The Civil Rights Movement 1955-1968

1955  August 28  Emmett Till,  a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago was abducted in Mississippi. He was beaten, had one eye gouged out, and was shot in the head in retaliation for “paying too much attention” to a white woman. emmett till 1955  December 1  Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (December 1, 1955 – December 20, 1956).   Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white person and the ensuing boycott of the buses by African Americans culminated in a Supreme Court decision declaring the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses to be unconstitutional. 1954   Brown vs Board of Education  The US Supreme Court rejected separate white and colored school systems and by implication overturned the separate but equal  doctrine. 1957   The desegregation of Little Rock Central High School   Nine African American students sued for the right to attend the public high school. President Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne Division for their protection, but the students were still spat on and harassed by the white students. At the end of the 1957-58 school year Little Rock closed all of its public schools, rather than continue to integrate. Only one of the nine African American students graduated from Central High. 1957   Some chapters of the NAACP began to arm themselves for self-defense. The first was the chapter in Monroe, NC led by Robert Williams. When Klan night riders attacked the home of NAACP member Dr. Albert Perry in October 1957, Williams’ militia exchanged gunfire with the stunned Klansmen, who quickly retreated. 1960   February 1   Greensboro Sit-ins  – Four  young African American men sat at the lunch counter of Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC and refused to leave. This eventually led to the Woolworth  department store chain being forced to reverse its policy of segregation  in the South. 1961    Freedom Riders began riding interstate buses into the segregated South to challenge the non-enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision that the segregation of public buses and the facilities in bus terminals is unconstitutional. When these buses arrived at terminals in southern cities the riders were brutally attacked and some of the buses were set afire. 1962   September  James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi, becoming its first African American student, on a campus that looked more like a battlefield than an institution of higher learning. (He was later wounded by gunshot during the March Against Fear.) 1963   June 12   Civil rights activist Medger Evers was murdered, shot in the back by a Klan member who was hiding in the bushes by the driveway of Evers’ home. 1963  August 28  March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom  An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. While many speakers applauded the Kennedy administration for the efforts it had made toward obtaining new, more effective civil rights legislation protecting the right to vote and outlawing segregation, John Lewis of the SNCC took the administration to task for not doing more to protect southern Blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South. After the march, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders met with President Kennedy. While the Kennedy administration appeared sincerely committed to passing the bill, it was not clear that it had the votes in Congress to do so.  After the assassination of President Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson used his influence in Congress to bring about much of Kennedy’s legislative agenda. 1963    Sept 15   Klan bombing of 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, resulting in the deaths of 4 young girls attending Sunday School.  The  lesson that day was “A love that forgives.” 1963  November 22  President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas. 1964    Freedom Summer Campaign and the murder of James Earl Chaney (Afro-American), Andrew Goodman (White), and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner (Jewish)  The three civil rights workers were shot at close range by members of the Ku Klux Klan and local Mississippi law enforcement officers.  The three had been working on the Freedom Summer  campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote. Goodman and Schwerner were both shot in the head. Chaney was tortured before he was shot three times. When the bodies were finally discovered, forensic evidence suggested that Chaney may have still been alive when buried. 1964   Cassius Clay took the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship from Sonny  Liston. Shortly afterward he became a Muslim, joined the NOI, and changed his name to Muhammed Ali. A controversial and polarizing figure during his early career, Ali came to be greatly admired for not only the skills he displayed in the ring but also the values he exemplified outside of it: religious freedom, racial justice, and the triumph of principle over expedience. 1964  June 12  Nelson Mandela jailed for life for resisting apartheid in South Africa. 1964   July 2  President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act  that banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” in employment practices and public accommodations. 1964  December 10  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Prize for Peace. 1965  February 25   Malcolm X assassinated Malcolm X was a  Muslim minister and activist   Authored many books, the best known is The Autobiography of Malcolm X malcolm x To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of Blacks, a man who indicted White America in the harshest terms for its crimes against Black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. By March 1964 Malcolm X had grown disillusioned with the Nation of Islam and repudiated the Nation and its teachings. He embraced Sunni Islam and, after a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, returned to the United States to found Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Though continuing to emphasize Pan-Africanism, Black self-determination, and Black self-defense, he disavowed racism, saying, “I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then … pointed in a certain direction and told to march”. In February 1965, shortly after repudiating the Nation of Islam, he was assassinated by three of its members. 1965   Selma to Montgomery Marches – the first march, also known as Bloody Sunday, took place on March 7, to protest the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed African American civil rights worker who was shot by an Alabama State Trooper, as well as the continued exclusion of Blacks from the electoral process. The 600 marchers were set upon by State Troopers with billy clubs and tear gas.> The second march was held on March 9 and resulted in the 2,500 protesters turning around after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The third march started March 16.  Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers arrived at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25. The route is memorialized as the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail. 1965   August 6   President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act  which restored and protected the voting rights of all citizens. The signing was attended by Dr. Martin Luther King and Ms. Rosa Parks. 1966  June 6   James Meredith’s March Against Fear from Memphis to Jackson to encourage African Americans to register to vote. Meredith suffered a gunshot wound during this march, shot by a Klansman hiding in the bushes by the side of the road. 1968  April 4  Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was shot while standing on the balcony of his hotel room in Memphis. When the murder became known race riots broke out in many cities. James Earl Ray confessed to the shooting and was  sentenced to life, though he later claimed to be innocent. 1968  April 11  President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act that banned discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. KU KLUX KLAN June 1866 the KKK was established as a social fraternity (as was the Nazi SS). The name was taken from the Greek word for circle. Klansmen later began taking “night rides” to intimidate newly freed slaves.  Southern states enacted laws called Black Codes, designed to keep African Americans in virtual bondage. The US government passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that gave Blacks the right to vote, but the Klan began terrorizing Blacks to keep them from doing so.  Hundreds of Blacks were killed and thousands injured. Federal laws largely succeeded in disbanding the Klan but in 1915 it was re-established in Georgia. The film “Birth of a Nation” was released soon afterwards, glorifying the Klan in a distorted version of history.  At the end of the film Klansmen rescue the white heroine from lust-crazed Black men. President Woodrow Wilson screened it at the White House and said, “It is like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is  also terribly  true.” After an expose of Klan violence in a NY newspaper, Congress investigated the Klan, but took no action. The effect of the publicity combined with congressional inaction was to help the Klan grow. In the 1920’s 3,000,000 Americans joined and were a representative cross-section of White Protestant America.  500,000 women joined Klan organizations. The Klan helped to elect 15 US Senators, 5 of them sworn Klan members. One of them, Hugo Black, recanted his allegiance to the Klan when he became a Supreme Court Justice. Klan violence increased, but many officers of the law were members and all-White juries that included known Klan members never indited the guilty, despite indisputable evidence of crimes against African Americans. In one northern state – Indiana – the Klan managed to take over state politics. Then the head of the Indiana Klan abducted, beat, and raped a woman who subsequently died – and a jury did convict him.  The scandals and proof of brutality brought Klan membership down – from over 4,000,000  to a few hundred thousand by 1928. Membership dwindled further during the depression and the Klan’s center of activities returned to South. In the 1930’s the Klan “seemed to hate Commies and unions even more than Catholics.” In 1944 the IRS placed a lien for back taxes on the Klan’s national organization  and effectively closed it down. During the 1940s the Klan revived, but as local chapters, without a national organization. During the 1950s and 60s  the Klan came to life again, in response to the increased activity of the civil rights movement as it struggled against segregation and its marches and sit-ins gained media attention. The Klan declared war on the civil rights workers and the horrifying sights on the nightly news – fire hoses and dogs turned on crowds of men, women, and children; the church bombing; the murders of the three civil rights workers; the shooting of Lt. Col. Lemuel Pen (a veteran of WWII) and the refusal of an all-White jury to convict his murderer; and the shooting of Viola Liuzzo, a White mother of 5 from Detroit –  shocked and shamed much of White America. Though Southern juries continued to acquit known murderers, the Federal government began to prosecute these men for the violation of their victims’ civil rights and the Klan lost much of its power. The Klan rose again in the 1970s, battling affirmative action and forced busing. Then clean cut, good-looking David Duke came along and tried to clean up the Klan’s image. “We’re not anti-black, we’re simply pro-white.” But Klan violence increased.  5 members of the Communist Workers Party were murdered. Then Klan members randomly searching for a Black victim abducted and brutally murdered 19-year-old Michael Donald, slitting his throat and hanging him from a tree. The murderers were convicted but the Southern Poverty Law Center also encouraged his mother to pursue a civil suit against the Klan for encouraging acts of violence. The jury returned a $7,000,000 verdict and Mrs. Donald took possession of Klan property.