The reaction of blacks to this wide spread system of segregation was mixed. Blacks who protested were often beaten and there homes and churches destroyed. Many simply accepted it because they had no choice.
Booker T Washington the most celebrated black leader of his time believed it best for blacks to forgo there battle for civil and social rights and instead focus on learning skills, working hard and acquiring property.
Many educated northern blacks regarded Washington as too accommodating and too willing to surrender equal rights
In 1909 W.E B Du Bois a Harvard educated writer and scholar, helped found the NAACP, which emphasized the use of legal strategies to end discrimination.
1948: President Truman Signed Executive Order 9981
The NAACP quickly established itself in court battles as a vigorous opponent of discrimination and its’ membership grew rapidly.
In 1948 largely through the attention drawn from the NAACP to the heroic action of black soldiers during world war II, president Truman signed Executive Order 9981.
"It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."
On May17, 1954 The Supreme Court in Brown Vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas overturns Plessey Vs. Vergeson the 1896 Supreme Court decision which sanctioned “separate but equal” unanimously agreeing that segregation in schools is unconstitutional
It represented a major victory for NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshal and paved the way for large scale desegregation.
On December 1 st 1955 a 45-year-old seamstress and NAACP member Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus. As was true throughout the Deep South blacks were supposed to give up their seats to whites and sit in the back or stand.
This brave action spawned a successful bus boycott. For more then 10 months blacks in Montgomery organized carpools rode black owned taxis or simply walked to where they had to go.
The leaders of the boycott then filed suit challenging the constitutionality of bus segregation. The boycott badly hurt Montgomery business and their leaders were eager to see the dispute settled.
Shortly before Christmas 1956 Dr. Martin Luther King sat either white man at the front of the bus
Three Years after Brown vs. Board of Education some 700 school districts had desegregated mainly in the border states. However, Schools in the deep south were putting up strong resistance.
In September 1957 school officials in Little Rock Arkansas as a result of a high court order were ready to desegregate Central High school. The governor, Orval Faubus, tried to prevent it citing a threat to public safety. On the first day of school chanting crowds taunted the nine black students later known as The Little Rock Nine” trying to enter the school
Television broadcast this public display of hate to the nation. The country was appalled. President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent in 1,100 U.S. Paratroopers to protect the black students, exercising their legal right to attend school. Governor Faubas then closed all the Little Rock schools. It was until 1959 that Little Rock schools were finally reopened and integrated.
On February 1 st 1960, in Greensboro North Carolina, four black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the “whites-only’ lunch counter at Woolworth’s department store.
The students aware of the non-violent approach used by Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery in 1957, were attempting to desegregate Woolworth’s lunch counter. They sat all day but were not served.
The next day they returned with 23 classmates and by the end of the week 1,000 students at come to Greensboro to protest. Within two months similar protests erupted in fifty four cities in nine states
Although they were attacked by the police and often jailed they stuck to their non-violent strategy and were successful in desegregating several hundred lunch counters.
Over the spring and summer of 1961 The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched “the Freedom Rides” -bus trips through out the deep south to test the supreme court order banning segregation in intestate bus stations.
They sought to shed light on the wide spread violation of this law. At a stop in Alabama the Freedom Riders were beaten with pipes, bicycle chains and baseball bats. At other stops they were mobbed and the tires of their busses slashed
President Kennedy called for a cooling off at which point James Farmer the head of CORE famously lamented, “Blacks have been cooling off for 150 years. If we cool off any more we’ll be in a deep freeze”.
President Kennedy’s brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy dispatched several hundred federal marshals to stop the violence. At his urging the Inter State Commerce Commission prohibited the use of segregated facilities by interstate carriers.
1963 was both tumultuous and dramatic for the Civil Rights Movement.
In May of 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. confronted the rabid segregationists of Birmingham Alabama, with a protest march with more then one thousand children.
The police chief of Birmingham, Bill Connor ordered torrential streams of high-pressure water turned on them. Americans were both shocked and revolted to witness the televised blasted of water, shock by electric cattle prods and attack by dogs.
Civil Rights demonstrations swept throughout the south and added great pressure through the Deep South to desegregate.
On August 28 th 1963 250,000 people including 50,000 whites gathered on the Lincoln Memorial to sing “We shall overcome” and hear the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior sermonize.
The I Have a Dream” speech represented a defining moment in the fight for civil rights and called for an end to racial inequality and discrimination. Kings powerful delivery had a tremendous emotional effect on the people of the nation, the world.
On July 2 nd 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most comprehensive Civil Rights Legislation since Reconstruction.
The act outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels, empowered the attorney general to bring legal action against school segregation., strengthened voting rights and barred discrimination in employment on the basis race, color, religion or national origin.
The struggle for civil rights demonstrates how in a democratic society it is possible to initiate societal change working within the framework of the Democratic process.
It tells us the story of how people with courage and conviction and a common just cause overcame powerful interests and formidable obstacles.
Through legal battles, non-violent protest and a unified front it is possible to influence and change the common perceptions of the American public and in so doing enact change through the American legislative process.
A movement provoked by the injustice and discrimination faced by American blacks provides us all with inspiration: In the immortal words of the Reverend Dr, Martin Luther King.: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice .