Race relations in the USA 1955-1968

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: remybray
  • Created on: 17-04-16 14:32

Timeline of key events

  • 1942 - Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was established
  • 1948 - Discrimination in the armed forces was banned
  • 1952 - First year since 1881 without a lynching
  • 1954 - Supreme Court declared segregation in schools to be unconstitutional
  • 1955 - Montgomery Bus Boycott began after the arrest of Rosa Parks
  • 1957 - Racism at Little Rock Central High School
  • 1961 - The arrest of Freedom Riders in the South
  • 1963 -  Freedom Marches and Washington March, and 4 black children killed in Birmingham Church Bombing
  • 1964 - Civil Rights Act passed by Congress, Martin Luther King awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1965 - Race riots began
  • 1968 - Mexico Olympics Black Power Salute, Martin Luther King Assassinated, Civil Rights Act
1 of 17

How did racial inequality exist in the 1950s?

African-American soliders experience of war:

  • About 1 million African Americans fought in the American armed forces during the war.
  • The army was segregated - African Americans served in separate military units to whites.
  • Because of racism, no African Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor.
  • Only 58 black sailors became officers.
  • Black American nurses were only allowed to treat black American servicemen.
  • Black sailors in the navy were given the worst and most dangerous jobs to do. 
  • By the end of 1945, 600 black Americans had been trained as pilots, but they were not allowed to fly in the same squadrons as white Americans.
  • African Americans fought for freedom abroad, but returned home to a society in which they were oppressed and discriminated against.
  • After the war, in 1948, President Truman ended segregation in the armed forces.
2 of 17

How did racial inequality exist in the 1950s?

Segregation laws and attitudes in the southern states:

  • The Jim Crow Laws were laws in the Southern States of America between 1876 and 1965.
  • They segregated whites from blacks in public schools, public places (e.g. churches, hospitals and theatres) and on public transport.
  • The 'Black Codes' limited civil rights and civil liberties of Black Americans. This included bringing in laws that made it impossible for Black Americans to vote, including a poll tax that they could not afford to pay and a literacy test marked by whites who would nearly always fail them.
  • Black people were not protected by the law - Judges, all white juries and the police force discriminated against black people.
  • Black people suffered economically, earning half the wages of white people doing the same job.
  • Black people suffered violence, including lynching, at the hands of racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
  • The marriage between a white and a Negro were not allowed.
  • Many Black Americans found that they could not buy houses in certain areas, could not find work with certain companies and could not work in certain types of skilled trades.
3 of 17

How did racial inequality exist in the 1950s?

The Ku Klux Klan

  • The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a secret organisation that believed in white supremacy.
  • Its purpose was to maintain slavery, gain revenge for the loss of the Civil War to the northern states and ensure that Black Americans would not become equal.
  • The activites of the KKK included lynching, bombing houses, intimidating people and even assassinations.
  • The actions of the KKK were allowed to continue in America because Black Americans were not allowed to vote and juries were often white only.
  • Klansmen had close links with the local police and government, and used this to continue their intimidation.
4 of 17

Brown vs Topeka Board of Education

  • In 1896, the US Supreme Court decided that it was legal to have segregated schools, as long as they were 'separate but equal'.
  • The daughter of Oliver Brown was expected to walk 21 blocks to her all-black school when there was a better, all-white school only 7 blocks away.
  • The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) decided to take matters to the district court.
  • The District Court ruled in favour of the schools using the old law 'separate but equal'.
  • However, on 17 May 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools should end. But, the judges of the US Supreme Court had not set a deadline by which to change the schools.
  • In the South it led to huge problems and, in 1955, membership of the KKK rose dramatically.
  • However, in March 1956, 22 southern senators issued the 'Southern Manifesto' in which they promised to do all that they could to end segregation.
  • In January 1956, all elementary schools in Topeka were organised by area, not colour.
5 of 17

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-56

  • On 1 December 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking the bus segregation law, because she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
  • She was convicted and fined for her actions, and sacked from her job. She was also a subject of racial abuse, which caused her to move from Montgomery to Detroit in 1957.
  • Black ministers, led by Martin Luther King, organised a bus boycott in protest. 
  • For nearly a year, Black Americans supported the boycott by walking to work or sharing cars.
  • Very soon the bus companies were losing money and white groups retaliated.
  • Martin Luther King, who used his car to get people to work, was arrested and jailed for speeding in January 1956. His house was also bombed and other carpool drivers or people waiting for lifts were arrested.
  • Finally, in December 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled that bus segregation laws were unconstitutional and made bus segregation illegal.
6 of 17

Little Rock High School - 1957

  • In 1954, the US Supreme Court announced that segregation in schools was illegal. However, in Arkansas there was little done to desegregate schools.
  • Nine black students had been registered to attend Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.
  • However, Orval Faubus, the State Governor, called out the National Guard to stop them attending. On the second day, the students failed to get into school when they were stopped by the National Guard. 
  • This was all seen on TV and many people were shocked.
  • For 18 days the President tried to persuade Faubus to obey the ruling, but he refused.
  • In the end, President Eisenhower ordered 1000 paratroopers to escort the Little Rock Nine into school. The paratroopers stayed until November and the National Guardsmen, under the President's control, stayed for a year.
  • 8 of the 9 students stayed for a year, but only one graduated.
  • 4 parents of the students lost their jobs, membership of the KKK grew and the Governor became a hero in many people's eyes.
  • When Little Rock opened as a desegregated school in 1960, only 3% of students were black.
7 of 17

Living standards for African-Americans

  • Unemployment was twice as high for Black Americans than White Americans.
  • 50% of Black Americans lived in poverty.
  • Black Americans were not allowed to live in the suburbs, but gathered in the towns setting up their own communities.
  • Black aspirations grew and they demanded to be allowed to join the consumer boom, to move out of the ghettos and into the suburbs, and to leave jobs in agriculture for higher paid jobs in factories.
  • There were changes in sport - opportunities for black people were severely limited. In 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major league baseball. Black players were barred from American football until 1946 and from basketball until 1950.


8 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Freedom Rides - 1961

  • In 1960, the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on interstate buses was illegal. This included ending segregation in bus terminals, waiting rooms and even restaurants.
  • Two students testing this change in law by daring to sit at the front of the bus led to the idea for the 'Freedom Rides' : A journey from Washington to the Deep South.
  • In 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organised freedom trips.
  • This led to a great deal of conflict between white and black people.
  • In Alabama, members of the KKK got on the bus and beat up some of the Freedom Riders and slashed the tyres.
  • Freedom riders were arrested for 'breaching the peace' by using "white-only" facilities. More than 300 were jailed in Mississippi.
  • Freedom riders were attacked and beatenn by members of the KKK.
  • Martin Luther King spoke to the riders. The church he was in was surrounded and had to be protected by the National Guard.
  • In September 1961, a regulation was passed to stop segregation on interstate buses.
9 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Freedom Marches - 1963

  • The council of Birmingham, Alabama, refused to let black people use entertainment facilities and leisure centres in the town.
  • Martin Luther King and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) organised protests in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963.
  • 30,000 black people took part.
  • Each day, 500 people were arrested. The protesters were treated cruelly by the police, under the orders of Eugene 'Bull' Connor.
  • Protesters were met with fire hoses, truncheons and police dogs. 
  • Images of the harsh treatment of the protesters in the media gained support for their cause.
  • King and hundreds of other were jailed.
  • In the end, the Birmingham authorities gave way and agreed some concessions.
  • President Kennedy said that the Civil Rights Movement should 'Thank God for 'Bull Connor'' as he was the one who made many white people and the government realise the injustices faced by black people.
  • President Kennedy decided that it was time to send a major Civil Rights Bill to Congress.
10 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Washington March - 1963

  • In 1962, Black Americans were facing unemployment and poverty on a larger scale than they had ever experienced. It led to the idea of marches for 'jobs and freedom'.
  • In 1962 and 1963 there were hundreds of demonstrations and marches. The most important was the march planned for August 1963, the March on Washington DC.
  • The planning of the march was very carefully done, as protest organisers were worried that it might turn into a riot.
  • Marchers set off from all over the USA. Where marchers could not get to Washington DC, there were symbollic marches to their own town halls, and abroad there were marches to US embassies.
  • 250,000 people (including 5,000 white people) took part in the march to Washington DC.
  • The march was highly effective at bringing civil rights to the public's attention.
  • At 11.30 am, at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King gave his 'I have a dream' speech. In his speech, King spoke of a desire for a future where blacks and whites would live together in harmony as equals.
  • The US President, John F Kennedy, decided to meet with the leaders of the Freedom Marches and congratulate them on their success.
11 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Washington March - 1963

  • Less than 3 weeks later, 4 young girls were killed when a bomb exploded at a Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This led to race riots in Birmingham and, by the end of the day, 2 more black youths were killed.
  • The bomb was intended to stop the integration of schools and scare Americans who wanted to end segregation. Instead, it shocked people and helped build support for civil rights.
12 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

Black Power protests at the Mexico Olympics - 1968

  • At the Mexico Olympic games in 1968, Tommie Smith won the 200 metres gold medal. Australia's Peter Norman was second and fellow American John Carlos was third.
  • When the 2 Americans went on to the podium at the medal ceremony, they did a Black Power Salute, each wearing one black glove.
  • Peter Norman wore an OPHR (Olympic Protest for Human Rights) badge in support too.
  • The atheletes were booed as they left the podium, were expelled from the Olympic village and were suspended from the Olympic team. Following this, they and their families also received death threats.
  • Smith and Carlos were criticised by the media for bringing politics to a non-political event.
13 of 17

How effective was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Black Power movement in the 1960s

  • The Black Power movement was a Black Nationalist movement. It did not want integration, it wanted separation.
  • Martin Luther King's approach was rejected by some groups. They called for separatism not integration. They were anti-American in their appeal. The Nation of Islam called for separation not equality.
  • Its Black Power movement had wider aims: it called for racial dignity, for economic and political self sufficiency and freedom from white oppression.
  • The Black Power movement challenged two of King's main ideals: integration and non-violence.
  • In 1966 SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael popularised the 'Black Power' slogan. Under his leadership, the SNCC expelled all its white members.
  • They believed that there should be a separate African-American nation.
  • The Black Panther Party was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.
  • Its members wore uniforms and went on armed patrol, claiming to defend African Americans from police violence.
14 of 17

How important was Martin Luther King?

His role as a protest organiser, 1955-1963:

  • In 1955, King was asked to be leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • He valued the importance of non-violent protesting.
  • His house was bombed, and he was the first boycott leader to be put on trial, but he chose to go to jail rather than pay a $10 fine.
  • In 1957 he set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), but this lacked organisation and mass support, so achieved very little after the Bus Boycott.
  • In 1961 King was invited to lead a march after students from Georgia, Albany staged sit-ins at the bus station, hundreds of freedom riders were arrested, but faied to achieve change.
  • In 1963 King was arrested at Birmingham, Alabama, after he expected there to be white violence which he hoped would raise national sympathy.
  • In support of the Civil Rights Bill, Martin Luther King organised the March on Washington in August 1963.
15 of 17

How important was Martin Luther King?

The Civil Rights Act - 1964

  • After Martin Luther King's success at the Washington March, President Kennedy decided to push forward a new civil rights law.
  • Before it could be made law, President Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon B Johnson became the new president.
  • He supported the new law and even persuaded the southern states to accept it. 
  • It became law on 2 July 1964.
  • The law outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants and theatres. It encouraged the desegregation of public schools and made it illegal to give money to any organisation that continued segregation. All government agencies were desegregated.

The Voting Rights Act - 1965

  • In August 1965 Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Literacy tests and poll taxes were made illegal. 
  • King decided to force the issue of voting by embarking on a non-violent campaign in the town of Selma.
16 of 17

How important was Martin Luther King?

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize - 1964

  • In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Race riots, 1965-1967

  • Failure to register balck voters decided King to march from Selma to Montgomery. After a short distance the marchers were attacked by state troopers. Tear gas was fired, marchers were beaten and whipped. This became known as 'Bloody Sunday'.
  • In August 1965 there were more race riots in Watts, Los Angeles.
  • Race riots continued in 1967 due to unemployment, poverty and poor living conditions.

The assassination of Martin Luther King

  • Martin Luther King was assassinated on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennesse, where he was attending a march in support of striking sanitation workers. He was shot dead on his balcony.
  • A week later, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed.
17 of 17

Comments

No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all The USA - twentieth century change resources »