Race Relations in the USA 1955-1968

Overview of all topics on the syllabus, in more or less chronological order.

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Race Relations in the USA 1955-1968
To what extent did racial inequality exist in the USA in the 1950s?
Slaves were originally brought to America to work the cotton and tobacco plantations
in the south. Slavery was abolished in 1865, but had already set the attitude towards black
people: they were seen as stupid, lazy and untrustworthy. The Whites owned the Blacks. 10%
of the USA's population was black; 75% of these lived in the south.
The `Jim Crow laws' (1828-1964) made segregation legal in southern states. They
followed the lines of an early `Plessy vs. Ferguson' court case which ruled that black people
should be `separate, but equal.' These laws were applied to public schools, public places and
public transport.
Alongside the Jim Crow laws were the `Black Codes', which limited the civil rights and
civil liberties of black people. This included bringing in laws which made it near impossible
for black people to vote, such as a poll tax they could not afford to pay and a literacy test
marked by a white American, who would nearly always fail them.
The Ku Klux Klan was set up in 1867 in Tennessee to ensure white supremacy in the
south. They disbanded a few years later because the leaders disliked the scale of violence.
The movement reformed in 1915 and gained momentum after WWI. The name comes from the
Greek `Kuklos', meaning circle (implying strength). The Klan leader was Hiram Wesley Evans,
a dentist from Texas. The KKK became less important after 1925, but strong again after WWII.
NAACP ­ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (founded 1911)
CORE ­ Congress Of Racial Equality (founded during WWII by a black Christian socialist,
James Farmer)
Living standards of Black Americans
The Jim Crow laws limited Black Americans' opportunities for work, and many moved
north when they had the chance. This was call the `Great Migration' and it began before WWI
and continued during and after WWII.
Unemployment of black Americans was twice as high as unemployment for white
Americans, and 50% of black Americans lived in poverty. Blacks were not allowed to live in
the suburbs, but gathered in inner cities setting up their own communities, or `ghettos'.
Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education (1954)
In Topeka (Kansas), one black girl, Linda Brown, was having to walk 1 mile to get to a
black school even though there was a white school just 7 blocks away. Her father tried to
enrol her at the white school but was refused. The Browns asked the NAACP for help, and
they agreed because they saw it as a suitable case to use in order to move forward. A lot of
support was also gained from the black community when the case went to court.
The NAACP argued during the trial that the doctrine of `separate but equal' could not
apply in the case of segregation in schools because a message of inequality was being sent
out to black children, making them feel inferior and therefore less likely to learn than white
At first the court ruled in favour of the Board of Education because it said that
segregation in schools merely prepared children for the inequality they would face in later
However, the case was reheard after Brown and the NAACP appealed, and eventually
(in 1954) it was decided that segregation in schools was depriving black children of equal
educational opportunities. The decision did not call for complete desegregation, but was a big
step towards it. The NAACP was certain that once schools were forced to desegregate other
areas would follow.

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Some say that Brown vs. Topeka had no immediate effect. However, it did provoke an
extremist reaction from the KKK. In fact, the KKK was revived, and the leader of the time,
Robert Shelton, claimed that desegregation was `communist'.
It was not the start of the civil rights movement ­ that was black awareness in the
Harlem Renaissance (e.g. 1930s Jazz) - and it did not involve the movement's tactics such as
civil disobedience, direct action and mass protest.
The Brown vs.…read more

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In the 1950s the KKK had a lot of support from protestant churches. The media
mocked their ceremonies, but the murders and bombings increased. Klansmen who
committed such crimes were often protected by police officers who were KKK members, and
white juries were reluctant to find KKK members guilty.
2 months after the trial, Roy Bryant admitted to the killing in an interview to a
magazine for which he was paid $4000. However, he was never arrested and died in 1994.…read more

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Orval Faubus was seen as a hero by the white community.
How effective were the methods used by members of the Civil Rights movement 1961-1968?
Summary: Why was the movement so successful in the early `60s?
a) The NAACP had established the fact that blacks were legally in the right.
b) `New Negro' attitude made it a mass protest.
c) Figurehead leadership of Martin Luther King- who was a fantastic speaker.…read more

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King insisted on non-violence, as always, but his campaign was called `Project C'; the `C'
stood for confrontation. King knew that non-violent protests `make people inflict violence on
you.' As a result, they gain bad publicity and destroy their own case. Therefore, one of King's
major tactics was to provoke violence.
The demonstrations in Birmingham began with sit-ins at lunch counters, and progressed with
a number of marches, during one of which King was arrested.…read more

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Black Panther patrols would shadow police patrols, and attack if the police were thought to be
harassing black Americans.
The Black Power movement worked to improve the understanding of black culture
amongst Black Americans. Black Americans were encouraged to recognise their African roots
and to take pride in their history, poetry, music, art and their appearance.
However, their open advocacy of violence and of a wish for black supremacy
disgusted many people, especially Martin Luther King.…read more

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By 1963, however, King had developed tactics of mass protest, civil disobedience and
direct action. He had also learned that negotiation with white authorities was useless, and that
the key to success was unity and a clear goal.
He had also gained the respect on President Kennedy, and his brother, Robert
Kennedy. They both became committed to civil rights, and brought in an act to reduce
discrimination in housing (1962), and a civil rights bill (1964), which came into action after
JFK's assassination.…read more


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