Research on Civil Rights Movement Between 1963-68 Essay Sample
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Research on Civil Rights Movement Between 1963-68 Essay Sample
Birmingham held a key role in the movement because of a number of reasons: whether it was through the activities of Bull Connor or the bombed church which killed four school girls, or the activity of the Ku Klux Klan which also had a stronghold in the Alabama capital which would have clashed with the strong in number black population. In 1963 Martin Luther King organised a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. Six years after the Montgomery decision, this city had still not been desegregated (desegregation of buses in Alabama). Its police force was notoriously racist. It had links to the Ku Klux Klan. The aim of the march was to turn media attention on Birmingham to expose its policies to national attention. King knew that, with civil rights now a national issue, the American and international media would cover the march in detail.
The Police Chief, Bull Connor obliged. In the full glare of media publicity, police and fire officers turned dogs and fire hoses on the peaceful protesters. The police arrested over 1,000 protesters; including King himself and many were put in jail. Critics accused King of provoking the violence by staging the march. King stipulated to this in a statement as he comments on his tactics, as he mentions that they were “forcing our oppressor to commit his brutality openly- in the light of day- with the rest of the world looking on.” However he defends his actions in a diplomatic fashion with “To condemn peaceful protesters on the grounds that they provoke violence is link condemning a robbed man because his possession of money caused the robbery.”
In May 1963 President Kennedy intervened. He put pressure on Governor George Wallace to force the Birmingham police to release all the protesters and to give more jobs to black Americans and allow them to be promoted. As a result Birmingham officially outlawed segregation, but in practice it remained a bitterly divided place. In September 1963 a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four black children in a Birmingham church.
* It was a KKK stronghold; King described it as America’s worst city for racism.
* Birmingham, Alabama was, in 1960, one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S. Out of a total population of almost 350,000, 60 percent was white and 40 percent black.
* Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. Only 10 percent of the city’s black population was registered to vote in 1960. The average income for blacks in the city was less than half that of whites. Significantly lower pay scales for black workers at the local steel mills were common. Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham’s steel mills or work in black neighborhoods. When layoffs were necessary, black employees were the first to go. The unemployment rate for blacks was two and a half times higher than for whites.
* In the years preceding 1963, the KKK had castrated an African American; pressured the city to ban a book from book stores as it contained pictures of black and white rabbits and wanted black music banned on radio stations. This just demonstrates the level of discrimination and segregation present.
* Any civil rights campaign in the city would almost certainly provoke trouble and gain the movement the national outcry needed. Any serious trouble could lead to King’s desired policy – federal intervention. The head of the police was called “Bull” Connor – a man who believed in segregation. When the Freedom Riders had driven through Birmingham and were attacked, there were no police to assist them as Connor had given them the day off as it was Mother’s Day. For King the man of the hour was Connor. He had a notorious temper and he saw what were in fact relatively low key protests as a threat to his ‘rule’ in Birmingham. He set police dogs on to the protesters and suddenly Birmingham got national attention. King was arrested for defying an injunction that denied his right to march. He was kept in solitary confinement and was refused the right to see his lawyer. Only the intervention of J F Kennedy got his release.
* To continue the campaign in Birmingham, King used children. Many adults still remained distanced from the protest. Though King did not want to use children, the film of Connor’s men using high pressure hoses and dogs on them was shown throughout USA. 500 youths were arrested and jailed. 1100 students who had attended the demonstrations were expelled for truancy from city schools and colleges. Only a federal court order got them reinstated.
Did Birmingham improve?
Stores were desegregated; opportunities for African Americans in jobs ‘improved’ (though by a little in most case) and a biracial committee was set up to improve Birmingham’s troubled community.
However, the talks were wrecked by the bombing of the house that belonged to King’s brother. King’s motel room was also bombed. These outrages provoked riots among the local African-American community.
The SCLC had gauged Connor correctly. Had he behaved in an ‘Albany manner’, Birmingham would have been much less of a success. The scenes of police dogs attacking children and youths pushed Kennedy into greater action – civil rights legislation shortly followed. The media had once again shown America what life was like for African Americans in the South and probably provided the movement with its greatest boost. Extra money poured into the SCLC’s coffers as a result of this event. National outcry, of both violence and passive resistance, forced federal government to take action, President John F Kennedy had to intervene.
Campaign drawing to an end
On May 10, Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King told reporters that they had an agreement from the City of Birmingham to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms, drinking fountains and fitting rooms within 90 days, and to hire blacks in stores as salesmen and clerks. And give promotions as well to black workers, this was all urged on by President Kennedy. Those in jail would be released on bond or their own recognizance. Urged by Kennedy, the United Auto Workers, National Maritime Union, United Steelworkers Union, and the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) raised $237,000 in bail money ($1,800,000 in 2012) to free the demonstrators. Commissioner Connor and the outgoing mayor condemned the resolution.
On May 11, a bomb destroyed the Gaston Motel where King had been staying—and had left only hours before—and another damaged the house of A. D. King, Martin Luther King’s brother. When police went to inspect the motel, they were met with rocks and bottles from neighbourhood blacks. By May 13, three thousand federal troops were deployed to Birmingham to restore order, even though Alabama Governor George Wallace told President Kennedy that state and local forces were sufficient. Martin Luther King returned to Birmingham to stress nonviolence.
After the campaign
Had a long lasting impact on their country, improved people’s lives In June 1963, the Jim Crow signs regulating segregated public places in Birmingham were taken down.
Desegregation in Birmingham took place slowly after the demonstrations. King and the SCLC were criticized by some for ending the campaign with promises that were too vague and “settling for a lot less than even moderate demands”. In fact, Sydney Smyer, president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, re-interpreted the terms of the agreement. Shuttlesworth and King had announced that desegregation would take place 90 days from May 15. Smyer then said that a single black clerk hired 90 days from when the new city government took office would be sufficient.
By July, most of the city’s segregation laws had been overturned. Some of the lunch counters in department stores complied with the new rules. City parks and golf courses were opened again to black and white citizens. Mayor Boutwell appointed a biracial committee to discuss further changes.
However, no hiring of black clerks, police officers, and fire-fighters had yet been completed and the Birmingham Bar Association rejected membership by black attorneys.
Birmingham’s public schools were integrated in September 1963. Governor Wallace sent National Guard troops to keep black students out but President Kennedy reversed Wallace by ordering the troops to stand down. Violence continued to plague the city, however. Someone threw a tear gas canister into Loveman’s department store when it complied with the desegregation agreement; twenty people in the store required hospital treatment.
Changed people’s ideas, good example on how to live and behave/ conduct protests, thus improved people’s lives The reputation of Martin Luther King soared after the protests in Birmingham, and he was lauded by many as a hero. The SCLC was much in demand to effect change in many Southern cities. In the summer of 1963, King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where he delivered his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream”. King became Time’s Man of the Year for 1963 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Changed people’s ideas
John F. Kennedy addressing the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 The Birmingham campaign, as well as George Wallace’s refusal to admit black students to the University of Alabama, convinced President Kennedy to address the severe inequalities between black and white citizens in the South: “The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.”
Despite the apparent lack of immediate local success after the Birmingham campaign, Fred Shuttlesworth and Wyatt Tee Walker pointed to its influence on national affairs as its true impact. President Kennedy’s administration drew up the Civil Rights Act bill. After being filibustered for 75 days by “diehard southerners” in Congress, it was passed into law in 1964 and signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The Civil Rights Act applied to the entire nation, prohibiting racial discrimination in employment and in access to public places. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, however, disagreed that the Birmingham campaign was the primary force behind the Civil Rights Act. Wilkins gave credit to other movements, such as the Freedom Rides, the integration of the University of Mississippi, and campaigns to end public school segregation.
Good example to others on how and to conduct campaigns
The Birmingham campaign inspired the Civil Rights Movement in other parts of the South. Two days after King and Shuttlesworth announced the settlement in Birmingham, Medgar Evers of the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi demanded a biracial committee to address concerns there. On June 12, 1963, Evers was fatally shot outside his home. He had been organizing demonstrations similar to those in Birmingham to pressure Jackson’s city government. In 1965 Shuttlesworth assisted Bevel, King, and the SCLC to lead the Selma to Montgomery marches, intended to increase voter registration among blacks.
March on Washington, 1963
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech advocating racial harmony during the march.
* The march was organized by a group of civil rights, labour, and religious organizations, under the theme “jobs, and freedom.” * Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 (police) to over 300,000 (leaders of the march). * Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were black and the rest were white and non-black minorities.
The march is widely credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).
The 1963 march was an important part of the rapidly expanding Civil Rights Movement. It also marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. In the political sense, the march was organized by a coalition of organizations and their leaders including: Randolph who was chosen as the titular head of the march (A. Philip Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, president of the Negro American Labour Council, and vice president of the AFL-CIO. Randolph had planned a similar march in 1941. The threat of the earlier march had convinced President Roosevelt to establish the Committee on Fair Employment Practice and ban discriminatory hiring in the defence industry), James Farmer (president of the Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Martin Luther King, Jr. (president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference), Roy Wilkins (president of the NAACP), Whitney Young (president of the National Urban League).
The mobilization and logistics of the actual march itself was administered by deputy director Bayard Rustin, a civil rights veteran and organizer of the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, the first of the Freedom Rides to test the Supreme Court ruling that banned racial discrimination in interstate travel. Rustin was a long-time associate of both Randolph and Dr. King. With Randolph concentrating on building the march’s political coalition, Rustin built and led the team of activists and organizers who publicized the march and recruited the marchers, coordinated the buses and trains, provided the marshals, and set up and administered all of the logistic details of a mass march in the nation’s capital.
The march was not universally supported among civil rights activists. Some were concerned that it might turn violent, which could undermine pending Legislation and damage the international image of the movement.
The march was condemned by Malcolm X, spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, who termed it the “farce on Washington”. In his Message to the Grass Roots speech, he criticized the march, describing it as “a picnic” and “a circus”. He said the civil rights leaders had diluted the original purpose of the march, which had been to show the strength and anger of black people, by allowing white people and organizations to help plan and participate in the march.
March organizers themselves disagreed over the purpose of the march. The NAACP and Urban League saw it as a gesture of support for a civil rights bill that had been introduced by the Kennedy Administration. Randolph, King, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) saw it as a way of raising both civil rights and economic issues to national attention beyond the Kennedy bill. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) saw it as a way of challenging and condemning the Kennedy administration’s inaction and lack of support for civil rights for African Americans.
Demonstrators at the March on Washington.
On August 28, more than 2,000 buses, 21 special trains, 10 chartered airliners, and uncounted cars converged on Washington. All regularly scheduled planes, trains, and buses were also filled to capacity.
The march began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Lincoln Memorial with a program of music and speakers.
Long lasting impact on their country, good example to others on how to campaign, and improved peoples lives. The 1963 March also spurred anniversary marches that occur every five years, with the 20th and 25th being some of the most well known. The 25th Anniversary theme was “We Still have a Dream…Jobs*Peace*Freedom.”
Changed people’s ideas
Representatives from each of the sponsoring organizations addressed the crowd from the podium at the Lincoln Memorial. Speakers included all six civil-rights leaders of the so-called, “Big Six”; Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish religious leaders; and labour leader Walter Reuther. None of the official speeches were by women; Josephine Baker gave a speech during the preliminary offerings, but women’s presence in the official program was limited to a “tribute” led by Bayard Rustin (planned to be Myrlie Evers, who was unable to attend due to a prior commitment in Boston).
Controversy over John Lewis’ speech
Although one of the officially stated purposes of the march was to support the civil rights bill introduced by the Kennedy Administration, several of the speakers criticized the proposed law as insufficient.
John Lewis of SNCC was the youngest speaker at the event. His speech, which a number of SNCC activists had helped write, took the Administration to task for how little it had done to protect southern blacks and civil rights workers under attack in the Deep South. Phrases such as:
In good conscience, we cannot support wholeheartedly the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little and too late. … I want to know, which side is the federal government on?…
The revolution is a serious one. Mr. Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it into the courts. Listen, Mr. Kennedy. Listen, Mr. Congressman. Listen, fellow citizens. The black masses are on the march for jobs and freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a “cooling-off” period.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, I Have a Dream
The speech given by SCLC president King, who spoke last, became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, which was carried live by TV stations and subsequently considered the most impressive moment of the march. Over time it has been hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric, added to the National Recording Registry and memorialized by the National Park Service with an inscription on the spot where King stood to deliver the speech.
Media attention gave the March national exposure, carrying the organizers’ speeches and offering their own commentary. In his section The March on Washington and Television News, William Thomas notes: “Over five hundred cameramen, technicians, and correspondents from the major networks were set to cover the event. More cameras would be set up than had filmed the last Presidential inauguration. One camera was positioned high in the Washington Monument, to give dramatic vistas of the marchers”.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Martin Luther King was by now an international figure and Malcolm X was now proclaiming that a more militant approach could be used to gain civil rights. The apparent passive approach of the 1950’s was now gone. The northern city ghettos were now moving more and more towards militancy. Society had changed in just a few short years. Johnson realised this and wanted changed before potential civil unrest forced it through.
The new president was faced with facts that were indisputable and came from the organisation created in the 1960 Civil Rights act to analyse civil rights issue in America – the Civil Rights Commission. They found that:
* 57% of African American housing judged to be unacceptable * African American life expectancy was 7 years less than whites * African American infant mortality was twice as great as whites * African Americans found it all but impossible to get mortgages from mortgage lenders * Property values would drop a great deal if an African American family moved into a neighbourhood that was not a ghetto.
In November 1963, Kennedy was assassinated. His vice-president, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president on Air Force One. Johnson had done what he politically needed to do to stop the full implementation of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, but despite the fact he was a Texan, he realised that a major civil rights act was needed to advance African Americans within USA society. He also used the shock of Kennedy’s murder to push forward the 1964 Civil Rights Act, part of what he was to term his vision for America – the “Great Society”.
The seeds of the 1964 Act were sown in Kennedy’s presidency. Johnson believed that he owed it to Kennedy’s life to push through this act especially as he was not an elected president.
The civil rights bill’s success in passing Congress owed much to the murder of Kennedy. The mood of the public in general would not have allowed any obvious deliberate attempts to damage “Kennedy’s bill”. Johnson used his skills as a politician to point to question such as, how could anybody vote against an issue so dear to the late president’s heart? How could anybody be so unpatriotic? Johnson simply appealed to the nation – still traumatised by Kennedy’s murder. To win over the Southern hard-liners, Johnson told them he would not allow the bill to tolerate anybody using it as a lever to have an easy life regardless of their colour. Changed people’s ideas, long lasting impact, improved people’s lives. By January 1964, public opinion had started to change, 68% now supported a meaningful civil rights act. President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act in July of that year.
* It gave federal government the right to end segregation in the South it prohibited segregation in public places. A public place was anywhere that received any form of federal (tax) funding (most places). * An Equal Employment Commission was created
* Federal funding would not be given to segregated schools (these had been banned in 1954, ten years previous) * Any company that wanted federal business (the biggest spender of money in American business) had to have a pro-civil rights charter. * Any segregationist company that applied for a federal contact would not get it. * The act made it illegal for local government to discriminate in areas such as housing and employment, areas which came into the attention of President Johnson through the Civil Rights commission.
Many Southerners were horrified by the extent of the act. Johnson probably only got away without uprisings and unrest because he was from Texas.
Ironically, the African American community were most vocal in criticising the act. There were riots by African Americans in north-eastern cities because from their point of view, the act did not go far enough and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (a predominantly Black political party) demanded seats at the Democratic Party Convention to be held in Atlantic City as they believed that they were more representative of the people who lived in Mississippi than the politicians who would usually have attended such conventions. Johnson was dismayed at this lack of public support among the African American community. Changed people’s ideas
Regardless of these protests from both sides of society, many historians now believe that the 1964 Act was of major importance to America’s political and social development. The act has been called Johnson’s greatest achievement. He constantly referred to the morality of what he was doing and made constant reference to the immorality of the social structure within America that tolerated any form of discrimination. Johnson’s desire, regardless of his background, was to advance America’s society and he saw the 1964 Civil Rights Act as the way forward. Blackett Strait – near the Solomon Islands – was extremely dark on the night of August 1, 1943. PT-109 was one of 15 “Patrol Torpedo” boats looking for Japanese vessels.
After an unsuccessful skirmish earlier in the evening with Japanese Destroyers, Lieutenant Kennedy met up with two other PT-boats. Spreading out to form a line, they set up a patrol in case the enemy ships came back. Sailing into the path of a Destroyer with too little time to evade, the Kennedy’s PT-109 was cut in half. With Japanese bases all around them, they decided to swim to Plum Pudding Island. The young Kennedy towed his badly burned mate by using a life-jacket strap. The island was very small, with no food or drinking water. Kennedy swam another 4km in search of help and food – later leading his men to Olasana island, where they found drinkable water and coconut trees. The other Americans, who had seen the explosion, assumed that all the men had died. The navy held a memorial service for them. But after six more days, the men were finally saved after being spotted by scouts – and the strapping young Lieutenant Kennedy went on to become the 35th President of the United States. ‘Freedom summer’, 1964
In 1964 the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) organised its Freedom Summer campaign. Good example on how to live or behave, changed events at the time In conjunction to this, with the momentum gained from the civil rights act, King and SCLC continued to encourage black Americans to register to vote. They were helped by young white people fro the northern states in great numbers to help. In the 20 months that followed the Civil Rights Act, 430, 000 black Americans registered to vote.
Directed by Robert Moses, its main objective was to try an end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South. Volunteers from the three organizations decided to concentrate its efforts in Mississippi. In 1962 only 6.7 per cent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. This involved the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Party (MFDP). Over 80,000 people joined the party and 68 delegates, led by Fannie Lou Hamer, attended the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City and challenged the attendance of the all-white Mississippi representation. Good example to students on how to live, improved people’s lives CORE, SNCC and NAACP also established 30 Freedom Schools in towns throughout Mississippi. Volunteers taught in the schools and the curriculum now included black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement. During the summer of 1964 over 3,000 students attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs such as Head Start.
* Freedom Schools were often targets of white mobs.
* And also the homes of local African Americans involved in the campaign. That summer 30 black homes and 37 black churches were firebombed. * Over 80 volunteers were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers and * Three men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on 21st June, 1964.
This attempt to frighten others from joining the campaign failed and by late 1964 over 70,000 students had taken part in Freedom Summer.
The murders made headlines all over the country, and provoked an outpouring of national support for the Civil Rights Movement. But many black volunteers realized that because two of the victims were white, these murders were attracting much more attention than previous attacks in which the victims had been all black, and this added to the growing resentment they had already begun to feel towards the white volunteers.
The following year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to persuade Congress to pass his Voting Rights Act. This proposed legislation removed the right of states to impose restrictions on who could vote in elections. Johnson explained how: “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country; men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.”
Although opposed by politicians from the Deep South, the Voting Rights Act was passed by large majorities in the House of Representatives (333 to 48) and the Senate (77 to 19). The legislation empowered the national government to register those whom the states refused to put on the voting list.
Long lasting impact, good example on how to live or behave
But despite the internal divisions, Freedom Summer left a positive legacy. The well-publicized voter registration drives brought national attention to the subject of black disenfranchisement, and this eventually led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, federal legislation that among other things outlawed the tactics Southern states had used to prevent blacks from voting. Freedom summer also instilled among African Americans a new consciousness and a new confidence in political action. As Fannie Lou Hamer later said, “Before the 1964 project there were people that wanted change, but they hadn’t dared to come out. After 1964 people began moving. To me it’s one of the greatest things that ever happened in Mississippi.”
The population of Selma was 29, 000- 15,000 of whom were black adults old enough to vote yet only 335 (just 2.4 %) were registered to do so. The town was also notorious for its brutally racist sheriff, Jim Clark. The authorities banned the planned march.
After the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson during the voter registration drive by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) it was decided to dramatize the need for a federal registration law. With the help of Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), leaders of the SCCC organised a protest march from Selma to the state capital building in Montgomery, Alabama. Good example to other people, changed people’s ideas (George Wallace?) The first march on 1st February, 1965, led to the arrest of 770 people. A second march, led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams, on 7th March, was attacked by mounted police. The sight of state troopers using nightsticks and tear gas was filmed by television cameras and the event became known as Bloody Sunday. Around 600 people went ahead with this march without King. Martin Luther King led a march of 1,500 people two days later. After crossing the Pettus Bridge the marchers were faced by a barricade of state troopers.
King disappointed many of his younger followers when he decided to turn back in order to avoid a confrontation with the troopers. Soon afterwards, one of the white ministers on the march, James J. Reeb, was murdered. President Lyndon B. Johnson after meeting with Governor, Wallace who flew into Washington that day to hold a meeting, the governor claimed that the state of Alabama did not have enough manpower to protect the marchers along highway 80, Johnson decided to take action and sent troops, marshals and FBI Agents to protect the protesters. On Thursday, 25th March, King led 25,000 people to the Alabama State Capital and handed a petition to Governor George Wallace, demanding voting rights for African Americans. That night, the Ku Klux Klan killed Viola Liuzzo while returning from the march.
Changed events at the time, improved people’s lives, changed people’s ideas, long lasting impact.
On 6th August, 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. This removed the right of states to impose restrictions on who could vote in elections. Johnson explained how: “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country; men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.” The legislation now empowered the national government to register those whom the states refused to put on the voting list.
Voting rights Bill, 1965-1968
The 1965 Voting Rights Act was a follow on to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Ironically, the 1964 Act had resulted in an outbreak of violence in the South. White racists had launched a campaign against the success that Martin Luther King had had in getting African Americans to register to vote. The violence reminded Johnson that more was needed if the civil rights issue was to be suitably reduced. Johnson introduced to Congress the idea of a Voting Rights Act in what is considered to be one of his best speeches:
“Rarely are we met with a challenge…..to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such as an issue…..the command of the Constitution is plain. It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
With his commitment to the cause, Congress realised that Johnson would not back down on this issue and if they hindered or failed to back it, Americans would view the failure to be one by Congress alone.
The Act was passed.
Changed events at the time, improved people’s lives, long lasting impact It outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes as a way of assessing whether anyone was fit or unfit to vote. As far as Johnson was concerned, all you needed to vote was American citizenship and the registration of your name on an electoral list. No form of hindrance to this would be tolerated by the law courts.
From being a bill in 1965, it was only made law in 1968- three years later.
The impact of this act was dramatic.
* By the end of 1966, only 4 out of the traditional 13 Southern states had less than 50% of African Americans registered to vote. * By 1968, even hard-line Mississippi had 59% of African Americans registered. * In the longer term, far more African Americans were elected into public office. * The Act was the boost that the civil rights cause needed to move it swiftly along.
As Martin Luther King had predicted in earlier years, demonstrations served a good purpose but real change would only come through the power of Federal government. Johnson proved this.
The act allowed government agents to inspect voting procedures to make sure that they were taking place properly. It also ended the literacy tests that voters had previously had to complete before they voted. These discriminated against poor blacks in particular. As they would remain illiterate and so would find the “easy to fill in” forms or tests hard or intimidating. After 1965, five major cities, Detroit, Atlanta and Cleveland and two others, all had black mayors. In Selma, blacks began to register to vote and in the next election Jim Clark lost his job.
In 1968, another Civil Rights Act was passed which prohibited racial discrimination in the sale or rental of houses. Signs such as “Negroes need not apply” were no longer tolerated in a society.
Assassination of MLK, 1968
Martin Luther King was assassinated; probably by a hired killer, although it had never been proved which of King’s enemies employed the assassin. King’s death marked the end of an era for the civil rights movement. During his life, King had helped to transform the movement from a southern sideshow to a national movement. Major battles had been fought and won. Segregation was now illegal; the civil rights act had enshrined black civil rights in law; black people in the south now held real political power. But, at the same time there was a feeling of insecurity and frustration among those who had watched these developments through the 1960s.
He was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05PM that evening. James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary, was arrested in London at Heathrow Airport, extradited to the United States, and charged with the crime. On March 10, 1969, Ray entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee state penitentiary.
The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, as alleged by Loyd Jowers in 1993, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. This conclusion was affirmed by a jury in a 1999 civil trial. |
Changed people’s ideas/actions, changed events at the time, long lasting impact, good example? Bad example of resistance to civil rights movement.| Responses
Within the movement
For some, King’s assassination meant the end of a strategy of non-violence. Others simply reaffirmed the need to carry on his work.
Leaders within the SCLC confirmed that they would carry on this Poor People’s Campaign in his absence. Some black leaders argued the need to continue King’s tradition of nonviolence.
Robert F. Kennedy speech
A speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was given on April 4, 1968, by New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy (who was himself assassinated two months later). Kennedy spoke for just four minutes and fifty-seven seconds. Robert F. Kennedy was the first to inform the audience of the death of Martin Luther King, causing some in the audience to scream and wail. Several of Kennedy’s aides were even worried that the delivery of this information would result in a riot. Once the audience quieted down, Kennedy acknowledged that many in the audience would be filled with anger. But then Kennedy went on: “For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with, be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Kennedy continued, saying that the country had to make an effort to “go beyond these rather difficult times,” and then quoted a poem by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, on the theme of the wisdom that comes, against one’s will, from pain. To conclude, Kennedy said that the country needed and wanted unity between blacks and whites, asked the audience members to pray for the King family and the country, and once more quoted the ancient Greeks. The speech was credited in part with preventing post-assassination rioting in Indianapolis where it was given, though there were riots in many other parts of the country. It is widely considered one of the most important speeches in American history.
On the other hand, a survey sent to a group of college trustees revealed that their opinions of King had increased after his assassination.
An editorial in the New York Times praised King, called his murder a “national disaster” and his cause “just.”
Public figures generally praised King. Even George Wallace, a notorious segregationist, described the assassination as a “senseless, regrettable act.”
Colleagues of Dr. King in the civil rights movement called for a non-violent response to the assassination, to honour his most deeply-held beliefs. James Farmer, Jr. said: “Dr. King would be greatly distressed to find that his blood had triggered off bloodshed and disorder… I think instead the nation should be quiet; black and white, and we should be in a prayerful mood, which would be in keeping with his life. We should make that kind of dedication and commitment to the goals which his life served to solving the domestic problems. That’s the memorial, that’s the kind of memorial we should build for him. It’s just not appropriate for there to be violent retaliations, and that kind of demonstration in the wake of the murder of this pacifist and man of peace.”
Despite the urging of many leaders, the assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than 100 cities. After the assassination, the city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favourable terms to the sanitation workers.