Monday, February 8, 2010

They Had A Dream

   As we celebrate another Black History Month, I would like to share some images which picture some of the highlights of the struggle for equal rights.

   One of the first civil rights organizations was the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905 by a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. The Niagara Movement called for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement as well as policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington.
   Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was an American educator and civil rights leader best known for starting a school for black students in Daytona Beach, Florida that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University and for being an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

   Early in the 20th Century, a wave of racist reaction swept the nation and blacks were attacked, killed and evicted from Kansas City, Tulsa, East St. Louis and many other communities.

   Through most of the century, African-Americans were segregated from white society and were not allowed to share schools, restaurants, theaters, restrooms and water fountains.

   In 1955, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago named Emmett Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi. While visiting a nearby store, a white woman accused the boy of whistling at her. That night, her husband seized Emmett, tortured and killed the boy and dumped the body in a nearby river. The brutal murder shocked the nation and Emmett's mother, wanting people to witness the violence done to her son, insisted that the casket be left open during the funeral.

    Lawyers George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit on the steps of the Supreme Court just before the landmark "Brown vs the Board of education" ruling of 1954. This decision marked the end to integrated schools and refuted the "separate-but-equal" doctrine most school systems used to justify it.

   In 1948, President Harry S Truman's Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II, a major advance in civil rights.

   Throughout the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, protests over integration caused turmoil in many cities, particularly in the south. Popular illustrator Norman Rockwell pictured a young black girl walking to school ecorted by federal marshalls.

   In 1957, violence broke out in Little Rock, Arkansas, where 9 black students had enrolled in the previously all-white high school there. Segregationists and Arkansas National Guard troops called out by the Governor surrounded the school and physically blocked the students from entering. Appeals were made and the federal government sent in the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to force the school to accept the students.

   After hearing a speech by John F. Kennedy, a young Mississippian named James Meredith decided to enroll in the University of Mississippi. Denied entrance, Meredith sued the state and took the case to the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. He graduated with a degree in Political Science in 1963.

   After graduation Meredith became a civil rights organizer and led a civil rights march, the March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi on June 6, 1966. During the march, Meredith was shot by a white racist as captured in this Pulitzer-prize-winning photo.

   One of the most influential individuals in Civil Rights history was a mild-mannered African-American woman named Rosa Parks. In 1955, she challenged a law in Montgomery, Alabama forcing blacks to sit in the rear of public buses and to move for white passengers, if necessary. By refusing to give up her seat, Rosa was taken into custody and booked by local police. Her arrest touched off a boycott of the Montgomery bus system and ultimately led to the removal of such restrictions in public transport.

   In 1967, sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee walked off the job to protest unequal work conditions between white and black workers. The following spring, the famed civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived in Memphis to support the strike. On April 14, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

   As blacks took a more assertive role in claiming their civil rights, the forces against them reacted by joining racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society formed in the waning days of the Civil War. Their practice of burning of crosses was meant to terrorize blacks and the burning cross has come to be a symbol of racial hatred.

   To end segregation in public restaurants, civil rights protestors held "sit-ins" at lunch counters. Here, white teens torment protestors who are following the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.

   A young Jesse Jackson speaks to people during the Poor people's March of 1963.

   The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a large political rally that took place in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. One of the largest crowds ever for a civil rights event listened to rousing speakers like labor leader Walter Reuther, John Lewis and Floyd McKissick. The highlight of the event was Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspirational "I Have A Dream" speech.

   The civil rights movement inspired many black leaders to come forward, not all of whom followed the non-violent teachings of Martin Luther King. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were the founders of the Black Panther Party, who reacted to the assassination of Malcolm X by adopting Malcolm's slogan "By Any Means Necessary."

   One of the most dramatic civil rights confrontations came in 1961 during the Freedom Rides. These events were to protest continuing segregation in interstate bus travel. These rides took protestors through some of the most racist parts of the south where they were met with beatings and violence by white segregationists. In Anniston, Alabama, a mob attacked one of the buses and set it on fire while protestors were inside. Fortunately, the bus riders were able to evacuate the bus without loss of life.

   The thousands of activists in the civil rights movement finally saw their actions rewarded in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic Civil Rights Act.

The upraised fist became the symbol of "Black Power"

A college teacher lectures to an integrated class of students who benefitted from the long struggles for racial equality.

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