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In the early 1960s, the struggle for civil rights intensified. African American citizens and white supporters created organizations that directed protests, targeted inequalities, and attracted the attention of the mass media and the government.

The Sit-in Movement

 What were the goals of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee?

In the fall of 1959, four young African Americans—Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, and Franklin McCain—enrolled at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, an African American college in Greensboro. The four freshmen often talked about the civil rights movement. In January 1960, McNeil suggested a sit-in. “All of us were afraid,” Richmond later recalled. “But we went and did it.”

On February 1, 1960, the four friends entered the nearby Woolworth’s department store. They purchased school supplies and then sat at the whites-only lunch counter and ordered coffee. When they were refused service, Blair asked, “I beg your pardon, but you just served us at [the checkout] counter. Why can’t we be served at the counter here?” The students stayed at the counter until it closed. They then stated that they would sit there daily until they got the same service as white customers. They left the store excited. McNeil recalled, “I just felt I had powers within me, a superhuman strength that would come forward.” McCain noted, “I probably felt better that day than I’ve ever felt in my life.”

News of the daring sit-in spread quickly. The following day, 29 African American students arrived at Woolworth’s determined to sit at the counter until served. By the end of the week, more than 300 students were taking part. A new mass movement for civil rights had begun. Within two months, sit-ins had spread to 54 cities in nine states. They were staged at segregated stores, restaurants, hotels, and movie theaters. By 1961, sit-ins had been held in more than 100 cities.

The sit-in movement brought large numbers of idealistic and energized college students into the civil rights struggle. Many were discouraged by the slow pace of segregation. Sit-ins offered them a way to dictate the pace of change.

At first, the leaders of the NAACP and the SCLC were nervous about the sit-in campaign. Those conducting sit-ins were heckled, punched, kicked, beaten with clubs, and burned with cigarettes, hot coffee, and acid. Most did not fight back.

Urged on by former NAACP official and SCLC executive director Ella Baker, students established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. African American college students from all across the South made up the majority of SNCC’s members. Many whites also joined. SNCC became an important civil rights group.

Volunteer Robert Moses urged the SNCC to start helping rural Southern African Americans, who often faced violence if they tried to register to vote. Many SNCC volunteers, including Moses, bravely headed south as part of a voter education project. During a period of registration efforts in 1964 known as Freedom Summer, the Ku Klux Klan brutally murdered three SNCC workers with the complicity of local officials.

SNCC organizer and sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer was evicted from her farm after registering to vote. Police arrested her in Mississippi as she was returning from a voter registration workshop in 1963. They beat her while she was in jail. She still went on to help organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and challenged the legality of the state’s segregated Democratic Party at the 1964 national convention.

SKILLS PRACTICE
As you read about the events of the Civil Rights movement, look for connecting words such as by, and, but, because, before, after, with, and next. Make a chart and write down the sentences. Then write down what type of connection they show. For example: cause, comparison, or sequence.

The Freedom Riders

 

How did the Kennedy administration’s Justice Department help the civil rights movement?

Despite rulings outlawing segregation in interstate bus service, bus travel remained segregated in much of the South. Alabama was one state in which many bus terminals were still segregated. Alabama’s governor, John Patterson, was known to be in favor of segregation. As attorney general of the state, he had banned the NAACP from being active in Alabama, and he had fought the bus boycotts.

In early May 1961, teams of African American and white volunteers who became known as Freedom Riders boarded several southbound interstate buses. Buses were met by angry white mobs in Anniston, Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama. The mobs slit bus tires and threw rocks at the windows. In Anniston, someone threw a firebomb into one bus. Fortunately, no one was killed.

In Birmingham, riders emerged from a bus to face a gang of young men armed with baseball bats, chains, and lead pipes. The gang beat the riders viciously. Birmingham public safety commissioner Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor claimed that there had been no police at the bus station because it was Mother’s Day and he had given many officers the day off. FBI evidence later showed that Connor had told the local Ku Klux Klan to beat the riders until “it looked like a bulldog got a hold of them.” The violence made national news, shocking many Americans and drawing the federal government’s attention to the plight of African Americans in the South.

Kennedy and Civil Rights

While campaigning for the presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy had promised to support civil rights. Civil rights leaders such as NAACP executive director Roy Wilkins urged Kennedy to support civil rights legislation after taking office. However, Kennedy knew he needed the support of Southern senators to get other programs through Congress and any new civil rights legislation would anger them.

Kennedy did, however, bring approximately 40 African Americans into high-level government positions. He appointed Thurgood Marshall to a federal judgeship on the Second Circuit Appeals Court in New York. Kennedy also created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (CEEO). He allowed the Justice Department, run by his brother Robert, to actively support the civil rights movement. The department tried to help African Americans register to vote by filing lawsuits across the South.

After the attacks on the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, both Kennedys publicly urged them to have a “cooling off” period. CORE leader James Farmer rejected the idea and announced that the riders would head into Mississippi. To stop the violence, President Kennedy made a deal with Mississippi senator James Eastland. No violence occurred when buses arrived in Jackson, but Kennedy did not protest the riders’ arrests.

The cost of bailing the Freedom Riders out of jail used up most of CORE’s funds. When Thurgood Marshall learned of the situation, he offered Farmer the use of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s huge bail-bond account to keep the rides going. When President Kennedy found that the Freedom Riders were still active, he ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to tighten its regulations against segregated bus terminals. Robert Kennedy ordered the Justice Department to take legal action against Southern cities that maintained segregated bus terminals. By late 1962, segregation in interstate bus travel had virtually ended.

Violence in Birmingham

Martin Luther King, Jr., decided in the spring of 1963 to launch demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama. He knew they would provoke a violent response, but he believed it was the only way to get the president to actively support civil rights. Eight days after the protests began, King was arrested. While in jail, he began writing the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” It was an eloquent defense of nonviolent protest. In his letter, King argued that “there are two types of laws: just and unjust . . . [and] one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. . . . Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," 16 April 1963. Reprinted by arrangement with The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., c/o Writers House as agent for the proprietor New York, NY. Copyright 1963 Martin Luther King Jr; copyright renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King.

After King was released, the protests began to grow again. Public Safety Commissioner Connor responded with force. He ordered police to use clubs, police dogs, and high-pressure fire hoses on the demonstrators.

One powerful demonstration was called the Children’s March. On May 2, heroic young people marched in groups from churches to downtown businesses. Many were attacked by police, and many were arrested. On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls. News reports of these attacks on children led to greater support for the civil rights movement.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

 

How did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allow the federal government to fight racial discrimination?

Events in Alabama grew more and more tragic. At his inauguration as Alabama’s governor, George Wallace had stated, “I draw a line in the dust . . . and I say, Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” On June 11, 1963, federal marshals had to order Wallace to move from where he stood in front of the University of Alabama’s admissions office to block two African Americans from enrolling. The next day, a white segregationist murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi. Evers had been the NAACP’s first field secretary, and had focused his efforts on voter registration and boycotts. His death made him a martyr of the civil rights movement. Amid these events, President Kennedy announced a civil rights bill.

The March on Washington

Civil rights leaders kept the pressure on legislators and the president by planning a large-scale march on Washington. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 demonstrators, African American and white, gathered near the Lincoln Memorial. They heard speeches and sang songs. Dr. King then delivered a powerful speech calling for freedom and equality for all Americans.

The Bill Becomes Law

Kennedy tried and failed to win passage of civil rights legislation. After his assassination in November 1963, Lyndon Johnson—former leader of the Senate Democrats—became president. He had helped pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, but had done so by weakening their provisions and by compromising with other Southern senators.

Nevertheless, Johnson worked to get Kennedy’s civil rights legislation through Congress. The bill passed the House of Representatives in February 1964. Then it stalled in the Senate for several weeks. Its opponents used a filibuster, a tactic in which senators speak continuously to prevent a vote. In June the Senate voted for cloture—to end debate and take a vote—with a vote of 71 for and 29 against. The Senate then easily passed the bill. On July 2, 1964, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the most comprehensive civil rights law Congress had ever enacted. The law made segregation illegal in most places of public accommodation, and it gave citizens of all races and nationalities equal access to public facilities. The law gave the U.S. attorney general more power to bring lawsuits to force school desegregation and required private employers to end discrimination in the workplace. It also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a permanent federal agency.

The law also went further than simply banning discrimination based on race. It also banned discrimination based on religion, gender, and national origin. For religious minorities, for immigrants, and for women, the act represented a dramatic step forward in expanding their political rights and economic opportunities as well.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 immediately raised constitutional issues. The act banned racial discrimination in facilities and businesses that served the general public. It specifically banned any type of hotel, restaurant, theater, or entertainment venue from discrimination. Yet it was unclear whether the federal government had jurisdiction under the Constitution to regulate these businesses.

Article 1, section 8, gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, but prior to 1964, hotels, restaurants, and theaters had been regulated by state governments, and few would have argued that they were engaged in interstate commerce. As a result, challenges to the law's constitutionality began immediately. The owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel refused to allow African Americans to stay at his hotel, and filed suit in federal court. The case rapidly advanced to the Supreme Court. In December 1964, in the case Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the interstate commerce clause did indeed give Congress the power to ban discrimination in facilities serving the public.

The Struggle for Voting Rights

 

Why was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a turning point in the civil rights movement?

Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, voting rights remained an issue. The Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, helped somewhat. It eliminated poll taxes in federal (but not state) elections. Convinced that a new law was needed to protect African American voting rights, Dr. King decided to hold another dramatic protest.

The Selma March

In December 1964, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, for his work in the civil rights movement. A few weeks later, he announced, “We are not asking, we are demanding the ballot.”

In January 1965, the SCLC and Dr. King selected Selma, Alabama, as the focal point for their campaign for voting rights. Although African Americans made up a majority of Selma’s population, they made up only 3 percent of registered voters. To prevent African Americans from registering to vote, Sheriff Jim Clark had deputized and armed dozens of white citizens. His posse terrorized African Americans. On one occasion, they even used clubs and cattle prods on them. King’s demonstrations in Selma led to the arrest of more than 3,000 African Americans, including schoolchildren, by Sheriff Clark.

To keep pressure on the president and Congress to act, Dr. King joined with SNCC activists and organized a “march for freedom” from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, a distance of about 50 miles (80 km). On Sunday, March 7, 1965, the march began. The SCLC’s Hosea Williams and SNCC’s John Lewis led some 600 protesters toward Montgomery.

As the protesters approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which led out of Selma, Sheriff Clark ordered them to disperse. Many protesters were beaten in full view of television cameras. This brutal attack, known later as “Bloody Sunday,” left 70 marchers hospitalized and another 70 injured.

Martin Luther King, Jr., "Selma March," January 2, 1965. Reprinted by arrangement with The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., c/o Writers House as agent for the proprietor New York, NY. Copyright 1965 Martin Luther King Jr; copyright renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King.

The nation was stunned as it viewed the shocking footage of law enforcement officers beating peaceful demonstrators. Watching the events from the White House, President Johnson became furious. Eight days later, he appeared before a nationally televised joint session of Congress to propose a new voting rights law.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

On August 3, 1965, the House of Representatives passed the voting rights bill by a wide margin. The following day, the Senate also passed the bill. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized the U.S. attorney general to send federal examiners to register qualified voters, bypassing local officials who often refused to register African Americans. The law also suspended discriminatory devices, such as literacy tests, in counties where less than half of all adults had been registered to vote.

The results were dramatic. By the end of the year, almost 250,000 African Americans had registered as new voters. The number of African American elected officials in the South also increased. In 1960, for example, no African American from the South held a seat in the U.S. Congress. By 2011, there were 44 African American members of Congress.

The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 marked a turning point in the civil rights movement. The movement had now achieved two major legislative goals. Segregation had been outlawed, and new federal laws were in place to prevent discrimination and protect voting rights. After 1965, the movement began to shift its focus. It turned its attention to the problems of African Americans trapped in poverty and living in ghettos in many of the nation’s major cities.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, immediately raised constitutional questions. Historically, each state had been allowed to set the rules regarding eligibility to vote. Article 1 section 2 of the Constitution only specifies that each state has to use the same rules for choosing members of Congress as it uses for choosing members of its state legislature. Article 2 section 1 specifies that each state gets to choose how to select the electors who vote for the president. By banning literacy tests, Congress was imposing a rule on voting, and it was unclear whether this violated the rights of the states to set voting rules. In 1966, in Katzenbach v. Morgan, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment gave Congress the authority to ban literacy tests and impose voting rules on the state governments.

Analyzing PRIMARY SOURCES
“I Have A Dream” Speech

“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 on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

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 the content of their character.”

—Martin Luther King, Jr., from the “Address in Washington,” August 28, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," August 28, 1963. Reprinted by arrangement with The Heirs to the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr., c/o Writers House as agent for the proprietor New York, NY. Copyright 1963 Martin Luther King Jr; copyright renewed 1991 Coretta Scott King.

Reviewing Vocabulary

TEKS: 9A, 9G

 

Using Your Notes

TEKS: 9A, 9B, 9C, 23A, 26A

 

Answering the Guiding Questions

TEKS: 9A, 9B, 9C, 23A, 26A

TEKS: 9F, 26A

TEKS: 9F, 23B, 26A

TEKS: 9F, 23B, 26A

 

Writing Activity

TEKS: 9A, 9B, 9C, 23A, 26A