In what ways did the campaign methods used by the Civil Rights movement in the southern states of the USA change and develop in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s .
During the early 1950’s the Civil Rights movement started challenging de jure segregation in the South by legal means through organisations like the National Association of the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) .Realizing that the deep rooted nature of racism needed a more direct attack. The movement, guided by the peaceful principles of Martin Luther King, opted for non-violent direct action. As the movement gained experience it learned to manipulate the media, create situations where the federal government was forced into action and that mass action equals concessions .The broadening of the movement to include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Non-violent Coordination Committee (SNCC) revitalized it with a range of tactics ,from boycotts and sit-ins to marches and open challenges to segregation. Momentum gathered and the movement reached the height of it’s watermark in the early 1960’s.
Several legal cases such as the case of Brown V Board of education of Topeka were brought to the Supreme Court by leading black lawyer Thurgood Marshall , who argued that segregation was unconstitutional, with the support of the NAACP. The case of Brown V Board declared the integration of education; this ruling created an important precedent and was expected to produce change. The attempt of 9 black children to enrol in the Little Rock High school was the first real test to the case.
The reaction of the governor Ovarl Faubus to block the entrance of the school with state troopers attracted great media attention in favour of the Civil Rights movement. Sympathy was turned towards the well-dressed black children that were being threatened by brutal racist white southerners. It was the governor’s reluctance to obey the court order that forced the then president Eisenhower to intervene , the 10 000 state trooper were brought under federal control and ordered to escort the children to school and keep aback the white southerners . The event served to demonstrate the lengths to which white southern people would maintain segregation. It also showed how blacks were more willing to directly challenge segregation and not just rely on government protection or court rulings, slowly the movements tactics were developing.
Another event that marked a change in the Civil Rights movement’s methods was the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted 381 days from 1955 to 1966. Boycotts had been carried out before however this time the movement possessed a symbolic figure representing purity and virtue. Rosa Parks, a respected member of the black community was chosen. She refused to give up her seat to hand it to a white man, she was then thrown of the bus and fined 10 dollars. The NAACP took up her case while running parallel was the bus boycott that was eventually directed by Martin Luther King.
His inspirational speaking abilities kept morale high throughout the boycott and his organisational skills allowed him to establish car pools lift which further enabled the boycott to continue. Considering that 75% of the bus passengers were black the boycott resulted in massive revenue loss for the transport system. Finally the federal court decreed in case known as Browder V Gayle that segregation on in-state transport was unconstitutional. The boycott had been an immense success and more importantly it showed the blacks how motivated mass action and organised unity could bring about concessions. It was the first real successful example of the effectiveness of non-violent protests and set precedents for the boycotting of other areas of life. Furthermore a new head figure had emerged along with a new organisation, the SCLC. Thus King began to develop methods in the direction of more confrontational non-violent protest.
This new phase of peaceful protest was further developed in North Carolina with the Greensboro sit-ins. Four college students ordered food from the ‘whites only’ counter at a branch of Woolworth’s. This just like the Montgomery bus boycott had not been the first of its kind, there had been several sit-ins before. However the fact that the Woolworth staff didn’t know how to react meant the protest could gather momentum soon the four students were joined by other including 3 white students.
The protest gained nation wide support as sit-ins spread to as many as 100 other cities and involved 50 000 people. The image of idealistic, well dressed and peaceful students brought symbolism to the protest and through the media coverage showed the rest of America the barbaric nature of the white aggressive racist that were mistreating them. This gained massive publicity and sympathy even the support of the governor of North Carolina was gained. Woolworth have in and desegregation of public places was achieved as a result of wide spread sit ins. With the support of King the sit-in set precedent for the non-violent direct action philosophy of King. The event showed how the moral high ground could be kept without the use of violence and became a symbol. In this way this method came to characterize and change the tactics of the civil rights movement for the early 1960’s.
In reaction to the verdict Boynton V Virginia in 1960,that declared segregation on inter-state transport as unconstitutional, the Civil Rights movement decided to test whether the southern states would uphold the ruling. The Freedom Rides were designed for this and served to show unity between whites and blacks. If the mixed race team didn’t get segregated once the south had been reached then it would demonstrate that segregation had received a blow, on the other hand if they were treated with violence it would attract publicity and prove the reluctance of white southerners to uphold the law. Indeed the riders were subject to brutal treatment, particularly when they reached Birmingham Alabama, where the police Chief Bull Connor had failed to organise protection. The situation forced federal intervention from the Kennedy administration that brought an injunction against the KKK and Robert Kennedy ordered desegregation of interstate transport. This showed the movement how extreme situations would prompt a reaction from the government. However the failure of the Albany Campaign ,due to the tactics used by the shrewd police chief Laurie Pritchett by arresting the protesters demonstrated that a violent reaction was needed from the state government in order to create a situation where the movement would gain sympathetic media attention and federal government intervention.
This was the tactic behind the Birmingham campaign of 1963, where a similar reaction to that of the Freedom Rides was expected from the police chief Bull Connor. The campaign was a huge success due to the fact that Connor reacted barbarically. A new controversial strategy was employed, that of adding children to the protest. It proved effective as national coverage showed police dogs and water hoses being set on the helpless children. Immediate support and sympathy was gained and converted President Kennedy to the idea of a Civil Rights Bill. As said by Kennedy himself ‘Bull Connor had done more for civil rights than anyone else’. The movement had learned from past experience how to further develop tactics that would create the necessary circumstances that would help their cause.
With the support gathered the time was right for its massive display. A March on Washington has been proposed by A. Phillip Randolph in 1941 and was again suggested and organised. The timing was perfect .The year 1963 a 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln and still blacks were not ‘free’. It carried further symbolism in the presence of the Memorial of Abraham Lincoln that validated their argument. Several civil rights groups would be present along with various white supporters including religious groups, altogether whites made up one third of the quarter of a million people present. King delivered his memorable “I have a dream” speech. Authorisation was granted from the Kennedy administration once assurances had been given of the moderate and peaceful nature of the march which sent across a positive image of a well organised and unified Civil Rights movement. This served as leverage for Kennedy to push for the civil rights bill into action. The march proved an effective change of tactics one completely peaceful and with the backing of the government, it also taught the movement the importance of a massive integrated demonstration.
The Civil Rights movement methods began with challenging the constitutionality of segregation in the South during the early 1950’s with successful cases like Brown V Board of education. Blacks began to rely less on government protection and changed to more active non-violent methods like the Montgomery Bus boycott where the movement gained valuable experience. These tactics further developed under King’s inclusive philosophy of non-violent direct action where the importance of manipulating publicity, maintaining the moral high ground and government intervention was recognised. In this way the Civil Rights movement through their experience developed and changed their tactics .