The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement

January 5, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: History, US History
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The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement Prof. Jeffrey D. Gonda Syracuse University September 26th, 2012

Our Agenda I.

Why Make the Civil Rights Era Long?


Experimentation: 1910-1940


New World A’Comin: 1940-1954

Part I: Why Make the Civil Rights Era Long?

The Debate “Long Movement” Historians


“Short Movement” Historians


American Popular Memory

What Does A “Long” Civil Rights Era Do? • Broadens the scope of our historical understanding: – Expanding the temporal, geographic, and ideological boundaries of the Movement. – Economic issues and housing rights. – Contextualizes ideas, individuals, and alternatives. – Grapples with the incompleteness of this “Second Reconstruction”

What Does A “Long” Civil Rights Era Do? (Cont.) • Deepens our sense of the actors and agenda (even within the “Classical” narrative) – The role of women.

Daisy Bates Ruby Hurley – The significance of global decolonization struggles. – Ongoing importance of legal activism.

Adding Depth and Breadth: Baker, Rustin, and Randolph

Bayard Rustin Ella Jo Baker

A. Philip Randolph

Ella Jo Baker • Southern-born political activist. • Embraces grassroots organizing in Harlem during the 1930s.

• Works for the NAACP 1940-1946. • Key staff member for Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). • Helps to found Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). • Works with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).

Ella Jo Baker

Bayard Rustin • Begins organizing in the 1930s. • Works with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). • First Field Secretary for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during World War II. • Plans the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 to protest segregation in interstate transportation. • Assists Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Montgomery Bus Boycotts (1956). • Deputy Director and Chief Organizer for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Bayard Rustin

A. Philip Randolph • Publisher and political organizer. • Organizes the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1925. • First president of the National Negro Congress (NNC) in the late 1930s. • Organizes the March on Washington Movement (MOWM) in 1941. • Founds League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation. • A key organizer for the 1963 March on Washington

A. Philip Randolph

What Might We Lose? • Where do we draw the boundaries? – Historian Leon Litwack: “The civil rights movement began with the presence of enslaved blacks in the New World, with the first slave mutiny on the ships bringing them here.” • Sacrificing objectivity?

• Sacrificing specificity? • Clear that the “Long” Movement concept is not without its own perils.

Part II: Experimentation, 1910-1940

Understanding the Early Era • Characterized by experimentation – Tactics – Organizations

– Alliances

• Focus on economic rights as central to the needs of black citizens. • Establishing social and political infrastructures upon which later efforts will build.

In the Shadow of Jim Crow • Turn of the 20th Century marks the lowpoint of American race relations since emancipation. • Violence, law, and custom restrict African Americans’ rights in virtually every sphere. • The philosophy of “Accommodation” dominates the black political landscape

Finding a New Approach • Four broad political strategies will overtake Accommodation in the coming decades. I.

Integration (1910-)


Nationalism (1919-1930)

III. Unionization (1925-) IV. Communism (1929-1939)

Represent overlapping approaches that often share constituencies and respond to changing political/economic conditions.

Integration • Emphasis on formal mechanisms of protest (i.e. litigation and lobbying). • Interracial coalition building.

• Internal focus on “uplift” – social and moral fitness for citizenship. • Not seeking fundamental change to the basic structure of American society. Advocates inclusion rather than revolution.

Riot in Springfield • August 1908 a racial pogrom in Springfield, Illinois. • 4,000 state militia needed to quell the violence. • 2,000 African Americans flee the city and are denied entry to neighboring towns. • Fear that a southern race war was making its way to the North.

Organizing a Response • Oswald Garrison Villard – Wealthy NYC publisher – Longstanding supporter of Booker T. Washington.

• Interracial meeting of activists in 1909. • By 1910, organized as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Mary White Ovington, co-founder

Taking Root: 1915 • Three significant events in the NAACP’s development as a protest organization: – Guinn v. U.S. (Voting Rights Case) – Release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation – Death of Booker T. Washington

Expanding the Program • Over the next 25 years the NAACP establishes a crucial legal and political infrastructure to challenge racial discrimination. – Anti-lynching. – Housing rights. – Voting rights. – Educational discrimination. – Employment litigation.

Nationalism • Longstanding political tradition. • Reinvigorated by militancy and disillusionment of World War I.

• Economic self-determination • Racial pride

• Black separatism • Pan-African identification.

World War I • WWI appears to be a unique opportunity for black empowerment. – Scale of the involvement – more than 350,000 African American troops. – Expansion of officer training for black soldiers. – Contact with European troops. – The War’s stated objectives (democracy and freedom).

369th Infantry March to Harlem, February 1919 – 250,000 New Yorkers gather to watch

Bloodletting: America’s Red Summer • The summer of 1919 explodes in racial violence. – Mass violence in Chicago, Washington, Omaha, Knoxville, and Arkansas (and 20 other cities and towns) – Spike in the number of lynchings, including returning black soldiers in uniform.

Up, You Mighty Race! • Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) • Born in Jamaica. • Trained and worked as a printer. • Founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 in Jamaica.

• Comes to America in 1916.

The UNIA and Economic Empowerment • Garvey embraces the capitalist spirit of the 1920s. • Emphasizes black economic self-help through cooperative ventures. • His signal program: The Black Star Line – Shipping company funded by $5 stock certificate purchases. – Opportunities for black employment. – Exchange of ideas and global transportation for black communities.

Unionization • First major breakthrough with Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) in 1925. • Bolstered by the reforms of the New Deal.

• Single-industry or single-occupation organizing. • Focus on opportunity and equity in employment.

• Both intra- and interracial efforts. • Positions economic rights as essential parts of full citizenship.

Communism • Toe-hold in black communities like Harlem in the mid-1920s. • Gains traction during the Great Depression. • Emphasis on interracial cooperation of laborers. • Reliance on confrontation through mass protest tactics (strikes, demonstrations, rallies).

• Seeks to change the fundamental political and economic structure of American society.

African American Unionization A. Philip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (1925)

A New Deal for Unions • The National Labor Relations Act (1935) • The option for workers to unionize and bargain collectively become a federally protected right.

• Spawns a new wave of union organizing. • The Committee for Industrial Organization breaks from the AFL (1935). • The CIO begins interracial organizing for Steel Workers, Packinghouse Workers, Automotive Workers, and Mining.

Red Tide Rising: The Growth of Black Communism • By the late 1920s, the Communist Party begins to see an American black constituency as a powerful tool. • A commitment to racial equality as key to the class struggle. • The Sixth Congress (1928) marks a shift in Party policy. – Emphasizes “self-determination” for African Americans – The Party turns southward, begins organizing in the black belt.

Rise and Fall: The Black Communist Trajectory • 1929 Gastonia, NC Textile Mill Strike establishes a lasting southern presence. • Economic desperation in the Depression gives a wave of new recruits. • 1931-1936 “Scottsboro Boys” Case builds a national following for the Party. • 1934-1939 “Popular Front” encourages coalition building and expansion of the Party base. • 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact dramatically weakens the Party’s standing among African Americans.

The Era of Experimentation • Accommodation gives way to a variety of tactics/organizations/demands: – Inclusion (integration, unionization)

– Revolution (nationalism, Communism)

• Economic rights will remain the primary focus for most of these approaches. • These organizations establish networks and provide experience that activists will build upon in future endeavors.

Part III: New World A’Comin, 1940-1954

Workplace Discrimination • African Americans only make up 3% of defense industry employees.

• Exclusion by employers, unions, federal agencies. • “Hate Strikes” in response to black hiring.

March and Response: Randolph’s March on Washington • A. Philip Randolph organizes the March on Washington Movement (1941) • Builds a coalition of supporters. • Prompts Federal intervention: Executive Order 8802 – Prohibiting discrimination by defense contractors – Establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee to oversee enforcement.

March and Response: Randolph’s MOWM • A. Philip Randolph organizes the March on Washington Movement (1941) • Builds a coalition of supporters. • Prompts Federal intervention: Executive Order 8802 – Prohibiting discrimination by defense contractors – Establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee to oversee enforcement.

Nobody’s Closing Ranks • African Americans have significant reservations about the war effort. • Take a more militant stance regarding domestic civil rights demands. • In 1942, the Pittsburgh Courier gives a name to the campaign: The Double V • “Victory at home, Victory abroad.”

Black Military Service

• Nearly 1,000,000 African American men and women serve during WWII. • The vast majority in the Army. • 500,000 serve overseas. Most continue to be relegated to labor battalions.

Turning the Tide: The Military • Pressure on the Federal Government leads to “integration” of all military branches by 1943. • Elimination of racial segregation at base facilities. • But still segregated by units.

• Introduce literacy education.

Turning the Tide: The Military (Part II) • Most famous of the new units … the Tuskegee Airmen

Turning the Tide: The Homefront • New opportunities and protections in employment. – Defense industries: Black workers from 3% (1942) to 8.3% (1944) – Skilled work: Black men 4.4% (1940) to 7.3% (1944)

– 1943 War Labor Board bans race gap in wages. – U.S. Employment Service bans race-specific job advertisements – National Labor Relations Board denies certifications to unions that openly discriminate. – Strengthen the FEPC. (Philadelphia Transit Strike 1944)

Turning the Tide: The Homefront (Part II) • Newly strengthened FEPC opens Federal employment opportunities. • 1938 – African Americans are 9.8% of Federal workforce.

• 1944 – rises to 12%. African American Federal Employment by Classification Year















Working for Democracy

Turning the Tide: The Homefront (Part III) •

Voting rights expand.

Soldier Vote Act (1942) –

Smith v. Allwright (1944) –

Poll-tax provisions eliminated for all servicemen regardless of race.

Elimination of the “White Primary” by the Supreme Court.

Registered black voters in the South increase: – 1940: 250,000 (5% of eligible black voters) – 1947: 600,000 (12%)

Turning the Tide: Public Opinion • Nazi racial ideology spawns a pro-civil rights shift in public attitudes. • Interracial coalitions boom: – NAACP goes from 54,000 members (1939) to more than 500,000 (1945) – Growing cooperation of NAACP and Jewish civil rights groups. – Founding of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942.

Turning the Tide: Public Opinion (Part II) • The growth of “Scientific Anti-Racism” • 1944 – Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma • 1939 poll – more than 70% believe blacks are less intelligent than whites • 1946 – 57% believe the races are equally intelligent.

The Truman Show: Postwar Progress • President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) • December 1946 – Executive Order 9808 – establishing the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR)

• To Secure These Rights (1947) • January 1948 – Special Message to Congress outlining Civil Rights Program • July 1948 – Executive Order 9981 – Desegregating the military.

Building Momentum at the NAACP • Flurry of new court cases. – Morgan v. Virginia (1946) – Interstate transportation – Sipuel v. Board of Regents (1948) – Education – Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) – Housing discrimination

– McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) – Education – Sweatt v. Painter (1950) – Education

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948)

• Shelley signals important shifts in the NAACP’s litigation strategy. • Sets the course towards a confrontation with “separate but equal” in the courts.

America’s Long Civil Rights Era • Instead of a sudden and surprising explosion of protest in the 1950s, we can see continuities. • Long history of activism in black communities. • Established legal, political, and social infrastructure for the mass movements of the 1950s and 1960s. • Steadily built a record of achievement that spurred more far-reaching efforts and set the stage for success.

Our Ongoing Questions

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