As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
The Struggle for Civil Rights

Photo of Little Rock Nine entering Central High School

In 2006, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. from Harvard University began to research the lives of eight prominent African Americans - including Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey. He eventually traced their family trees, as well as his own, using all available documents going back deep into slavery. Once the paper trail was exhausted, he then conducted a DNA analysis to determine where their ancestors came from in Africa. Finally, he put everything together in a PBS series, African American Lives. The program was so successful, that he began to investigate the lives of other famous African Americans, including Chris Rock and Don Cheadle.

Discussion Goals:
  1. To differentiate between the struggle for civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM).
  2. To discuss the historical origins of the CRM.
  3. To study the chronology of the struggle for Civil Rights through several loosely-defined phases.
  4. To examine contemporary efforts in the fight for civil rights.
  5. To discuss some of the contemporary issues regarding African American civil liberties.

Goal #1: To differentiate between the struggle for civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement (CRM)

Goal #2: To discuss the historical origins of the CRM

The historical origins of the Civil Rights Movement can be found in three important events that shaped the early struggle for civil rights: the passage of the Freedom Amendments; the presidential election of 1876; and the Compromise of 1877.

The Freedom Amendments consisted of three new amendments: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, all of which are part of the struggle for civil rights and which will later contribute to the Movement for civil rights. Civil rights photo of protester with "Justice" sign

Election of 1876 and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes

The Compromise of 1877 - After the Congressional choice of Hayes for president, Hayes pulled the troops out of the South and ended Reconstruction, while the South failed to live up to its promise to respect the civil and political rights of blacks.

Goal #3: To study the chronology of the struggle for Civil Rights through several loosely-defined phases
  1. 1857 to 1954 - the civil rights struggle for equal protection under the law evolved in which individual African Americans, various African-American organizations, and certain federal agencies sought equal protection under the law.
  2. 1950s to early 1956 - Phase 1 of the Civil Rights Movement to desegregate Southern schools began when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) undertook legal actions.
  3. Late 1956 to 1959 - Phase 2 of the Civil Rights Movement to desegregate transportation and education and guarantee voting rights began when black activists openly organized and conducted mass confrontations that directly challenged the white power structure.
  4. 1960 to 1968 - Phase 3 of the Civil Rights Movement for a legalized, formal end to all segregation continued when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) directed and conducted a militant, direct action plan while a rising Black Power Movement directed militant, sometimes violent actions that emphasized racial pride and the creation of separate black political and cultural institutions.
  5. 1969 to the Present - the Civil Rights Movement ended and the civil rights struggle continues in which individual Americans, various civil rights organizations, and some federal, state, and local agencies seek equal protection under the law for many Americans - people of color, gays and lesbians, immigrants, women, disabled, etc.

Civil Rights, Black Power, and Related Events: A Selective Chronology

The Struggle Evolves: From 1857 to 1954, the civil rights struggle for equal protection under the law evolved in which individual African Americans, various African-American organizations, and certain federal agencies sought equal protection under the law.

1857 Dred Scott Case. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves did not become free when taken into a free state, that Congress could not bar slavery from a territory and that blacks could not become citizens.

1863 Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing "all slaves in areas still in rebellion."

1865 Thirteenth Amendment. Abolished slavery.

1866 Civil Rights Act. Defined all persons born in the United States (except "Indians not taxed") as citizens. Listed citizen rights, including testifying in court, owning property, making contracts, bringing lawsuits and enjoying "full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings." It was passed by Congress in 1865 but vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. In April 1866 Congress again passed the bill and Johnson again vetoed it - but a two-thirds majority in each house overrode the veto and the bill became law.

1868 Fourteenth Amendment. Prohibited state governments from interfering with civil rights; required giving all citizens "equal protection" under the law.

1869 Fifteenth Amendment. Prohibited states from denying the right to vote because of a person's race.

1870-1871 Ku Klux Klan Acts. Enforced the rights specified in the 14th and 15th Amendments, making such crimes punishable under federal law. Prosecution of the KKK began in 1871 but both prosecution and enforcement had ended by the 1880s.

1875 Civil Rights Act. The Act protected access of all Americans, regardless of race, to public accommodations such as restaurants, theaters, trains and other public transportation, and protected the right to serve on juries. However, it was never enforced, and the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1883.

1876 The disputed presidential election of 1876. (see above)

1877 Compromise of 1877. (see above)

Photo Booker T. Washington1895 Booker T. Washington. Washington, shown to the left, advocated vocational training for blacks to improve their economic status. His philosophy would later conflict with that of W.E.B. DuBois (see below, 1909 entry).

1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson. The U.S. Supreme Court set a precedent when it ruled that "separate" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were "equal." The "separate but equal" doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools. Speaking for the seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote: "A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races...has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."

The lone dissenter, Justice John Harlan, showed incredible foresight when he wrote "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law...What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation."

1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Photo W.E.B. DuBoisFounded by W.E.B. DuBois (shown in the photograph) and other Black activists to provide leadership in the fight for racial equality.

1914 Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Founded by Marcus Garvey to stress racial pride, the importance of African heritage, and racial solidarity across national boundaries. UNIA supporters joined Garveyís call for blacks from around the world to help Africans overthrow colonial rule and build a strong African state which would become a symbol of black accomplishment and power.

1915 The Birth of the Nation. The film premiered in Los Angeles and quickly elicited controversy, especially from the NAACP.

1922 Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill. In January, the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was passed by the House of Representatives but in July, its passage was halted by a filibuster of the Southern Democrats in the Senate. They argued that only local authorities could enforce state criminal statutes and they opposed federal intrusion into this area. Efforts to pass similar legislation were not taken up again until the 1930s with the Costigan-Wagner Bill.

KKK March in Washington, D.C. 19251925 KKK March. In its first national demonstration the Ku Klux Klan marched on Washington, D.C..

1930 Nation of Islam. Founded in Detroit by Farad Muhammad. Preaching black nationalism and superiority in an evil white world, members of the Nation of Islam - Black Muslims - looked to the black community for regeneration and improvement.

The Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill was introduced to Congress. The legislation proposed federal trials for any law enforcement officers who failed to exercise their responsibilities during a lynching incident. President Roosevelt refused to speak out in favour of the bill, arguing instead that the white voters in the South would never forgive him if he supported the bill and he would therefore lose the next election. While the Bill received support from many members of Congress, the Southern opposition managed to defeat it.

1933 Elijah Muhammad took leadership over the Nation of Islam.

1942 Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). CORE was organized in Chicago as an interracial group of students, most of whom were members of the Chicago branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist organization seeking to change racist attitudes. The founders of CORE were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's teachings of nonviolent resistance

1946 Biracial delegation of civil rights activists met with President Truman to discuss racial terrorism in the south. Truman established the President's Committee on Civil Rights to investigate race relations in the South.

1947 To Secure These Rights, the report of the Committee, outlined the problems of racial discrimination, voting rights, and segregation in both the North and the South and proposed anti-lynching and anti-poll tax legislation. Truman sent the report to Congress and asked them to enact most of the Committee's proposals.

1948 Integrating the Military. President Truman issued an executive order outlawing segregation in the U.S. military

Phase 1: The CR Movement Begins - From early 1950s to early 1956, efforts to desegregate Southern schools began when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) undertook legal actions.

1952 Malcolm XPhoto Malcolm X was released from prison where he had become a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). He quickly became one of the NOI's most powerful and respected leaders. Malcolm X rejected integration with a white society that, he said, emasculated blacks by denying them power and personal identity.

1954 Brown vs. Board of Education. U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson for public education and required the desegregation of schools across America.Map racially segregated schools 1954 On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren read the decision of the unanimous Court: "We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does...We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."

1955 Second Brown decision. In a second Brown decision in 1955, the Court provided enforcement guidelines for beginning integration with "all deliberate speed."

Rosa Parks. On December 1, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus so that a white man could sit down. This was the event that sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Montgomery bus boycott. Launched on December 6 and lasted 381 days, ending with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional. The boycott launched to civil rights career of the Montgomery Improvement Association's president, Martin Luther King, Jr.. The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed.

Emmet Till, a fourteen year old African-American from Chicago, Illinois, was brutally murdered in Money, Mississippi, a small town in the state's Delta region. The events leading to his murder are disputed, but they all point to the fact that Emmet Till spoke directly to a white woman in a grocerty store in Money.

Phase 2 : The CR Movement Grows - From late 1956 to 1959, efforts begin to desegregate transportation and education and guarantee voting rights when black activists openly organized and conducted mass confrontations that directly challenged the white power structure.

1956 Warrants were issued to arrest 115 leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott. All were tried and sentenced without a jury.

Browder v Gayle. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Montgomery's bus company's policy of segregation was unconstitutional. On March 12, 100 southern congressmen signed a manifesto urging resistance to integration and denouncing the Supreme Court.  Only three southern senators declined to sign - Lyndon Johnson of Texas, and Albert Gore and Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. 

1957 Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) founded by civil rights leaders who met in Atlanta on January 10 – 11 to form a regional organization and coordinate protest activities across the South. Sixty persons from 10 states assembled and announced the founding of the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration. They issued a document declaring that civil rights weare essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all Black people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently.

Little Rock, Arkansas. School integration begins and Southern segregated schools became a legal target. At previously all-white Central High, 1,000 paratroopers called by President Eisenhower to restore order and escort The Little Rock 9 black students to school. Governor Faubus closed all the high schools the following school year rather than integrate them.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was created to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., the organization drew on the power and independence of black churches to support its activities.

Civil Rights Act. Congress passed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. The Act established the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote.

1959 Cooper v. Aaron. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an African-American's right to attend school could not "be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive officials nor nullified indirectly by them by evasive schemes for segregation."

The Hate that Hate Produced was shown on television. The movie catapulted the Nation of Islam into the national limelight as a dangerous organization preaching hate against whites. Consequently, Malcolm X began to get continual requests for radio and T.V. talk shows to defend the NOI.

Phase 3: The CR Movement Evolves - From 1960 to 1968, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) directed a militant, direct action civil disobedience phase that sought a legalized, formal end to all segregation while a rising Black Power Movement directed militant, sometimes violent actions that emphasized racial pride and the creation of separate black political and cultural institutions.

1960 Sit-in protest movement. Began in February at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. and spread across the nation. By August 1961, over 70,000 persons had participated in sit-ins throughout the south and 3,000 had been arrested. 

Boynton v. Virginia. Supreme Court ruled that all interstate buses, trains, and terminals be desegregated.

"Mr. Muhammed Speaks," an interview with Alex Haley, appeared in Reader's Digest and was the first feature magazine article about the Nation of Islam. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was interviewed for Playboy Magazine. The first scholarly book on the Nation of Islam was published by Dr. C. Eric Lincoln, The Black Muslims in America.

1961 Freedom Rides began in Washington, D.C when groups of black and white people rode buses through the South to challenge the Boynton decision. Wherever they went, the Freedom Riders were harrassed and assaulted. President Kennedy finally sent federal marshals to protect the Freedom Riders.

Elijah Muhammad, who had moved from Chicago to Phoenix for health reasons, made Malcolm X national representative of the Nation of Islam. This created resentment among Muhammad's inner circle who did not want Malcolm to be the next leader.

Increasing attention is focused on the two different visions for civil rights: those of civil disobedience valued by Martin Luther King, Jr. and those of black separatism, valued by Malcolm X. Additionally, other voices arose, indicating competing strategies and competing agendas for diverse individuals involved in the Movement.

1962 James Meredith enrolled as first black at the University of Mississippi. During the subsequent riot, two were killed and many others were injured. 5,000 federal troops arrived to restore order; some stayed to protect Meredith throughout the year.

Bailey v. Patterson. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional in all transportation facilities.Citizen Council's grow throughout the South, but were especially strong in Mississippi where the white population worked to stop African Americans from voting.
Photo of Birmingham riots 19631963 Birmingham. Police arrested Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other ministers demonstrating in Birmingham, Ala., then turned fire hoses and police dogs on the marchers. While under arrest, Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." 1964 Freedom Summer. Whites and blacks went to Mississippi to open "freedom Schools" to encourage blacks to register to vote. Selma1965 Selma March. On March 7, hundreds of freedom marchers led by Martin Luther King and John Lewis faced 50 state troopers and mounted officers who forced the marchers to stop. When 25,000 resumed the march on March 25, they were escorted by the National Guard. 1966 Black Power. Stokely Carmichael announced the beginning of the Black Power Movement - a move that called on blacks to seek power through solidarity, independence, and if necessary, violence. Photo of Black Panthers protesting in NYC 19691967 Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American to be named to the Supreme Court. Photo of BP Salute at 1968 Olympics in Mexico City1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 22-meter winners, raised their fists in Black Power salute while receiving medals. Consequently, both had their medals taken away.



The Struggle Continues: From 1969 to the present, the Civil Rights Movement ended and the civil rights struggle continues in which individual Americans, various civil rights organizations, and some federal, state, and local agencies seek equal protection under the law for many Americans - people of color, gays and lesbians, immigrants, women, disabled, etc.

1975 Elijah Muhammad died and his son Wallace Muhammad became head of the Nation of Islam on February 26. Wallace Muhammad immediately reformulated his father's beliefs and practices and publicly shunned his father's black separatist views to bring NOI closer to mainstream Sunni Islam. He renamed his organization - Muslim American Society - and many of his followers assimilated into traditional Islam. By the end of the year, there were 75 NOI Temples across America.

1978 Louis Farrakhan, who left the Nation of Islam when Wallace Muhammad took over, decided to rebuild the original Nation of Islam upon the foundation established by W. Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. In 1981, Farrakhan publicly announced the restoration of the Nation of Islam and went forward with Elijah Muhammad's teachings.

1991 Resegregation begins. In Oklahoma City v. Dowell, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that court-ordered integration plans were not intended “to operate in perpetuity” and allowed districts to be released from desegregation obligations once fulfilled.  As a result, districts were allowed to return to neighborhood schools where there was no forced busing. 

1992 Rodney King Riots. The first racially based riots in years erupted in Los Angeles and other cities after a jury acquited L.A. police officers in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

1994 Byron De la Beckwith was tried and convicted 30 years after he killed Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers. (See 1964)

Photo of Million Man March1995 Million Man March. In October, Louis Farrakan mobilized almost a million men to march to Washington, DC and discuss racial solidarity.

1998 In Jasper, Texas, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death by three white men in what was a modern-day lynching.

1999 Little Rock 9. The nine students who integrated Central High in 1957 received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

2000 Wallace Mohammad, now known as Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, and Louis Farrakhan publicly embraced and declared unity and reconciliation of their two separate organizations.

2001 Convictions of KKK Members. Two former KKK members - Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry - were tried and convicted for the deaths of 4 girls in the 1963 Birmingham church murders. (See 1963)

2003 Affirmitive Action upheld. In two of the most important affirmative action decisions since the 1978 Bakke case, the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger upheld the University of Michigan Law School's policy, ruling that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

2005 Edgar Ray Killen. The ringleader of the Mississippi civil rights murders , Edgar Ray Killen, is convicted of manslaughter on the 41st anniversary of the crimes. (See 1964)

2006 The high school graduation rate for black male students was 47% compared with 75% for white male students.

Resegregation continues. The Nebraska state legislature approved a measure to split the Omaha school system into three separate districts divided along racial lines: one for white, one for black, and one for Latino students.  It was argued this system would give minority’s greater control over their own schools.

2007 Emmett Till's Case. In February, Emmett Till's 1955 murder case, reopened by the Department of Justice in 2004, was officially closed. The two confessed murderers, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, were dead of cancer by 1994, and prosecutors lacked sufficient evidence to pursue further convictions.

2011 On April 27th, President Barack Obama released his birth certificate to prove that he was born in the United States. Many Americans proclaim that the fact that he was forced to prove this is an indicator that racism is alive and well in the United States.

2013 In June, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote. In Shelby County v. Holder, the decision allows nine states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia) to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The court was divided along ideological lines; at the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face voting barriers in states with a history of discrimination.

2013 In June, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law blocking federal recognition of gay marriage, and it allowed gay marriage to resume in California by declining to decide a separate case. The court invalidated DOMA which denied federal benefits to gay couples who were legally married in their states, including Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights and family leave. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-4 decision, said that the act wrote inequality into federal law and violated the Fifth Amendment's protection of equal liberty. "DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," he wrote. The decision does not guarantee a right to same-sex marriage, rather, it allows people who live in states that allow same-sex marriage to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

In November, Texas passed a new voter identification law requiring that on election day, voters must present either a Texas driver’s license or personal ID card, a Texas Election Identification Certificate (issued free to any voter), a Texas concealed handgun license, a U.S. military ID, or a U.S. passport.

Goal #4: To examine contemporary efforts in the struggle for African American civil rights.

  1. Bringing criminal prosecutions against white racists for crimes committed in the 1960s
  2. Opening up federal and state files that prove illegal efforts were taken to tamper with past Civil Rights cases.
  3. Bringing civil suits against perpetrators of racist crimes.
  4. Addressing the historical legacy of race riots. In February 2000, historians from across the nation met at a conference in Helena, Arkansas to confront the historical reality of the terrorizing race riots and lynching spree that characterized life in many American communities until the 1920s; to recognize the violence, apologize for it, and sometimes, compensate survivors.
  5. Seeking Reparations. In his recent book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, Randall Robinson argues that the descendants of slaves should receive reparations for the labor that made American great prior to the Civil War. He is not asking for a governmental handout, but rather suggests something like a $1 annual fee from every household that would go into a educational fund for African American children. He argues that everyone must give the money - so people can avoid the argument, "My relatives didn't have slaves, so why is it my issue?" And the great-great-granddaughter of a slave in South Carolina recently demanded reparations from Aetna - which sold policies in the 1850s that reimbursed slave owners for financial losses when their slaves died.

Goal #5: To discuss some of the contemporary issues regarding African American civil liberties.

Contemporary statistics:
Resegregation:  The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education - What are the facts?
What went wrong?
So why has racism persisted in the U.S.?
  1. Most white Americans are unable to accept the reality of historical and contemporary white privilege and white oppression of non-white people.
  2. Most Americans have little real knowledge about slavery and racism. Nor do they have any idea that slavery is still in existence. In his excellent book, Disposable People (1999), Kevin Bales traveled around the world meeting with people who were enslaved, as well as the people who "handle" them.
  3. Some Americans still believe that there is a biological basis for race.

The Little Rock Nine - 39 years later