Republican votes to pass the House. The NAACP and LCCR refused to yield. President Kennedy directly intervened by calling the House leadership of both parties to the White House on October 23. After five days of negotiations they agreed to support a bipartisan compromise bill. The Judiciary Committee officially reported out the bill on November 20.
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Condolences to Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy
On November 21, 1963, President Kennedy made a political trip to Texas to raise money for his reelection campaign and smooth over internal Democratic Party frictions between liberals and conservative Governor John Connally that were weakening the party in the state. While in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, he was fatally shot at 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963. A. Philip Randolph sent this letter of condolence to Jacqueline Kennedy later that afternoon.
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Louis Martin’s Statement on the Death of President Kennedy
Louis Martin was recruited by Sargent Shriver to work on the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy. Martin persuaded Robert Kennedy, who ran the campaign, to intervene in the release of Martin Luther King, Jr., from an Atlanta jail in October. King endorsed John F. Kennedy for president in November, helping him win the black vote in the election. In 1961 Martin became an advisor to President Kennedy and deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Martin was en route to his office at the DNC when he learned of President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
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Herblock depicted a darker world without the president and his vision. His drawing of a hooded figure of death casts a long pall over the future while clutching a funerary wreath for John F. Kennedy. Herblock mourned the loss of hope for the world, which Kennedy symbolized for him. This cartoon was published the day Kennedy was buried.
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Securing Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill
On November 27 President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to ask for the “earliest possible passage” of the civil rights bill as a tribute to President Kennedy. Two days later, he met with Roy Wilkins at the White House to ask Wilkins and other civil rights leaders to lobby forcefully and mobilize public support behind the bill. On December 8, Johnson invited Joseph Rauh, a persistent critic, aboard Air Force One to accompany him to the funeral of New York Senator Herbert Lehman. Shortly thereafter, they met at the White House to discuss the Judiciary Committee bill and strategy for the upcoming fights in Congress.
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