Race Relations 1955-68

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  • Created on: 09-05-16 14:15



Slavery had only been abolished in 1865 and so many white people still had negative (bad) views about African Americans.

There was a lot of obvious racism in the southern states and the KKK persecuted black Americans - they were very popular and well supported in the 1920s.

There was informal racism in the northern states and cities as well as black people could not get good jobs and lived in ghettos.

Segregation supported by 'Jim Crow Laws' existed in many states.

Some aspects of African American culture had become very popular, for example Jazz music.

The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) was set up and by 1945 had 450,000 members. They challenged lynchings and segregation in the courts.

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The Second World War

More than a million African Americans served during the Second World War in some of the worst battles such the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima. Not one received the congressional medal of honour.

James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which organised sit ins in restaurants and asked its members to sit in white seats on buses.

The Fair Employment Practices Act of 1941 abolished discrimination in the defence industries which employed 2 million African Americans by the end of the war.


African Americans felt proud of their contributions and expected better treatment at home - this did not happen as most found themeselves unemployed and at risk from KKK violence.

CORE gave black people further ways to organise protests for their own rights.

Black Americans were still not equal (lowest paid jobs/lowest standards of education).

White workers resented AA workers taking 'their' jobs and this caused some race riots.

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Harry S Truman

President from 1945-1953.

Had once been a member of the KKK and often made racist remarks in private but spoke out for increased civil rights for African Americans, especially returning black soldiers.

Black workers now had equality in the armed forces and the civil service (government work).

Government contracts could no longer be given to companies who refused to employ African Americans.

1946 Civil Rights Committee recommended anti-Lynching laws, desegregation of transport and voting rights.


Lots of positive speeches and good will showed there was an intention to improve the civil rights of African Americans.

Very little was actually achieved and African Americans were still in the same position as 1945.

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Dwight D Eisenhower

President from 1953-61.

Much less committed to civil rights than Truman (he only employed one black worker on his election campaign who made tea and parked cars).

Introduced civil rights bills in 1957 and 1960.

Federalised the Arkansas national guard to enable the 'Little Rock Nine' to attend school.


Bills of '57 and '60 made it illegal to stop school desegregation and illegal to prevent African Americans from voting but this only increased the number of black voters by 3%.

Bill of '57 gave Martin Luther King the opportunity for his first march on Washington which included 20,000 supporters and raised the profile of civil rights.

Federalising the national guard showed a commitment to school desegregation that continued.

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Brown Versus Topeka

Oliver Brown, a black church minister in Topeka, Kansas, wanted to send his daughter to the nearest school which in 1954 was not desegregated and was white only. The school for black children was much further away.

The NAACP took his case to the Supreme Court and fought the Topeka Board of Education.

Chief Justice Warren stated that 'separate but equal' (segregation) was unconstitutional.


The NAACP had proved they could win in court on constitutional civil rights issues.

The ruling paved the way for school desegregation.

However it did not make school segregation illegal, it just stated that it was unconstitutional.

The ruling provoked a backlash from groups such as the KKK.

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The Racist Response

The KKK had been in decline since the mid 1920s but the Brown vs Topeka case gave it new support and purpose.

KKK leader Robert Shelton stirred up fears in southern white people by claiming that desegregation was 'communist' something hated and feared just as much as African Americans.

Protestant churches turned a blind eye and KKK murders and bombings increased.

They were protected for the same reasons they had been in the 1920s - many police officers were also KKK members and white juries did not want to convict white people.


In 1955 the murder of Emmett Till, a 14 year old black boy who whistled at white female shopkeeper, went unpunished even though Emmett's great uncle identified Roy Bryant (the woman's husband) as the boy's kidnapper - the white jury found him not guilty.

Racist hatred for increased African American civil rights was growing.

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Montgomery 1955

On 2nd March Claudette Colvin (14 year old black school girl) was arrested for sitting in a seat reserved for white people on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Black community leaders failed to take advantage of the situation although the NAACP took the case to court.

On 2nd December Rosa Parks, a black civil rights activist, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger when the bus driver ordered her to (she was sat in one of the seats black people could sit in!). She was arrested. She deliberately stood up to the rudeness as a trained NAACP activist.

Jo-Ann Robinson and E.D. Nixon convinced Rosa Parks to allow them to call for a one day boycott of the city's buses by African Americans on Monday 5th December. This was because most of the people who used Montgomery's buses were African Americans and this would cost the city.

The boycott eventually lasted 381 days and was supported by 210 African American taxi drivers who offered bus fare priced ridesa and a car-pool was organised to get black people to work.

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Montgomery Part Two


The boycott got Martin Luther King involved and he was elected president of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) - another example of AA organisation for civil rights.

There was a backlash from the White Citizens' Council and local officials harassed the boycott leaders. MLK was arrested for speeding and the KKK bomber his home in January 1956. The boycott was ruining the bus companies and the marches were attracting media attention.

The boycott was nearly ended when the car-pool was ruled illegal in court BUT the same day saw the NAACP victory in the Claudette Colvin case and bus segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall said, 'All that marching for nothing'.

Montgomery's buses were desegregated but nothing else was. There was increased racism but also increased confidence in African Americans. Violent opposition now only increased support.

And Martin Luther King had started his career as a civil rights leader, forming the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) with other AA church ministers.

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Little Rock 1957

Brown vs Topeka had shown school segregation was unconstitutional but not illegal. Most of the twenty segregated states were resisting change.

Arkansas did decide to desegregate and tested dozens of black children in 1957 as they wanted to make sure that any students who went to a desegregated school would be able to do well and would be a good advert for desegregation. 9 students passed the tests.

On 3rd September they tried to attend Central High School in Little Rock. They were abused by a white mob and the state governor, Orvil M Faubus used the Arkansas national guard to ensure they did not enter the school.

President Eisenhower got involved and federalised the Arkansas national guard (made them work for the government). On 23rd September the 'Little Rock Nine' attended school witht he protection of 1,000 soldiers. 

They were abused at school and they were criticsed as the 'meddling nine' in their own communities for increased racist attacks.

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Little Rock Part Two


By 1964 3% of African American children attended desegregated schools ('only' 3% or 3% more than nothing?)

Little Rock only fully desegregated in 1972.

Showed government was committed to desegregation.

Made Brown vs Topeka into something real.

Showed racism was still a problem through the mob and Faubus.

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Progress by 1960


US Presidents had shown at least some committment to civil rights progress

Montgomery and Little Rock had been significant victories for desegregation

Montgomery had given the civil rights movement a hero in Martin Luther King.

MLK already had a high media profile by 1960 ('New Negro' speech on TV).

SCLC organised the registration of 160,000 voters in 1957.

41% of AAs lived below the poverty line in 1959 compared to 89% in 1945.

NAACP had proved that black people could win their own legal battles in Brown vs Topeka and Montgomery.

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Lack of Progress by 1960


Still no mass movement - only separate organisations.

African Americans still did not have some of the most basic human rights (many could still not vote).

The SCLC voter registration campaign in 1957 had aimed for 3 million but only registered 160,000.

Violent racist backlash from the KKK and many authority figures.

Black workers were limited to low paid, low-skilled jobs.

African Americans who left the south to escape the KKK found less persecution in the north but equally low prospects.

Average black income was 57% of a white worker and 11% were unemployed compared to 5% of white Americans. There was still segregation and prejudice.

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The Sit Ins

Greensboro North Carolina 1960: NAACP had managed to get black voters to elect black councillors but they were unable to reform segregation. Time for DIRECT ACTION.

4 students at a whites only woolworths lunch counter on day one. 30 on day two. 66 on day three resulting in newspaper coverage, disturbances and the closure of the store.

Copycat sit ins all across the southern USA resulting in more assault and abuse.

Martin Luther King eventually got involved despite thinking they were a bad idea at first.

MLK was arrested as soon as he was persuaded to join one and was sentenced to 4 months of hard labour.


Formation of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or 'Snick')

Snick communications network across southern universities.

Support for movement from JFK after MLK's arrest (keen on votes from black voters)

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The Freedom Rides

60 journeys on interstate buses by 450 people organised by James Farmer of CORE in May 1961.

The first bus to reach Alabama had its tyres slashed and the bus was set on fire - a white mob tried to hold the doors shut to burn the passengers alive.

The passengers on the second bus were attacked by the police AND KKK in Birmingham, Alabama with clubs and chains.

Freddom riders also broke segregation rules in hotels and restaurants while they waited for their connections.


Full support - CORE, SNCC and SCLC all ignored government requests to abandon the rides.

Robert Kennedy had to enforce the supreme court ruling that segregation on interstate buses was illegal.

Growing support due to the number of white freedom riders and TV coverage.

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Albany 1961

SNCC campaign against segregation in Albany, Georgia including sit ins and freedom rides.

MLK was invited in by older civil rights leaders in the city who led a march and met the city council.

The police refused to use violence, they simply arrested and fined 1000 protestors and King ran out of supporters.

The council closed parks, sold the swimming pool and took the seats out of the library rather than desegregate.

King left but the SNCC then ran a successful black voter registration campaign and managed to achieve desegregation of all facilities in 1962.


Desegregation success and a sign of encouragement for future protests.

MLK was not welcomed by SNCC members and failed himself  -showed civil rights divisions.

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Civil Rights Marches

Marches had been a part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

MLK's march on Washington in 1957 attracted 20,000 participants in support of Eisenhower's civil rights bill of that year.

Albany had been an attempt to use a march as direct action and CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE but had failed.

MLK was not put off though.

Reverend CT Vivian of the SCLC organised the first 'freedom march' in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1961.

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Birmingham 1963

May - Birmingham was chosen because it had a reputation for racism and sheriff 'Bull' Connor was known to be bad tempered. MLK called it the 'most segregated city in America'.

This is the start of 'Project C' - King knew there would be trouble and demanded desegregation and employment for black people.

Non-violent confrontation - involved sit ins at lunch counters and some marches (King was arrested).

Support was poor at first so MLK recruited 1000 schoolchildren to march on the 'Children's Crusade' on May 3rd.

Police attacked with water hoses, dogs and batons = media outrage.

MLK was placed in solitary confinement and his motel room was bombed after state troppers guarding him left.

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Birmingham Significance


There were riots in protest at the treatment of the childrena and MLK.

Authorities gave in and desegregated restaurants at first; then all council facilities.

TV images of peaceful protestors, especially children, being mistreated gained a huge amount of support form white middle class Americans = support for the march on Washington

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Washington Freedom March 1963

28th August 1963 - 'March for jobs and freedom'

Attended by 250,000 marchers/spectators

Televised around the country

Involved black civil rights leaders and singers, and white campaigners and singers (e.g. Bob Dylan)

Finished off with Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech'.


Martin Luther King was the leader of the Civil Rights movement by the end of 1963

Movement so influential even JFK's assassination could not stop Lyndon B Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964

Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 - great public relations

Government supported MLK because he was less of a threat than other campaigners

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Civil Rights Act 1964

In 1963 JFK introduced a Civil Rights Bill

This was made into an act (law) by Lyndon B Johnson in 1964

LBJ claimed it was part if his 'Great Society' programme to bring about justice and an end to poverty.

The act outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places and employment

It also set up an Equal Opportunities Commission to make sure these things happened.

States who made fast progress on desegregation received more funding (money)


Led to increased confidence in civil rights campaigners that they could achieve more reform

Gave black people respect and pride on their communities

Made states work harder to introduce desegregation

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Selma 1965

The Civil Rights Act was a boost to desegregation but black people still found it difficult to qualify to vote

King decided to use Project C again in 1965 to campaign for further Civil Rights reforms

He chose Selma in Alabama because he knew the Sheriff there, Jim Clark, was likely to be violent towards any marchers

On 7th March, civil rights campaigners set off from Selma to Montgomery, they were stopped at the Edmund Pettus bridge by armed police who attacked them. Many were injured and one man died.

The scenes were shown on TV and there was a public outcry. Lyndon B Johnson spoke to Congress and told them 'We shall overcome' - the Civil Rights anthem.

The next week the march successfully took place.


Increased support for the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

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Voting Rights Act 1965

Passed in 1965 under Lyndon B Johnson

Ended literacy tests and other qualifications which had prevented black people from registering to vote.


All adult African Americans were now able to vote and could vote for people who may support further reforms

Led the way for further reforms to civil rights and the policy of 'affirmative action'

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Lyndon B Johnson

The Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Voring Rights Act 1965

Ordered FBI to hunt down killers of two AA civil rights workers in 1964: resulted in the arrest of 19 KKK men.

1965 Education Act provided funding for public schools and directly aided many black students increasing the amount of African Americans who left school with a high school diploma

Policy of 'affirmative action' was to give preferential treatment to African Americans to boost overall equality

E.G. Higher Education Act 1965 gave funding to black colleges + 1968 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in housing to encourage integration (white and black people living in the same areas)


Huge progress made in the civil rights of African Americans but the Vietnam War took much of the money away from these projects + Still low black incomes + Radical black politics

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The Ghetto Riots

African Americans living in inner city ghettos had to face severe informal racism - there were very few well paid jobs available to black Americans - 70% of young black men in Chicago's ghettos were unemployed

Police harassment was also something young black men in particular felt very bitter about

This started off both the Watts riots in LA in 1965 and the Detroit Riots of 1967.

1964-68: 238 riots across 200 US cities + 250 deaths (many from police shootings) and billions of dollars in damage


CORE was operating 'freedom houses' (info on education, employment, health and housing) in the ghettos of northern cities from 1964 and both gained support from many young black people and became more radical as an organisation

SNCC started the Atlanta Project in 1966 - newsletter 'Nitty Gritty' told of 'white lies'

Decreased middle class white support + increased AA support for radical black politics

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The Nation of Islam

Nation of Islam began in 1930s and led by Elijah Mohammed

Taught about 'black roots' being in Africa and Islam and fought against the legacy of slavery

Members changed their names to arabic in order to avoid links to the slave owners of their ancestors

Wanted either a return to Africa or a separate black state in the USA


Caused division in the civil rights movement; criticised by both MLK and Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP

Gave African Americans an alternative which many welcomed because of police harssment and brutality (see ghetto riots)

250,000 members by 1970

Attracted charismatic members such as Muhammad Ali adn Malcolm X

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Black Power

Ghetto work made CORE and SNCC more radical - politics were more drastic and there was now a suggestion that violence was a possibility

1966 - Stokely Carmichael became the leader of SNCC - immediatley expelled all white members

Used the term 'black power' at the Meredith March in Greenwood Mississippi where he argued with MLK over whether white people shoudl be allowed to march (SNCC members sang songs about killing policemen on the march)

H. 'Rap' Brown succeeded Carmichael in 1967 and encouraged members to seize white shops which led to more ghetto riots.

Floyd McKissick took over CORE in 1966 and two years later expelled all of its white members - he also rejected non-violence


Division in CR movement and support + Black Power salutes by AA athletes at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 gaining worldwide TV coverage

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The Black Panthers

Formed by Huey Newton in 1966 in response to police brutality during the Watts riots

Black Panthers had a ten-point programme demanding 'land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace'; 5000 members in 30 chapters - merged with SNCC in 1968-69

Links with communist freedom fighters all over the world

LA - set up health clinics and an ambulance + free breakfasts to ghetto children

Attacked the police - followed police patrols and when they harassed black people the black panthers would step in; Many black panthers were shot


The FBI targeted the Black Panthers and had its leaders jailed and dsicredited

California recruited policemen to represent its black population

Added to the radical approach of Black Power leaders

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Martin Luther King and Black Power

Major Disagreements: King didn't understand the problems of the ghettos; black power leaders in CORE and SNCC did

King clashed with Carmichael over 'black power' versus 'striped power' at the Meredith March 1966

King preached non-violent confrontation; Black Power leaders felt violence might be necessary

King concentrated on civil rights; NoI concentrated on social problems and preached separatism

Similarities: King was no coward - his marches were deliberately provocative

He at least understood that there were problems in the ghettos and visited Chicago to try to understand

'Where do we go from here?' published in 1967 backed the idea of 'affirmative action' and social change - King preached against the Vietnam War where many young black Americans were dieing

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Martin Luther King Influence

Media profile and leader of the civil rights movement

Set up SCLC which organised protests

Promoted work with governments and harmony with white people; 'striped power'

Work with Presidents secured civil and legal rights for African Americans

Project 'C' cleverly showed African Americans as being peaceful and innocent against the violent racism of the white police

Marches between 1963 and 1965 were a huge success and led to Civil Rights Act 1964 and Voting Rights Act 1965

Iconic 'Ihave a dream' speech

Tried to understand problems of the inner cities and backed 'affirmative action' and withdrawal from Vietnam

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The Influence of Others

NAACP - Set up in 1911 so founders of black civil rights movement; Secured Supreme Court rulings against school segregation, segregation on Montgomery buses and segregation on interstate buses; originally responsible for SNCC

CORE - Set up during WW2 and so reawakened need for civil rights; Freedom Rides of 1961 sparked media outrage and gained support; James Farmer inspired LBJ 'affirmative action'; Successful work in inner cities; Part of radical black politics after 1966

SNCC - Sit ins of 1960 gained massive support and attracted attention of both MLK and JFK; involved in CORE's Freedom Rides; successful in desegregation of Albany; Successful work in inner cities; part of radical black politics after 1966

Nation of Islam - Focussed on social problems; gave AA people in ghettos pride and self-belief; offered an alternative to MLK moderate tactics; Attracted high profile role models for young black men

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Malcolm X

Born Malcolm Little - Converted to Nation of Islam when in prison and changed his name to Malcolm X as it was not a slaver's name and could be infinite possibilities

Very charismatic speaker and became famous for the TV documentary 'The Hate that Hate Produced' in 1959

Presented himself as the alternative to MLK who he called a 'fool' - Argued that white policies gave AAs no alternative but to to respond with violence

Appeared to welcom the assassination of JFK and was expelled from the NoI


Role model for angry young black men

Forced the AA issue away from civil and legal rights and towards social and economic problems (inner cities and ghettos)

Made violence a legitimate tactic (he was assassinated by a NoI gunman after he was expelled and criticised the group)

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