TheCivil Rights Act 1964 legally ended public segregation and banned racialemployment discrimination and the Voting Rights Act 1965 aimed to affrontstate and local legal barriers preventing African-Americans from exercisingtheir right to vote, and were passed almost simultaneously at the end of an eraof perseverance that had lasted over a century and a half. Since the 13thamendment that granted freedom to enslaved African-Americans in 1865,liberation had come in waves of progress and regress. After the unanimous decisionof Brown v Board in 1954, whereby the Plessy v Ferguson decision was overturnedthe movement obtained a new lease of life, were hope was granted for the futureof ending segregation. Although the 15th amendment had effectively grantedthe right for African-Americans to vote, but the majority of states hadimplemented voter restrictions, such as literacy tests and grandfather clausesmeaning that a federal decision was needed to implement explicit change andlegally bind equality between the races. Ibelieve that the NAACP was the instigator of the movement and caused both Actsto come into practise.
Active to this day, the NAACP was founded in 1909 by aninterracial group, upon the basis that the black community needed unification, notonly within itself but also with the white community. It retains itsconcentration on addressing issues of a legislative nature – gradually chippingaway until De Jure segregation becomes De Facto. A plethora of meticulouslyplanned moves one after the other led to the gradual erosion of racistsentiment and certainly de jure inferiority.
Martin Luther King was thefigurehead 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 atthe 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 orderto implement federal change. Congressional and presidential support was alsoimperative in order to implement ratifications to the constitution, and theActs could not have been achieved without President Lyndon Johnson’spush 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 tothe black voice and persevere. TheNAACP strived to achieve their goals for equality through litigationtechniques.
It was founded upon the basis that in order to implement change,communities needed to be unified, whether this be whites and blacks or lowerand middle class. Ida B Wells1 and DuBois2 werefounders of the movement and had been campaigning since 1884 and 1895respectively Movement through the possibility of being to override the negativedecision of Plessy vs Ferguson withthe argument that: “separate but equal”was not being upheld dueto the constant separation but rarely equal facilities provided throughout thecountry. The NAACP relied heavily upon organised movement, with research andcoordinated policies that that were sure would produce a step in the rightdirection. The case of Brown vs Board that effectively initiated the CivilRights movement began its founding as early as the 1930’s through a study commissioned by the NAACP3 establishingthe lack of equality in public facilities – proven by Thurgood Marshall’s research into the funding of schools; with $37.
87 beingspent on white children, compared to $13.08 on black children4.It was the NAACP’s copious research that allowed for thesuccess of the Montgomery bus boycott, as the project had been in the processof 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 andpresented the incident the NAACP needed to organise a boycott. The protestended with a ruling from the supreme court that segregation of public transportwas 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 rightsmovement is still rife to date and many historians debate the importance ofvarious parties. With such copious people, organisations and factors that hadan influence on the federal governments decisions – individuals research altersperspectives to defend a certain party. Historians Raphael Cassimere andCharles W McKinney are both specialists in the civil rights movement butdisagree over whether individuals or organisations were most important in theoutcome of the civil rights movement.
Raphael Cassimere argues that the NAACP was an imperative body in thechanging of the spectrum of racial equality. He believes that the NAACP putpressure on the federal government to change their non-interfering stance Cassimere is an African-American professor from Louisiana who becameactively involved in the NAACP in the 1960’s, even serving as president of theNew Orleans Youth Council5.Through his involvement with the organisation he was able to experience theeffect that it had directly and how without it, it would have been exceedinglydifficulty to implement such litigious changes. In an interview conducted in 2013recordedby the Loyola University Documentary and Oral History Studio McKinney explainsthe 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 pressureon them. And they did in fact give.” These litigious tactics were slow but resulted in change, with the SupremeCourt decisions requiring the federal government to amend the constitution tofit with what was legally required. His vested interest in the cause howevermeans that Charles W McKinney’sbook “Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil RightsStruggle in Wilson, North Carolina” explores theinfluence of grassroots movements stating that “the king-centric perspectivealso overemphasises mass mobilising events such as marches and demonstrationand de-emphasizes the importance of grass-roots organising, the slow and hardwork of getting ordinary people to act on their deeply held desire to change”.
McKinney is another African-American professor, but choosesto focus on the work of individuals and grassroots movements who made adifference to the movement6.He writes on the importance of those that followed rather than led, and theirunspoken bravery and resilience that may not be the most obvious choice as theleading factor in the achievements of the Civil Rights movement. This shows thatdespite similar backgrounds, the research that each individual has chosen tofocus on has influenced their recollections of the time as well as theircurrent opinion.
Their relationships with the factor that they have researchedhave caused them to consider the respective work they put into the civil rightsmovement, perhaps both being unaware of the true input as they were notdirectly involved. MartinLuther King was undoubtedly the figurehead of the movement. His ability as anorator and well as his ability to coordinate with the federal government madehim the most suitable to explain and teach the importance of unity that themovement aimed to provide to whites as well as blacks. He negotiated successfullywith Kennedy and Johnson and gained respect from many influential members ofcongress. He pushed time and time again for a bill to be put through congressthat would constitutionally outlaw segregation and discrimination.
It was hispragmatic approach and ability to strategize effectively that meant that theAfrican American voice became heard by white politicians and influential peoplethat had the power to achieve what the other parties in the movement had beenstriving for. His founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gavepower to the black church and meant that the black community could present andprotect its own identity. The SCLC was present at many organised marches andprotests, one being the Birmingham protests, which resulted in thedesegregation of public services in Alabama and the end of employment discrimination- due to Kings personal interest in the cause. King was aware of the necessityof resistants’ reaction and knew that Eugene “Bull”Conner wouldreact forcefully – in way that could stimulate federalintervention. Each act that passed in individual states led to the eventualpassing of a Civil Rights Act as discrimination became less and less tolerated. Hisinfamous “IHave a Dream”speech was orated at the march on Washington in 1963, which many credit withresulting in federal intervention and a successful outcome. However, the marchwas organised primarily by A. Philip Randolph and secondly by the respectedorganisations of the SNCC, CORE, NAACP as well as King’sown organisation – the SCLC.
Themarch on Washington was successful in pressuring J. F. Kennedy into presentingthe 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 aninterracial issue and could no longer be contained. Not only that, but it also inspired and focused people “at a momentwhen anger and frustration threatened both the sense of hope and the courageousnon-violence that had characterized the civil rights movement.”7 Anextract from Britishembassy report on the March on Washington, dated 30 August 1963 (Britsh Embassy, 1963), just two days afterthe march displays the importance of some 200,000 people (later estimated at250,000) who emerged as a unified non-violent body.
Martin Luther King iscredited as having “the place of honour as the last main speaker”, thus showing his importance in retaining momentumand becoming the speech that is most remembered. However, prior to this “two hours of speeches, relieved bysongs from well-known Negro and white artists” had occurred with the crowd remaining just as motived and committed tothe non-violence cause. This displays the point of Martin Luther King being anexcellent orator who was effective at communicating policies, but policies thatwere not solely reflective of his views but those of organisation such as theNAACP. This source also conveys theimportance of the press and the vast number of people rendering the cause aninternational issue. The British gained a certain respect for theAfrican-American community who united peacefully to demonstrate their cause andcaused them to doubt the sincerity of the southern claims that theAfrican-Americans were barbaric or inhumane.
MartinLuther King was not always entirely successful. In 1957 a 20,000 people marchon Washington demonstrated that the SCLC lacked funds, organisation and masssupport as King underestimated the power of southern whites to understand histechniques of manipulation and his protest was met with little white backlash,failing to produce the mass media response he required. This shows that King wasdependent upon others for his policies to succeed and reinforced his role as afigurehead rather than an organiser. This point was proven again in 1963 whenthe SCLC was threatened with suspension in the Voter Education Project as itfailed to adequately use funds. The members of his own party –the SCLC questioned the speed at which he was prepared to join the protests inSelma, and at times resented his strict no violence policies when they wereabused by whites. The grassrootsmovement was indeed important – as without followers and masses tosupport the movement, there would have been no one to lead. As Charles WMcKinney argues, it was the people themselves that brought about change and themovement that thrust its leaders into the spotlight. At the Washington march, itwas the 250,000 people that remained non-violent and gave their support for themovement that caused such positive publicity and federal intervention.
Thestudent sit ins of 1960 were effective in their desegregation of lunch countersin Nashville. The opportune timing as well as the backlash from the KKK andother white supremacists resulted in them being more successful than those thatthe NAACP had previously conducted following WWII. The students thatparticipated united to form the SNCC which became an organisation that workedclosely with the NAACP as well as the SCLC.However, theydepended upon organisation and instigation. Without a unification of thecommunity they remained lone and controllable by the federal government. Thekey in the shift of the civil rights movement to a globalised issue was notonly the received publicity, but also the united front presented betweenAfrican-Americans.
As more realised their potential through laws passed inindividual states and help received by varying organisations, they realisedtheir power on numbers and how they could achieve change together. An example of theunity shown between varying organisations with grassroots supporters was thevoter education project – launched in 1962 by the NAACP alongwith the SCLC, SNCC, the National Urban League, and CORE. It that aimed toincrease black votes in the South, where they were severely underrepresentedand overcome the suppression that voter registration clauses imposed. Thisresulted in 800,000 more black citizens being allowed to vote and becameespecially important in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where itbecame illegal to use discriminatory voting practises. This increase in votersled to a severe violent backlash by the KKK, spurring the federal government toconsider the constitutionality of preventing African-Americans from voting andthe morality of defending the policies of a “terrorist” group. A letter to the secretary of the NAACP, Walter White fromPhilip Randolph, the organiser of the march and a key figure in the Civil RightsMovement displays how influential the NAACP was seen as by members of its owncommunity. In 1941, the idea for a mass based protest emerged and although notrealised it achieved two things.
One being an executive order banning discrimination in defence industries butsecondly, it gave inspiration to the Washington march of 1963. Randolph “hopesit may be convenient or you to join with me and a few other persons in theissuance of a call to the negro people for such a march”. This supports the evidence thatthe NAACP was important in gaining federal recognition, due to its compositionof middle class citizens as well as white members.
It also shows that its workwas recognised as being renowned for its organisation and effectiveness. (Randolph, 1941). The NAACPproduced a magazine “The Crisis” in 1910 and its publications aimed to educate and inform its readersabout the intentions of the Civil Rights movement. Primarily written foreducate blacks, the magazine attracted a readership of 100,000 with a statedmission to pursue “the world-old dream of human brotherhood” bybearing witness to “the danger of race prejudice”8.Presenting an educated view on the intentions of the Civil Rights Movementmeant that more (especially Northern) whites started to doubt the untruthfulviews they were being presented by prejudiced southerners. Educating whitesabout the intentions of the civil rights movement was key for the possibilityof a bill to pass through the (predominantly white) senate. In December 1956 inan issue of the crisis (The Crisis, 1956) produced a short article as a responseto the Atlantic Monthly that expressed a “hysterical fear of race mixing” due to public school desegregation. The article expresses that blackshad no more desire than whites for interracial marriage and discredits the articleby calling in “preposterous” and “never supported by facts”.
Through the organised presentation of facts, the articleeducates its readers on the intentions of the civil rights movement and the motivesfor wanting equality. Althoughthe movement developed a new strength with key leaders, they acted as figureheadsto convey the NAACP’s policies and were mostly selected by them. TheNAACP created an impression of spontaneity through their promotion of localfigures at times that corresponded with success whilst the movements strengthcame from its united from and its power in numbers; both of which required theNAACP to provide this. Once cases came before the Supreme Court, due to thechecks and balances system both the Presidential and Congregational elements ofthe system were required to be involved. This legalistic approach althoughtedious and repetitive gradually gave grounds to fight segregation in thehighest court of the land, thus demanding its inclusion into the constitution. Thiswas seen in the landmark case of Brown v Board which, without the NAACP’s fightwould not have given the grounds for other segregation cases to go to court. Sucha movement required this relentless perseverance as it involved reversing legalisationand viewpoints that had been engraved into society for more than a century. Thefearlessness of its members combined with its retaliation to each and everymove 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 onthese acts.
The unification of the black community was also an essential devisefrom the NAACP, as once the working, middle and upper class were united alongwith the support of certain whites the movement took a new force. 1 A daughter ofslave parents born in Mississippi in 1862. A journalist,Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, foundingand becoming integral in groups striving for African-American justice.
2 Aleading African-American sociologist, writer and activist educated at HarvardUniversity –studying with some of the most important social thinkers of his time. He becamefamous through his publication of such works as Souls of Black Folk (1903), andbecame the editor of the NAACPS’s magazine.Dubois also taught at Wilberforce University and Atlanta University, andchaired 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/mckinneyc7https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-wenger/march-on-washington_b_3814918.html8 http://www.modjourn.org/render.php?view=mjp_object=crisiscollection