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Jim Crow System

Laws in the South separating African American and white residents proliferated during the 1880s. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case created a national yardstick for these statutes. Under this ruling, facilities provided for African Americans were to be separate from but equal to those furnished for whites.

In reality, African American facilities were rarely comparable. The Jim Crow system dominated Southern society by creating separate hotels, restaurants, theaters, barbershops, schools, and playgrounds for blacks. Trains, buses, and streetcars also segregated their passengers by race. Segregation ordinances adopted by some cities even demanded separate water fountains and restrooms in public places. Jim Crow statues relegated blacks by law to second-class citizenship. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination and segregation in voting, education, and the use of public facilities.

 


Civil Rights Movement

Faced with increasing segregation and more Jim Crow laws in the late 1800s, black Americans began to protest for dignity and equality. The Niagara Movement, formed by black teachers, editors, and professionals in 1905, insisted on "manhood rights, industrial opportunity, and spiritual freedom." From this group and a conference of whites protesting lynching came the impetus to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), always in the forefront of legal battles for equality. The National Urban League (1910) sought improvement in industrial and living conditions of urban blacks and broader occupational opportunities. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1941) endorsed nonviolence and attacked racial discrimination by means of sit-ins and freedom rides.

Southern students using sit-ins and voter registration drives to break discrimination and to further equality were supported by CORE, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, was the largest civil rights demonstration in history. The "March for Jobs and Freedom" was conceived by A. Philip Randolf, leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, coordinated by Bayard Rustin, and supported by all the major civil rights groups, labor, and many churches. One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 250,000 black and white citizens gathered to petition the government for racial equality and listen to speeches by such black leaders as John Lewis, James Farmer, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Protest marches such as the 1963 March on Washington and the 1966 Mississippi March Against Fear brought a response from the government to the demands of black people in the form of a civil rights law, the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, and equal accommodations laws.

During the 1960s more militant groups and approaches arose, born of disillusionment with the pace of civil rights progress, frustrations that nonviolence had not brought complete freedom, and indignation at the violence used against them. Dynamic, articulate, and magnetic leaders such as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers emerged. Though their approaches differed from those of earlier groups and leaders, all had as their goal the dignity and freedom of black Americans.

From "We the People: The American People and Their Government" (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1975) 76.

 


Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great 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 to the inalienable rights 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 its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

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 colored person'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 selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "for white only."

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the 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 out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners 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 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 their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interpostion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300) Distributed by the Cybercasting Services Division of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN).

 


"I Hope We’ll Meet Again"

"I Hope We’ll Meet Again," from the recording Nashville Sit-in Story: Songs and Scenes of the Nashville Lunch Counter Desegregation--James Bevel & Bernard Lafayette and the American Baptist Theological Seminary Quartet, Folkways SFW CD FH-5590, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © Used by permission.

This song is an original that was used during the reenactment of the Nashville Sit-in Court Scene.

Partial Lyrics:
"…I hope, (I hope)
I hope, (I hope)
We’ll meet again

I hope (I hope)
I hope (I hope)
We’ll meet again

And then you and I
Will never say goodbye, and
We’ll meet again…"

 


"You Better Leave Segregation Alone"

"You Better Leave Segregation Alone," from the recording Nashville Sit-in Story: Songs and Scenes of the Nashville Lunch Counter Desegregation--James Bevel & Bernard Lafayette and the American Baptist Theological Seminary Quartet, Folkways SFW CD FH-5590, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © Used by permission.

"You Better Leave Segregation Alone" is based on a parody of a 1960s Rock’n Roll song, sung during a reenactment of the jail sequence.

Partial Lyrics:
"…You better leave segregation alone
Because they love segregation like a hound dog love a bone (bone)

Well I went down to the dance floor
To get myself an eat
Well they put me in the jail
And I said a difficult Speech

You better leave segregation alone
Because they love segregation like a hound dog love a bone…"

 

Related Images

Martin Luther King provides support to Ralph
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Martin Luther King provides support to Ralph
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
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Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
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Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)


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