March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom August 28, 1963
The wounds and scars of the Civil War were still fresh when the 1960s began. This was especially true in the Southern States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arkansas.
The 1948 Presidential Race was still on the minds of many in these states. The States’ Rights Democratic Party chose Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and his running mate Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi to run against President Harry Truman and his Republican opponent Thomas Dewey.
The message of States’ Rights Democratic Party was straight to the point: the Constitution, states’ rights, segregation of the races, individual liberty, opposition to civil rights and totalitarianism. The full platform is in the references below.
The party was able to take 4 states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. They captured 39 Electoral Votes and over a million popular votes. The Party disbanded after the election and most members rejoined the Democratic Party which dominated the South.
The 1950s saw a growing struggle for civil rights and a grasp for the ring of equality.
In the late 1950s the Southern Leadership Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration was created in Atlanta to advocate civil rights and put an end to segregation.
“In New Orleans, Louisiana on February 14, 1957. The organization shortened its name to Southern Leadership Conference, established an Executive Board of Directors, and elected officers, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as President, Dr. Ralph David Abernathy as Financial Secretary-Treasurer, Rev. C. K. Steele of Tallahassee, Florida as Vice President, Rev. T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, Louisiana as Secretary, and Attorney I. M. Augustine of New Orleans, Louisiana as General Counsel.
“At its first convention in Montgomery in August 1957, the Southern Leadership Conference adopted the current name, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Basic decisions made by the founders at these early meetings included the adoption of nonviolent mass action as the cornerstone of strategy, the affiliation of local community organizations with SCLC across the South, and a determination to make the SCLC movement open to all, regardless of race, religion, or background.”
The SCLC would face the racial violence around them with non-violence. Their greatest resource was solidarity for the ideas that all men and women were created equal and had the right to ride public transportation and sit where they willed; to attend any school of their choice; to live where they chose and to sit in a diner and drink from any public fountain.
On September 9, 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1957. However, the bill that the president wanted was greatly restrained by members of Congress who could not accept such a liberal bill on civil rights. Nevertheless it was a start in the right direction.
The 1960 Presidential Election saw a young, liberal Democratic Senator from Massachusetts win office with a Texas Senator as his running mate. His idealism and vigor would set the nation on a new course of achievement nationally and personally.
However, some Southern electors were unhappy with their party’s platform on civil rights. In an unprecedented act of independence 15 of them gave their votes to Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
However, a new Democratic political star would rise in Alabama. On his inaugural day in 1963 (January 14), he defiantly threw the Southern gauntlet at the Kennedy Administration.
“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” Governor George Wallace of Alabama.
Governor Wallace would force a showdown with the US Army over the brave young freshmen (Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood) who wanted to pursue their education at the University of Alabama on June 11. “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” posturing by Mr. Wallace had the desired effect. He was viewed by the Southern traditionalists as a folk hero for standing up to desegregation as advocated by the Kennedys. It took the might of the military to allow two young people to register at the university and force a state governor to acquiesce. Although, it was actually a bit of pomp and circumstance for Wallace’s own political ends because he had made a deal with the Administration on June 10.
President John Kennedy addressed the nation on civil rights that night
“One hundred years have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free…
“My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all—in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes, unemployed—two or three times as many compared to whites—with inadequate education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work and without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education…. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or congressmen or governors, but every citizen of the United States.”
The next day Medgar Wiley Evers, Civil Rights activist, was murdered in Mississippi. At 12:40 am Mr. Evers was gunned down in his Jackson driveway. The WW II Army veteran was 37.
“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea,” Mr. Evers said. The idea of equality and justice would bear fruit long after he was gone.
On June 18 the Stay Out for Freedom boycott began. Over three thousand African-American Students stayed away from Boston Public Schools in protest of the segregation of the school system. http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/freedom_house/Birmingham.htm
In the next several weeks there were 758 protests in 186 cities. 14,733 arrests were made of men and women who wanted to share the American Dream and wanted a different America for their children. The tide of protest was rising.
Bayard Rustin would spearhead a march on Washington. He operated in the background because some people viewed him as a “liability” because of his sexual orientation and political views which a number of pastors and others in the movement could not tolerate. Nevertheless his contributions were unmistakable.
Senator Strom Thurmond in late July attacked Rustin on the Senate floor and thereby the coming March on Washington. His words were harsh, extremely harsh, but his tirade incited those who had doubts and concerns about the March to solidify around Rustin’s plans.
So on August 28 the biggest rally of people in the history of Washington, DC descended on the Capitol and National Mall. The Lincoln memorial was the focal point.
The Kennedy Administration was greatly concerned about violence and an all-out riot. The marchers had adhered to the non-violent platform of the organizers. It was an event which would forever be transfixed in the minds of those who were there and those who watched.
There were Ten Demands:
1. Comprehensive and effective civil rights legislation from the present Congress without compromise or filibuster-to guarantee all Americans
access to all public accommodations
adequate and integrated education
the right to vote
2. Withholding of Federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists.
3. Desegregation of all school districts in 1963.
4. Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment-reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.
5. A new Executive Order banning discrimination in all housing supported by federal funds.
6. Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when any constitutional right is violated.
7. A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers—Negro and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.
8. A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2.00 an hour fails to do this.)
9. A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of employment which are presently excluded.
10. A federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination by federal, state and municipal governments, and by employers, contractors, employment agencies, and trade unions.
What most people tend to remember or know is the I Have A Dream oratory by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There was much more that preceded this moving speech by this young pastor.
The 17-minute speech was more than mere words on paper delivered by a passionate preacher. It was a clarion call for all Americans to embrace their heritage and join together as one nation, as God’s children, with full equality in all aspects of the American Dream.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” https://lochgarry.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/martin-luther-king-jr-%E2%80%93i-have-a-dream-a-global-view/
Unfortunately, the darkest days were ahead for the civil rights movement. The “manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination” would demand a high cost in order to be broken—intimidations, burnings, murders and assassinations.
The “inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “the riches of freedom and security of justice” would be withheld by those who were steeped in the traditions of prejudice and hatred. They would not see beyond the color of the skin because their vision was myopic and could only behold black and white.
50 years is half a century of defeats and victories. Those mountain tops are still very silent because the song of freedom and justice for all is hoarse. It is not mute—just audible whispers striving to be heard in every corner of this land.
In our next post we will examine a song, a play and a book which relate to the American experience and its struggles against racial injustice and prejudice. Life on this planet traversing the cosmos is never easy for the masses of men, women and children who are oppressed and suppressed.
G. D. Williams © 2013
PBS: March On Washington
Platform of the States’ Rights Democratic party: August 14, 1948
1948 Presidential Results
Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Civil Rights Act of 1957
In 1957, President Eisenhower sent Congress a proposal for civil rights legislation. The result was the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. The new act established the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. It also established a federal Civil Rights Commission with authority to investigate discriminatory conditions and recommend corrective measures. The final act was weakened by Congress due to lack of support among the Democrats.
1960 Presidential Results
Vivian Jones and James Hood
On May 30, 1965, Ms. Jones became the first black to graduate from the University of Alabama in its 134 years of existence, earning a degree in business management with a B-plus average.
Mr. Hood left the university after two months, saying he wanted to avoid “a complete mental and physical breakdown.” He transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, having studied political science and police administration.
Mr. Hood returned to the University of Alabama and earned a doctorate in higher education in 1997.
Medgar Wiley Evers
“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.”
I Have A Dream