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Civil Rights

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 the 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.

 


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.

 


Excerpt from Ruth Koenig's Diary

"It was just 2 years ago that I spent a month working on the Mississippi Summer Project in Holly Springs. At that time a concerted effort was made throughout the state by several cooperative civil rights organizations to encourage voter registration and develop freedom schools and community centers to several areas where there was my concentration of population. At the height of the summer Holly Springs had a volunteer staff of 35 people which made it one of the largest in the state. It was a hub of activity form which voter registration coaches went out into the rural areas of 5 counties.

Returning to H.S. seemed quite natural. There were apparent gains which had been made that summer of 1964, but I continued to wonder what might have occurred since then. Approaching the area little seemed changed--the red clay earth still yielded crops that appeared abundant. The corn was tall and stately, the weather was heavy with heat and humidity. Included in the anticipation of what was to be found, was the hope of seeing some of the many friends with whom I soon had come to feel a close attachment. More grave, was the issue to discover first-hand what the people felt about the apparently greatly misinterpreted term "Black Power." It seems the press had distorted its meaning and only a few publications, vaguely The New Yorker and had attempted to veraciously clarify the issue."

 


"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…"

 


"Scene on the Mayor’s Steps"

"Scene on the Mayor’s Steps," 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.

Partial transcript:
"…At five-thirty in the morning a dynamite blast wrecked the home of Negro councilmen Z. Alexander Looby, severely damaged an adjoining residence, and destroyed property along the block on both sides of the street. The 62 year-old attorney, and NACP leader, and his wife, asleep in a back bedroom escaped injury. Attorney Looby said he will continue the defense of the students…"

 

Related Images

The first page of the notebook begins:  It was just two years ago that I spent a month working on the <i>Mississippi</i> Summer Project in Holby Springs.
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The first page of the notebook begins: It was just two years ago that I spent a month working on the Mississippi Summer Project in Holby Springs.
Page two.
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Page two.


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