US Civil Rights
The struggle for equality for Americans
of African descent continues despite significant advances made during the
1950’s and 1960’s. Since then, African Americans have acquired equality
and desegregation. But these rights have not come easily as there
was much hatred and mistreatment by many whites.
With the success of the Montgomery boycott,
Black leaders charted a new path for the struggle for Civil Rights. In
January of 1957, southern Black ministers met and established the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Rev. Martin Luther King became
the first president of the organization. After conferring with the
NAACP, a decision was made to follow-up on the suggestion made by A. Philip
Randolph sixteen years earlier; a march on Washington to highlight the
struggle for Blacks. Some twenty-five thousand people gathered during the
first march seeking more Civil Rights legislation for all.
Many of the protests initiated during
the 1950’s and 1960’s were spontaneous reactions to White mistreatment.
One such incident occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina when a black student
was refused service at a bus terminal lunch counter. After the incident,
Joseph McNeil and three other students decided to go to the local Woolworth
store and remain there until they were served. The waitress refused to
serve them, so the four young men just sat there until they were arrested.
Each day, the protesters would return and grow in numbers and as such many
were arrested. This was one of the first examples of non-violent
Black adults soon joined in, and a boycott
of downtown area stores began. When many of the stores were near financial
ruin, the decision was made to break the tradition and desegregate the
lunch counters. When the success of the boycott spread around the country,
other Black students spontaneously formed organizations to initiate similar
non-violent protests around the country. In October of 1960, the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed. Future Washington
DC mayor Marion Barry was the first chairperson of the organization.
Students led protests that were showing up in virtually every city in the
South. As the protesters grew in numbers, so did the violence that was
perpetrated against them.
Throughout the South, Blacks were still
in the majority, but had absolutely no political power. Black leaders knew
that the key to passage towards any effective civil rights legislation
would rely on the ability to vote. To date, White politicians and White
supremacist groups had been fairly successful in keeping the Black voter
rolls to a minimum. The numerous non-violent protests throughout the South
were, however, beginning to show positive results. In 1957, the U.S. Congress
passed the 1957 Civil Rights Act which made it a federal crime to interfere
with a citizen’s right to vote. It also established the Civil Rights Commission
to investigate violations of the law. With the passing of this legislation,
most of the Southern White politicians became even more enraged.
In 1960, another bill was past to ensure
everyone’s right to vote. The 1960 Civil Rights Act called for supervision
of voter registration. Blacks were routinely denied permission to register.
They were often made to wait for hours for an application to vote.
Most of the applications were lost or discarded for various reasons. It
was hoped that this legislation would stop these practices, however, it
did not. Individual States had every right under the law to establish
whatever rules they deemed necessary. The rules, however, were different
for Blacks and Whites.
For the next few years, tens of thousands
of protesters were beaten and jailed. Some lost homes, jobs, and
even their lives. In 1962, two journalists were killed in Oxford, Mississippi.
They were there covering the riots that erupted after a young black man
named James Meredith’s admittance into the University of Mississippi.
Mississippi State officials did everything possible to deny Meredith admittance,
but in the end they allowed him in. On Sunday, September 30, 1962,
123 federal marshals, 316 U.S. border patrolmen, and 97 federal prison
guards escorted Meredith onto the college campus. Within hours, they were
under assault by a White mob of over 2,000 men and women. President Kennedy
had to send in sixteen thousand troops to protect Meredith and restore
order at the university. Twenty-eight of the marshals were shot and another
160 police officers were injured. Federal troops remained at the university
for over a year to protect one, James Meredith.
After waiting years for meaningful Civil
Rights legislation to come forth, A. Philip Randolph and other Black leaders
felt that it was time for a march on Washington. As Black leaders
organized the march, White politicians in Washington