The term "separate but equal" was just a cover up. It was presented well and excepted as a written document, but the policy was never put into practice.
The NAACP established its organization in 1909. There were two lawyers who worked for the organization, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston. In 1909 a well known reporter, William English Walling, wrote an article that told of the terrible riot that broke out inside a jail in Springfield, Illinois. An African American man was accused of shooting and killing a white police officer. The man was killed, hung and shot several times, inside the jail, before the case could ever go to trial.
Walling was deeply affected by the injustice he saw. He rallied together and issued a call from socialists, African American protest leaders and concerned citizens. Their purpose was to oppose the inequality and unfair treatment of African Americans. This began the organization, called the NAACP. The group was composed of blacks and whites. It began as an interracial organization. Some of the prominent founders were Joel Spingarn, Mary white Ovington, and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.
In the 1930's they decided to take on an enormous task. They set out to prove that the separate but equal policy was quite the opposite. They traveled throughout the south documenting the conditions of the schools where African American children attended. Most of the schools were in deplorable condition. Most were made out of tarpaper formed into shacks. Others held school in very drafty log cabins. Supplies were scarce and many children had to walk a long way to school. The schools for the white children were housed in brick buildings, supplies were plentiful. Most of the schools were close to their homes.
After the information had been gathered, a legal suit began, fighting for equal rights in education for African American children. During this time, Charles Houston left the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall continued with the task. He won the case but the children were still segregated. In the 1950's, Mr. Marshall began to take a new stance. He argued that segregation was harmful to African American children. Segregation was dehumanizing and needed to be eliminated. The case involved Linda Brown, a seven year old girl who lived in Topeka, Kansas. Her home was close to the white school. The school she had to attend was far from her home. There was a railroad track she had to cross. She also had to ride on a rundown school bus. The Browns filed a lawsuit to allow their daughter to attend the white school near their home. The case was called Brown v. Board of Education. Deliberations lasted for a year and a half. Four other suits were also argued before the Supreme Court. On May 17, 1954 the case came to a close. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the children. Segregation in schools was now illegal. Schools were ordered in all states to desegregate or integrate. Much unrest continued about the court decision concerning schools being ordered to integrate. Approximately 450 new laws were put into effect in several states in the south. The strategy taken was to deliberately slow down the integration process.
In 1957 the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, openly defied the court ruling. Nine African American high school students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were prevented from entering the high school by the National Guard of Arkansas. Federal troops were called in by President Eisenhower to enforce the court decision and to ensure the safety of the students. Governor Faubus was an obstinate man; he closed all the schools instead of complying with the court order. The schools were closed for over a year. Finally in 1959, the Supreme Court ruled, forcing the schools to re-open. November 1960 the integration of schools became law.
The southern states resisted the changes that were evolving. African Americans continued to struggle for change. The civil rights movement became the main focus of the country, especially in the south.
December 1, 1955 marked a significant event that would change history forever. Mrs. Rosa Parks was going home on the bus as she did everyday. She sat in the white section of the bus because she was completed exhausted and fed up with the segregation laws. She was arrested for her stand toward injustice. A boycott began and continued for over a year. The purpose was to prevent public transportation from making any revenue. They did not ride the buses instead many walked to and from work. Those who had transportation gave rides to people. During this time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began speaking out to African Americans. He was strong in his convictions about injustice and being treated as an equal. He believed in non-violent protests.
On February 1, 1960, the first sit-in began. In Greensboro, North Carolina four college students sat in the White Only section lunch counter. Woolworth's became a hot spot. The sit-ins continued making the whites quite angry and hostile. The people poured food and drinks on those sitting at the counter. When one group left another one took their place. Threats of violent actions were stated to the protesters. The protests were always conducted in a civilized and non-violent manner. Protests expanded to white only swimming pools, movie theaters, department stores, and kneel-ins at all white churches. The KKK grew stronger, black leaders' lives were threatened on a daily basis. Churches were bombed, people were ambushed and murdered for opposing to their racist beliefs. In the same year the SNCC was founded by students in nine states. SNCC stands for Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
Another organization called CORE, Congress for Racial Equality, was founded by James Farmer. In 1961, the CORE planned the Freedom Rides. These rides would test whether the states were following federal orders. There was to be no segregation on buses, in bus stations and restaurants. Both African Americans and Whites participated in the freedom rides. Unfortunately the first two freedom rides were sabotaged. The first was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama. The second group ran for their lives from an angry mob in Birmingham, Alabama. In the fall of 1961, the federal government upheld the rule against segregation on buses and in bus terminals. Over the next two years many demonstrations were held, especially in Birmingham, Alabama. Protesters were repeatedly arrested. Police used fire hoses and attack dogs to deter the protesters. Still the civil rights movement moved forward. President John F. Kennedy presented a civil rights bill in Congress, that would end segregation in all public places.
Dr. King Jr. felt that the government needed to really become aware of issues and laws that needed to be changed. The largest protest in history took place August 28, 1963. The March on Washington was held in Washington D.C. Two hundred fifty thousand people from everywhere attended. People came together both blacks and whites for one purpose. The demonstration lasted for only one day, but drew the attention of the entire nation. Racial equality was the number one priority.
The next campaign fought was in Selma, Alabama. The right for African Americans to vote was priority. The campaign gained national attention. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. On August 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act became law. Both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws rescinded the Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination in the south.
However, five days after the Voting Rights Act became a law, much built up racial tension exploded in Los Angeles, California.
The rioting lasted four days. Approximately thirty-four people died, a thousand injuries occurred. Property damage was estimated at more than forty million dollars. People began to question the non-violent protests. They felt it did little to change the existing conditions. Prior to the riots, the SNCC became more militant. They began to become disheartened and lost trust in the effectiveness of civil rights movement. The SNCC elected a new leader, Stokeley Carmichael. He definitely had a militant approach. Black power became the main focus among the African Americans, especially college students, and young civil rights workers. During the 60's the emergence of the Nation of Islam in the north grew rapidly. Malcolm X became the pivotal leader of the Nation of Islam. They believed that even though segregation ended the white people would never allow African Americans true equality. Malcolm X taught his people of Islam that in order to be a strong race of people you must be independent of whites. He also felt living separately from one another. Malcolm X stressed economical equality with whites. He believed in order to accomplish his goals it would done by any means he felt were necessary. Malcolm X and Dr. King Jr. had completely opposite views on how to approach a difficult situation. Both did agree that moving forward, it would be through economically equity. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. In October 1967, The Black Panther party emerged. The party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California. They fought and defended the African American communities from neglect, discrimination and racial violence. They worked in urban neighborhoods across the country. They exercised their right to keep firearms, carry and own the them. They cited the second amendment of the Constitution. The panthers received a negative reputation from the media. The newspapers only concentrated on their negative actions. However little was publicized concerning the work done in the urban communities. They provided clothing, free breakfasts to children. Classes to adults involved in court cases.
Dr. King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Prior to his death he continued fighting against discrimination and poverty. During this time the Vietnam War existed. Many people were strongly opposed and protested against the war. The death of Dr. King Jr. created havoc and riots broke out throughout the country. Historians call 1968 the watershed year. A watershed is a ridge that sits on highland and is divided into two different rivers by flowing water. Despite the turmoil of the late 1960's the civil rights movement made its mark in history. It caused those in politics to bring racial justice from the back burner to the front.
Today the same issues are still a challenge to many Americans. The struggle has shifted to legal rights, for Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans.
Literature: Background on Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges was born on September 8, 1954 in Tylertown, Mississippi. In 1958 when Ruby was four years old her family moved to New Orleans. Ruby enjoyed her family and friends. Ruby was selected to take a test along with other students. The test was biased but Ruby and four other students passed the test. This allowed them to integrate into the white schools. Ruby's experience shaped her life into the person she is now. Ruby now works as a lecturer, telling her story to adults and children across the country. She talks about the importance of education. Ruby often has open discussions concerning racism and its effects on how the students view themselves. She now lives in New Orleans with her sons. Prior to reading Ruby Bridges book, Through My Eyes, the students will preview the photographs from the book. An open discussion with teacher and students. They will write a brief summary of what they felt about the photographs.