Black American Civil Rights 1917-80

  • Created by: TeganLM
  • Created on: 04-04-19 16:46

Why fight for civil rights?

  • segregation of public facilities (Plessy v Ferguson 1896)- upheld the separate but equal doctrine
  • however: facilites for black americans were often significantly worse
  • discrimination in work and public services
  • lynch mobs and KKK attacks- 339 black men lynched in Texas 1885-1942
  • 25 anti-black race riots 1919- hundreds killed

Life in the South

  • life often much worse for Black Americans in the South
  • De jure segregation rather than 'de facto' as in the North
  • Jim Crow laws- segregation and discrimination
  • Black Americans often barred from voting: grandfather clause: could only vote if your grandfather had been able to vote
  • Literacy test: black Americans often given harder passages to read and write than white Americans
  • Poll tax: BAC were prevented from having high-paid/ high-powered jobs- segregation and discrimination kept them in lower income brackets: less able to pay the poll tax
  • By 1917: no. of Black Americans able to vote in Louisiana fell from around 130,000 in 1896 to around 1,500 in 1905

Lynching and the KKK

  • KKK revived in 1915 after the film 'The Birth of the Nation' portays KKK members as community heroes
  • Between 1915 and 1930: 579 black men lynched, mostly in the South
  • Photos of lynchings were widely published
  • 1955: 14-year old Emmett Till is brutally murdered in Mississippi for allegedly offending a white woman (asking her on a date)
  • By 1925: KKK membership was an estimated 5.5 million in the US
  • In rural communities: KKK members created an anti-black sentiment 

Did the Federal government intervene in the South?

  • Black Americans lost political power and influence when they were prevented from voting
  • 1896: Supreme Court decision upholds segregation in Plessy v Ferguson (seperate but equal)
  • President Wilson- no problem with segregation
  • Harding- spoke out against lynching and broadly in favour of civil rights (however: laissez-faire non-interventionist policies)
  • After the Depression began: Presidents unwilling to intervene and focused on economic issues

Northern Migration, 1917-32

  • between 1917-32: wave of migration of black Americans from the South to the North- segregation only de facto
  • By 1930: around 1.3 million black Americans had left the South
  • began after entry of US into WW1: need for cheap, unskilled labour in mutitions factories in the North
  • Factory owners advised work in the South
  • Black Americans found work and accomodation, but wages were lower than that of white workers and living conditions often cramped and squalid
  • not all landlords even accepted black tenants
  • some aspects of improvement: some black americans became professionals, could vote and were elected to local and federal government

Impact of Northern Migration on cities

  • sharp population increases
  • black Americans had increased political influence after obtaining the vote
  • powerful business-oriented black elite developed
  • only in cities where black communities coincided with voting blocs- in cities where the black population was more evenly distributed- white politicians had a tighter hold on the politics of the city
  • churches in areas with Black American populations were significant bases for organising civil rights movements
  • some white workers were dislodged, especially those


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