How and Why did black Americans fight for civil rights, 1917-55

HideShow resource information

Why fight for civil rights and What was life in th

Why fight for civil rights?

  • After the end of WW1, black Americans found that they still had to struggle for equality as they still faced discrimination, segregation, and violence 
  • In the South, they were expected to live in their own part of town and in most places they were last hired and first fired and were expected to do the lowest paid jobs 
  • In 1913 Wilson even introduced segregation in government offices and in 1919 there were about 25 anti-black race riots in which hundreds were killed. The worst was Red Summer

What was life like in the South?

  • In the south, black Americans faced legal restrictions, and Booker T Washington was a famous Black American who advocated accepting segregation. He had white and black support. 
  • Under segregation, black American's were educated in black schools and colleges and black teachers were paid less. Black children did learn and went on to become doctors and lawyers

What was the impact of Jim crow laws?

  • Jim Crow laws segregated every aspect of life and were laws about where to sit on the train and go to school. 
  • In many states voters had to be home owners & many blacks were not.White people would beat up black voters
1 of 9

Lynching, the KKK and Intervention of the Federal

  • Some whites felt that segregation wasn't enough and between 1915 & 1930 there were lynchings of 579 men, mostly in the south. Southern lynchings were often advertised beforehand and there were photos of crowds of men and women grinning happily at corpses
  • In 1955, a 14-year-old Emmett till was lynched for talking to a white man and hadn't understood the soutern rules. The lynchings attracted a lot of publicity and shock.
  • The KKK was revived in 1915 and was against any non-white group and by 1925 estimate f member ranged from 3-8 million. KKK member wore white robes and hoods to keep their identity secret. They brought their children up as white supremacists 

Did the federal government's intervene in the South

  • Black people lost political power as they lost their chance to vote. In 1896, the supreme court in Plessy v Ferguson had ruled that segregation was possible if provision was separate but equal. 
  • The problem was that separate was very seldom too equal 
  • Harding spoke out against lynching and was in favour of civil rights. However, both he and Coolidge were committed to a policy of laissez-faire. They could express an opinion but no enforce it by legislation
2 of 9

What was the impact of moving North, 1917-32

  • Between 1917 and 1932 there was a wave of black migration from the South to the North and this became known as the Great Migration. By 1920, almost 40% of Africans lived in Northern cities, they were mostly industrial towns and they were drawn there for work 
  • The black migration began because the USA entered WW1 which produced a rising need for workers in the munitions factories in the North. 
  • Once they had arrived they found somewhere to live and a low paid job. Rents were higher than a white person would e charged 
  • Some black professionals lived in their own black communities in better parts of the cities. Black people could vote and black people were elected to local and Federal government. 

What was the impact of this migration?

  • The populations of these cities grew sharply and black people came to have significant political influence. In the mayor election in 1919, black people were listened to more 
  • Black people lived in small segregated groups all over cities with their own businesses and schools and churches. Churches were to become significant bases for organising protests.
  • The black migration had an impact on the south as the labor force shrank and  the farming areas struggled to get by. It was assumed black Americans who remained were accepting Jim Crow laws.
3 of 9

The impact of the New Deal

  • During the 30s black voters shifted from voting Republicans to voting Democrat, the party promising the new deal. 
  • Roosevelt did appoint some black advisors and issued Executive order 8802 banning racial discrimination in the defence industry to get as many people into war work 
  • Black people were constantly moved of New Deal projects to make way for whites and black farm workers were sacked during agricultural reforms. 
  • The social security of the New Deal did not apply to farm workers & many of them were black
  • Black officials got results at times when they persuaded the NRA to set a minimum wage for black and white people at the same rate but more often they were ignored 

Protesting against the New Deal 

  • Black people had support from communists as in 1931 the NAACP turned down the case of 9 men framed for ****** 2 white girls. Communist lawyers took the case, uncovered a conspiracy & the men were found not guilty. 
  • In the 30s,there were only 6 black members of the NAACP in Birmingham but 3,000 black American communists
  • Black church organisations set up support systems for black citizens during the depression e.g Father Divine set u restaurants and shops that sold food and supplies to black people 
  • Women's organisations were set up like the Housewives league in Detroit that looked to boycott stores 
  • In 1937 another depression hit the US & it hit black workers hard.2 million ppl signed a petition to move to Africa
4 of 9

What was the impact of WW2

In 1939, WW2 broke out in Europe and Roosevelt gave allies help. He prepared for war just in case US decided to join later.In 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor & the USA went to war

Gains for black Americans

  • In 1941, Phillip Randolph threatened a 100,000 strong all black march Washington unless Roosevelt banned discrimination in the army and in defence factories.
  • The executive order 8802 had stopped the march, but the order did not deal with military segregation
  • In 1942 only 3% of defence workers were black, and two years later this had risen to 8%
  • 1943 saw outbreaks of racist violence by white people over having to work with black people
  • This led to several; towns to set up race relations committees. The shortage of workers meant that white skilled workers had to allow black people to be trained. 
  • As black and white people worked side by side, some white people saw that black people could do skilled work, could think, and be friends. 
  • However, a survey at the end of the war showed that many Americans were still racist.
5 of 9

What impact did Truman have

  • Truman supported civil rights. 
  • In 1946, Truman set up the presidential committee on Civil rights which called for equal opportunities in work and housing and also urged federal support for civil rights  
  • In 1948,Truman issued executive orders desegregating the military and all work done for the government 
  • In 1954, he proposed anti-lynching, anti-segregation and fair employment laws but failed to push them through 
  • Truman was on their side, but his Cold war focus meant he concentrated more on fighting communism 
6 of 9

Fighting for Civil rights: from legal challenge to

  • Tactics used by Black Americans depended on time, circumstance & beliefs of those involved
  • Black American protestors used non-violent protest,boycotting &sit-ins to draw public attention
  • They went to the law hoping to get their right enforced 
  • Te number of civil right groups and membership of them took a leap after both WW1 & WW2 
  • NAACP membership went from 9,000 in 1917 to 90,000 in 1919 to 600,000 in 1946 
  • Separatists said black Americans were never going to have true equality with whites. They should embrace segregation and fight for equal conditions within it and separatists such as Marcus Garvey even suggest that the answer was to go back to Africa

Thurgood Marshall 

  • Marshall was the first black American ever to have served the supreme court 
  • Marshall worked for the NAACP and became its chief legal counsel in 1940 
  • During the 1940s and 50s he took 32 segregation cases to the supreme court and won 29 of them 
  • He was appointed to the supreme court by Lyndon. B. Johnson in 967
7 of 9

Legal challenges

  • The NAACP's aim when it set up in 1910 was to gain Black Americans their legal rights 
  • It published pamphlets about lynchings, held marchers and petitioned Congress 
  • Laws against congress were brought to Congress but blocked by Southern Politicians 
  • A NAACP tactic was to argue that separate provision wasn't equal so it couldn't be overruled by Plessy v Fergusson. The NAACP also provided lawyers to defend black people on trial

The Success of legal challenges 

  • The NAACP won some cases in the 1930s and 40s, and every case it fought in the 1950s. However, the supreme court didn't enforce its rulings and set limits for desegregations
  • In Brown v Board of Education ruling, some schools were integrated within the year and other schools in the deep south 'with all deliberate speed'
  • 10 years after the ruling only 1 black in every 100 was in an integrated school 
  • Integrated schools was less helpful if families were still living in segregated neighbourhoods. For this reason, the NAACP targeted housing next 
8 of 9

Direct action and the rules of non-violent protest

Direct action

  • The NAACP and other organisations set up direct action in the 40s and 50s. Marches were not new and protests developed n a different way 
  • There were more local protests and they happened more often. Influenced by the passive resistance of Gandhi in India. There were boycotts of shops that wouldn't serve black people 
  • The CORE held a series of sit-ins in the Norther Cities to desegregate public facilities 
  • In 1947, a group of CORE members and Fellowship for Reconciliation rode interstate buses through Southern states to desegregate them. 

The rules of non-violent protest 

  • Demonstrators dressed as well as they could to look respectable 
  • They weren't loud or abusive and didn't fight back if attacked 
  • They tried to show that they supported the government and that they should support them 
  • They tried to show the evils of segregations and persuade white people to change their views about black people. 
9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all America - 19th and 20th century resources »