American Civil Rights History: Yale Lecture Notes

Contralto Marian Anderson sang at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, April 9, 1939, to an estimated crowd of 75,000 people.

This series of blogs is based the possibly quixotic belief that if but my white Christian friends knew the ugly Black History of Civil Rights, slavery, and the Civil War and its aftermath, and how the blacks suffered deeply, first as slaves, then as freemen, but still chained first by Jim Crow then by continued prejudice, perhaps then my white Christian friends would be more compassionate towards our black brothers and would totally reject the white supremacist ideology championed by Trump and the Republican Party.

The intransigent South lost the Civil War, but in the Redemptionist Jim Crow era won the Civil War of states rights, won the Civil War of white supremacy by sheer stubborn hatefulness.  Why are the forces of darkness and hate so often so much more stubborn than the forces of light and virtue?  Hopefully, this victory is but temporary, black and enlightened white leaders in the decades and the centuries after the Redemption era have and will fight this eternal Civil War between darkness and light, hate and virtue, white supremacy and civil rights, and today between Republicans and Democrats, Trump and Biden.

WHAT IS THE MAIN LESSON OF THE HISTORY OF RECONSTRUCTION AND REDEMPTION?

Many Republicans will tell you that you need to reject SOCIALISM, you need to reject the policies of affordable healthcare, affordable education, and a living wage.  The real reason why America has not adopted these policies is not because we have rejected socialism.  The real reason why the Deep South has always been hostile to affordable healthcare for all, affordable education for all, and a living wage for all has everything to do with their hostility towards any programs that benefit all poor people, white and black.  White Supremacists did not want to provide any social services to poor blacks, and if that meant denying them to poor whites, that was acceptable to them.  This racism was the real reason why America, alone among the developed countries, did not adopt universal health care after World War II.

This blog uses as its source lectures by Jonathon Holloway, a Yale professor whose chosen academic field is black history, a topic he chose as a teenager.  These are his free YouTube undergraduate lectures on African-American history:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fp6mjKumW2g&list=PLh9mgdi4rNeyqnC6Gj5VCZERhhy9CC1S6

The classroom notes and suggested reading are at:
https://oyc.yale.edu/NODE/46

We encourage you to listen to these lectures yourself.  This blog quotes many stories he tells that help this history come alive.  There is much black history in these lectures that is not discussed here, including lectures covering Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Black Panthers, Marvin Gaye, blaxploitation films like Shaft, Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, and other historical and cultural topics.

This is our blog on history of slavery in pre-Civil War years:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/american-slavery-and-the-abolitionists-yale-lecture-notes/
This blog also has the links to the free YouTube Yale undergraduate lectures for both Professor Holloway’s African American History class and Professor Blights’ Civil War and Reconstruction class.

This is our blog on how slaves helped the North win the Civil War:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/stories-of-how-slaves-helped-the-union-win-the-civil-war-yale-lecture-notes/

This is our blog on how black ex-slaves struggled in the Reconstruction and Redemption eras:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/post-civil-war-reconstruction-and-redemption-history-yale-lecture-notes/

We also encourage you to read our complete set of blogs on slavery in both the Deep South and ancient worlds:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/category/slavery/

BOOKER T WASHINGTON, ACCOMODATIONIST

There have been disagreements among the Civil Rights leaders, particularly in the decades following the Redemption era.  There was definite tension between those who were followers of Booker T Washington, the accommodationist, and WEB Dubois, the activist.  They are like the good cop and bad cop of early Civil Rights history.

These two pioneering black leaders were from two generations.  Booker T Washington lived from 1856 through 1915 and was the last black leader who witnessed the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War.  WEB Dubois was born later and lived longer, from 1868 through 1963.  WEB Dubois earned his PhD in history from Harvard and was part of the Talented Tenth movement who believed that black leaders should seek higher education to better enable them to champion the causes of their race.[1]

Booker T Washington was the first President of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a black school that taught blacks practical agricultural and technical skills so they could get the best jobs that were available to them.  He lived in the worst of the Jim Crow years where lynchings and Jim Crow cruelties were at their height.  This message of humility and subservience was a popular message among the white elites, and he was able to tap the white philanthropists like Carnegie, JC Penney, Rockefeller, Taft and Eastman among others, to establish half a dozen more black schools across the south.  Though publicly he distanced himself from the younger activists like WEB Dubois, privately and secretly he helped fund the NAACP and the activities of WEB Dubois.[2]

Booker T. Washington’s most famous speech was at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition at Atlanta, Georgia.  This speech led to the Atlanta Compromise between white and black leaders, which agreed that “Southern blacks would work and submit to white political rule, while Southern whites guaranteed that blacks would receive basic education and due process in law. Blacks would not focus their demands on equality, integration, or justice, and Northern whites would fund black educational charities.”[3]  This likely led to Washington receiving more funds for his endeavors to uplift his black student, but had little effect on providing blacks with more due process since it did not address restoring black voting rights.

Washington’s famous speech starts,
“A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, “Water, water; we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second time the signal, “Water, water, send us water!” ran up from the distressed vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” And a third and fourth signal for water was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the southern white man, who is their next-door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are; cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded. Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it is in the South that the Negro is given a man’s chance in the commercial world.”

Later in the speech Washington reemphasizes that:
“No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem. It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house.”[4]

SUPREME COURT DOCTRINE OF SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

In that same year of 1895 the Supreme Court hands down its–hands down its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. This was a test case where Homer Plessy, an octoroon, or someone who had only one black great-grandparent, bought a ticket for the train’s white-only coach car, to test a new state law separating the races.[5]

The majority of the Supreme Court, in an eight to one decision, holds the following:
“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction on it.”

The majority is claiming that the impression that the separation of the races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority is all in the colored race’s head. The famous dissent written by Justice John Harlan, says that
“the arbitrary separation of the citizens on the basis of race, while they’re on a public highway, is a badge of servitude, wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution.”

The majority is saying the badge of inferiority is nonexistent. It’s a construction. It’s in their minds. And Harlan says exactly the opposite. Thus was born the judicial doctrine of separate but equal that would not be overturned until the 1960’s Civil Rights era.[6]

WEB DUBOIS, BLACK SCHOLAR AND ACTIVIST

WEB Dubois criticized the Atlanta Compromise, famously saying that “manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrenders such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.”  WEB Dubois was more in the next generation, he differed from Booker T Washington by insisting on civil rights, political power, and higher education for blacks.  While Booker T Washington was giving his speech at the Atlanta convention, WEB Dubois was earning his PhD at Harvard.  WEB Dubois became a teacher and prolific writer, writing Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America, which ran counter to the then current Reconstruction scholarship influenced by notions of white supremacy.  He was also one of the black leaders who founded the NAACP, and was active in the NAACP for many decades.  During this time he edited the NAACP monthly magazine, The Crisis.[7]  We plan to use his book on Black Reconstruction as a source for a future blog.

WEB Dubois caused controversy when he encourages blacks to sign up to fight in World War I.  He writes, “This is the crisis of the world. Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our white citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy.”

But many blacks, including WEB Dubois, when the nation does not appreciate the contributions of black soldiers, insisting on tightening the chains of Jim Crow.  So he writes a new editorial called “Returning Soldiers.”

This editorial announces,
“Today we return. We return from the slavery of uniform which the world’s madness demanded us to don to the freedom of civil garb. We stand again to look America squarely in the face and call a spade a spade. We sing: This country of ours, despite all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land.

It lynches. It disfranchises its own citizens. It encourages ignorance. It steals from us. It insults us.

This is the country to which we, soldiers of democracy, return. This is the fatherland for–for which we fought! But it is our fatherland. It was right for us to fight. The faults of our country are our faults. Under similar circumstances, we would fight again. But by the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that that war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.

We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.

Make way for democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United–in the United States of America, or know the reason why.”[8]

NEW DEAL AND MARION ANDERSON CONCERT

The Democratic Party embraced progressive ideas in its New Deal policies that established government welfare programs to help the unemployed and destitute, and created the Social Security program to benefit ordinary workers when they were too old to work.  The New Deal ethos was revealed in the 1941 Four Freedoms speech, that declared that people everywhere in the world ought to enjoy the Four Freedoms of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  Our fight against fascism gave FDR room to further their Civil Rights agenda so our ideological enemies would not embarrass us by pointing out injustices to our black and poor citizens.

The Democratic Party at the time of the New Deal included socialists, civil rights activists, and Deep South good-old-boy white supremacists under the same big tent.  Often the New Deal programs would benefit all the poor, including the black poor, but sometimes when the New Deal programs were administered by local officials in the Deep South blacks were specifically excluded from the New Deal programs.  What made this balancing act challenging is that many Southern congressman, who often held key Committee chairs due to their seniority, placed a higher priority on maintaining the Jim Crow racial system than they did on either the New Deal policies or the later war effort to defeat the fascists.[9]

One solution was to take advantage of his activist wife Eleanor who used her position as First Lady to advance many progressive ideas in her speeches, meetings, and her books, her magazine articles, and her newspaper columns.  She could try to gain public approval for civil rights issues, and if the Southern congressmen complained, FDR would simply throw up his hands and complain, “You know I can’t control the Misses.”

One famous example is Eleanor’s intervention to host the Marion Anderson concert.  Marion Anderson was both black and was considered by high society in Europe to be one of the world’s greatest contralto opera singers.  Howard University was planning to invite her to give a concert in Washington but was having trouble finding a concert hall.  The DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, had a suitable concert hall, but their policy excluded blacks both from the audience and the stage.  They try to book her at the white high school auditorium, the Board of Education said they would make an exception to allow a one-time integrated performance.  They refused to change their policy permanently,  they did not want this to be a precedent to break from their separate but equal practice.

Eleanor Roosevelt gets involved, writes a scathing column in the newspaper, and makes this headline news.  She enlists the aid of Howard Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, to permit Marion Anderson to perform at the National Mall at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.

At the concert, Harold Ickes introduces Marion Anderson:
“Genius, like justice, is blind. For Genius, with the tip of her wings, has touched this woman, who, if it had not been for the great mind of Jefferson, if it had not been for the great heart of Lincoln, would not be able to stand among us today as a free individual in a free land. Genius. Genius draws no color line.”

Professor Holloway continues:
This is a powerful statement coming from a representative of the federal government. Now four hours before Ickes steps to the microphone, four hours before the concert begins, people start arriving at the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial. And what they find there is really quite remarkable. D.C. is a very segregated city during this era. What they find is an absence, an absence of a “colored only” section and an absence of a “white section. No colored allowed.” Seventy-five thousand people crowd the Mall to hear Anderson’s performance, and an untold number of people listen to the performance on radio around the country, aired live, with planes are circling overhead observing.

This is a famous image: Marian Anderson, long fur coat, singing just with piano accompanying her. She steps up to the microphone and in a powerful yet dignified rebuke to the DAR, Anderson simply begins her concert in this way by singing: “My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.” Eloquent, powerful, subtle, undeniable. She is in this moment claiming the country belongs to her race just as much as it belongs to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Everybody there got it.

The moment is important for one important reason. With Eleanor Roosevelt and Harold Ickes giving their very public support to Marian Anderson, it suggests to African Americans that the federal government, at the highest levels, in the White House, “really does care about us.”

When I was working on my first book, my dissertation in fact, I was interviewing a longtime D.C. resident who was about eighty years old. We were just talking about this era and what it meant to be black and struggle with the color line. Marion Anderson’s concert comes up, and he said something I’ve never forgotten: “After that concert, everything looked different in America as far as blacks were concerned.” Now he’s not talking literally, because the day after Marian Anderson sang, it wasn’t like if you were black, you could go into a local restaurant that’s not in the black section of town, or at Union Station, the only other place blacks could go for a public restaurant. You couldn’t go in someplace else and get a meal. You all of a sudden couldn’t get a job that was denied to you, you know, the week before. So in terms of literal bread and butter issues, there’s no change. But at the level of symbolic possibilities, at the level of what blacks can articulate and think as maybe achievable, fundamental change happens with this concert.

This moment is important because the public outcry surrounding Mary Anderson’s concert is happening in the context of a larger battle of a war or rhetoric against the Nazi doctrines of racial supremacy. You cannot just understand this concert in the context of an event that happened in Washington, D.C. It’s an event that has global ramifications, especially for the way in which the U.S. federal government is struggling against a war of words with the Nazi and fascist regimes. “The U.S. didn’t have a leg to stand on,” the Nazis would say, “because they’re just as racist as we are.” If the U.S. can’t handle its own fascistic tendencies internal, World War II is a war of hypocrisy.[10]

EMMETT TILL IS MURDERED

Professor Holloway tells us,
Especially brutal is the story of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old boy, sent from Chicago to stay with his family in Mississippi. The allegation is that he whistled one day at a white storekeeper’s wife when she walked past. Others have countered saying he had a stutter and would often lisp as a result. That night he is abducted and beaten. One of his eyes is gouged out. He is wrapped in barbed wire and tied to farm equipment before being thrown over a bridge. When they find him, his body is sent surreptitiously up to Chicago. His mother insists on having an open casket at the Chicago funeral and the images shock the country. Mose Wright, Emmett Till’s uncle, points out in court the people who came to get Emmett Till from him, which meant he could no longer live in Mississippi.

I was having lunch with a former colleague from a rural Louisiana, and the subject of Emmett Till came up. He said he was fourteen or fifteen years old when Emmett Till was murdered, and he knew then that he had to leave the South as soon as he could, he knew there was no hope for “a black man in the Deep South.” Now there was a court case. It was an all-white, all male jury. The jury deliberates for sixty-seven minutes. One juror said later, “It wouldn’t have taken so long if they hadn’t stopped to get a soda.” The jury finds the defendants not guilty, although everybody knew who did it.[11]

MELBA BEALE, ATTEMPTED RAPE, AND DESEGREGATION OF LITTLE ROCK SCHOOLS

Melba Beale, who would be one of the brave black teenagers of the Little Rock Nine who ran the racist gauntlets daily to integrate Central High, tells a horrific story when she was twelve years old.

Professor Holloway tells us,
The day the Supreme Court hands down the Brown vs Board of Education ruling overturning the Plessy vs Ferguson notion of “separate but equal”, mandating desegregation in American schools, Melba’s teachers warned their black students, “Go straight home. Don’t take any shortcuts. Just go straight home.”

Melba writes in her memoir, “As I entered the persimmon field, I sank deep into my thoughts, but a few steps past the big tree at the front of the path, I heard a rustling sound. I stood perfectly still, looking all around. I didn’t see a soul. Suddenly, as I came near to the end of the field, a man’s gravel voice snatched me from the secret place in my head.

‘You want a ride, girl?’ He didn’t sound at all like anybody I knew. There is was again, that stranger’s voice calling out to me. ‘Want a ride?’

‘Who is it?’ I asked, barely able to squeeze the words out.

‘I got candy in the car, lots of candy.’

I crept forward, and then I saw him—a big white man, even taller than my father, broad and huge, like a wrestler. He was coming toward me fast. I turned on my heels and fled in the opposite direction, back the way I had come.

‘You’d better come on and take a ride home, you hear me girl?’

‘No sir!’ I yelled, ‘No, thank you,’ but he kept coming.

My heart was racing almost as fast as my feet. I couldn’t hear anything except for the sound of my saddle shoes pounding the ground and the thud of his feet close behind me. That’s when he started talking about ‘niggers’ wanting to go to school with his children and how he wasn’t going to stand for it. My cries for help drowned out the sound of his words, but he laughed and said it was no use because nobody would hear me. I was running as fast as I could. The lace on my shoe came untied and my feet got tangled. As I hit the ground, I bit down hard on my tongue. I felt his strong hands clutch my back. I bolted up, struggling to get away. He pulled me down and turned me on my back. I looked up into his face, looming close above me like the monster on a movie screen. I struggled against him but he was too strong. He slapped me hard across the face. I covered my eyes with my hands and waited for him to strike me again. Instead, I felt him squirm against me, and then I saw him taking his pants down. In my house, private parts were always kept private. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing, but I knew it had to be bad. I scratched and kicked and thrashed against him with every ounce of strength I could muster. His huge fists smashed hard against my face. I struggled to push him back and to keep the dark curtain of unconsciousness from descending over me.

‘I’ll show you niggers the Supreme Court can’t run my life,’ he said, as he–as his hand ripped at my underpants. A voice inside my head told me I was going to die, but there was nothing I could do about it. White men were in charge.”

Someone comes to her rescue within about four or five seconds of this moment, before she’s actually raped. One of her classmates she didn’t really know that well knocks the guy over the head with a brick and she is able to escape to safety. Thus begins her journey towards becoming one of the Little Rock Nine. These are the memories of a twelve year old girl.[12]

The Supreme Court in Brown ruled that school districts had to be desegregated with “all deliberate speed”, which in the Deep South means never.  A few years later the NAACP selects nine students to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Professor Holloway tells us,
The NAACP are focusing on Arkansas because it seemed to be one of the most progressive states in the South on these issues. The nine who were selected were amazing students, academically gifted, coming from the right families who comported themselves in the right way. There’s fierce local resistance. The governor, Orval Faubus, calls in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent integration. President Eisenhower, very unhappy about the whole scene, sends in the one hundred and first Airborne to force the issue, and he does it not because he believed in integration, but because he believed in the federal government’s right to assert itself. This is a states’ rights versus federal rights issue for Eisenhower.

The troops ushered in the students after they had already tried to integrate the school before, but were harassed by mobs outside of the building. The troops could go with the students up to the door of the classroom, but in the classroom, or in the bathroom, or in the cafeteria, all hell broke loose. One student had lye thrown in her face, and was almost permanently blinded. They were attacked, books were thrown down, food poured on them, but they could not respond. The one student who did respond got kicked out, at which point they said, “One nigger down; eight more to go,” trying to get these students out of the school. Houses were bombed, people were shot at, folks lost their jobs. Now think about all this. What is it that’s being asked of these children? And they are children.

Going back to Melba Beals, there’s a few items from her diary entry, New Year’s Day in 1958, that allow us to ask some pretty important questions. Four different items, selected from a longer list is, one, “to behave in a way that pleases Mother and Grandma,” two people who were very central in her life. “To keep faith and understand more of how Gandhi behaved when his life was really hard; to pray daily for the strength not to fight back.” And the entry that, the resolution that she, that she put as number one, was to “do my best to stay alive until May 29th,” the end of the school year. I mean, think about it: NAACP activists, grown women and men, are making sure the children stay in school, despite the violence they suffer. And it’s very fair to ask, is it appropriate for sixteen year-olds to feel the need to write in their diaries that the most important New Year’s resolution is to “do my best to stay alive” until the end of the school year? What are the adults asking the children to do for the sake of the movement?

Now one final note about the school year and Little Rock. The governor was so upset about the public relations disaster that accompanied the school’s integration, that he decided to shut down Little Rock public schools the following year. The integration of the school, this great moment of civil rights victory of American exceptionalism, lasted one year, and then the public schools were shut down.[13]

FREEDOM BUS RIDERS

Professor Holloway tells us,
In 1961 CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, organizes a new round of freedom rides. Members of SNCC, students from Yale and other places in Connecticut, jump on these integrated buses and head on South. Once they cross into the deep South, the buses are attacked by smoke bombs, tires are slashed. As people run out of the buses to get away from the smoke, they are met by mobs who beat them with their fists and metal poles. The buses are torched. Other buses are sent down. Eventually, the buses arrive down in Birmingham, Alabama, where Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety, knows they’re coming, knows there’s a mob waiting for them at the bus station, and does not offer police protection.  He lets the students and riders get beaten senseless for fifteen minutes before before releasing the police. And people said, “Well, why did you do such a thing?” He goes, “It was Mother’s Day. You can’t take a man away from his mother. You know, they needed to have time spent with their mother. You know, they would get there in time.”[14]

MARTIN LUTHER KING IN BIRMINGHAM

Professor Holloway says,
King comes to Birmingham and willfully gets arrested. He knows he’s going to get arrested. He’s trying to brew up crisis. They throw King into solitary. There’s no word coming from him. This is actually terrifying. This is an era when people would disappear, and King being such a high-profile person was not protected from disappearing. Coretta Scott King is frantic, wanting to at least get reassurances that her husband’s alive, not just safe but alive. President Kennedy gets involved and seeks guarantees of King’s safety. While King is in jail, a number of moderate white clergy in Birmingham are upset that King is coming in from out of town stirring up trouble.  They publish a newspaper ad telling King to slow things down, to calm down, to lower the temperature.

King responds by writing one of the great protest documents and letters, and that’s the Letter from Birmingham Jail, one of the most important documents in American protest history. King responds to these ministers and says,
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace–still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark–darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’; when your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ your middle name becomes ‘boy’ however old you are, and your last name becomes ‘John,’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’; when you are harried by day and hunted–haunted by night by the fact that you are a negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you, when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness,’ then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of–cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

What is the pace of change? It’s going too fast for white moderates. Not going nearly fast enough for African Americans and white activists. So King writes the Letter from Birmingham Jail over Easter weekend in 1963. Meanwhile, marches are being organized in Birmingham, organized from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, to try to call attention to the general plight that African Americans face in Birmingham, the injustice, injustice of the situation.

Bull Connor responds, quite famously, “I want to see the dogs work,” and then, “Look at those niggers run.” As marches are organized, he would release the dogs, order his deputies to release the dogs. You’ve seen the images, of course. Open up the fire cannons. They actually had a tank, a police tank, that was brought out to terrorize the citizens. A decision is made by King and his circle to raise the stakes. And by raising the stakes, that means using children.

By the end of the first day, children marching in defiance of orders, leaving school, a thousand children aged between six and eighteen years-old are thrown in jail. By the next day, the number doubles. Robert F. Kennedy, he was leading a civil rights agenda for his brother, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy is beside himself. He could not believe that King would risk these children’s lives, as he put it, for the sake of more media coverage, more negative press. This is what he was doing, there is no doubt about it, that King is trying to antagonize the situation and horrify the nation by revealing what Bull Connor would actually do, and Bull Connor took the bait. He doesn’t care. Birmingham becomes a media circus, as people from around the country are horrified at what they bear witness to. With all the media around, a truce is negotiated. Lunch counters open to blacks, they become integrated. Promises are made that blacks are going to get hired in clerical and sales positions, thus avoiding economic boycotts.

But that doesn’t mean there is peace. Martin Luther King’s brother’s house is bombed. The hotel that was a staging ground for a lot of the organizers, who were coming in from out of town, the hotel was bombed. Federal troops, Robert F. Kennedy convinces his brother, “You’ve got to bring federal troops if you want to have stability.” So federal troops come and occupy Birmingham to keep the peace.[15]

MARTIN LUTHER KING: I HAVE A DREAM

Martin Luther King gave this speech on the March on Washington:
So even though we face difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!”

Later in the speech he says:
“In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the ‘unalienable Rights” of Law–of ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.'”

Further in the speech Martin Luther King says:
We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: ‘For Whites Only.’ We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'”[16]

MARCH ON SELMA, ALABAMA

Professor Holloway tells us,
The situation in Dallas County, where Selma is located, is really quite astonishing. In Dallas County, out of 15,000 people who are registered to vote, only 350 are black, in a state with a majority black population. In Alabama in general, over three quarters of eligible blacks are still off the voting rolls, the highest percentage in the South.

So Martin Luther King goes down there to announce a new voter registration drive, knowing that he could bait the sheriff pretty easily. Rallies are organized, marches are planned. In the middle of February, a peaceful SCLC rally in a neighboring area was attacked by the police. During the melee, twenty-six year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson shields his mother who’s being beaten by a state trooper, and he’s shot in the stomach and dies. Of course, the police account differs. But this happens in from of news camera, and several reporters from NBC are attacked.

A plan evolves immediately to march from Selma, where Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered, from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital, fifty miles away. On March 7th, the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis, leads a march of six hundred protesters over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  The disruption of the march when the police beats the protestors is captured on live TV and shown across the nation.

Thousands flocked to Selma as a protest was announced, “We will march again” from across the country, black, white, doesn’t matter. They all come to Selma to right this injustice. This day becomes known as “Bloody Sunday.”[17]

Another little-known story about the second more peaceful Selma march is that of a grandmother who was shuttling march participants back to the beginning point.  While she was driving her station wagon some good old boys pulled up beside her, windows rolled down, and blew her away with a shotgun.

FREEDOM SUMMER MURDERS

During the summer of 1964 activists were in Mississippi encouraging local blacks to register to vote.  Three young activists, two white, one black, traveled to the town of Longwood to talk to a congregation about setting up a Freedom School to assist with voter registration.  When they did not call in at the agreed upon time that afternoon, they were reported missing.

Their smoldering car was found and reported to the FBI.  Local law enforcement said they knew nothing.  This became a national story, LBJ ordered four hundred Navy divers to search the canals of Mississippi for their bodies.  LBJ was likely not surprised when the divers were unable to find the bodies of the three missing boys, but they did find the bodies of six other Mississippi blacks who were likely victims of other lynchings.  Perhaps some locals were worried that other bodies of lynched blacks would be discovered, because they provide the FBI a helpful tip.

The lynch mob who murdered the youngsters included the local sheriff and other members of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter.  Only the black kid was beaten, but all three were shot and buried in an earthen dam by a backhoe.  Autopsies indicated that one of the kids had dirt in his lungs, which meant he had been buried alive.[18]

VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965

In the summer of 1965, LBJ is going out on a limb to become the civil rights president. On August 6th of 1965, he signs the Voting Rights Act, after an incredible effort to get it through. And the Voting Rights Act prohibited states from imposing literacy requirements as obstacles for accessing the ballot box. It’s the most successful way of cutting out the vote. And, most importantly, and this is the most important element, it allowed the attorney general to send federal examiners in, into any election where they thought voting rights might be curtailed.

The Voting Rights Act does not give anybody the right to vote. It gives the federal government the authority to protect the right to vote. It brings into bold relief the federal government’s ability and right to supersede in local affairs, which has been the, the nut of the, the bone of contention since the Voting Rights Act was passed.  (Update, the Supreme Court has recently weakened the powers of this act.)

The Voting Rights Act has, if you look forward from the moment of its passage in August sixty-five, makes a clear change. Within four years of its passage, three-fifths of adult blacks are registered to vote. It’s an astonishing shift. Between 1964 and 1969, the number of registered black voters in Alabama goes from less than twenty percent to over sixty percent of the population. In Mississippi, it goes to less than seven percent of the population to over two-thirds of the population, within five years. It’s a seismic shift, especially when you consider the number–the numbers we’re talking about in terms of the African American population.[19]

THE CENTRAL PARK JOGGER

In New York City there was the very famous Central Park jogger case. A white woman goes jogging in Central Park at night, investment banker. She’s attacked by teenage boys. The press likened the boys to a “roving pack of wolves.” Donald Trump took out full-page ads calling for the death penalty. The mayor referred to them as monsters.

Thirteen years later in 2002 Matias Reyes confesses to raping the young woman, and his DNA matched. Another instance of profound police ineptitude because they had the guy the whole time, essentially, and the young men who were kind of raising hell in Central Park, but they weren’t rapists, many of them languished behind bars for quite some time.[20]

RODNEY KING BEATING

The Rodney King beating took place in 1991.  Rodney King, sky high on drugs, engages in a high speed chase with the Los Angeles police department.  The police are upset.  The police arrest Rodney King, and they also beat him, too enthusiastically.  Rodney King suffers a fractured skull, a broken leg, and internal injuries.

The Rodney King beating makes media history because a bystander records the brutal beating on a video camera, which is played over and over on the news.  Bowing to public pressure, two weeks later four police officers are charged with assault, but the jury acquits them, sparking six days of riots.

During those riots occurs the story of Reginald Denny.  As Professor Holloway tells us,
Reginald Denny, a white guy hears that his friends are in trouble, caught near the vortex of the riot. He’s going to go help them. He’s a truck driver. His truck is stopped, and some thugs pull him out, and they start beating him with a brick,  trying to kill him. Television cameras are focusing on these black guys attacking the innocent white truck driver.

What most people don’t realize is the fact that the people who saved Denny were some older blacks who saw this happening on T.V., knew the intersection, got in the car and drove over to save him, saved him, got him in the car, and took him to the hospital. Later Denny was telling people afterwards, you know, “Quit using me as a political football. I don’t want to be used in this way. Stop it.” But he had lost control over his own virtual projected image.[21]

WHAT WAS ACCOMPLISHED IN THE STRUGGLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS?

The issues of slavery, abolition, emancipation, and black civil rights have dominated American politics since the 1830’s.  These racial issues continue to dominate up the current day, causing the shift of southern and other conservative white voters from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party as the fulfillment of Nixon’s Southern Strategy:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy

From the 1830’s to the 1870’s abolitionists and Radical Republicans, with help from black slaves, strove and struggled for black Americans to share in the American dream, shedding the blood of thousands and thousands on the battlefields of the Civil War, only to temporarily give up the struggle, allowing white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan to take control of their South.

What was accomplished?  Eric Foner, the renowned Civil War historian, notes that at least black Americans gained their personal dignity, nobody owned them, blacks did not have to work in gangs under the whip of an overseer, they were allowed to marry at the courthouse, their families would not be broken up at a moment’s notice as happened so often during slavery.

Throughout the twentieth century black civil rights leaders never gave up.  Eleanor Roosevelt, with FDR and other liberals and socialists were able to make many small advances during the time of the Depression and World War II.  These Civil Rights gains accelerated when the Civil Rights Acts restored the rights of blacks to vote and restored their other civil rights.  Under the Jim Crow regime intermarriage was condemned as miscegenation and was illegal in many states.  In the decades following the Supreme Court decision overturning these Jim Crow miscegenation statutes, intermarriage has become common.  Perhaps in another generation

Individual states in the Deep South and elsewhere were allowed to treat the slaves and blacks in their borders as cruelly as they wish during the days of slavery and Jim Crow.  The post-Civil War constitutional amendments gave the federal government the power to enforce both white and black, rich and poor, would enjoy the same liberties and dignity.  Both white and black would be guaranteed the right to citizenship, right to vote, and the right to due process under the law.  State laws can be declared unconstitutional in federal courts if the states do not fulfill their obligations to their citizens.

Slavery is not dead.  Slavery may never die in America.  We are guilty of condoning slavery when our minimum wage workers working a full forty hours do not earn enough to buy decent food, decent clothes, and have a decent roof over the heads of their family.  Who cares if we have freedom of speech and freedom of worship if you are starving in the streets?  FDR, when we were fighting the fascists in World War II, proclaimed that everyone in the world should also enjoy freedom from want and freedom from fear.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Freedoms

 

 

[1] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 5, see beginning of blog for the YouTube video links.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_T._Washington

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta_compromise

[4] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 6

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessy_v._Ferguson

[6] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 6

[7] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 6 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._E._B._Du_Bois

[8] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 8

[9] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 11

[10] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 12

[11] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 13

[12] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 12

[13] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 14

[14] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 14

[15] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 15

[16] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 15

[17] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 17

[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murders_of_Chaney,_Goodman,_and_Schwerner

[19] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 17

[20] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 23

[21] Jonathon Holloway, Yale African American History: Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 23

About Bruce Strom 127 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

2 Comments

  1. Linda Gross says:

    Bruce – I absolutely agree that these are horrendous parts of history. I also agree that the white supremacists should be considered a terrorist group. I do. It believe Donald Trump is a white supremacist. I sent you the videos to watch so you could hear real people testimony. Hope you listened to not only the ones I sent you but to all. Did you know the Trump was given an award relating to being a champion of inner cities with Rosa parks? Did you also know that Biden was afraid that if segregation was not done orderly he aid it would become a “jungle”? Biden also said if “you don’t vote for me you ain’t black”. I think race is an issue but not a republican/democrat – it’s a human issue.

    • Joe Biden is known for his occasional gaffes. Biden should have pushed back to that interviewer, Trump is a white supremacist. They stuff the RNC with black speakers so they can gaslight their base into thinking that Trump is not a racist. In this presidential election, RACE is an issue, the Republicans are white supremacists, and the Democrats support Civil Rights.

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