Discussion Guides for
The War Within and the Struggle for Civil Rights

Discussion Goals

1. To examine the origins of the Civil Rights Movement.
2. To study the evolution of the Civil Rights Movement through several loosely-defined phases of struggle.
3. To understand the origins and growth of the Black Power movement.
4. To think about the role of racism in contemporary American society.
5. To examine current avenues in the fight for civil rights.

As our discussion proceeds, it is important to understand the difference between the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for civil rights:

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.

Election of 1876 and the election of Rutherford B. Hayes

Photo of President Rutherford B. Hayes

Phases of the Struggle for Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Movement:

  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, 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."

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.

1877 Compromise of 1877. The Congressional Compromise became known as the Great Betrayal - the federal government's promise after electing Rutherford B. Hayes that it would not interfere in the racial matters of the Southern states. This was a states rights victory.

1895 Booker T. Washington. Advocated vocational training for blacks to improve their economic status

Photo Booker T. Washington

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...The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficient purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution."

1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Photo W.E.B. DuBoisFounded by W.E.B. DuBois 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.

1925 KKK March. In its first national demonstration the Ku Klux Klan marched on Washington, D.C.

KKK March in Washington, D.C. 1925

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.

1933 Elijah Muhammad took leadership over the Nation of Islam.

1935-1948 Charles Houston, the great African-American Civil Rights lawyer, served as the first full-time salaried Special Counsel to the NAACP where he crafted the strategy to end legal segregation, winning cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that chipped away at Plessy v. Ferguson. Between 1935 and 1948, he argued 8 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 7 of them.

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 and segregation 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 Movement Begins - From early 1950s to early 1956, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) directed a legal phase that sought to desegregate Southern schools.

1952 Malcolm XPhoto Malcolm Xwas 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 ejected 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.

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.

Emmet TillPhoto Emmet Till's body

Phase 2 : From late 1956 to 1959, black activists openly organized and carried out mass confrontations that directly challenged the white power structure  and  demanded that both transportation and education be desegregated and that blacks be given their Constitutionally-guaranteed voting rights

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. 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

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 - creating the Civil Rights Commission and Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.

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."

1959 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: 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.

1961 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.

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.

1963 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."

On May 10, the SCLC and representatives of Birminghams’ business community made a settlement - fitting rooms, wash rooms, rest rooms, drinking fountains, and lunchroom counters would be segregated in a period extending from 3-60 days. 

"I have a dream" speech. Martin Luther King addressed over 250,000 people who attended the Freedom March on Washington.

President Kennedy gave the his first Civil Rights speech to the nation.

Medgar Evers. Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was killed by a sniper's bullet.

A church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, killed four young black girls.

1964 Freedom Summer. Whites and blacks went to Mississippi to open "freedom Schools" to encourage blacks to register to vote.

Civil Rights Act. The Act forbade racial, religious, and gender discrimination in public accommodations; allowed withholding of federal grants and contracts from violators; forbade discrimination by employers; and empowered the Justice Department to sue violators.

24th Amendment. The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax, which originally had been established in the South after Reconstruction to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote.

Civil Rights murders. Three civil rights workers - James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, two white and one black man - disappeared in Mississippi. They were found buried six weeks later.

1965 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.

1967 Thurgood Marshall becomes the first black to be named to the Supreme Court.

1968 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 Evolves: 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.

Over the past four decades, the struggle continued along several fronts:

  1. Trying to keep Black Power issues alive, especially through the reorganization of the Nation of Islam.
  2. Bringing criminal prosecutions against white racists for crimes committed in the 1960s.
  3. Opening up federal and state files that prove illegal efforts were taken to tamper with past Civil Rights cases.
  4. Bringing civil suits against perpetrators of racist crimes.
  5. Addressing the historical legacy of race riots.
  6. Seeking Reparations
  7. Trying to keep integration alive by fighting resegregation

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 1975, 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)

1995 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. 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.

2008 Wallace Muhammad died.

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.

Race in Contemporary Society

Resegregation:  The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education

What are the facts?

What went wrong?

What can we do?  Much has been written, but few agree, about what we can do. 

* Between 1968 and 1998, the number of black and Latino students in the nation’s public schools increased by 5.8 million; the number of Latino students grew by 245%, in 1998; in 1998, there were seven Latino students for every eight black students. Yet the number of white students decreased by 5.6 million; our schools will soon be the first major institutions to experience non-white majorities.  See The Civil Rights Project at http://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/aboutus.php

** The Segregation of American Teachers, Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2001.

*** Jeff Manza and Christopher Uggen, Locked Out: Felon Disenfrancisement and Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2006: pp. 248-253).