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Keeping The Dream Alive 50th Anniversary of the signing of the civil rights act


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U.S. Congress

Civil Rights Act of 1964, page 1.


Contents

08 18

 From Jim Crow to Birmingham The Civil Rights Movement’s First Century By Craig Collins

 A Long March Toward Freedom The Battle of Lawmakers and the Courts to Remake American Society

24

By Craig Collins

 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 By Craig Collins

30 36

J  ustice for All Aftermath of the Civil Rights Act By Eric Tegler

 The Voting Rights Act of 1965 By Craig Collins

42

 Another Giant Leap Kennedy-Johnson and the White House’s Role in Making Civil Rights Legislation a Reality in the 1960s By Eric Seeger


“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

The College Board commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. The profound impact of this historic legislation has inspired the College Board to focus our efforts on equity and excellence for all students. While great progress has been made, our goal is to ensure that all students have access to the opportunities they have earned. © 2014 The College Board. 14b-9174


Contents

48 54

 Nonviolent Protests: In Search of the Beloved Community By Craig Collins

62

 Key Leaders and Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement Profiles of several of the most influential people and organizations in the nonviolent direct-action campaigns that led to passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts

 S tudent Teachers By pressing their case when others urged caution, American students hastened the end of official segregation. By Craig Collins

By Craig Collins

74

 Formulating Equality The Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court By Jan Tegler


Keeping the Dream Alive

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50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act Permissions granted by Intellectual Properties Management, Inc. (Licensing Manager of the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) licensing@i-p-m.com EDITORIAL Editor in Chief: Chuck Oldham Managing Editor: Ana E. Lopez Project Editor: Iwalani Kahikina Editor: Rhonda Carpenter Editor/Photo Editor: Steven Hoarn Contributing Writers: Craig Collins, Eric Seeger, Eric Tegler, Jan Tegler DESIGN AND PRODUCTION Art Director: Robin K. McDowall Designers: Daniel Mrgan, Kenia Y. Perez-Ayala Ad Traffic Manager: Rebecca Laborde ADVERTISING Ad Sales Manager: Steve Chidel Account Executives: Michael Blomberg, Christopher Day, Jim Huston, Ted Ireland, Ken Meyer, Charles Lowry Poe II, Bonnie Schneider, Russ Titsch, Jeremy Tomlinson OPERATIONS AND ADMINISTRATION Chief Operating Officer: Lawrence Roberts VP, Business Development: Robin Jobson Financial Controller: Robert John Thorne Chief Information Officer: John Madden Business Analytics Manager: Colin Davidson Circulation: Alexis Vars Events Manager: Jim Huston FAIRCOUNT MEDIA GROUP Publisher, North America: Ross Jobson Publisher, Europe: Peter Antell

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prehistory

From Jim Crow to Birmingham

The Civil Rights Movement’s First Century

In the wake of America’s Civil War, the lives of African-Americans were transformed so quickly that – even given the breakneck pace of social change today – it remains difficult to grasp: Almost overnight, the 400-yearold practice of slavery, an institution that had shaped the very foundation of U.S. government, ceased to exist. In quick succession, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States and granted citizenship to freed slaves; guaranteed “equal protection” under federal and state laws; and extended suffrage to African-American men. It seemed an astonishing reversal of fortune. Less than a decade earlier, in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott ruling, slaveholding Chief Justice Roger Taney had asserted that the nation’s founders viewed black people as “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect ... the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” Such language, from the nation’s highest-ranking judicial official, signaled the nation had far to go before realizing its founding principle that “all men are created equal.” In the Reconstruction Era, from 1863-1877, while radical Republican lawmakers attempted to remake the American South, a group of former Confederate soldiers formed the Ku Klux Klan, a white terrorist group that carried out thousands of brutal lynchings, rapes, castrations, and murders. The battle lines were drawn – and for decades, despite the initial promise of Reconstruction, AfricanAmericans and their allies were clearly on the losing side. For nearly a century, Southern states passed laws aimed at repressing the rights of freed men. The Jim Crow laws, while not explicitly defying the Reconstruction Amendments, certainly – particularly the statutory segregations that skirted the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” clause – defied them in spirit. Black and white Americans lived largely separate lives: They were born in different hospitals, lived in separate neighborhoods, rode in separate train cars, drank from separate water 8

Keeping the Dream Alive

fountains, and attended separate schools. Voter registration requirements were rigged to exclude black Americans from voter rolls. These laws created a racial caste system that exposed black Americans to acts of unspeakable violence that – if not condoned outright – were punished with disgraceful lenience. One after another, federal court cases sanctioned this caste system, culminating in the landmark 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities. The “separate but equal” doctrine asserted by this ruling paved the way for another 58 years of legalized discrimination against African-Americans. In the early 20th century, several disparate movements arose to overcome this discrimination: Booker T. Washington, the ex-slave and educator who founded the Tuskegee Institute, for example, urged black Americans to achieve economic self-reliance before seeking political equality. Marcus Garvey, the ardent black nationalist, proposed the abandonment of white society and a return to the African homeland. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded by A. Philip Randolph in 1925, introduced one of the first nationally recognized African-American labor organizations. Two groups formed in this period would prove seminal to the modern civil rights movement: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1909, began its work by mounting challenges to Jim Crow laws in federal courts. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interracial pacifist organization formed in 1915, would later give rise to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), whose members fought Jim Crow injustice with nonviolent civil disobedience that would forever affirm the moral authority of modern activists – men and women who won freedom by proving, again and again, superior to their oppressors: stronger, wiser, braver, and more civilized and respectful of their fellow human beings.

ap photo

By Craig Collins


An Oklahoma City family pauses for a glance at the Santa Fe Depot segregation sign, Nov. 25, 1955, in Oklahoma City, Okla., after hearing news that the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) had ordered an end to separate seating on public carriers.

50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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prehistory

Early legal challenges to Jim Crow laws achieved some noteworthy successes: the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “grandfather clauses” that exempted white voters from discriminatory measures; outlawed the official segregation of residential districts; and banned segregation on interstate buses and trains. In hindsight, these court cases signaled the beginning of a gradual reversal – but at the time they were modest moral victories, merely chipping away at the façade of racial oppression. The lives of African-Americans, throughout the South, remained separate lives; the freedom promised decades earlier was, in the words of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, “a dream deferred.” One of the bitterest pills for African-Americans to swallow was the continued segregation of their children into inferior public schools. Discrimination in education became a prime target of civil rights attorneys – and particularly of the NAACP’s chief counsel, the shrewd and tireless Thurgood Marshall. Today, many consider Marshall’s victory in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case to have been the launching point for the modern civil rights movement. The case, consisting of five lawsuits filed by black parents from across the country, so meticulously exposed the inequities between white and black schools that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The significance of the Brown v. Board decision can be measured by the immediate and vitriolic From left: George E.C. response to the demise of the Hayes, Thurgood “separate but equal” doctrine. Marshall, and James M. Southern lawmakers denounced Nabrit congratulate each Brown and pledged to reverse it. other following the Hundreds of measures aimed at Brown v. Board of maintaining segregation were Education decision, May 17, 1954. enacted at state and local levels. Prince Edward County, Va., simply closed its public schools for five years, allowing white students to be sent to private schools while black students received no formal education. Southern racists lashed out with extreme violence; in 1955, their brutal murders of 14-year-old Emmett Till and NAACP leader George W. Lee galvanized civil rights activists: In the schools, they no longer needed to wait for the courts to grant them justice. They simply needed to claim what had been acknowledged as theirs. At first it seemed they would receive little assistance from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose response to segregationist defiance of Brown was, at first, lukewarm. But when Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus confronted the federal 10

Keeping the Dream Alive

government with the most serious constitutional crisis since the Civil War, the president acted decisively. In 1957, the school board in the state capital of Little Rock agreed to integrate Central High School. A group of nine African-American students, chosen for their excellent academic records, showed up for the first day of school on Sept. 4, steeled for a racist gauntlet. They had expected the angry mob that shouted threats and insults, and spat on at least one of them – but were surprised to discover that the 250 National Guard troops surrounding the school had been ordered by Faubus not to protect them, but to bar them from entry. The president resolved to crush such brazen defiance of federal law. After a near-riot during the students’ second attempt to go to school, Eisenhower took command of the 10,000 soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard and sent in 1,000 paratroopers from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. On Sept. 25, the Little Rock Nine were conveyed to Central High School in military jeeps armed with machine guns, while paratroopers stood guard and helicopters hovered overhead. The use of federal troops was a signal that segregation in the South – though it would endure for several more years – was on borrowed time. But credit for the successful integration of Central High – and ultimately all of Arkansas’ public schools – belongs to that courageous group of students who continued to endure daily harassment and physical abuse, especially after their federal guards departed in November. All of the Little Rock Nine went on to attend college. More than 40 years later, recalling the iconic photo of one of the Nine – 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford, tall and dignified in her new dress and sunglasses, trailed by a jeering mob – the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette described it as an image of “hate assailing grace.” It was a historic victory, but civil rights leaders understood that it meant only, for the time being, that nine teenagers had been able to attend the school of their choice. These movement leaders – including the young Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose recent civil rights victories in Montgomery, Ala., had emboldened activists throughout the South – knew much work remained to be done.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Nearly 60 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, the fog of myth has lifted: Parks was no simple seamstress, merely too physically tired to yield, but rather a veteran civil rights worker and NAACP secretary who had been trained in civil disobedience. “The only tired I was,” she later wrote in her autobiography, My Story, “was tired of giving in.” On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks obeyed the rules: She paid her fare, exited out the front door, and then re-entered the bus’s rear

Library of Congress photo

Turning the Tide: Brown v. Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine


National Archives photo

door to take a front-row seat in the “colored” section. As the bus filled up, the driver directed her and three others to yield their seats to white passengers. When she quietly refused, the driver summoned two police officers, who arrested and jailed her for violating the city’s segregation law. After hearing of Parks’ arrest, local leaders gathered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King was pastor, to organize a boycott of city buses. Montgomery’s 30,000 black riders comprised nearly three-quarters of the total ridership, and the loss of their fares would prove costly. On Dec. 5, the day Parks received a $10 fine in court, 99 percent of the city’s black riders ignored the buses and walked, hitchhiked, or pedaled bicycles. When the boycott did not immediately bring the city government to its knees, some local leaders, as well as the national NAACP, began to waver. However, the then-26-yearold King, president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), inspired protestors with passion, eloquence, and moral courage. He exhorted crowds to act – and to remain nonviolent, no matter how angry they became. “No white person,” he said, “will be taken from his home by a hooded Negro mob and brutally murdered.” The bus boycott was a grinding ordeal: The bus company lost more than half its revenues. Downtown merchants suffered from the loss of business. Many participants, including Parks, were fired from their jobs, and King and other organizers were arrested. Racists bombed the homes of King, Alabama

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort the Little Rock Nine students into the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

NAACP leader Edgar Nixon, and local minister Ralph D. Abernathy. When angry supporters gathered at King’s house and vowed revenge, he appeared on his front porch and calmly exhorted them to meet violence peaceably. In his steady leadership of the boycott, King became the embodiment of the civil rights movement. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Alabama’s racial segregation laws were unconstitutional, the boycott officially ended after 381 days. On Dec. 21, 1956, King, Nixon, Abernathy, and Parks’ lawyer, Fred Gray, boarded the city’s first integrated bus – and sat in front. Just days after the boycott victory, King and other ministers formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to coordinate and support nonviolent direct action throughout the South. One of the organization’s first efforts was to press for legislation that would protect voting rights – in 1957, only about 20 percent of African-Americans had registered to vote. Southern lawmakers fought so hard against this bill that its final, watered-down version – passed in September, just before the crisis in Little Rock – produced essentially unenforceable prohibitions against intimidating or interfering with attempts to vote. The law did, however, create both the Commission on Civil Rights and the Office of the Assistant Attorney

“The only tired I was,” she later wrote in her autobiography, My Story, “was tired of giving in.”

50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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prehistory

The Students Rise Up: Sit-ins and Freedom Rides On the afternoon of Feb. 1, 1960, four black freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University – young men who had been active in NAACP youth programs and had heard King speak – decided to challenge segregation at Woolworth’s department store lunch counter in Greensboro. After buying toothpaste and school supplies, they sat at the counter but were told by the waitress: “We don’t serve colored here.” The manager tried unsuccessfully to have them arrested – the courteous young men had broken no law – and they left after the store closed. The simple protest of the Greensboro Four, as they became known, promptly launched a nationwide movement. By the end of the week, more than 300 local students took turns occupying seats at the lunch counter all day long; by the end of the month, sit-ins were held in more than 30 cities – most notably in Nashville, Tenn., where black customers spent $50 million annually in white businesses. As the movement continued to grow, protestors targeted other public places. All these protests were nonviolent; students were instructed not to retaliate if struck, and when protestors were arrested, others stepped in to take their seats. The students’ use of the “Jail, No Bail,” tactic soon filled municipal jails beyond capacity. About six months after the first sit-in, storeowners, bleeding cash, had no choice but to integrate. On July 25, 1960, the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter served African-Americans for the first time, and the next day, every Woolworth’s lunch counter in the United States was open to black customers. By the end of the year, stores in dozens of other cities had followed suit. The phenomenal and rapid success of the sit-ins inspired the formation of a new civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). While this new organization shared the SCLC’s goals and remained dedicated to nonviolence, it adopted a more militant posture. 12

Keeping the Dream Alive

Left: Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by a police officer

Its tactics would lead its in Montgomery, Ala. Above: A members into some of the black student, right, watches as most dangerous areas of a store employee puts up a lunch counter “Closed” sign the South, where they shortly after a group, who would confront some the identified themselves as Texas most violent attacks of Southern University students, the modern civil rights filled the counter stools and asked for service, March 4, movement. 1960, in Houston, Texas. After On May 4, 1961, SNCC the group was refused service, students joined with they staged a sit-down strike CORE to claim what and said they would stay until the U.S. Supreme Court the store closed – and would then be back the next day. had decided was theirs – integrated seats on interstate buses and in transit terminals. The first “Freedom Ride,” carrying seven black and six white volunteers, set out from Washington, D.C., in two buses bound for New Orleans, La. White volunteers sat in the back of the buses; black volunteers in the front. In terminals they sat together, ignoring the WHITES ONLY signs. The Freedom Riders never reached New Orleans. They encountered growing resistance that reached a murderous peak in Anniston, Ala., where one bus was firebombed and passengers on both were beaten with clubs and chains. In Birmingham, Ala., riders on the remaining bus were beaten again – with police nowhere in sight – by a bloodthirsty mob actively encouraged by Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor, a Klan supporter and one of the South’s most notorious racists. With mobs already gathering along the route to Montgomery, bus operators Greyhound and Trailways recalled their drivers. President John F. Kennedy, horrified by the sickening violence, sent along a Justice Department observer, John Seigenthaler. Protesters attempted to resume the Freedom Ride on May 19, and under pressure from the White House, Greyhound provided a driver, who drove to Montgomery at 90 miles per hour, escorted by the Alabama State Highway Patrol. At the Montgomery city limit, state police left the riders under the protection of Connor’s police force – who

Library of Congress photo / AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky

General for Civil Rights, agencies that, while temporary and essentially toothless, laid the groundwork for a stronger federal role in enforcing civil rights.


The Civil Rights Act. A promise to treat everyone equally.

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“Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole.� - President Lyndon B. Johnson 1964

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign joins the nation in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

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stood by as the assembled mob launched its assault with baseball bats and iron pipes. Seigenthaler was beaten unconscious, and local onlookers took him and several riders to hospitals after ambulance drivers refused to pick them up. The next day, when a rally at Abernathy’s church was attacked by a mob of 3,000, King appealed to Kennedy, who sent 400 U.S. Marshals to disperse the mob with tear gas. Under the protection of the Alabama National Guard, the Freedom Riders continued their travels without incident – but were promptly arrested when they arrived in Jackson, Miss., and tried to use whites-only facilities. Here the riders – and hundreds of subsequent Freedom Riders – employed the “Jail, No Bail” tactic, cramming Jackson’s jails with hundreds of people, many of whom were later moved to the infamous Mississippi State Penitentiary, where they were abused throughout their incarceration. Finally, the Kennedy administration pushed through federal regulations requiring interstate carriers and terminals to display signs announcing desegregated facilities. In about 300 Southern terminals – 15 years after the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered it so – the WHITES ONLY signs at last came down.

National Archives photo / AP Photo/Bill Hudson

Victory in Birmingham For the civil rights movement, such sweeping victories were rare – and even those smaller in scope, it seemed, were increasingly costly. On Oct. 1, 1962, when James H. Meredith became the first black student at the University of Mississippi, the campus exploded in riots that left two people dead before being quelled by 31,000 Army troops, U.S. Marshals, Border Patrol officers, and Mississippi National

Left: A bus that was carrying Freedom Riders burns near Anniston, Ala., in 1961. Above: A 17-yearold civil rights demonstrator, defying an anti-parade ordinance in Birmingham, Ala., is attacked by a police dog on May 3, 1963. On the afternoon of May 4, 1963, during a meeting at the White House with members of a political group, President John F. Kennedy discussed this photo, which had appeared on the front page of that day’s New York Times.

Guardsmen. The Ole Miss riots, described by historians as the most serious federalstate confrontation since the Civil War, served notice to Southern segregationists that the Kennedy administration would no longer be reticent about enforcing federal laws in the South. Another costly campaign, one that achieved only modest results, was the Albany Movement in southern Georgia, where the SCLC threw its support behind a broad-front nonviolent protest. The campaign consisted of marches, boycotts, and occupations of whites-only bus stations, lunch counters, and libraries – all of which continued for nearly a year without achieving integration. King, who was jailed for his involvement in Albany, saw that the civil rights movement was at a crossroads. Though many organizations born from the movement, including the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC, agreed that nonviolent direct action was a moral and powerful instrument for achieving desegregation, fractures were beginning to form in the movement’s united front, as leaders debated the finer points of strategy and tactics. The stakes could not have been higher. A weakened movement, King knew, would allow the nation to slide

The following day, more than 1,000 more children skipped school to march, and Connor, his jails already full, resorted to force, loosing attack dogs and ordering firefighters to turn their hoses – which were powerful enough to tear the bark off trees – on the children. 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

15


back to its old ways; with Southern governments led at the highest levels by unapologetic segregationists, the hardfought victories of thousands of protestors, won over the last decade, could disappear almost overnight. In early 1963, King and the SCLC, with local activists led by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, meticulously developed a plan to revitalize the movement: Project C (for Confrontation) would occur in the nation’s most segregated city: Birmingham, where African-Americans – nearly 40 percent of the municipal populace – were treated so violently that journalists had nicknamed the city “Bombingham.” In choosing a city whose police were commanded by the racist Connor, under the ultimate jurisdiction of Alabama Gov. (and avowed segregationist) George Wallace, movement leaders signaled they would no longer target Southern politicians and public officials who couldn’t care less about African-American votes – they would, rather, aim for people’s wallets. Project C targeted downtown businesses, many of which served primarily black customers. Protests began on April 3, 1963, with sit-ins at store lunch counters. Three days later, in a march on City Hall, protestors were arrested; when they marched again the next day, police beat them with clubs and unleashed attack dogs. City officials obtained a court injunction barring further demonstrations, which presented the movement with another crucial turning point: Its strength had always been rooted in its reputation as law-abiding. But King knew that to turn back now would cause Project C to fail. He declared the order unjust and, on April 12, Good Friday, announced his intention to obey an “injunction from heaven.” He marched on City Hall and was promptly arrested and thrown into solitary confinement, where he composed his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in the margins of a newspaper. The letter, a defense of nonviolent resistance to racism and a discourse on the moral imperative to break unjust laws, is today recognized as a masterwork, 16

Keeping the Dream Alive

one of the principal documents in the canon of America’s civil discourse – as important and influential as Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.” Upon his release, King planned the next stage of the Birmingham campaign – a mass march of local schoolchildren. On Thursday, May 2, hundreds of children, some as young as 6, gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to march toward downtown. Police promptly began tossing them into paddy wagons, jailing nearly 1,000 children by day’s end. The following day, more than 1,000 more children skipped school to march, and Connor, his jails already full, resorted to force, loosing attack dogs and ordering firefighters to turn their hoses – which were powerful enough to tear the bark off trees – on Policemen lead a the children. Protests continued for group of black several more days. schoolchildren into Across the nation – and around jail following their the world – television viewers were arrest for protesting against racial appalled by images of schoolchildren discrimination near being attacked by dogs and blasted the city hall of with fire hoses. Kennedy, who felt Birmingham, Ala., deeply ashamed and embarrassed on May 4, 1963. for the United States, sent officials to help resolve the crisis. Finally a settlement was reached: Public facilities, including lunch counters, restrooms, and water fountains, would be desegregated in Birmingham, and local businesses would begin the process of hiring black employees. After the accord was reached, bombs exploded at King’s hotel and at the home of his brother, the minister A.D. King. The president again sent federal troops to stop the violence, and soon it was over: The South’s most segregated city had submitted to justice. That summer, to avoid Birmingham’s troubles, about 50 Southern cities desegregated. Still, the Birmingham protests provoked unrest throughout much of the country. In June, Mississippi’s NAACP leader, Medgar W. Evers, was gunned down by a local Klansman who, despite overwhelming evidence, would not be convicted of the murder for another 30 years. The Kennedy administration, fearing further unrest, drafted legislation that would later become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the summer of 1963, as a bitterly divided Congress debated the bill, civil rights leaders decided to build on the success of Birmingham, a campaign that had captured international attention and won important rights for people throughout the South. King and his allies would be satisfied no longer with regional campaigns aimed at overturning local ordinances. To ensure passage of the new bill in the federal legislature, they would take their case to the nation’s capital – where the world, they knew, would be watching. n

AP Photo/Bill Hudson

prehistory


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post-civil war legislation

A Long March Toward Freedom The Battle of Lawmakers and the Courts to Remake American Society

The end of the United States’ Civil War marked the conclusion of the military campaign to resolve differences between the North and South – but it was merely the beginning of a new kind of struggle. With 600,000 Americans dead and much of the South a smoldering ruin, the Union government confronted the grim task of putting the South back together and helping roughly 4 million freed slaves – soon to become penniless and landless citizens of the United States – navigate their way in a society where many, if not most, people still considered them not as human beings, but as confiscated property. The stage for Reconstruction was set by three constitutional amendments, which Southern states were compelled to ratify in order to regain representation in Congress: • The straightforward 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. • The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included the recently freed slaves. It forbade states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law,” or any person “within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans – but also paved the way for a century of lawsuits aimed at determining just what “equal protection” meant. • The 15th Amendment prohibited federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was ratified in early 1870. Taken together, the Reconstruction amendments appeared to have reversed centuries of injustice in American society – but Southern legislatures were working to subvert them before they had even passed. Allowing African-Americans a role in society was unthinkable to many of them, and as soon as the war had concluded, Southern states adopted the first of the notorious “black 18

Keeping the Dream Alive

codes” – laws relegating former slaves to a permanently inferior status by preventing them from owning land, voting, carrying arms, moving about freely, or beginning employment without the permission of a previous employer. These codes were revoked in 1866, when federal officials took control of Reconstruction governments in the South, but the codes had set a template for future use. In advance of the 14th Amendment’s ratification, Congress passed – over the veto of President Andrew Johnson – the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which granted citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by white citizens to all male persons in the United States “without distinction of race or color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” Johnson’s attempt to strike down the law sparked a vigorous backlash among congressional Radical Republicans, many of whom were intent on increased intervention in Southern governments. From 1870 to 1871, the Radical Republican Congress passed three laws known as the Enforcement Acts, aimed at protecting the rights of African-Americans to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and receive equal protection of the laws. The last of these, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act or the Civil Rights Act of 1871, at last gave some teeth to the 14th and 15th amendments, which were being subverted in terror campaigns aimed at preventing African-Americans from claiming their economic and civic rights. The Klan Act empowered federal troops to intervene and bring Klan members to federal court. The law resulted in hundreds of arrests and weakened the organization for several decades, but violence against freedmen continued. After a disputed election in April 1873, an armed group of white Democrats in Colfax, La., massacred more than 100 freedmen at the Grant Parish Courthouse. The last civil rights law passed by Radical Republicans, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, guaranteed African-Americans equal treatment in public accommodations and public transportation, and prohibited the exclusion of black Americans from jury service. This law, passed in the waning years of Reconstruction, was a failure; its provisions – 90

Library of Congress photo by John Vachon

By craig collins


A segregated water fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax, N.C., circa April 1938.

50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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post-civil war legislation

years in advance of similar provisions included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – were largely ignored by the states, and the courts failed to enforce them. When newly elected President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal troops from the South, the remaining Reconstruction governments in the region immediately collapsed, and the contentious era came to an end. White leaders regained control of the state governments and began reversing the modest gains made by African-Americans. In 1883, in its Civil Rights Cases ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1875 Civil Rights Act altogether, holding that the language of the 14th Amendment prohibiting the denial of “equal protection” by the states did not give Congress the authority to regulate the behavior of individuals – private acts of racial discrimination, the court ruled, were simply moral wrongs that the federal government did not have the power to correct. Congress would not pass another civil rights act until 1957. The judicial greenlighting of private discrimination – which Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy would later An African-American call “the right to do wrong” – goes into the colored paved the way for a new and entrance of a movie increasingly painful era for house in Belzoni, Miss.,

The Jim Crow South and Plessy v. Ferguson After the failure of Reconstruction, with private citizens given judicial license to discriminate, many states and localities made discrimination compulsory: Laws were passed requiring the separation of whites and “persons of color” (anyone of ascertainably or strongly suspected black ancestry) in public transportation and schools, and soon afterward at restaurants, parks, hotels, drinking fountains, cemeteries, and theaters, in an attempt to prevent any contact between blacks and whites as equals. Theaters would screen films at different times for white and black audiences; zoos were open at different hours; signs reading “No Negroes or Dogs Allowed” were posted at parks. Most damaging – and galling – to African-Americans were the laws relegating their children to separate, underfunded schools. These so-called “Jim Crow” laws, nicknamed for a racial caricature popularized by a 19th century blackface performer, mandated segregation at all levels of society. While they were certainly harshest in the South,

Farm Security Administration photo by Marion Post Wolcott

circa October 1939.

African-Americans, many of whom had simply fled the South after Reconstruction. But even for many of these refugees, the Jim Crow era would introduce slavery under another name.

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Keeping the Dream Alive


The battle that would finally kill the “separate but equal” doctrine was the fight for the education of AfricanAmerican children in public schools.

National Archives and Records Administration.

Protesters march against the segregation of U.S. schools.

the laws were not limited to any part of America – nor were they limited to people of African descent. More than 30 states, from Maine to California and from North Dakota to Texas, passed racial segregation laws between 1876 and 1965. In the South, many laws and ordinances further circumscribed the lives of African-Americans by re-enacting provisions of the notorious black codes, including those limiting employment and freedom of movement. Through these increasingly harsh laws, state legislatures made clear their intent to essentially criminalize blackness, and made it likely that any African-American man not explicitly under white patronage was in violation of a law. On their face, the laws seemed illogical: They forbade “farm workers” from walking beside a railroad; men from speaking loudly in the company of white women; and farmers or workers from selling produce after dark. Though not explicitly worded against African-Americans, their intent was clear, and the laws were rarely if ever enforced against white people. The most crushing laws of all during the Jim Crow era were the vagrancy laws, subjecting anyone without proof of employment to a harsh fine. African-Americans – even those who may have been on their way to apply for work – could be arrested without cause and, if unable to afford

the fine, forced into labor, often on chain gangs. Under the legalized system of convict leasing, many convicts were hired out to private employers – including plantation owners – who were then responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing the prisoners. By providing a crude tool for feeding labor into an officially sanctioned mutation of slavery, these vagrancy laws were, secondarily, an effective means of intimidating African-Americans away from public places where they might be arrested – from places, such as courthouses or polling stations, where they might have otherwise attempted to claim their civil rights and engage in the political process. Under Reconstruction, the freedmen among the 4 million former slaves comprised a powerful voting bloc, and had helped elect several African-American legislators to both the House and the Senate. In the Jim Crow South, Southern jurisdictions systematically stripped African-Americans of this power, imposing literacy tests, poll taxes, property requirements, and other pre-qualifying measures designed to prevent most black Americans from registering to vote. The 15th Amendment’s language about denying the vote on the basis of color was clear, but these voter restriction laws were often written or enforced in ways that skirted its intent: Rigged “literacy tests,” typically, were graded subjectively by white registrars. Because literacy tests and property requirements had the potential also to prevent poor, illiterate whites from voting, some states – beginning with Louisiana, in 1898 – enacted “grandfather clauses,” providing exemptions for those whose ancestors had been eligible to vote before the Civil War. Two Supreme Court rulings near the end of the 19th century cemented both disenfranchisement and segregation. In Williams v. Mississippi (1898), the court condoned discriminatory voter qualifications, ruling that 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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post-civil war legislation

disenfranchisement clauses written into Mississippi’s 1890 constitution were not unconstitutional because they applied equally to all potential voters. Beginning in 1881, no black American would serve in the U.S. Senate for another 86 years. In 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson, the court allowed Louisiana’s public railway to continue its policy of segregating white and black passengers, directing the state “to provide equal, but separate, accommodations for the white and colored races.” The lone dissenter on the court was Justice John Harlan, who wrote: The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficient purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution. Harlan’s words proved true. The “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson was more than a temporary setback for civil rights. In providing the legal footing for systematic racial discrimination, it would haunt the nation for nearly six more decades.

Creeping Toward Justice When Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, he became the first Southern U.S. president since 1856, and his administration segregated federal workplaces and the military. His White House, in requiring job candidates to submit photos, practiced overt racial discrimination. The Wilson administration turned out to be an aberration; for the next several decades – with no help coming from the legislative branch of government – the executive branch played a leading role in desegregating society. President Franklin D. Roosevelt barred World War II defense contractors from discriminating against black workers. African-American soldiers served in segregated units until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman issued the executive order directing the integration of all armed forces. By the end of the Korean War in 1953, the U.S. military had been almost entirely desegregated. Legislators remained quiet on the issue of civil rights throughout the first half of the 20th century – in part, perhaps, because the Supreme Court had already struck down previous laws. Their reasons may also have been political: In both the House and the Senate, some of the most powerful veteran lawmakers, those with the power to make key committee appointments and suffocate any bills they didn’t like, were segregationist Democrats from the South. Meanwhile, civil rights activists, led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began to challenge some of the immoral logic of the “separate but equal” doctrine – and though there were a few setbacks, that logic began to crumble. Several lawsuits filed from the 1930s through the 1960s resulted in Supreme Court opinions and rulings by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) that desegregated 22

Keeping the Dream Alive

public transportation facilities – passenger rail cars, buses, and public terminals. The battle that would finally kill the “separate but equal” doctrine was the fight for the education of African-American children in public schools. Under the tutelage of his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, the young Thurgood Marshall, who became the NAACP’s chief counsel in 1940, began to systematically pick the doctrine apart – not by tying it to the 14th Amendment, but simply by compelling enforcement to its absurd and costly conclusions. In the 1938 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada case, for example, the NAACP sued the University of Missouri for refusing to admit black students to its law school and offering them instead the choice of going out of state or attending a “separate but equal” African-American law school – which, it admitted, did not yet exist. The Supreme Court’s ruling supported the plaintiff’s contention: The university could either establish a separate law school for African-American students, or it could simply accept black students. In the 1950 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents case, the NAACP successfully argued that the University of Oklahoma – in spite of the state law prohibiting schools from instructing blacks and whites together – must accept the plaintiff, George McLaurin, into its doctoral program in education. The university complied, but provided McLaurin separate facilities, including a special table in the cafeteria, an assigned desk in the library, and a desk just outside the classroom doorway. These increasingly ludicrous outcomes, compelled by the “separate but equal” doctrine, cumulated in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case – actually five separate lawsuits heard together, challenging segregation in public education. The court’s unanimous ruling, delivered on May 17, 1954, held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” For the first time in decades, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment – and it’s for this reason that many historians describe the modern “Civil Rights Movement” as a campaign that began, essentially, in 1954. The segregationist dam had broken. An emboldened Congress, in a show of support for the court’s ruling, passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 – essentially voting rights laws that established important precedents, but were nevertheless weakened by the efforts of Southern Democrats. Segregationists remained defiant. When he took the oath of office on Jan. 14, 1963, Alabama Gov. George Wallace delivered the line for which, despite his later regrets, he will be forever remembered: “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” His words were prologue to another two years of violent and often deadly struggle. But the resolve of the American people, manifested through their legislature and judiciary, had at last grown strong enough to overrule such ugly rhetoric. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 offered hope that American society one day could be made whole: While there would always be Americans who believed in unequal treatment, Congress and the courts, in accord with the people’s will, had at last removed the legal footing on which segregation had stood for nearly a century. n


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2014 CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 SILVER DOLLAR COMMEMORATIVE COIN PROGRAM The 2014 Civil Rights Act of 1964 Silver Dollar Commemorative Coin produced by the United States Mint highlights the spirit of hope and opportunity. The design was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “They get the fire hose. They fail to realize that water can only put out physical fire. But water can never drown the fire of freedom.” The obverse (heads) design features three people holding hands at a civil rights march. The design is symbolic of all marches that helped galvanize the civil rights movement. The reverse (tails) design features three flames intertwined to symbolize freedom of education, freedom to vote, and the freedom to control one’s own destiny. Proof Silver Dollar $54.95*

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the civil rights act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 By Craig Collins

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Parker, so eloquently paraphrased by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – to bend the nation’s moral universe toward justice.

John F. Kennedy and the Civil Rights Bill Remembered today as a passionate idealist, John F. Kennedy began his presidency in 1960 with sober pragmatism. He sympathized with the plight of African-Americans, but knew he needed the support of Democrats from the Jim Crow South for his legislative agenda. He had joined these lawmakers in watering down the 1957 Civil Rights Act, adding provisions that allowed discrimination suits to be decided by local juries and creating a federal Civil Rights Commission with powers limited to observing and documenting abuses. Initially, Kennedy attacked segregation through executive orders, establishing committees and banning segregation in interstate travel and federal housing. His plan was to pave the way for a civil rights bill with approval of other legislative measures, including tax reform. Events, however, soon forced his hand, as segregationists became increasingly violent – and increasingly visible on evening newscasts. Over the next two years, Americans watched Klansmen beat Freedom Riders with clubs and set buses on fire; racists riot against the enrollment of the first black student at the University of Mississippi; and, for weeks during the spring of 1963, hundreds of peaceful protestors in Birmingham, Ala. – including many women and children – being set upon with nightsticks, fire hoses, and attack dogs. Kennedy, who claimed to have been sickened and ashamed by the violence in Birmingham, assembled a group of bipartisan legislators to begin drafting civil rights legislation, and on June 11, 1963 – the day a defiant Alabama Gov. George Wallace was compelled by National Guard troops to stand aside and allow entry to the University of Alabama’s first black students – the president

White House Press Office photo by Cecil Stoughton

American history features very few laws – perhaps only a handful – whose provisions are no longer debated seriously. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is such a law. Almost overnight, it transformed the United States into a nation whose people could at last share equally in both the obligations and privileges of citizenship. It broke down many of the institutional barriers encountered by AfricanAmericans in the United States – in their workplaces, in public, and at polling stations – and, unlike its anemic precursors, passed in 1957 and 1960, it provided the federal government with the authority to enforce its provisions. After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law on July 2, 1964, The New York Times declared it “the most sweeping civil rights legislation ever enacted in this country.” By any measure, the law was long overdue. For eight decades, white and black citizens in the South had lived in two different Americas, with many local and state laws – in defiance of the constitutional rights established after the Civil War – compelling racial segregation at virtually every level of society. By 1964, Americans were more than ready for legislation that would recodify these rights and grant the federal government power to uphold them: Public polls reported about 70 percent in support of civil rights legislation. The final congressional vote revealed bipartisan support unheard of today; both the House of Representatives (289-126) and the Senate (73-27) overwhelmingly approved the bill, with a majority of both Republicans and Democrats in favor. Of course, many commonsense ideas, charged with moral authority and now regarded as inevitable, have nevertheless remained bottled up for generations. The United States’ historic step toward refining its own democratic society in 1964 was astonishingly far from inevitable; it required a sustained campaign by civil rights activists and ordinary citizens, some of whom paid with their lives, to compel political leaders – in the words of Unitarian abolitionist Theodore


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others look on, July 2, 1964.

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the civil rights act

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Keeping the Dream Alive

to legislating civil rights. In addition to describing segregation in starkly moral terms – he described the so-called right to discriminate as “the right to commit wrong” – he focused on the economic damage it caused: “Discrimination … puts an artificial restriction on the market and interferes with the natural flow of merchandise.” In these hearings, the attorney general revealed the legal basis for the public accommodations provision: It was not rooted in the 14th Amendment, but in the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gave Congress the authority to regulate commerce “among the several states.” Under the president’s bill, businesses open to the public would be barred from discriminating if they were part of an interstate chain, served out-of-state travelers “to a substantial degree,” received a “substantial portion” of their goods from another state, or if any part of the business “substantially” involved interstate travel. The bill’s opponents remained unconvinced. After being released by the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by

Library of Congress/U.S. News & World Report

delivered his landmark speech introducing the civil rights bill. “Now the time has come,” he said, “for the nation to fulfill its promise.” On June 19, Kennedy sent his civil rights proposals to Congress. The bill banned segregation and discrimination in the workplace and in public accommodations, opening public pools, restaurants, hotels, and other facilities to all. Its provisions included the suspension of federal funding to communities and states that continued to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.” The bill’s most controversial provision outlawed segregation in private businesses open to the public. Such a law – the Civil Rights Act of 1875 – had in 1883 been struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment, compelling desegregation, applied only to actions of the state – private citizens, in other words, could not be required to desegregate their businesses. Many legislators who generally supported civil rights – including Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-Ill. – expressed doubts about banning segregation in public establishments, claiming it infringed on the rights of property owners. In testifying before legislators about the bill, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy revealed a different approach

Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Gov. George Wallace stands defiantly at the door while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach June 11, 1963.


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the civil rights act

President Johnson Rides Herd Stewardship of the Kennedys’ civil rights bill fell to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texan whose views on the issue appeared murky to observers, and whose attitudes toward race have proven inscrutable to many historians. On more than one occasion, he used racial slurs in his exhortations to other legislators – but judged solely by his actions, Johnson did more to advance the cause of civil rights than perhaps any other 20th century president. Three days after assuming the presidency, Johnson met with King to assure him of his intentions: “I want to tell you,” he said to King, “how worthy I’m going to try to be of all your hopes.” In the intense, monthslong battle that was to follow, Johnson often invoked the memory of the slain president and his hopes for civil rights legislation. The former Senate majority leader, Johnson was a master of the arcane congressional rules often used to stall passage

Three days after assuming the presidency, Johnson met with King to assure him of his intentions: “I want to tell you,” he said to King, “how worthy I’m going to try to be of all your hopes.” 28

Keeping the Dream Alive

Left: Republican senators during a

of a bill. He was also, according meeting on to allies and adversaries alike, amendments to the something of a psychologist, with Civil Rights Act, May 20, 1964. Right: an uncanny ability to convert President Lyndon B. other lawmakers. By turns honeyJohnson shakes hands tongued and bare-knuckled, he with Dr. Martin Luther enlisted the help of everyone he King Jr. after handing him one of the pens could find – church and civil rights used in signing the Civil leaders, the media, lawmakers Rights Act, July 2, 1964, from both parties, and anyone at the White House in who might prove useful. Washington, D.C. While Smith continued his refusal to hold hearings on the bill, Johnson directed Lawrence O’Brien, Kennedy’s assistant for congressional relations, to round up signatures for a discharge petition – a rarely used device that could, with a majority vote, force a committee to release a bill to the floor. Many lawmakers balked at the idea – it was customary for a committee to be given a chance to hold hearings – but it was clear no hearings were planned. To stave off the discharge vote, Smith launched hearings at the beginning of the next congressional session, fielding seemingly endless testimony from dozens of House members, until a bipartisan group of Rules Committee members threatened a vote to cut off the debate. Smith relented. The committee approved the bill 11 to 4 – but only after Smith had amended the bill to add “sex” to the categories of people in Title VII who were protected from employment discrimination. Historians are divided on Smith’s intentions; some believe the amendment was a cynical ploy to weaken support for the bill, while others, pointing to Smith’s history of working for women’s rights, believe it was made in earnest. Regardless of his intentions, Smith’s amendment made the bill even more popular among lawmakers. On Feb. 10, 1964, the House voted 289 to 126 to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The bill moved on to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., maneuvered to keep the bill out of the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by James O. Eastland, D-Miss., who had also vowed to quash the bill.

Library of Congress photo / D.C. Library of Congress photo

Democrat Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y., the legislation was referred to the House Rules Committee, whose chairman, Howard W. Smith, D-Va., was a fervent segregationist. With the power to keep the bill from reaching the floor for a vote or even a debate, Smith publicly vowed not to hold hearings. The bill was still in his hands when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.


When the bill was introduced on the Senate floor on March 26, the real battle began. The “Southern Bloc” of 19 senators launched what would become the longest sustained filibuster in Senate history. The men took turns trying to talk the bill to death, with one, Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., personally speaking for 14 hours and 13 minutes straight. Meanwhile, supporters of the bill went to work to gather support. On the filibuster’s 54th day, Sens. Dirksen, Mansfield, Thomas Kuchel, R-Calif., and Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn., introduced a compromise bill they hoped would attract enough Republican votes to end the filibuster, which required a two-thirds majority cloture vote. The newer bill contained weaker provisions regarding the regulations of private business, but was still strong enough to retain all but one of the House votes. After several marathon negotiations, the senators secured enough votes for cloture, and Dirksen stood to address the chamber. Calling the civil rights bill “essentially moral in character,” he quoted the French author Victor Hugo: “‘Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come’ … The time has come for equality of all opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment.” Just after 11:00 a.m., Mansfield called for the cloture vote. After 75 days of debate, 71 senators voted to end the filibuster. On June 19, the Senate voted 73 to 27 to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the House approved the bill on July 2. The law was promptly signed into law that evening by Johnson, who had prepared for the occasion: He had 75 pens on hand, to be distributed to many of the legislative and civic leaders who had worked so hard to share in the achievement. One of these leaders was King, who had recently been named Time magazine’s Man of the Year, and soon would be awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. King later compared the bill’s signing to Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In a brief address, Johnson declared that the nation would now provide equal treatment for all its citizens, as the Constitution, the nation’s principles of freedom, and morality dictated. The law, he said, provided that “those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.” The president acknowledged that the nation had entered a new era, “a time of testing” that it must not fail. “This Civil Rights Act is a challenge to all of us,” he said, “to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts, to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.” Fifty years later, few if any Americans would claim this challenge to have been completely met – and this may be perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: It isn’t merely a law that requires compliance. Like the Constitution itself, it demands that Americans live up to the promises made more than 200 years ago. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is both light and compass – a summons and a guide – to the nation America has always aspired to be. n

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 The law’s lengthy official title ensures that the rights it guarantees all American citizens are codified in scrupulous detail: An Act To enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes. The final version of the Civil Rights Act contained 11 parts, or titles: Title I requires that voting rules and procedures to be applied equally to all citizens – but did not do away with many of the voter “qualification” mechanisms, such as literacy tests. Title II, the once-controversial “accommodations” section, compels public facilities engaged in interstate commerce, such as pools, parks, hotels, restaurants, and theaters, to accommodate all patrons regardless of color, race, religion, or national origin. Private clubs and rooming houses with fewer than five rooms are exempt from this provision. Title III prohibits state and municipal governments from denying access to public facilities on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin. Title IV authorizes the attorney general to file suit to enforce the desegregation of public schools, and also provides funding and technical assistance to facilitate desegregation. Title V reauthorizes and expands the powers of the Commission on Civil Rights to investigate allegations of citizens’ voting rights being violated on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Title VI authorizes the federal government to revoke the federal funding of any state or local government agencies that discriminate, and establishes the administrative and judicial mechanisms for doing so. Title VII bars labor unions and employers of 25 or more people from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and creates the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to field complaints and refer cases, if necessary, to the U.S. attorney general for legal action. Title VIII directs the secretary of commerce to compile registration and voting data in areas specified by the Commission on Civil Rights. This title also contains the Fair Housing Act, which bans discrimination in the rental or sale of real property. Title IX establishes the rules for moving civil rights lawsuits and appeals to federal courts, and empowers the attorney general to intervene in significant court cases involving the denial of civil rights on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Title X establishes the Community Relations Service, which assists in community disputes involving discrimination allegations. Title XI grants an accused defendant in matters arising from Titles II-VII of the Act the right to a jury trial. If convicted, the defendant can be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to six months.

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justice for all

Justice for All Aftermath of the Civil Rights Act By eric tegler

Fifty years is a long time. And it’s a rather short time relatively speaking. Still, America has seen change at a greater pace over the past five decades than at any time in its history. Since 1964, the agents of change have been many but among the major drivers is the Civil Rights Act. The energy channeled into the civil rights movement took decades to build, starting not long after the Civil War. By the mid-1950s, it began to reach critical mass, and a combination of legal precedents, inspired leadership, and events on the ground yielded the legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA). The groundwork laid by civil rights leaders, and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, was just that – groundwork. But in 2014, we can look back and say that while the aims of the CRA may have yet to be completely fulfilled, the foundation laid by the act has proven an effective one upon which to build. Perhaps the best way to arrive at this conclusion is to ask the most authoritative body that can opine on the subject – the American people. The Gallup company did just that in fall 1964, finding, via two polls, that clear majorities (58 percent and 59 percent) of Americans responded positively when asked this question: “As you know, a civil rights law was recently passed by Congress and signed by the president. In general, do you approve or disapprove of this law?” In 1999, Gallup polling revealed that Americans regarded the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as the fifth-most important event of the entire 20th century. Passage of the CRA was rated lower in importance than only World War II, women gaining the right to vote in 1920, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, and the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The CRA was rated as more important than such events of the last century as World War I, landing a man on the moon, and the assassination of Kennedy. 30

Keeping the Dream Alive

In 2013, Gallup conducted two further separate surveys in which it found that 25 to 29 percent of blacks said that civil rights for blacks had “greatly” improved while 52 to 53 percent said civil rights had somewhat improved over their lifetimes. That left just 7 to 9 percent who said that civil rights for blacks had worsened over their lifetimes. Whites were significantly more positive in their views of the state of civil rights for blacks. The polling, then and now, reflects what a landmark event passage of the CRA was. Most recognized it from the start, including Julian Bond. Now a distinguished professor in residence at American University in Washington, D.C., in 1964, Bond was working as communications director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). His reaction at the time was a mixture of accomplishment and anticipation, he said. “It was one of joy and excitement and the feeling that if you work hard and you do the things we did, and which other people did, then you can be victorious. It was a great feeling of success. There was momentum but we had the feeling there was more to be done, there was more for Congress to do. It was only a beginning.” Johnson agreed. In remarks for a nationwide television and radio audience upon signing the Civil Rights Act in July 1964, he advised: “We must not approach the observance and enforcement of this law in a vengeful spirit. Its purpose is not to punish. Its purpose is not to divide, but to end divisions – divisions which have all lasted too long. Its purpose is national, not regional.” Passage of the act signaled certain change, but change always garners resistance and provisions of the CRA met immediate resistance, particularly where desegregation was concerned. In 1964, Atlanta motel owner Moreton Rolleston challenged the CRA on the grounds that Congress did not have


DoD photo by Master Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force

the authority to force a private-sector business to serve blacks. The case, Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, went to the Supreme Court, which held in a landmark ruling that Congress drew its authority from the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, rejecting Rolleston’s claims. “In all of these movements, there are leaps forward and then stalls,” Juliet R. Aiken said. Aiken is deputy director of the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University, where she is also an adjunct professor of law. She recently co-authored an essay in the Journal of Business Psychology on the origins and legacy of the CRA. “I think the success of acts like the CRA can actually be handicapping because you end up with a lot of pushback

President-elect Barack Obama greets venerable civil rights activist and current U.S. Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., on the U.S. Capitol steps prior to taking the oath of office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009.

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against these rights groups.” She added that, “Within a group, you work for a particular right, say voting rights, and you achieve the goal. Then you have the question within the group of what’s next. What will we focus on? You also get pushback from those outside saying, ‘You’ve gotten what you wanted.’” And yet, the precedent set by the CRA carried with the American people. Despite a warning from Georgia Sen. Richard Russell Jr. to Johnson that his strong support for the civil rights bill “will not only cost you the South, it will cost you the election,” Johnson went on to win the 1964 election by one of the biggest landslides in American history. When violence again erupted in Selma, Ala., in response to a strong drive to register African-American voters, resistance to the CRA was evident. But distaste for the opposition prompted the drive for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Subsequent strengthening of the CRA through Johnson’s executive orders requiring federal contractors to incorporate equal opportunity claims in contract bids and the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) furthered the reach of the CRA. The momentum created by the act and its provisions sustained, unevenly, through the following decade, though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. felt compelled to remind America in 1968 to “be true to what you said on paper.” Bond described progress stemming from the CRA through the 1970s as positive but not positive enough. “On the one hand, we were happy that the bill had passed. On the other hand, it was insufficient. It was not what it could be and all of its components were not as strong as they could have been.” Nevertheless, its effect could be seen in the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, which amended Title VII of the CRA by extending the coverage of the EEOC to small employers and providing the commission with direct enforcement powers. In 1978, the Civil Rights Reform Act

Participants, some carrying American flags, walking in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.

“It’s interesting because the CRA doesn’t mention affirmative action. The concept of affirmative action certainly existed before the CRA and it appears in executive orders written after the act was passed. The CRA probably resulted in part from discussions of affirmative action. On the other hand, it laid the groundwork for future discussions of affirmative action.” The 1980s saw a less active approach to enforcement of the CRA and subsequent provisions. With the appointment of Clarence Thomas as its chairman by President Ronald Reagan, the EEOC became more focused on organizational efficiency, less active in filing lawsuits. The shift reflected

further strengthened the EEOC, assigning it responsibility for enforcing Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as well as ensuring Equal Employment Opportunity for federal employees. Affirmative action policies, which resulted in significant increases in African-American employment, particularly in federal employment, were upheld in the late 1970s, with the Supreme Court ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) that affirmative action was legal; race could be considered in admissions decisions as long as it was not the only criterion, but that racial quota systems were not. Contrary to popular perception, affirmative action was not written into the CRA, though, practically speaking, they go hand in hand, Aiken pointed out. 32

Keeping the Dream Alive

a broader conservative sentiment in American society and both the reality and perception of greater representation of African-Americans at different levels of socioeconomic prominence. Two decades beyond passage of the CRA, Aiken observed, the contemporary question, “Is the goal equal representation or equal opportunity?” arose. That question persists today. The next major legislative extension of the CRA came with the 1991 Civil Rights Act, which sought to reverse the impact of Supreme Court rulings regarding affirmative action. Aiken judges the 1991 act to be the most beneficial subsequent legal follow-on of the 1964 CRA, particularly with respect to employment (Title VII), upholding the right to trial by jury in discrimination claims and introducing the possibility of emotional distress claims.

Library of Congress photo

“The CRA was one way of demonstrating the shifting American consciousness of race. It’s not just that the law itself is important, it codifies public consciousness.”


The Flint Journal (Michigan)

Fifty years on, the impact of the CRA goes well beyond its legal precedents, however. Its symbolism has been equally, if not more, important. Many have pointed to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. president as evidence of the symbolic power of the civil rights movement and the landmark legislation that stemmed from it. But the question of whether Obama would be in office without the CRA is not necessarily a straightforward one, Bond cautioned. “I’m a history teacher and we’re not supposed to ‘what if?’ If President Kennedy hadn’t been killed, what would have happened? I have no idea and none of us does. I think President Obama’s election is due, not 100 percent, to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and the successful civil rights bills after that. I do think [his election] would not have happened as quickly as it did had it not been for these civil rights laws.”

Aiken opined that Obama’s election would realistically have been less likely without the CRA or something like it. “The CRA was one way of demonstrating the shifting American consciousness of race. It’s not just that the law itself is important, it codifies public consciousness.” It would be difficult to argue that the act’s legislative and symbolic power affected AfricanAmericans alone. Every rights group in America has likely drawn inspiration, energy, and guidance from the CRA and civil rights movement that produced it. The women’s movement cannot be separated from the CRA. All too often forgotten is the wording of Title VII of the CRA that made it unlawful for employers to discriminate based on an individual’s race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The contemporary National Women’s Party had lobbied to include sex discrimination in law and policy for years and an equal rights amendment had long been advocated. However, enforcement of antidiscrimination policy based on sex provided for in the CRA lagged. While most observers credit the CRA for including women and transferring some energy and attention to the women’s movement, they allow that its success did not immediately translate to women and other rights groups. Bond said CRA was “generally positive for these other groups but [they were] slow to be absorbed in it. Although there was a strong League of Women women’s movement then, it was Voters members nothing like the strength that participate in the gathered in future years. And Voting is People Power there was nothing that occurred Project, circa 1960. that changed the position of women any time soon.” The CRA and the civil rights movement fostered collaboration with other rights groups, Aiken pointed out, but also achieved precedence that, for a time, left others behind. “Historically, you see a lot of coalition and competition between the women’s and black rights movements. Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony pushed hard for voting rights for African-Americans and women. But when it looked like African-Americans were going to get their rights heard and women were not, a divide opened. We see this over and over. When one group looks like they’re 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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I’m going to get something from this. This movement that says it’s for women is going to include me now.’ I can’t help but think that gay people were excited by the progress that black people had made. They thought, ‘they [African-Americans] did this, we can do it too.’ I think the [CRA] was a spur to all of these movements.” Others observe that the CRA paved the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, drawing substantially from the 1964 Act. Writing in the American Bar Association’s Human Rights magazine in 2004, Robert D. Dinerstein maintained that the Americans with Disabilities Act paralleled the structure of the CRA, employing many of the same titles and statutes including Title I of the ADA, which bans employment discrimination on the basis of disability, and Title III, which “proscribes discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations.” The challenges and More broadly, the CRA appears to gaining in status, they distance themselves from successes of the have cemented a strategy for rights other groups that might compromise their ability to civil rights groups to seek top-down change where attain that [status].” movement have previously social movements relied on The obvious progress that African-Americans saw guided and inspired other legislative change at the state level to almost immediately after the CRA, such as being able rights groups “bubble up.” Legal change at the state to patronize the same establishments and use the same seeking to have level remains important but, today, facilities as whites, eluded women in general for whom their rights every rights group targets national the act had little immediate impact, reminded Aiken. recognized. change, consciously or unconsciously, “The reason the gender rights movement mainwith the Civil Rights Act in mind. tained steam was because it was pretty clear after Of course, the CRA did not take place the CRA was passed that no one really intended to in a vacuum, and over time it has stood enforce the gender part. It wasn’t yet a complete in the context of larger structural economic, demographic, victory for women. There were groups like NOW [National and technological shifts in American and global society. Organization for Women] that felt they would have to make The question of how the act has fared in light of these large [government] enforce [gender rights]. I think that helped trends is a difficult one, Aiken acknowledged. keep the women’s movement going.” “I think there can be no doubt that these things altered She added that this competition creates an unfortunate the impact of the CRA, but how? That’s difficult to say. But distancing of groups that are at the intersection of these I do think its success is greater than those externalities.” movements. “Black women for example, were not particuFive decades after its passage, the Civil Rights Act of larly well represented in either the African-American civil 1964 continues to resonate, though the outcomes it generrights movement or the women’s rights movement.” ated may have yet to satisfy everyone. Bond noted that While the CRA may have increased competition for despite increased acceptance and socioeconomic success, attention to discrimination based on race or gender, it also suggested a legislative model for other rights groups African-Americans still face housing segregation whether overt or implicit. that frequently adopted the tactics and slogans used by Aiken observed that the most forceful impacts of the the movement that yielded it. CRA were felt shortly after it became law then diminished “Groups that are seeking to have rights recognized in time as its symbolic power tended to increase. In 2014, frequently reference groups that were successful as a she concluded, “I think the CRA and related acts have way of trying to [contend] that it is illogical that their own helped with objective types of discrimination. But we’re rights have yet to be recognized,” Aiken said. The gay left with prejudices that aren’t covered very well by laws rights movement (and contemporary LGBT movement) is really. And, they’re very difficult to [address] with laws.” a good example. With a nod to the man who taught the philosophy class “I’m one of the people who says I’m happy that the movehe attended while at Morehouse College, Bond said of Dr. ment I was in was able to serve as a spur to these other Martin Luther King Jr.: “I do think he’d be proud of the Civil movements,” Bond enthused. “It became a matter of pride Rights Act. I think he’d be wondering why we haven’t done for [other rights groups] to say, ‘It is our turn now.’ If you were a black woman who had seen the women’s movement more about housing, but generally speaking, I think he’d as a largely white movement, you said to yourself, ‘Now be very happy. He’d think, ‘Look at what we’ve done.’” n 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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the voting rights act

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 In the summer of 1964, even as the civil rights bill was clearing every last obstruction in Congress, it was becoming clear that the law’s provisions would not be enough to protect the voting rights of African-Americans in the South. As enacted, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to apply different standards for voting registration – a reiteration of the 15th Amendment, ratified nearly a century earlier. But Southern governments had already figured out how to circumvent this provision, largely with poll taxes and nonsensical “literacy tests” graded by local registrars, all of whom were white. The Civil Rights Act failed to address the noxious idea of state-imposed voter qualifications, and it also neglected to mention other methods used to discourage nonwhite voters from registering, such as economic retaliation (black voters were often fired for trying to register), intimidation, and physical violence that occasionally escalated to murder. These tactics had proved effective: By 1940, 70 years after being given the constitutional right to vote, only 3 percent of the South’s eligible African-Americans had been able to register to do so. 36

Keeping the Dream Alive

These numbers were even lower in the Deep South, where activists such as Medgar Evers had struggled for years to clear a path to the polls. Evers, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Mississippi field secretary, was gunned down in his driveway on June 12, 1963 – the day after President John F. Kennedy had announced his intention to send a civil rights bill to Congress. As the legislative battle over this bill neared its conclusion during the summer of 1964, a coalition of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations, under the umbrella of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), mounted a campaign to register African-American voters in Mississippi, the state with the lowest percentage (6.7) of registered black voters. The effort known as the Freedom Summer drew more than 1,000 volunteers – many of them young white students from the North. On the campaign’s first day, Klansmen ambushed and murdered James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three young men from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Over the course of the 10-week

Photograph courtesy of the Estate of James Karales

By Craig Collins


The Selma to Montgomery marches were three marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. They grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, Ala., launched by local AfricanAmericans who formed the Dallas County Voters League.

Johnson recalled the “outrage of Selma” and declared the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice … Today what is perhaps the last of the legal barriers is tumbling.”

project, at least four more people would die, four critically wounded, 80 Freedom Summer workers beaten, more than 1,000 arrested, and nearly 70 homes, churches, and businesses either bombed or burned. Out of about 17,000 eligible African-Americans who had attempted to register during the Freedom Summer, only about 1,600 succeeded.

Selma Many more advocates for justice would suffer – and a few would die – before the Voting Rights Act was finally passed. The flashpoint in the battle would become the town of Selma, Ala., the seat of Dallas County, whose voting registrars had perfected numerous tactics for denying African-Americans. Fifty-seven percent of Dallas County’s voting-age population was black – but less than 1 percent of the county’s 15,000 African-Americans had managed to register. In 1963, Klansmen beat Bernard Lafayette of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) nearly to death for his efforts to register more voters, and the 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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Library of Congress photo

all-white school board had fired 32 black schoolteachers after they applied for voter registration. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and SNCC targeted Selma for the next phase of their campaign. On Jan. 18, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the SNCC’s John Lewis began leading marches to register voters at the Dallas County Courthouse. On Feb. 1, King was jailed and wrote, in a letter that was run as an advertisement in The New York Times: “This is Selma, Alabama. There are more Negroes in jail with me than there are on the voting rolls.” As demonstrations continued, police jailed 3,000 protestors. The campaign took a violent turn in the town of Marion, about 20 miles away, on the night of Feb. 18, when about 500 people attempted a peaceful march to protest the arrest of a young SCLC worker. They were met by police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and Alabama state troopers, who launched an unprovoked attack, clubbing both the protestors and journalists covering the march. During the ensuing skirmish, 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson, while trying to protect his mother and 82-year-old grandfather from being beaten, was shot point blank and killed by a state trooper. Jackson, an Army veteran and church deacon, had been trying to register to vote, without success, for four years. He was the first person ever to be killed in an SCLC campaign, and his death was a pivotal event. At his funeral, King delivered an impassioned eulogy, charging that Jackson was “murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam and cannot protect the rights of its own citizens seeking the right to vote.” Local activists planned a 54-mile march from Selma to the Alabama capital, Montgomery, to confront Gov. George Wallace. Their first attempt, on March 7, 1965, is remembered as “Bloody Sunday”: About 600 civil rights marchers, led by Lewis and SCLC’s Hosea Williams, departed Selma and headed east to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where they were met by state troopers and local sheriff’s deputies and ordered to disperse. The officers then set upon the marchers with tear gas and billy clubs; as the terrified crowd began to flee, mounted police chased and continued to club them. Lewis suffered a fractured skull, and five women were beaten unconscious. That night the major television networks interrupted their programming to broadcast the shocking footage of the incident to a nation that responded with anger and disgust. King, who had been in Atlanta, Ga., on Bloody Sunday, returned to Selma to lead a symbolic second attempt by more than 1,400 marchers on March 9, but decided to turn back rather than risk further bloodshed on the bridge. That night, a visiting Unitarian clergyman from Boston, James Reeb, was confronted by a racist mob, one of whom beat him to death with a baseball bat. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had wanted to delay further civil rights legislation until he had won approval for other foreign and domestic initiatives, found he could no longer avoid the issue. In an address to Congress viewed by 70 million Americans, he declared the Selma protests to be a turning point in American history, comparable to the American Revolution and the Civil War. “It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country,” he said. King, who watched

Marchers carrying a banner lead the way as 15,000 activists parade in Harlem, N.Y., March 1965.

the address, shed tears of joy. On March 17, Johnson submitted his administration’s voting rights legislation to Congress. After a federal district judge ordered that the marchers be allowed to proceed to Montgomery, 3,200 protestors – led by King and including Cager Lee, Jimmie Lee Jackson’s grandfather – set out on Sunday, March 21, for the capital. They were escorted across the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama National Guard troops, federalized by Johnson for the event, as well as 2,000 Army troops, FBI agents, and U.S. Marshals.

“The Old Ways Crumbling” When the marchers finally arrived in Montgomery on March 25, King addressed 25,000 people in a final address from the steps of the capitol. “The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,” he said. Sadly, Reeb was not the last person to die for justice in Selma; Viola Liuzzo, a Michigan housewife who had come to join the cause after Bloody Sunday, was shot dead that night by Klansmen while shuttling demonstrators home. With polls showing Americans overwhelmingly in favor of voting rights, the legislative debate was over before it had begun. On Aug. 6, in the company of King and other civil rights leaders, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a ceremony in which he recalled the “outrage of Selma” and declared the right to vote “the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice … Today what is perhaps the last of the legal barriers is tumbling.” The Voting Rights Act of 1965 essentially reaffirmed the language of the 14th and 15th amendments, and rewrote the rules that had prevailed in the South since Reconstruction. Section 2 of the act outlawed qualifying tests or devices used to deny citizens the right to vote on the basis of race – and specifically outlawed literacy tests. The act also gave the federal government extensive oversight of elections in areas where these measures had been used. Section 5 of the act attached “special provisions” to these jurisdictions, including the core provision of “preclearance:” Covered jurisdictions could not implement changes in voting laws or procedures without first obtaining the approval of the attorney general or a threejudge panel. The attorney general could assign a federal examiner to review voter registration qualifications in 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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the voting rights act

40

Keeping the Dream Alive

After this exhaustive evidence-gathering process, Congress reached the decision that the law must be reauthorized for an additional 25 years. The vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan; the House approved the bill by a 390-33 vote, and the Senate approved it unanimously, 98-0. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on July 27, 2006, one year in advance of its expiration date. Section 2 of the 2006 reauthorization reads in part: Despite the progress made by minorities under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the evidence before Congress reveals that 40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution. In June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula determining which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, was unconstitutional, it overrode the decision of these 390 representatives and 98 senators. Within a month of the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, seven states – including five that had been covered by the special provisions of the law – began implementing voting changes that could affect the 2014 elections. In weakening the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court demonstrated one of the lessons of history: No victory is final. The ruling set the stage for a revival of battles already fought and won by people willing to give up everything – in some cases, their very lives – to ensure voting rights for all American citizens. n

LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

these jurisdictions, and could, in addition, request that federal observers monitor activities in their polling places. The effects of the Voting Rights Act were swift and far-reaching. African-American voter registration rates spiked throughout the South. By 1968, nearly 60 percent of Mississippi’s eligible black voters had registered to vote. By the late 1980s, racial variations in voter registration rates had largely disappeared, and as the number of black voters increased, so too did the number of African-American officials at the local, state, and national levels. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of elected black legislators in the South climbed from zero, in 1964, to 350 in 1992. One of these is U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. – the SNCC president who faced down assault troops on the Edmund Pettus Bridge – who has represented Georgia’s 5th District since 1987. Most provisions of the Voting Rights Act – specifically the parts guaranteeing the vote regardless of race or color – are permanent, while some enforcement-related provisions require reauthorization. The formula used to trigger the preclearance provision, detailed in Section 4 of the law, was updated by Congress in 1970 and 1975. Later amendments also protected voting rights for non-Englishspeaking citizens. With some provisions set to expire in 2007, the House and Senate held hearings to consider evidence before voting to reauthorize them. The hearings revealed that while “first-generation” tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes had been eliminated under the law, a new generation of tactics – including at-large elections, strategic annexations, redistricting, last-minute switching of polling places, and suspiciously confusing or erroneous Spanish-language voter guides – had been devised to disenfranchise or dilute the votes of African-Americans and other minorities.

President Lyndon B. Johnson hands a pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as others look on.


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presidents

Another Giant Leap

Kennedy-Johnson and the White House’s Role in Making Civil Rights Legislation a Reality in the 1960s By eric seeger

By the time Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered this speech, almost 100 years had passed since that infamous battle, where more than 40,000 American soldiers – from both sides – had become casualties in a few days’ fighting. It was considered the turning point of the Civil War. And a century later, while Johnson spoke, the issues of race and equality had still not been resolved in the United States. Johnson closed his speech by adding, “… Until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.” At this time, the nation was in the full throes of the civil rights struggle but still far from any outcomes that could be considered lasting or meaningful. Johnson himself was in what his aides have described as a malaise, sidelined by President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, who were intent on running the show themselves. Still, that day Johnson voiced the administration’s wish to see legislation that would desegregate the South once and for all – legislation that the administration itself had been slow to bring forward. Ultimately, it would be he and Robert Kennedy who would see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 become law, and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These bills would unwrite centuries of discriminatory social standards that had become law in much of the country, and make accountable states that systematically kept minority voters out of the polls. In short, these were the two most critical pieces of legislation aimed at bringing equality to millions of disenfranchised Americans. 42

Keeping the Dream Alive

But none of it would’ve happened without the work of civil rights leaders and protestors across the South. They were the ones who made it possible, by forcing the issue, for top-level legislation to take place. Kennedy and Johnson responded in kind with efforts to make “the solution” real and lasting. To understand where these two very different presidents responded to civil rights, you must appreciate their careers before the White House. Kennedy was “a lukewarm civil rights supporter – a basic Northern Democrat – when he is in the House and Senate,” said Kent Germany, an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina. “His basic interpretation comes out of [that position].” As a research fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, Germany has spent almost 14 years in the Presidential Recordings Program cataloging and transcribing thousands of hours of taped conversations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Kennedy’s most famous step into the civil rights struggle came when he was running for president. At the time, Nixon was seen as the stronger equality candidate. But in 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Georgia at an Atlanta lunch counter sit-in protest. Although his fellow protestors had been released on bond, local authorities sentenced King to 12 months in prison for driving in the state without a Georgia driver’s license. The move was widely seen as retribution. Kennedy reached out to Coretta Scott King while Robert Kennedy contacted the judge in this case and convinced him to drop the charges. In his autobiography, King expressed skepticism about Kennedy’s sudden willingness to help, feeling that the candidate’s motivations were more political than purely

Cecil W. Stoughton/JFK Presidential Library and Museum

“One hundred years ago, the slave was freed. One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin. The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him – we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil – when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’ It is empty to plead that the solution to the dilemmas of the present rests on the hands of the clock. The solution is in our hands.” – Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day Speech, 1963, Gettysburg, Pa.


President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meet with civil rights leaders Aug. 28, 1963, including, from left: Willard Wirtz, Mathew Ahmann, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Eugene Carson Blake, A. Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Whitney Young, and Floyd McKissick. (Not pictured: Roy Wilkins.)

50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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altruistic. In public, King thanked the Kennedys but decided not to endorse either Kennedy or Nixon for president, saying that his personal endorsement could reflect on the organizations with which he was affiliated. Regardless, King’s release from jail came only a few weeks before the presidential election, and Kennedy’s involvement made an impression on voters right before one of the closest elections in history. “Most of the leaders in the movement where skeptical of Kennedy from the beginning – and continued to be skeptical until the end – and they were right in that skepticism,” said Germany. “He was very cautious and quite reluctant to engage beyond what he had to.” Under Kennedy, the White House was hesitant to exercise federal power that superseded local power; they held to this federalism very closely. They wanted the White House to only intervene in cases of extreme crisis. The last thing they wanted was to reawaken memories of Reconstruction, the North invading the South, and the tyranny of the federal government. At that time, the Democratic Party was still dominated by Southerners. The Kennedy brothers spent much time on the phone with Southern leaders trying to curb violence around protests before it happened. In some cases, federal marshals were dispatched to escort protestors, but protests and the violent responses eventually escalated to a point where Kennedy had to act more forcefully. One example was the enrollment of the first black student at the University of Mississippi in 1962, which led to violent clashes between segregationists and National Guard and Army troops that were sent to keep the peace. Riots broke out, and two people were killed. As violence in the South escalated, Kennedy had to do more than simply react with military force. “What is happening on streets – that it is transformative pressure – this mass movement that is going to force Kennedy to put forward legislation,” said Germany. “There are three 44

Keeping the Dream Alive

minor bills in the spring, and the administration wants to put forward a much stronger package.” Some of this is first discussed in tapes that surrounded the riots in Birmingham, Ala., of May 1963. Kennedy was concerned that unrest in the black community would spread beyond the South and engulf Northern cities as well. “Birmingham is really what pushed them into coming up with a big civil rights act. And that is a very careful deliberation to figure out what kind of power the attorney general has,” said Germany. Their big question was whether the Justice Department could pursue legal action against states that attempted to ignore a strong national civil rights law. By June 1963, Kennedy took to the airwaves to deliver his famous Civil Rights Address that called for congressional law to ensure the same rights for all American citizens – from voting rights to desegregation. The speech came at the end of a day when National Guardsmen had been dispatched to the University of Alabama as it admitted its first black student: “… It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated ...”

Library of Congress/Marion S. Trikosko; U.S. News & World Report

Sept. 30, 1962, James H. Meredith (center) became the first African-American student at the University of Mississippi. His enrollment sparked riots on the Oxford campus, which required U.S. Marshals to intervene. Later, President John F. Kennedy sent U.S. Army military police from the 503rd Military Police Battalion. Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and John Doar (right) of the Justice Department escort Meredith to class.


presidents

Immediately, the Kennedy brothers began meeting with house Republicans and mostly Northern Democrats to outline a bill that both sides could find acceptable for a vote. The balance was in creating legislation to desegregate the country that was strong enough to have a lasting impact, but not so radical that it would get killed in the House or Senate. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 – the first civil rights laws passed in almost 100 years – had been negotiated to a point where most lawmakers viewed them as merely symbolic. In August 1963, the March on Washington cemented the civil rights struggle as a nationwide issue, and it became the high-water mark for the impact of nonviolent protest. But only a few weeks later, its message received a violent response in Birmingham, when a church was bombed, killing four girls. King, who recently had stood at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and told the world of his dream, returned to Washington to sit with Kennedy and explain the volatility that was ready to erupt in the South: 46

Keeping the Dream Alive

“… Now, the real problem that we face is this: the Negro community is about to reach a breaking point. There is a great deal of frustration and despair and confusion in the Negro community, and there is this feeling of being alone and not protected. If you walk the street, you aren’t safe. If you stay at home, you aren’t safe – there is the danger of a bomb. If you’re in church now, it isn’t safe. So that the Negro feels that everywhere he goes, if he remains stationary, he’s in danger of some physical violence ...” Kennedy’s response explained that this was going to be part of the struggle. He understood that Gov. George Wallace of Alabama and the Southern white establishment were losing ground with every act of violence, that the country as a whole was coming to sympathize with the plight of blacks. He warned King that if blacks took up arms in their struggle for equality, the whole issue would be reduced to a racial war. Kennedy understood that public opinion needed to side with the black community if any sort of civil rights legislation was to survive. “If the Negroes should begin to respond and shoot at whites, we lose,” he warned King.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the White House Cabinet Room, March 18, 1966.


Less than two months after this discussion, while the Civil Rights Bill had stalled, Kennedy was assassinated. And with that, all of the authority that Kennedy had built up around himself and his closest political allies was abruptly handed over to Johnson – the man in the White House who Kennedy had kept far outside of his circle. The two men had developed similar views on civil rights, but their attitudes were extremely different. Kennedy’s well-to-do Northern background left him with little experience with the black community, while Germany sees that Johnson – having lived in Texas – had a firsthand understanding what blacks and Mexican immigrants had to go through. “So Kennedy had something of a more clinical view on civil rights,” said Germany, “while Johnson felt that he could identify with the struggle for blacks at some level.” Kennedy’s death had shocked the country and swayed public opinion even further toward the policies he had supported. Johnson aimed to capitalize on those sentiments and see civil rights legislation through. One of the most definitive examples of his shift to power came a few weeks after Kennedy’s assassination, when he had a meeting with a longtime ally and mentor, Democratic Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, who was a staunch segregationist. As the scene is explained in the book Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973, Johnson warns his friend, “You need to get out of my way. I am going to run you over. I don’t intend to cavil or compromise.” Russell acknowledged that possibility, but warned that Johnson would lose Democratic support in the South and likely lose his re-election. “If that’s the price I’ve got to pay,” said Johnson, “I’ll pay it gladly.” Even his advisers warned him that pushing civil rights could cost him his career. His response was a determined: “Then what is the presidency for?” When Johnson and Robert Kennedy inherited the Civil Rights Bill, it had been tied up in the Rules Committee, which was run by Democratic Congressman Howard Smith, another segregationist from Virginia. Smith refused to convene the committee. “He owned a farm back home, so one of his favorite tactics when he wanted to delay legislation was to say that he was at his farm,” said Germany. “He had the ability to bottle up the Civil Rights Bill, and he did a very effective job of it.” But Johnson understood that he was in a very strong position, and he threatened a petition with the support of other congressmen who would forcibly take the bill out of Smith’s committee and move it along. Smith soon caved, and the bill moved through Congress. “What’s important is that Johnson wanted a strong bill, and he was not going to negotiate,” said Germany.

The fear among civil rights leaders was that Johnson had a reputation as “the Great Compromiser,” that he would let legislation get watered down in order to make it passible. “You have to remember that Johnson was a master legislator,” said Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. “He had been in the halls of Congress since 1934, became a congressman in 1937 and a senator in 1949. And in the Senate, he became perhaps the most powerful majority leader in [the] 20th century.” Once in the Senate, the Civil Rights Bill became mired in a 60-day filibuster, led by Southern Democrats. The theatrics included South Carolina segregationist Strom Thurmond’s record-breaking 24-hour speech. To block the filibuster, the bill would require a twothirds vote in the Senate, which required changing some provisions to make the law acceptable to Republicans. And on June 10, 1964, Senator and Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois delivered a speech to encourage his colleagues to join the Northern Democrats in forcing an end to the filibuster. He closed it by saying:

Kennedy’s death had shocked the country and swayed public opinion even further toward the policies he had supported. Johnson aimed to capitalize on those sentiments and see civil rights legislation through.

 “… I appeal to all senators. We are confronted with a moral issue. Today, let us not be found wanting in whatever it takes by way of moral and spiritual substance to face up to the issue and to vote cloture.”

A coalition of 27 Republicans and 44 Democrats voted for cloture, ending the filibuster. Nine days later, the Civil Rights Act passed through the Senate, and was quickly approved in the House. Johnson signed the law on July 2, 1964, with King standing by his side. Updegrove noted that the Civil Right Act wasn’t a cureall, but rather a first step on a longer march. He said Johnson understood that equality wouldn’t be won in a single pass – that it would take incremental changes to get full rights for minorities. “The Civil Rights Act that we celebrate 50 years of now originally had a voting rights component in it, and Johnson knew that he couldn’t get that bill passed,” said Updegrove. “First, he’s going to break the back of Jim Crow, and then he’s going to push through a voting rights bill.” That victory came a year later with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1968, better known as the Fair Housing Act. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations had an incredibly transformative effect on the overall social contract – that the government would ensure that every citizen had the same access and rights, no matter their skin color or income level. As Johnson declared at Gettysburg, the solution was in their hands. n 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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Nonviolent Protests: In Search of the Beloved Community By Craig Collins

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. The beauty of non-violence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? The history of nonviolent protest is likely as old as civilization itself; its first recorded use, among 12th century B.C. Egyptians building the burial chambers of Pharaoh Ramses III, pitted a seemingly powerless village of masons, carpenters, potters, and stonecutters against a ruling class with the authority to order their deaths. The laborers, suffering repeated delays in their payments of grain, marched off the job site, pled with their masters that they would die without their rations, and refused to work until they were restored. Similar labor strikes were carried out, with varying degrees of success, among the plebeians and soldiers of the Roman Empire. At the height of the Empire, Jesus of Nazareth became a leading proponent of nonviolence, preaching love and compassion for all living things, including one’s enemies; he also introduced the radical idea that “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It was perhaps Jesus, more than any other, who planted the idea of nonviolence in the Western consciousness, but to activists, it has most often been interpreted not as a call to submission, but as a means by which weaker members of society can subvert an unjust power structure. Nonviolent resistance is an active behavior employed in conflict that nevertheless expresses love and respect for one’s opponents. It rests on the belief that a just end can only be achieved through just means. Historically, nonviolence has been more the exception than the rule in Christian societies, including the New World colonies settled by religious dissenters. The first Americans to espouse nonviolence – the Religious Society

of Friends, commonly known as Quakers – were persecuted in all the colonies, except for Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, for their public appeals to reject slavery and treat Native Americans as friends and neighbors. A 1660 Virginia law referred to the Friends as an “unreasonable and turbulent sort of people.” In the early to mid-1800s, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who began his career writing for a Quaker newspaper in Baltimore, Md., advocated nonviolent resistance as a means of achieving the emancipation of American slaves. Probably the most famous 19th century American practitioner of nonviolent protest was Henry David Thoreau. Writing in Civil Disobedience in 1849, Thoreau argued that individuals should not allow governments to weaken or overrule their consciences – that it was a person’s duty to avoid becoming the government’s unwitting agent of injustice. To register his own disgust with the practices of slavery and the Mexican-American War, Thoreau publicly refused to pay federal poll taxes, for which he was imprisoned in 1846. (He was released after relatives, over his objections, settled his debt.) Thoreau’s ideas – which distinguished purposeful direct action from passive resistance – would later impress a young Indian attorney in South Africa named Mohandas Gandhi. In fighting for the resident Indian community’s civil rights, Gandhi refined Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience into the more confrontational-sounding “civil resistance.” His philosophy of satyagraha, or “truth force,” embodied the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and helped drive the movement for Indian independence from the British Empire, finally achieved in 1947. One of the most iconic examples

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Public Domain photo

“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”


Mohandas Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930.

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Satyagraha and the Civil Rights Movement

Several of the most influential American civil rights organizations were founded on the principles of nonviolence, including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which arose in 1942 from the Fellowship of Reconciliation founded by pacifists during World War I. CORE’s founders, inspired by Gandhi’s teachings – and encouraged by his successes – believed direct nonviolent action could be used by AfricanAmericans to challenge racial segregation. In the early 1940s, CORE members introduced the sit-in as a tactic to defy segregation in public accommodations, and at some demonstrations, CORE co-founder Bernice Fisher would distribute a handbill with a list of rules based on Gandhi’s teachings. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would later establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), had learned a bit about Gandhi as a student at the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, but the young scholar was dubious that the South’s virulent racism could be overcome by loving oppressors and turning the other cheek. It wasn’t until 1950, when he heard the Rev. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, preach about Gandhi’s teachings that the idea of nonviolence became “profound and electrifying” to King. The young student bought and studied books on Gandhi’s life and ideas. “As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi,” King later wrote, “my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.” 50

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The first nonviolent direct action organized by King and his associates was inspired by Rosa Parks’ individual act of disobedience in 1955. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-1956, he later wrote, was carried out with Gandhi’s principles as “the guiding light of our technique of non-violent social change,” and itself served as an inspiration for others’ actions throughout the country, including lunch-counter sit-ins in Oklahoma City, Okla., Greensboro, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., and the Freedom Rides of 1961. As they penetrated deeper into the South, the Freedom Riders confronted murderous violence, and yet remained calm and determined. Their ultimate success demonstrated that direct action could achieve much more than an aura of moral superiority; it was a tactic that could, in many situations, yield better practical results than either violent confrontation or gradual statutory change. After making a visit to India in 1959, King, writing about his trip in Ebony magazine, made a careful distinction between these direct actions and passive resistance. “True non-violent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power,” he wrote. “It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.” The SCLC, established after the Montgomery boycott, would be instrumental in planning protests – including

Ted Polumbaum/Newseum collection

of satyagraha was the Salt March, in which 80 followers, in defiance of the imperial salt tax, marched with Gandhi to the sea and symbolically made their own salt – an act of disobedience duplicated by millions of Indians.

Above: Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi. The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer. Right: César Chávez (far right) organizing farm workers in Delano, Calif., 1966.


was certain that a growing number of Americans were appalled. Within a year of each of these events, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed with overwhelming public support. King’s notion of nonviolence evolved to embrace six key principles: 1. It can be a means by which courageous people can actively resist evil without resorting to violence. 2. It seeks to win the “friendship and understanding” of an opponent, rather than to humiliate him. 3. It should be used to defeat the evil itself, rather than the people committing it. 4. Those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliating, because suffering itself can be a way to education, transformation, and redemption. 5. Nonviolence chooses love over hate; it avoids not only external physical violence but internal “violence of spirit” as well. 6. The nonviolent resister must have a deep faith in a future that can perhaps only be imagined – a faith that the universe is on the side of justice, and that justice will eventually prevail.

AP Photo/Mikami / Photo by Htoo Tay Zar

Nonviolence Around the World

the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade and the 1965 Selma voting rights movement – that would lead to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. Both the Birmingham and Selma (both in Alabama) campaigns, like Gandhi’s Indian independence movement, illustrated the usefulness of a previously untapped resource: the mass media – especially visual imagery – and its potential to shape public opinion. If it seemed doubtful, in the aftermath of the violence in Birmingham and Selma, that the oppressors were ashamed of what they had done, or had experienced anything like a change of heart, it

Some of King’s colleagues, during the long and trying years of the civil rights movement, appeared to lose their faith in this future; disenchanted with what they viewed as a lack of progress, some began to reject nonviolence. King lamented their lost hope. After his visit to India, he felt more connected to Gandhi’s legacy, and more committed to his principles: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end,” he wrote. “This is what I have found in non-violence.” Many Americans who fought for justice during the period were similarly committed, and achieved similar results: In 1962, when Chicano activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta founded the United Farm Workers, they gathered the strength of their fellow migrant workers in the West and organized a boycott of California grapes and wine. The boycott and Chávez’s 25-day fast inspired many to support the effort, which – after three long years – finally brought Nobel laureate growers to the bargaining table for the first Aung San Suu Kyi time in history. gives a speech to After the Montgomery bus boycott, King supporters during began to advocate nonviolence not only as the 2012 by-election a tactic for achieving justice in one’s own campaign at her country, but also perhaps the only sensible constituency, option, in the atomic age, for nations to Kawhmu township, resolve their differences. “It is no longer a Myanmar, March 22, 2012. choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence,” he said. “It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” The successes achieved by American civil rights activists have helped to inspire 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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On June 5, 1989, "tank man" stands alone, defiantly blocking a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Changan Boulevard in Tiananmen Square, during the student-led protest for democratic reform and against government corruption.

to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize she’d been awarded in 1991. Though authoritarian governments remain in power in both China and Myanmar, the protests of their peoples – coupled with economic and political pressures exerted by the global community – have won repeated concessions by their ruling parties. Their citizens enjoy more freedoms than many might have imagined in 1989. But as Suu Kyi warned in April 2014, Myanmar “is not yet a democracy.” Despite the slow pace of change in Myanmar, Suu Kyi retains her commitment to the principles of nonviolence. As King observed, nonviolent action may not upset the power structure as abruptly as violent revolution – but because it tends not to breed further violence, its results, in the end, prove more enduring. “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide,” he wrote. “The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.” n

AP photo/Jeff Widener

nonviolent protests throughout the world. In 1964 and 1965, advocates for the rights of Australia’s aboriginal people, led by Charles Perkins, staged their own Freedom Ride, modeled after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Freedom Rides. At the end of the 1980s, as the Berlin Wall was poised to fall and foretell the end of the Communist Soviet Empire, several nonviolent protest movements sprouted around the globe: • In the former Soviet satellite nation of Czechoslovakia, the “Velvet Revolution” led by Václav Havel ended in the bloodless creation of the democratic Czech Republic, ending 41 years of Communist rule. • In Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, student protestors remained defiant in the face of a brutal military crackdown that killed hundreds, if not thousands, of peaceful protestors. The image of “tank man” – a protestor whose identity still remains a mystery – standing defiantly before a column of tanks has become, along with the images of Birmingham and Selma, one of the most iconic of the 20th century. • Aung San Suu Kyi combined the principles of Gandhi and her Buddhist faith to launch an ongoing national protest against Myanmar’s brutal military dictatorship. Despite spending 15 of the next 21 years under house arrest, she was allowed to take her rightful seat as a representative in parliament in 2012 – the same year she was permitted


student movements

Student Teachers By pressing their case when others urged caution, American students hastened the end of official segregation. By Craig Collins

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By the fourth day of the protest, more than 300 people, black and white, took part in the protests, and organizers began planning sit-ins at other area stores. Within a week, students in other North Carolina towns launched their own sit-ins – and soon enough the practice had spread to other states. The Greensboro Four had sparked a movement far more powerful than they had imagined.

Nashville, Atlanta, and the SNCC The nonviolent sit-in wasn’t a new tactic in the civil rights movement; protestors had employed it as early as 1939, and sit-ins had successfully achieved the desegregation of drugstore lunch counters in Kansas and Oklahoma in 1958. But there was something iconic about the image of four young black students quietly defying custom in Greensboro, where Jefferson Davis and the entire Confederate government had met for the last time. It was the first sit-in to draw widespread public notice. As the Greensboro protests gathered support around the nation, a campaign had already been undertaken in Nashville, Tenn., under the leadership of the Rev. James Lawson, who had studied Mohandas Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance in India and was training student members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) – including Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, and John Lewis – to launch a series of sit-ins aimed at desegregating downtown stores. The Nashville Student Movement, a sustained sit-in campaign, was carried out with the backing of 79 congregations in the city’s Baptist Minister’s Conference. Hundreds of students staged sit-ins at counters at several stores in the city, culminating in the desegregation of six downtown lunch counters on May 10. In all, the Greensboro Four inspired sit-ins in 54 cities across 12 states; in addition to the Southern schools involved (including the four black colleges in the Atlanta University Center, organized by Julian Bond and Lonnie King as the Atlanta Student Movement), the protests were linked to 19 colleges and universities from the North. Before year’s end, sit-ins had spread to every Southern and border state, and to segregated facilities as far away as Nevada. While overwhelmingly disciplined, orderly, and dignified, there

Photo by John "Jack" Moebes

The modern civil rights movement began in the nation’s schools. In spring 1951, black students at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Va., walked out of their overcrowded, underfunded school in protest. It was the first time students had made a public stand against unequal treatment, and it resulted in a court case that would, three years later, be bundled with similar cases in Brown v. Board of Education. Three years after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown, another group of African-American students, the “Little Rock Nine,” defied threats and intimidation to make the lonely, frightening walk up the stairs at the entrance of Little Rock Central High School, paving the way for desegregation of all the nation’s public schools. What many today refer to as the “student movement” was launched on Feb. 1, 1960, by four young men from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University: Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, and David Richmond. These university freshmen, inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, entered a Woolworth’s store in downtown Greensboro, N.C., bought toothpaste and school supplies, and then sat down at the “whites only” lunch counter, where they politely ordered a cup of coffee. At first ignored, then ordered to leave – and then intimidated by a police officer who paced back and forth behind them, thumping his nightstick into his palm – they sat until the store closed. The next day, the “Greensboro Four” were joined by more than 20 African-American students, some of them women from nearby Bennett College. While white customers heckled them and counter employees continued to refuse them service, the protestors took turns at the counter – occupying every other stool, in order to encourage white sympathizers to join them – reading and quietly studying. Their aim was simple: to quietly and patiently disrupt business until Woolworth’s – a national department store chain that did not have any official policy on segregation – would be forced to make desegregation an economic necessity. A hoarde of journalists descended upon the normally quiet town, and newspapers and television newscasts sent images of the growing movement across the country.


Four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University students sit in seats designated for white people at the racially segregated F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., Feb. 2, 1960. From left: Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Billy Smith, and Clarence Henderson. This photo was taken on the second day of the now-famous Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins.

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AP Photo by Ferd Kaufman

Eight of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School walk from school to their waiting Army station wagon on Oct. 2, 1957.

were a few cases that boiled over into violence, and civil rights leaders began to gather and discuss ways in which the passionate idealism of the various student organizations could be expressed nonviolently. In March, President Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his support of the protestors. After the home of the students’ lawyer was bombed and they marched to city hall to confront Mayor Ben West, the mayor acknowledged his own belief that segregation was unjust. By May, several Nashville stores had desegregated their lunch counters. Over Easter weekend, amid these widespread sit-ins, King and Ella Baker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) convened a meeting of students at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C.: the Southwide Youth Leadership Conference. Designed by Baker to be a gathering of sit-in leaders to meet, discuss their activities, and explore the possibilities for future direct action, the convention culminated in the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the organization that would become pivotal to future civil rights victories and which would draw many supporters from the North to help raise funds and participate in direct action. Back in Greensboro, Woolworth’s and other stores remained defiant, but their resistance was at last broken by a boycott that starved them of a third of their revenues. Finally, on July 25, 1960, the F.W. Woolworth Company ordered its Greensboro stores to give in, and lunch counters throughout the department store chain were officially desegregated.

The Freedom Rides The SNCC was dedicated to the principles of nonviolence taught by Lawson, who drafted the organization’s statement of purpose to read: ‘‘We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.’’ But from the organization’s inception, there were clear differences among the tactics favored by the movement’s young students, many of whom believed King and the SCLC were not revolutionary enough – that more could be done, more quickly, to compel compliance with federal laws, even at the risk of great personal harm. It was precisely for this reason that the SNCC emerged as a potent force in the civil rights movement in May 1961, when the first 1961 Freedom Rides, designed by James Farmer and CORE to test recent Supreme Court rulings against segregation in interstate travel, were met with brutal violence, the riders nearly lynched, in Alabama. The

... civil rights leaders began to gather and discuss ways in which the passionate idealism of the various student organizations could be expressed nonviolently. 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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Students picket at a youth march for integrated schools rally Oct. 25, 1959, in Washington, D.C.

to use whites-only facilities at the depot. Their “jail, no bail” tactic crammed local jails until state authorities were forced to transfer riders to the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Farm, where, after refusing to stop singing freedom songs, they were deprived of their mattresses, sheets, and toothbrushes. Kennedy called for a “cooling off” period, which all organizers – a group now including CORE, SNCC, and SCLC – rejected. Rides continued through September, throughout the South, and during the summer Freedom Riders also campaigned against segregation in other public facilities, including hotels and restaurants. The rides culminated in the order, issued by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission on Nov. 1, that public transportation facilities must be desegregated. Six years after the Supreme Court had ordered it to be so, passengers were allowed to sit where they pleased on buses and in terminals, and the practice of racially segregating public terminal facilities was discontinued.

National Archives and Records Administration

rides were promptly suspended for fear of further violence against the riders. But Nash thought the suspension of the rides proved protestors – who were simply claiming a right the Supreme Court had declared was theirs – could be defeated with violence. Believing the movement would be set back years if the rides were discontinued, she recruited a second set of riders, and on May 17, these 10 Nashville students took a bus to Birmingham, where they were promptly arrested and thrown in jail. The Freedom Rides were a grueling odyssey that provided the rest of America an up-close look at the South’s violent resistance to the rule of law. After the jailing of the Nashville students, a growing contingent of riders, led by SNCC’s Lewis and Hank Thomas, flocked to the area to resume the campaign. They faced another round of beatings in Montgomery, while police looked on. Their supporters, at Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church, were surrounded by an angry mob of 3,000 – a crowd courageously confronted by King, and only dispersed after President John F. Kennedy intervened. The riders pressed on to Jackson, Miss., where they were arrested after attempting


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The rampant violence against the Freedom Riders, broadcast on television across the nation, was nothing less than a national trauma. Americans were shocked by it – and many, including Kennedy, believed the provocative tactics of the riders were at least partly to blame. But the results of the campaign could not be disputed, and would inspire more action among a growing number of students.

FBI photo

The Movement Fractures The next major student campaign of the civil rights movement was an idea hatched by SNCC Freedom Riders imprisoned together in Jackson. By this time, SNCC had field workers in every state, organizing voter registration drives and staging protests. After the Freedom Rides, Nash, Lafayette, and others stayed behind in Mississippi to join Bob Moses, the SNCC field secretary who had recently become co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella group of all the major civil rights groups working in Mississippi. Together, these young activists launched a voter registration drive that, in the summer of 1964, would mark a deadly turning point for the movement. The Freedom Summer, as it came to be known, drew more than 1,000 volunteers – most of them white college students from the Northeast – to join local activists in registering voters, teach in “Freedom Schools,” and organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), an alternative to the whites-only Democratic Party sending delegates to the 1964 National Democratic Convention. Again, the students found themselves set upon by whites who resented interference in their racist customs, and who arrested, beat, intimidated, and harassed anyone involved in the campaign. Three CORE activists – Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner – were murdered by Klansmen on June 21, prompting the longawaited intervention of federal law enforcement officials. The murders added to the civil rights movement’s long list of outrages, with an important difference: Goodman and Schwerner were white New Yorkers from affluent families. The fact that public outcry over the murders was a significant factor leading to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ironically, seemed to drive a wedge between the proponents of nonviolence and the movement’s younger members, many of whom were becoming embittered – to them, media coverage of the murders proved that even in the North, people seemed to value white and black lives differently. As its leaders and members became more disillusioned, the SNCC gradually moved away from its founding principles of nonviolence and inclusion, culminating in an official name change, in 1969, to the Student National Coordinating Committee. The further from nonviolence the SNCC drifted, the less influential it became; by the 1970s, no longer able to mobilize much support, the organization had quietly passed out of existence. Its final legacy, however – in the words of Bond, one of the group’s co-founders and the man who served as its communications director from 1961 to 1966 – was no less than “the destruction of the psychological shackles which had kept black Southerners in physical and mental peonage. SNCC helped break those chains forever.”

FBI missing poster for CORE field workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, who were later found murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., by the Ku Klux Klan because of their civil rights work.

Today, the place where the student movement began – the F.W. Woolworth building at 132 S. Elm St. in downtown Greensboro – stands in its new incarnation as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. When the original store closed down in 1993, two 8-foot-long sections of the old lunch counter were removed; one was sent to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the other to the Greensboro Historical Museum, each to serve as a reminder of one of the civil rights movement’s watershed events. In an episode of the television show History’s Lost & Found that aired in 2000, Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro Four, recalled that for many years after the uproar over the sit-ins had died down, the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro didn’t feel like a symbol or a monument. It was simply what he and his friends had always wanted it to be: It was just a lunch counter, where black and white people would sit together, often side by side, without comment. “Nobody paid much attention,” he said. “And you’d ask yourself – I did, often: ‘What was all the fuss about? And what was all the mistreatment about? And what was this thing that people were so afraid of?’” n 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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Key Leaders and Organizations of the Civil Rights Movement

The following are several of the most influential people and organizations in the nonviolent direct-action campaigns that led to passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. By Craig Collins

Abernathy, Ralph (1926-1990) In 1956, as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest friend and adviser, organized the Montgomery bus boycott that ended the city’s segregation in public transit and gave momentum to the civil rights movement. Though his church and home were bombed after the boycott, he met with King and other ministers to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta, Ga. His partnership with King produced successful nonviolent movements in several cities throughout the North and South, from Selma, Ala., to Chicago, Ill.; the two of them were jailed together 17 times. In King’s last speech, he called Abernathy “the best friend that I have in the world.” After King’s assassination, Abernathy assumed leadership of the SCLC and led the Poor People’s Campaign, a march on Washington, D.C., in May 1968.

Perhaps her greatest contribution to the civil rights movement was to persuade the SCLC, on the heels of successful sit-in campaigns throughout the country, to convene a meeting of university students to discuss the possibility of future direct actions. At this meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed, and at Baker’s urging, the new organization formed two wings, dedicated to direct action and voter registration. She remained a mentor to many of the SNCC’s young people, and her idea of group-centered leadership was one of the driving philosophies of the student actions of the civil rights movement.

Ella Baker.

The young and brilliant valedictorian from Shaw University, Ella Baker began her career – which would span five decades – by joining a black economic power collective, the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League, which she led beginning in 1931. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1938, and, in 1952, became president of its New York branch. In 1957, Baker was in Atlanta, for the meetings that formed the SCLC, and she was key to organizing the group’s first project, the Prayer and Pilgrimage for Freedom. 62

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library of congress

Baker, Ella (1903-1986)


Abernathy Family photos

Bevel, James (1936-2008) One of James Lawson’s Nashville disciples in the sit-in campaign, James Bevel would become a founding member of the SNCC and one of the most influential tacticians of the modern civil rights movement. When the SNCC stepped in to resume the suspended 1961 Freedom Rides, Bevel was put in charge of deciding which students would ride in each bus. In 1962, Bevel joined the SCLC, and soon became its director of direct action and nonviolent education. Two of the most dramatic events of the modern civil rights movement were designed by him. The 1963 Birmingham “Children’s Crusade,” a controversial march by students from area high schools, colleges, and churches in which the students were blasted with fire hoses and set upon by police dogs, aroused international outrage – and also criticism of the SCLC for using children in its protests. The Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, which began with “Bloody Sunday” and ended on the Alabama Capitol steps, was Bevel’s idea, and was a major turning point in the campaign for voting rights legislation.

Dr. Ralph Abernathy (far left) follows with Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. as the Abernathy children march on the front line, leading the Selma to Montgomerty March in 1965. The children are, from left: Donzaleigh, Ralph David III, and Juandalynn. The name of the white minister in the photo is unknown.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) CORE, founded by an interracial group of Chicago students in 1942, was one of the civil rights movement’s most influential groups, pioneering the use of nonviolent direct action years before it was embraced by King and the SCLC. CORE was led by activists, including James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and George Houser, who had been affiliated with its predecessor organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an international group influenced by the principles of Mohandas Gandhi. In the 1940s, CORE pioneered the use of sit-ins and other nonviolent direct actions as a means of protest, and in 1947, the group staged the Journey of Reconciliation, a 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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Our students sat in for civil rights in 1 960 so that students today can stand up for leadership, opportunity and change. We salute the men and women who paved the way for civil rights. LeMoyne-Owen College students sit in at a segregated lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee. MEMBER INSTITUTION

© Dr. Ernest C. Withers, Sr. courtesy of the WITHERS FAMILY TRUST

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in 1947, the group staged the Journey of Reconciliation, a multi-state integrated bus ride through the upper South that served as precursor to the 1961 Freedom Rides. CORE played a role in several historic events, including the Montgomery bus boycott, the Prayer Pilgrimage for Public Schools, and the 1960 sit-in movement. The Freedom Rides of spring 1961, which exposed the nation to the violent racism still rampant in the Deep South, were organized by CORE. The murders of three CORE volunteers during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 caused some within the organization to question the organization’s founding principle of nonviolence, a philosophical break finalized after King’s 1968 assassination.

Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) A coalition of regional and national organizations, COFO was established in 1962 to maximize the effectiveness of voter registration and education efforts launched in Mississippi by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. One of COFO’s first efforts, the fall 1963 Freedom Vote, was a mock gubernatorial election to protest the disenfranchisement of the state’s black citizens – 80,000 of whom turned out to vote. The success led to the organization of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, which drew around 1,000 Northern white university students to help register voters and develop civics, literacy, and public health education programs – all in the face of escalating violence. In forming the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), COFO’s short-term goal of changing state election practices failed at that summer’s Democratic Convention, and the organization disbanded in 1965 – but the public attention drawn to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 was a decisive factor in the passage of the Voting Rights Act the following year.

Medgar Evers, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi, was assassinated on June 12, 1963. In the dozen years that he was involved with the NAACP, he recruited new members and investigated incidents of racial violence, led voter registration drives and mass protests, organized boycotts, fought segregation, and helped James H. Meredith enter the University of Mississippi. Evers’ killer, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, was tried twice in 1964, in trials that resulted in hung juries. He was convicted at a third trial in 1994.

Library of Congress photo

Evers, Medgar (1925-1963) Medgar Evers became involved in civil rights efforts after returning from overseas service in World War II and observing that his home state of Mississippi was more like Nazi Germany than the America for which he had fought. When he became the Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP in 1954, he began receiving threats and harassment in many forms – a terror campaign that ratcheted up in 1955 when Evers worked to publicize the crime of Emmett Till’s lynching in Money, Miss., and sought witnesses to the crime. In the early morning of June 12, 1963 – just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing his support of civil rights – Evers was gunned down in his own driveway as he returned from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery June 19, where he received full military honors.

Farmer, James (1920-1999) The co-founder of CORE, James Farmer embraced the principles of nonviolence after enrolling at the Howard School of Divinity, where he encountered the teachings of Gandhi. He became the first national director of CORE in 1961, and mobilized its members to conduct the interracial Freedom Rides. Farmer was one of several CORE members arrested in Jackson, Miss., while attempting to integrate a bus terminal restaurant; after refusing to post bond, they spent 40 days in the Parchman State Penitentiary. In 1963, Farmer was prevented from speaking at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event co-sponsored by CORE, because he was in a Louisiana jail for protesting police brutality. 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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King Jr., Dr. Martin Luther (1929-1968) The civil rights movement’s charismatic standardbearer, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to be celebrated internationally as a humanitarian and activist. Though involved in several political issues during his life, he is best remembered as the man who fought for civil rights using nonviolent direct action – and for achieving results many thought impossible. King was instrumental in nearly every campaign of the civil rights movement. His career as an activist was launched with his leadership of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, after which he helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written during the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, is studied today as a masterwork of political discourse; his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered a 66

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From left: Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Rep. William Fitts Ryan, D-N.Y, James Farmer, and John Lewis in 1965.

few weeks later from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1963 March on Washington, established him as one of history’s greatest orators. In late 1964, King and the SCLC joined forces with the SNCC in Selma to register black voters, and the effort culminated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. At first thwarted by mob and police violence, the marches again demonstrated the dramatic effectiveness of the movement’s nonviolent strategy. At their eventual conclusion, on the steps of the Alabama Capitol, King’s “How Long? Not Long” speech marked a turning point in the struggle for African-American voting rights. King continued to be politically active after passage of the Voting Rights Act, speaking out against racism, economic injustice, and the Vietnam War. The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, is today the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. During his short life, he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize; in death, he has been awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, and is honored annually in the United States with a national holiday. In 2011, the 4-acre Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was established on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress/Stanley Wolfson; World Telegram staff photographer

Farmer stepped down as CORE director in 1966, as the group became more influenced by the Black Nationalist movement. He later served as assistant secretary for health, education and welfare in the Richard Nixon administration, but soon returned to a life of teaching and activism. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.


Lafayette, Bernard (1940-) An activist whose involvement began with the 1960 sit-ins, Bernard Lafayette was a longtime staff member of SNCC, a Freedom Rider who spent 40 days in Mississippi’s Parchman State Penitentiary, and director of SNCC’s Alabama Voter Registration Project, which he began in 1962. Focusing his own work on the town of Selma, Lafayette suffered intimidation and a severe beating, but his determination attracted the involvement of the SCLC. Lafayette was instrumental in organizing the public demonstrations that culminated in the Selma to Montgomery March and, ultimately, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After earning his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1974, Lafayette taught at several universities before being named president of his alma mater, American Baptist Theological Seminary, in 1993. He later founded the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island, and is today a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

Thurgood Marshall.

Lawson, James (1928-) One of the movement’s most committed pacifists, James Lawson joined CORE as an Ohio college student in the 1940s. A conscientious objector, he was imprisoned for 14 months after refusing to report to the draft in 1951. After his release, he traveled to India to perform Methodist missionary work and study Gandhi’s nonviolent principles of satyagraha. Upon his return in 1956, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College, where he met the visiting King. At King’s urging, Lawson transferred to Vanderbilt University and moved to Nashville, where he served as CORE’s southern director and trained local students in nonviolent direct action. In Nashville, he taught some of the movement’s most influential future leaders, including Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, John Lewis, Marion Barry, and James Bevel. After his students launched the Nashville sit-ins in 1960, Lawson, after refusing to end his involvement in the campaign, was expelled from Vanderbilt. His students went on to play leading roles in the Freedom Rides, the Birmingham protests, the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement. During its 2006 graduation ceremony, Vanderbilt University issued a formal apology for its treatment of Lawson, who soon joined its faculty as a visiting professor.

Library of Congress photo by Tom O'Halloran

Lewis, John (1940-) A co-founder, and later chairman, of the SNCC, John Lewis was involved in many of the movement’s most historic events. He was severely beaten during his participation in the 1961 Freedom Rides; delivered one of the keynote speeches at the 1963 March on Washington; coordinated voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer; and on March 7, 1965 – “Bloody Sunday” – joined Hosea Williams in leading several hundred marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where they were brutally attacked by state troopers. Lewis, clubbed while kneeling to pray, suffered a fractured skull. Lewis continued to lead voter registration drives after the passage of federal voting rights legislation. Since 1987, he has served as the U.S. representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which encompasses the city of Atlanta’s northern three-quarters.

Marshall, Thurgood (1908-1993) The NAACP lawyer who chiseled away at the legal foundation of institutional racism, Thurgood Marshall is best remembered as the attorney who argued Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court – but his involvement in the civil rights movement began two decades earlier, when he represented the NAACP in the law school discrimination suit Murray v. Pearson. In 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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1940, Marshall founded and led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and went on to argue several more civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to be solicitor general of the United States – and two years later to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s first African-American judge, he served as associate justice, compiling a record of strong support for the constitutional protection of individual rights, until his retirement in 1991.

Moses, Robert "Bob" Parris (1935-) In 1960, Bob Moses, a teacher at the Bronx’s Horace Mann School, was urged by SCLC strategist Bayard Rustin to head south and work with King. One of the movement’s most influential leaders, he focused much of his effort on Mississippi, the state with the poorest record of AfricanAmerican voter registration. As SNCC’s field secretary, Moses developed the idea of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project and groomed some of the project’s most effective grassroots leaders. Moses was instrumental in the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic 68

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Party, challenging the state’s all-white Democratic Party delegation to the 1964 national convention. Moses left the SNCC in 1966. After teaching for six years in Tanzania, he returned to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in the philosophy of mathematics. In 1982, Moses, a high school teacher in Cambridge, Mass., received a MacArthur Fellowship, which he used to create the Algebra Project, a foundation devoted to improving math education for economically disadvantaged children.

Nash, Diane (1938-) Described by King as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters,” Diane Nash became involved in the civil rights movement while a student at Fisk University in Nashville. She was a key strategist behind many of the Nashville sit-ins of 1960, and in leading the SNCC’s direct-action campaigns, was responsible for several of the movement’s historic successes. She pioneered the “jail, no bail” concept while imprisoned for her participation in a South Carolina sit-in, and used the tactic to great effect in the 1961 Freedom Rides – which were only resumed, after being met with brutal violence, at Nash’s insistence. “We will not stop,” she said. “There is only one outcome.” After making important contributions to the Birmingham Campaign, the March on Washington, and the Selma

library of congress

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People members gather for the 20th annual session in June 1929.


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key leadership and organizations

Campaign, Nash was appointed by Kennedy to the committee that prepared for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She has received the SCLC’s Rosa Parks Award (1965), the Distinguished American Award from the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation (2003), the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (2004), and the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum (2008).

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) The nation’s most enduringly relevant organization for civil rights, the NAACP was formed in 1909 out of the leadership of the interracial Niagara Movement, a diverse group including W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Henry Moskowitz, and Mary White Ovington. Martin Luther King Sr. was head of the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, and the organization became a powerful ally in the civil rights movement. Its litigation and lobbying efforts supplemented the direct-action campaigns spearheaded by King’s son, Martin Luther King Jr. The lawsuits filed by the NAACP’s nonprofit Legal Defense Fund were key in overturning decades of official segregation, and its activists worked diligently at the local level, raising funds and lending practical support to the Montgomery bus boycott, the Voter Education Project, and the 1963 March on Washington. More than a century old, the NAACP continues to be one of the nation’s most influential voices in support of socioeconomic, educational, and political equality.

National Urban League (NUL) With roots in the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, founded in 1910, the NUL is one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, devoted to economic self-reliance and political power. It became an influential partner in the civil rights movement after Whitney Young became its executive director in 1961, and in 1963, the organization hosted the meetings of A. Philip Randolph, King, and others for planning the March on Washington. With more than 100 local affiliates today, the NUL remains active and influential in efforts such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Open Doorways project, which connects inner-city middle-school girls with professional women mentors.

Parks, Rosa (1913-2005) A seasoned civil rights activist trained at the Highlander Folk School, Rosa Parks was secretary of the NAACP’s Montgomery, Ala., Chapter when, on Dec. 1, 1955, she quietly refused a bus driver’s order to yield her seat to a white passenger. Her defiance launched the Montgomery bus boycott, which brought the city’s transit company 70

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to its knees and proved the power of nonviolent direct action. Along with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the boycott marked the beginning of the end of official segregation in the United States. Fired from her job as a seamstress for her involvement in the movement, Parks later moved to Detroit, where she worked in the office of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., from 1965 to 1988. Her achievement has been recognized throughout the nation on many occasions, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal (1979); the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1996); the Congressional Gold Medal (1999); and a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall (2005). Upon her death in 2005, she became the first woman – and only the second non-U.S. government official – to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.

Randolph, A. Philip (1889-1979) One of the movement’s elder statesmen, called “truly the Dean of Negro leaders” by King, A. Philip Randolph had already been in the fight for decades when, in 1963, he achieved his vision of a March on Washington. A socialist and pacifist, Randolph began his career as a union organizer; his great success was the creation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The first black-led labor organization to receive an American Federation of Labor charter, the BSCP won numerous concessions during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The idea of a march on Washington was first proposed by Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and A.J. Muste in 194 to protest discrimination in the war industries and the armed forces; the march was canceled after Roosevelt delivered a compromise banning discrimination among defense contractors. Randolph later convinced President Harry S. Truman to abolish racial segregation in the armed forces. Randolph allied with King beginning in the late 1950s. In recognition of his lifetime’s achievements, Johnson awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rustin, Bayard (1912-1987) Even at the height of the civil rights movement, when Bayard Rustin’s influence as a strategic organizer was most crucial, many within the movement were distancing themselves from him. A Quaker and Gandhian pacifist, CORE co-founder, and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, he was also a former Communist and an openly gay man, both of which caused discomfort within the movement. He was, however, one of its most seasoned veterans: His grandmother, an NAACP member, had hosted luminaries such as James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. DuBois in Rustin’s boyhood home, and for his later participation in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, he was sentenced to 22 days on a North Carolina chain gang. Rustin had a powerful philosophical influence on King’s understanding of nonviolence, but it was matched by a pragmatic shrewdness; he was instrumental in the success


AP Photo/Harry Harris

Civil rights leaders gathered together in New York's Roosevelt Hotel, July 2, 1963, to discuss plans for the March on Washington. From left: John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph, president of the Negro American Labor Council; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; James Farmer, director of Congress of Racial Equality; and Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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of the Montgomery bus boycott and the formation of the SCLC. From 1965 to 1979, Rustin served as president and co-chair of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a trade union dedicated to racial equality and economic justice.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) In 1957, in the aftermath of the Montgomery bus boycott, King invited about 60 black ministers to his Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. At their founding meeting, on Jan. 10, the ministers established the SCLC’s initial goal of coordinating and supporting nonviolent protests aimed at desegregating public bus systems throughout the South. Through its affiliation with local churches and emphasis on nonviolence, the SCLC framed the struggle for civil rights in moral terms. Key SCLC staff members such as Septima Clark and Dorothy Cotton, director of its Citizenship Education Program, trained members in nonviolence. SCLC joined national and local groups in forming mass protests and voter registration drives throughout the South, perhaps most notably in Birmingham and Selma. In the early 1960s, the organization began to broaden its focus to include the issue of poverty, launching projects such as Operation Breadbasket and the Poor People’s Campaign. King led the SCLC as its president until his assassination in 1968. Under the leadership of its new president, Ralph Abernathy, it continued the Poor People’s Campaign, during which 3,000 protestors established a shantytown, dubbed “Resurrection City,” on the National Mall, where they camped for 36 days in spring 1968. Now headquartered in Atlanta, the SCLC remains an influential organization nationwide, with chapters and affiliates throughout the country.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Formed in April 1960 by young leaders who had emerged during the sit-in protests of that year, the SNCC was officially constituted in May and initially led by Fisk University student Marion Barry. The organization’s ascendance as a powerful force in the civil rights movement occurred during the 1961 Freedom Rides, initially sponsored by CORE. When riders suffered vicious attacks in Alabama, it was SNCC members who stepped in and resolved to finish the rides into Mississippi. Their determination attracted many other students to the movement. From the start, SNCC’s younger members were fiercely independent and often impatient with the calm, steady approach of King and the SCLC. At the August 1963 March on Washington, for example, SNCC Chairman John Lewis delivered a fiery keynote address that struck a markedly different tone than King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The SNCC went on to play a significant role in voter registration efforts throughout the South. In Mississippi, 72

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Moses led the effort that culminated in the Freedom Summer. The voting rights demonstrations that began in Selma in 1965 launched a series of increasingly rancorous ideological debates within the organization, as some members began to challenge both the group’s commitment to nonviolent tactics and the inclusion of white activists. The rupture between SCLC and SNCC was finalized in 1966, when Stokely Carmichael, the “Black Power” advocate who rejected desegregation as the movement’s primary aim, was elected the group’s chairman. SNCC’s political support began to wane, until the group finally disintegrated about a decade later.

Wilkins, Roy (1901-1981) An influential civil rights activist from the 1930s onward, Roy Wilkins led the NAACP as its executive secretary from 1955 to 1977. In this role, he helped to establish a black-owned bank to extend loans to creditworthy African-Americans; helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington; and participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Wilkins’ most significant contribution to the civil rights movement was perhaps his focus on achieving reform through legislation. Through both the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which he co-founded with Randolph, he established a permanent and powerful campaign to both advocate for civil rights legislation – including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and to challenge discriminatory laws. In 1967, Wilkins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Johnson.

Young, Whitney (1921-1971) Because of the ease with which he moved among the nation’s black and white circles of power, and the quiet, nonthreatening way in which he worked to end employment and housing discrimination, Whitney Young – executive director of the National Urban League from the crucial period of 1961-1971 – was often dismissed as irrelevant by younger, more militant members of the movement. But the relationships Young formed with business and political leaders led to increasing access to jobs, education, and housing for African-Americans. In the 2012 documentary film The Powerbroker, about Young’s life and work, Vernon Jordan, who assumed leadership of the NUL after Young’s death in 1971, recalled: “Whitney understood power and he understood politics, and most of all, he understood people. They said Martin [Luther King Jr.] was in the streets, and Roy [Wilkins] and Thurgood [Marshall] were in the courts, and Whitney was in the boardroom.” Nixon traveled to Kentucky to attend Young’s funeral, where he delivered a eulogy remembering him as someone who “knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for.” n


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fight continues

Formulating Equality The Voting Rights Act and the Supreme Court By Jan tegler

On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case known as Shelby County v. Holder. The decision marked the most significant change to the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) since it was enacted, touching off a passionate debate encompassing civil rights, federalism, and politics. Shelby County in Alabama, a jurisdiction covered under the VRA’s “preclearance requirement,” challenged two key provisions of the act: Section 5, which requires nine states (primarily in the South) and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes, no matter how minor, to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4, which describes the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. In a 5 to 4 ruling, the court declared Section 4 unconstitutional on the grounds that the formula for determining which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court is outdated. Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that, though Congress most recently renewed the VRA in 2006, it failed to update the Section 4 formula. “Congress did not use the record it compiled to shape a coverage formula grounded in current conditions,” he wrote. “It instead re-enacted a formula based on 40-yearold facts having no logical relationship to the present day.” The coverage formula therefore violates the sovereignty of the affected states under the U.S. Constitution, Roberts maintained. The court’s ruling left intact all other provisions of the VRA, including the Section 5 preclearance requirement, adding that Congres “may draft another formula based on current conditions.” Reaction to the decision was swift. Critics charged that with the Section 4 formula ruled unconstitutional, Section 5 cannot be enforced, at least for the time being. That, they argue, will have an immediate impact on states 74

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covered under Section 5 seeking to “bail out” of federal oversight, clearing the way for them to enact voter ID laws and conduct redistricting, which may deter minorities from voting. Writing the dissent for the court’s minority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that Section 5 is now effectively “immobilized” without a working coverage formula. “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective,” Ginsburg added. “The court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed.” Thus, the formula for determining coverage under Section 4, and its implications for preclearance, is at the heart of the debate. The court’s decision, split along ideological lines, reflects the wider public discussion of the Shelby County v. Holder case – a 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 75 percent of likely voters “believe voters should be required to show photo identification, such as a driver’s license, before being allowed to vote”– and what the future holds for the VRA. To understand the path to the Supreme Court’s ruling, it’s useful to look back to 1965.

The Voting Rights Act The VRA, signed into law on Aug. 6, 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson, was enacted to “enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution” which, under Section 1, states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Ratified on Feb. 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment had been routinely and systematically flouted by state and local governments across the post-Confederate South for almost a century. Obstacles to African-American voting were erected in many forms including poll taxes, literacy


SEIU photo by David Sachs

Scenes from a rally in front of the Supreme Court where it was hearing oral arguments on the Voting Rights Act, Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2013.

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tests, and bureaucratic restrictions. Black voters also faced harassment, intimidation, economic reprisals, and even physical violence when they tried to register or vote. The result was minority voter registration rates less than a third of those for white voters in Southern states. Though the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right of all citizens to vote, practically speaking, African-Americans had little political power at local and national levels. As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s, it brought with it a renewed focus on voting rights. From the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, Congress passed a series of legislative measures that incorporated voting-related provisions including the creation of the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice and the Commission on Civil Rights. Further provisions permitted federal courts to appoint voting referees to conduct voter registration following a judicial finding of voting discrimination. Crucially, the attorney general was given authority to intervene in and institute lawsuits seeking injunctive relief against violations of the 15th Amendment. The new laws and court decisions against 15th Amendment violations made it more difficult for Southern states to disenfranchise black citizens, but the need to challenge violations on a case-by-case basis proved to be of limited success in jurisdictions where they occurred and did nothing to spur voluntary compliance in jurisdictions that were not sued. Moreover, as it became clear that minority registration could no longer be suppressed, some states began to change political boundaries and election structures to minimize the impact of black re-enfranchisement, a practice known as “racial gerrymandering.” Sadly, violence was the spark that ultimately lit the fire that led to the Voting Rights Act. The murder of voting rights activists in Mississippi and an attack by state troopers on peaceful marchers in Selma, Ala., gained national attention,

“We accomplished something very great due to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. In basically two generations, we changed this country and its attitude from one of accepting legalized discrimination, to one today where everyone considers any kind of discrimination not just to be legally wrong, but morally repugnant.” 76

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causing public outcry and persuading Johnson and Congress to initiate effective national voting rights legislation. Adhering to the language of the 15th Amendment, Section 2 of the act applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis. The act also contained special enforcement provisions targeted at those areas of the country where Congress believed the potential for discrimination to be the greatest. Under Section 5, states covered by these special provisions could not implement any change affecting voting until the attorney general or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect. The attorney general was also granted the power to appoint a federal examiner to review the qualifications of persons who wanted to register to vote in jurisdictions covered by these special provisions. In those counties where a federal examiner was serving, the attorney general could request that federal observers monitor activities within the county’s polling place.

Challenge and Renewal It didn’t take long for the VRA to face constitutional challenges relating to Section 5 and the range of voting practices that required Section 5 review. In 1966, the Supreme Court heard South Carolina v. Katzenbach in which South Carolina argued that the VRA’s preclearance provisions were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected the challenge, finding that “case-by-case litigation was inadequate to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting, because of the inordinate amount of time and energy required to overcome the obstructionist tactics invariably encountered in these lawsuits.” At the same time, the court acknowledged that the VRA’s Section 5 was an “uncommon exercise of congressional power” justified by the “exceptional conditions” and “unique circumstances” of the Jim Crow South. Section 5 was to be enacted for a period of five years to address those “exceptional conditions.” In 1970, Congress extended the “temporary” Section 5 provision for another five years, then for a further seven years in 1975. After testimony was heard regarding voting discrimination suffered by Hispanic, Asian, and Native American citizens, the 1975 amendments also added protections from voting discrimination for language minority citizens. The VRA’s special provisions were renewed again in 1982 for a period of 25 years. Additionally, a new standard went into effect (Section 4a), detailing how jurisdictions could terminate or “bail out” from coverage under the provisions of Section 4 while Section 2 was amended to provide that a plaintiff could establish a violation of the section without having to prove discriminatory purpose. The VRA was most recently renewed in 2006 with Congress leaving intact most of its provisions while adding select amendments. Key among them was Section 4’s coverage formula. As noted in Shelby County v. Holder – first in its consideration by the U.S. Court of Appeals, then by the U.S.


Triton College photo

Supreme Court – in each of the reauthorizations, “the coverage formula in Section 4b remained the same, based on the use of voting-eligibility tests [or devices] and the rate of registration and turnout among all voters, but the pertinent dates for assessing these criteria moved from 1964 to include 1968 and eventually 1972.” Thus, the basic coverage formula for preclearance in the covered states/jurisdictions – preclearance requirements for any state or political subdivision of a state that “maintained a voting test or device as of Nov. 1, 1964, and had less than 50 percent voter registration or turnout in the 1964 presidential election” – has not been updated in four decades. A 2009 case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder, in which a small utility district (an entity that does not register voters) in Austin, Texas, sought to bail out of Section 5, set the stage for renewed consideration of Section 5’s constitutionality. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled by unanimous decision that the district was eligible to bail out and identified two “serious questions” about Section 5’s continued constitutionality, namely, whether the “current burdens” it imposes are “justified by current needs,” and whether its “disparate geographic coverage is sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” These questions were central to Shelby County v. Holder when the county filed its final appeal with the Supreme Court, “reiterating its argument that, given the federalism costs Section 5 imposes, the provision can be justified only by contemporary evidence of the kind of ‘unremitting and ingenious defiance’ that existed when the Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965.”

Triton College’s Black Heritage Council, in conjunction with the Triton College Student Association and Triton College Program Board, encouraged eligible students to register to vote in preparation for the 2012 U.S. presidential election while emphasizing the history and importance of voting, Sept. 17, 2012.

The court’s decision on June 25, 2013, only partially addressed these questions as Section 4 was the only provision singled out for change. Narrowly focused as it appears, however, the ruling touched off an intense discussion.

Debate and Aftermath Janai S. Nelson, Ph.D., professor of law, associate dean of faculty scholarship, and associate director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s School of Law, and Hans A. von Spakovsky, manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, have each spoken passionately against and in support of the court’s ruling respectively. Both agree, however, that the VRA has been a huge success. “We accomplished something very great due to the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act,” von Spakovsky said. “In basically two generations, we changed this country and its attitude from one of accepting legalized discrimination, to 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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fight continues

one today where everyone considers any kind of discrimination not just to be legally wrong, but morally repugnant.” “Section 4, which very few people had heard of before last year, played such a significant role in terms of ensuring the fairness of our electoral system, particularly in Southern states,” Nelson said, “but also in many other areas of the country where there has been a significant history of virulent discrimination based on race, language, and ethnicity.” The two have very different reactions to the court’s ruling, though. Nelson called the decision “a devastating blow to all of the progress and advancement that we’ve made as a society in the past 50 years to try to have a more diverse and fair electoral process.” Von Spakovsky supports the decision, pointing out that the core permanent provision of the VRA, Section 2, remains in place prohibiting racial discrimination in voting nationwide. Section 5, he noted, was not intended as a permanent provision. “It was considered an emergency provision,” he explained, passed because “at that time, there was systematic widespread, official discrimination in places like Georgia and Mississippi. This was considered the fastest way to stop that.” Nelson argued that with the Section 4 formula in limbo, states formerly covered under Section 5 will be freed to enact discriminatory voting laws. “Many of the actors who had formerly been policed by Section 4 of the act have now been unleashed with no check. We see that manifesting itself in the proliferation of voter ID laws and restraints on voter registration, changes in voting periods, limiting early voting, and limiting many of the features of our election system that enabled minority voters to participate on equal footing.” Von Spakovsky maintains that because the other provisions of the VRA have been left intact there is more than sufficient deterrence to disenfranchisement and further contends that a rapid movement to enact voter ID laws in the wake of the Shelby County decision and other restraints on registration is a false narrative. “Most of the voter ID laws, the strict photo ID laws around the country, were passed prior to the Shelby County decision,” he said. “That’s true in states including Indiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina. All of those laws were passed prior to Shelby County. Challenges to Indiana’s 2005 law went to the Supreme Court in 2008 with the court ruling the law constitutional. Arizona passed its ID law through a referendum process back in 2004. Kansas passed its photo ID law [2011] and it’s been in place for over two years.” Voter ID laws requiring strict photo ID or non-photo identification are now in place in 34 states according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). States having introduced voter ID legislation that is pending due to challenges by the Department of Justice include Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Texas. Voter ID laws in the states mentioned were approved or proposed (Texas, Wisconsin, South Carolina) prior to the Shelby County ruling. NCSL data shows the number of proposals to create new voter ID requirements or amend existing voter ID laws has dropped over each of the last four years. Nelson acknowledged that the ID laws mentioned were in place or awaiting approval prior to the ruling but asserts 78

Keeping the Dream Alive

that any change to Section 4 makes it easier to enact them and harder to challenge them. “It’s true that many of these laws predated the Shelby County decision, but it doesn’t mean that Section 4 and Section 5 together did not have an effect on stopping more from being created or influencing the way in which those laws were actually constructed – the content of those laws.” The fear Nelson shares with opponents of the ruling is that new voting requirements will suppress minority voting. “What is a fact is that voter ID laws impose a burden on voters to exercise a fundamental right. That is what is incontrovertible. It is an additional step that a voter must take to exercise her right to vote and one that is not justified by any significant evidence of any in-person voter fraud.” But von Spakovsky maintains that there is no evidence that stricter modern voting requirements, including voter ID laws, discourage minority voting. He pointed to studies done following the presidential elections in 2008 and 2012 in Georgia and Indiana (where strict voter ID laws were in place) by George Mason University, American University, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which show substantial increases in minority turnout. “When the Supreme Court had the Shelby County decision in front of it,” von Spakovsky said, “it was faced with the fact that not only are registration and turnout rates of blacks on par with whites – in some of these states, they exceed it. “Georgia is an example,” he explained. “After every federal election the Census Bureau puts out a report on turnout across the country which breaks down by race by state. There’s a table in the data that shows the survey-reported turnout of blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians. In Georgia, during the 2012 election with one of the strictest photo ID laws in the country, blacks voted by 1 percentage point higher than whites. In Indiana, where the photo ID law went all the way to the Supreme Court, blacks out-voted whites by 10 percentage points.” On the issue of redistricting in states required to submit to preclearance, von Spakovsky maintains that one of the most negative outcomes of Section 5 has been “the way it has made race the predominant factor in redistricting, because under Section 5, the rule in place is that you have to take race into account when doing redistricting.” That’s why both political parties love Section 5, von Spakovsky said. Why? “Because the attitude of the Justice Department was that you had to create majority minority districts where black voters, for example, are a majority and can elect their candidate of choice. “In Georgia, for example, when a Democratic legislature controlled the state, they would create 60, 70, 80 percent black districts in the cities, guaranteeing Democratic congressional seats,” he added. “But by doing that, they drained Democratic and/or black voters from surrounding districts. That created easy Republican districts. That’s an example of why both parties continue to vote for Section 5. It has everything to do with creating racially gerrymandered seats that benefit individual members of Congress of both parties.” Nelson contends that upcoming redistricting that occurs without the protection of Section 5 will “necessarily be fraught.” “We have had the protection of Section 5 for quite some time and even with that protection have still had many battles to ensure that minority voter representation was


Justice & Witness Ministries photo

on equal footing with all other voters,” she argued. “It is something that required a great deal of vigilance and maintenance and without that additional check, I suspect we will have to use other tools and continue to be even more vigilant and determined to ensure equality in our electoral system.” The other “tools” Nelson mentioned may include a bill introduced in early 2014 by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., known as the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. Among the legislation’s principal amendments is a new coverage formula for Section 4. The new formula would require states with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past 15 years to submit future election changes for federal approval. Local jurisdictions would be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and “persistent, extremely low minority turnout” over the past 15 years. Von Spakovsky maintains that the Sensenbrenner bill is flawed in part because it does not require a comprehensive national review of current VRA data regarding violations, voter registration, and voter turnout. “If you read the Voting Rights Act Amendment, you’ll notice that it doesn’t require that,” he said. “The reason is that the differential in turnout has pretty much disappeared. Let’s assume for a second that in 2006 Congress had said that it would update the coverage formula so that anybody with a turnout of less than 50 percent among minorities in the 2004 election will now be covered – the only state in the country that would have been covered

Participants at a rally to protect the Voting Rights Act, Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2013.

would have been Hawaii, which is a strongly Democratic state. That’s the reason they didn’t update the coverage formula to be based on turnout from recent elections.” With midterm elections due in fall 2014, congressional action on the Sensenbrenner bill is unlikely in the near term. Von Spakovsky said that there is no need for the bill, arguing that Sections 2 and 3 of the VRA are sufficient for enforcing the act and administering preclearance if the Justice Department can produce evidence that it’s needed in specific jurisdictions. “That is a much fairer way of imposing a preclearance requirement, basing it on specific evidence in a specific jurisdiction [rather] than putting on a blanket requirement for 12,000 jurisdictions, I believe, when you include all of the states, towns, counties, and political subdivisions that were covered,” he concluded. “What’s very important to underscore about the Shelby County decision is that Section 5 is still intact,” Nelson stressed. “But in terms of what was being challenged – the concept of preclearance – the concept of federal oversight in specific jurisdictions is not one that is anathema to the court. Instead, it invited Congress to revamp the formula for coverage and I hope that Congress responds quickly.” n 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act

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LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with civil rights activists in the White House, Aug. 6, 1965.


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Keeping the Dream Alive: 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act  

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 turns 50 on July 2nd 2014 and its impact on the legal,education,economic and social systems in the United State...

Keeping the Dream Alive: 50th Anniversary of the Signing of the Civil Rights Act  

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 turns 50 on July 2nd 2014 and its impact on the legal,education,economic and social systems in the United State...