The the Voting Rights Act [1965] aimed to

The
Civil Rights Act 1964 legally ended public segregation and banned racial
employment discrimination and the Voting Rights Act 1965 aimed to affront
state and local legal barriers preventing African-Americans from exercising
their right to vote, and were passed almost simultaneously at the end of an era
of perseverance that had lasted over a century and a half. Since the 13th
amendment that granted freedom to enslaved African-Americans in 1865,
liberation had come in waves of progress and regress. After the unanimous decision
of Brown v Board in 1954, whereby the Plessy v Ferguson decision was overturned
the movement obtained a new lease of life, were hope was granted for the future
of ending segregation. Although the 15th amendment had effectively granted
the right for African-Americans to vote, but the majority of states had
implemented voter restrictions, such as literacy tests and grandfather clauses
meaning that a federal decision was needed to implement explicit change and
legally bind equality between the races.

 

I
believe that the NAACP was the instigator of the movement and caused both Acts
to come into practise. Active to this day, the NAACP was founded in 1909 by an
interracial group, upon the basis that the black community needed unification, not
only within itself but also with the white community. It retains its
concentration on addressing issues of a legislative nature – gradually chipping
away until De Jure segregation becomes De Facto. A plethora of meticulously
planned moves one after the other led to the gradual erosion of racist
sentiment and certainly de jure inferiority. Martin Luther King was the
figurehead of the movement and also needed in the fight for federal protection,
serving to put the movement into the spotlight of the media which was vital at
the time of the cold war, where Americas reputation needed to maintain stability,
but he served more as an associate than an initiator, which was vital in order
to implement federal change. Congressional and presidential support was also
imperative in order to implement ratifications to the constitution, and the
Acts could not have been achieved without President Lyndon Johnson’s
push through Congress. However, although his support and fight was necessary,
it was only due to the long-term fight for equality that he needed to listen to
the black voice and persevere.

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The
NAACP strived to achieve their goals for equality through litigation
techniques. It was founded upon the basis that in order to implement change,
communities needed to be unified, whether this be whites and blacks or lower
and middle class. Ida B Wells1 and Du
Bois2 were
founders of the movement and had been campaigning since 1884 and 1895
respectively Movement through the possibility of being to override the negative
decision of Plessy vs Ferguson with
the argument that: “separate but equal”
was not being upheld due
to the constant separation but rarely equal facilities provided throughout the
country. The NAACP relied heavily upon organised movement, with research and
coordinated policies that that were sure would produce a step in the right
direction. The case of Brown vs Board that effectively initiated the Civil
Rights movement began its founding as early as the 1930’s through a study commissioned by the NAACP3 establishing
the lack of equality in public facilities – proven by Thurgood Marshall’s research into the funding of schools; with $37.87 being
spent on white children, compared to $13.08 on black children4.
It was the NAACP’s copious research that allowed for the
success of the Montgomery bus boycott, as the project had been in the process
of coming about for some time, with the only piece missing being a suitable,
respectable figurehead of the protest. Rosa Parks was perfect for the role and
presented the incident the NAACP needed to organise a boycott. The protest
ended with a ruling from the supreme court that segregation of public transport
was illegal, meaning that the movement was one step closer to a Civil Rights Bill,
as it argued for equality between races.

                                                                                                 

The debate over whom or what caused the “successful” outcome of the Civil rights
movement is still rife to date and many historians debate the importance of
various parties. With such copious people, organisations and factors that had
an influence on the federal governments decisions – individuals research alters
perspectives to defend a certain party. Historians Raphael Cassimere and
Charles W McKinney are both specialists in the civil rights movement but
disagree over whether individuals or organisations were most important in the
outcome of the civil rights movement.

 

Raphael Cassimere argues that the NAACP was an imperative body in the
changing of the spectrum of racial equality. He believes that the NAACP put
pressure on the federal government to change their non-interfering stance

 

Cassimere is an African-American professor from Louisiana who became
actively involved in the NAACP in the 1960’s, even serving as president of the
New Orleans Youth Council5.
Through his involvement with the organisation he was able to experience the
effect that it had directly and how without it, it would have been exceedingly
difficulty to implement such litigious changes. In an interview conducted in 2013
recorded
by the Loyola University Documentary and Oral History Studio McKinney explains
the vital role of the NAACP and the change their tactics brought. He says that “we filed lawsuits, we didn’t file lawsuits,
we filed complaints. … And they sent down investigators and that put pressure
on them. And they did in fact give.” These litigious tactics were slow but resulted in change, with the Supreme
Court decisions requiring the federal government to amend the constitution to
fit with what was legally required. His vested interest in the cause however
means that

 

Charles W McKinney’s
book “Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights
Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina” explores the
influence of grassroots movements stating that “the king-centric perspective
also overemphasises mass mobilising events such as marches and demonstration
and de-emphasizes the importance of grass-roots organising, the slow and hard
work of getting ordinary people to act on their deeply held desire to change”. McKinney is another African-American professor, but chooses
to focus on the work of individuals and grassroots movements who made a
difference to the movement6.
He writes on the importance of those that followed rather than led, and their
unspoken bravery and resilience that may not be the most obvious choice as the
leading factor in the achievements of the Civil Rights movement.

This shows that
despite similar backgrounds, the research that each individual has chosen to
focus on has influenced their recollections of the time as well as their
current opinion. Their relationships with the factor that they have researched
have caused them to consider the respective work they put into the civil rights
movement, perhaps both being unaware of the true input as they were not
directly involved.

 

Martin
Luther King was undoubtedly the figurehead of the movement. His ability as an
orator and well as his ability to coordinate with the federal government made
him the most suitable to explain and teach the importance of unity that the
movement aimed to provide to whites as well as blacks. He negotiated successfully
with Kennedy and Johnson and gained respect from many influential members of
congress. He pushed time and time again for a bill to be put through congress
that would constitutionally outlaw segregation and discrimination. It was his
pragmatic approach and ability to strategize effectively that meant that the
African American voice became heard by white politicians and influential people
that had the power to achieve what the other parties in the movement had been
striving for. His founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave
power to the black church and meant that the black community could present and
protect its own identity. The SCLC was present at many organised marches and
protests, one being the Birmingham protests, which resulted in the
desegregation of public services in Alabama and the end of employment discrimination
– due to Kings personal interest in the cause. King was aware of the necessity
of resistants’ reaction and knew that Eugene “Bull”
Conner would
react forcefully – in way that could stimulate federal
intervention. Each act that passed in individual states led to the eventual
passing of a Civil Rights Act as discrimination became less and less tolerated.

 

His
infamous “I
Have a Dream”
speech was orated at the march on Washington in 1963, which many credit with
resulting in federal intervention and a successful outcome. However, the march
was organised primarily by A. Philip Randolph and secondly by the respected
organisations of the SNCC, CORE, NAACP as well as King’s
own organisation – the SCLC. The
march on Washington was successful in pressuring J. F. Kennedy into presenting
the Civil rights bill to congress. The proportion of whites that attended –
60,000 out of 250,000 showed that the lack of equality was indeed becoming an
interracial issue and could no longer be contained. Not only that, but it also inspired and focused people “at a moment
when anger and frustration threatened both the sense of hope and the courageous
non-violence that had characterized the civil rights movement.”7

 

An
extract from British
embassy report on the March on Washington, dated 30 August 1963 (Britsh Embassy, 1963), just two days after
the march displays the importance of some 200,000 people (later estimated at
250,000) who emerged as a unified non-violent body. Martin Luther King is
credited as having “the place of honour as the last main speaker”, thus showing his importance in retaining momentum
and becoming the speech that is most remembered. However, prior to this “two hours of speeches, relieved by
songs from well-known Negro and white artists” had occurred with the crowd remaining just as motived and committed to
the non-violence cause. This displays the point of Martin Luther King being an
excellent orator who was effective at communicating policies, but policies that
were not solely reflective of his views but those of organisation such as the
NAACP.  This source also conveys the
importance of the press and the vast number of people rendering the cause an
international issue. The British gained a certain respect for the
African-American community who united peacefully to demonstrate their cause and
caused them to doubt the sincerity of the southern claims that the
African-Americans were barbaric or inhumane.

 

Martin
Luther King was not always entirely successful. In 1957 a 20,000 people march
on Washington demonstrated that the SCLC lacked funds, organisation and mass
support as King underestimated the power of southern whites to understand his
techniques of manipulation and his protest was met with little white backlash,
failing to produce the mass media response he required. This shows that King was
dependent upon others for his policies to succeed and reinforced his role as a
figurehead rather than an organiser. This point was proven again in 1963 when
the SCLC was threatened with suspension in the Voter Education Project as it
failed to adequately use funds. The members of his own party –
the SCLC questioned the speed at which he was prepared to join the protests in
Selma, and at times resented his strict no violence policies when they were
abused by whites.

The grassroots
movement was indeed important – as without followers and masses to
support the movement, there would have been no one to lead. As Charles W
McKinney argues, it was the people themselves that brought about change and the
movement that thrust its leaders into the spotlight. At the Washington march, it
was the 250,000 people that remained non-violent and gave their support for the
movement that caused such positive publicity and federal intervention. The
student sit ins of 1960 were effective in their desegregation of lunch counters
in Nashville. The opportune timing as well as the backlash from the KKK and
other white supremacists resulted in them being more successful than those that
the NAACP had previously conducted following WWII. The students that
participated united to form the SNCC which became an organisation that worked
closely with the NAACP as well as the SCLC.

However, they
depended upon organisation and instigation. Without a unification of the
community they remained lone and controllable by the federal government. The
key in the shift of the civil rights movement to a globalised issue was not
only the received publicity, but also the united front presented between
African-Americans. As more realised their potential through laws passed in
individual states and help received by varying organisations, they realised
their power on numbers and how they could achieve change together.

An example of the
unity shown between varying organisations with grassroots supporters was the
voter education project – launched in 1962 by the NAACP along
with the SCLC, SNCC, the National Urban League, and CORE. It that aimed to
increase black votes in the South, where they were severely underrepresented
and overcome the suppression that voter registration clauses imposed. This
resulted in 800,000 more black citizens being allowed to vote and became
especially important in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where it
became illegal to use discriminatory voting practises. This increase in voters
led to a severe violent backlash by the KKK, spurring the federal government to
consider the constitutionality of preventing African-Americans from voting and
the morality of defending the policies of a “terrorist” group.

 

A letter to the secretary of the NAACP, Walter White from
Philip Randolph, the organiser of the march and a key figure in the Civil Rights
Movement displays how influential the NAACP was seen as by members of its own
community. In 1941, the idea for a mass based protest emerged and although not
realised it achieved two things. One being an executive order banning    discrimination in defence industries but
secondly, it gave inspiration to the Washington march of 1963. Randolph “hopes
it may be convenient or you to join with me and a few other persons in the
issuance of a call to the negro people for such a march”. This supports the evidence that
the NAACP was important in gaining federal recognition, due to its composition
of middle class citizens as well as white members. It also shows that its work
was recognised as being renowned for its organisation and effectiveness. (Randolph, 1941).

The NAACP
produced a magazine “The Crisis” in 1910 and its publications aimed to educate and inform its readers
about the intentions of the Civil Rights movement. Primarily written for
educate blacks, the magazine attracted a readership of 100,000 with a stated
mission to pursue “the world-old dream of human brotherhood” by
bearing witness to “the danger of race prejudice”8.
Presenting an educated view on the intentions of the Civil Rights Movement
meant that more (especially Northern) whites started to doubt the untruthful
views they were being presented by prejudiced southerners.  

Educating whites
about the intentions of the civil rights movement was key for the possibility
of a bill to pass through the (predominantly white) senate. In December 1956 in
an issue of the crisis (The Crisis, 1956) produced a short article as a response
to the Atlantic Monthly that expressed a “hysterical fear of race mixing” due to public school desegregation. The article expresses that blacks
had no more desire than whites for interracial marriage and discredits the article
by calling in “preposterous” and “never supported by facts”. Through the organised presentation of facts, the article
educates its readers on the intentions of the civil rights movement and the motives
for wanting equality.

 

Although
the movement developed a new strength with key leaders, they acted as figureheads
to convey the NAACP’s policies and were mostly selected by them. The
NAACP created an impression of spontaneity through their promotion of local
figures at times that corresponded with success whilst the movements strength
came from its united from and its power in numbers; both of which required the
NAACP to provide this. Once cases came before the Supreme Court, due to the
checks and balances system both the Presidential and Congregational elements of
the system were required to be involved. This legalistic approach although
tedious and repetitive gradually gave grounds to fight segregation in the
highest court of the land, thus demanding its inclusion into the constitution. This
was seen in the landmark case of Brown v Board which, without the NAACP’s fight
would not have given the grounds for other segregation cases to go to court. Such
a movement required this relentless perseverance as it involved reversing legalisation
and viewpoints that had been engraved into society for more than a century. The
fearlessness of its members combined with its retaliation to each and every
move that aimed to suppress them was what such a large movement required,
rather than a short term impactful leader or event that could have spurred on
these acts. The unification of the black community was also an essential devise
from the NAACP, as once the working, middle and upper class were united along
with the support of certain whites the movement took a new force.

1 A daughter of
slave parents born in Mississippi in 1862. A journalist,
Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, founding
and becoming integral in groups striving for African-American justice.

2 A
leading African-American sociologist, writer and activist educated at Harvard
University –
studying with some of the most important social thinkers of his time. He became
famous through his publication of such works as Souls of Black Folk (1903), and
became the editor of the NAACPS’s magazine.
Dubois also taught at Wilberforce University and Atlanta University, and
chaired the Peace Information Centre. 

 

3 http://www.naacp.org/legal-department/naacp-legal-history/

4 Scott Reeves, The NAACP

5 http://blog.historians.org/2016/10/member-spotlight-raphael-cassimere/

6 https://www.rhodes.edu/bio/mckinneyc

7
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-wenger/march-on-washington_b_3814918.html

8 http://www.modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object=crisiscollection