Monthly Archive for February, 2012

From the Southern Historical Collection: Lewis Family Finding Aid is Now Available!

The finding aid for the Lewis Family Papers—which comprise more than 3000 papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials from a prominent African American family from Raleigh, N.C., dating back to the 1910s—is now available online.

The collection includes papers from J.D. Lewis, a Morehouse College graduate who was one of the first African American members of the United States Marine Corps, and also was the first African American radio and television personality, corporate director of personnel, and director of minority affairs for WRAL. Also included are documents from Vera Lewis Embree, who was a successful choreographer and professor of dance at the University of Michigan.

The collection includes primary materials from the Capitol Broadcasting Company, the National Business League, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, and many other companies and organizations—as well as newspaper clippings, funeral programs, school materials, awards and certificates, personal letters, and photographs dating from the 1910s through the 2000s. Audio tapes of WRAL editorials and community musical performances, as well as videotapes of weddings and other events, add a multimedia element.

The new finding aid, compiled by Holly Smith and Nancy Kaiser of UNC Chapel Hill’s Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, makes it easier than ever for scholars, researchers, and the general public to discover what this substantial and significant collection has to offer.

For more information, and to view the finding aid, click here.

Gender Discrimination in Grove City College v. Bell

On this day, only 28 years ago, the United States Supreme Court in Grove City College v. Bell  temporarily restricted the reach of Title IX  to only specific programs or activities funded with federal money—in this case, the college’s financial aid program.

Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

On February 28, 1984, the Supreme Court ruled that title IX was restricted only to programs or activities that were funded with federal money—meaning that discrimination was not prohibited in programs or activities that did not receive this funding.

Understandably, this decision was met with strong criticism. For example, see this opinion piece from the New York Times, printed less than two weeks after the ruling, and this strongly-worded front-page article from The (Portsmouth Ohio) Daily Times.

Four years later, on March 22, 1988, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 over President Reagan’s veto, restoring Title IX coverage to apply to the entire institution regardless of where federal funds are applied.

For more information about this case’s significance in leading to the Civil Rights Restoration Act, click here.

For a broader discussion of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment, click here.

For a very different example of Title IX in action, check out Susan Ware’s Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King and the Revolution in Women’s Sports (UNC Press 2011).

Remembering Hiram Revels

On this day 142 years ago, Hiram Revels became the first African American member of the United States Senate when he was sworn in to fill a seat that had been left vacant ten years earlier when Mississippi seceded from the Union.

Revels, born free in North Carolina, was an ordained minister who carried out religious work in various Southern and Midwestern states.  He actively recruited African American soldiers during the Civil War before settling in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1866.

Revels was elected as a Natchez alderman in 1868, and one year later was elected to a seat on the Mississippi state senate. Reconstruction policies allowed Revels (as well as a few dozen other African Americans) to be elected to various legislative positions.

Although the Mississippi state legislature on January 20th voted 85 to 15 to seat Revels on the U.S. Senate, he faced an uphill battle, with Senate Democrats determined to block his confirmation. (TIME magazine listed Revels on its list of Top 10 Contested Officeholders).

Southern Democrats argued that Revels’ election was null and void given Mississippi’s state of military rule and lack of a civil government.  They also claimed he was ineligible for the position because, as an African American, he was not legally recognized as a full citizen until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified.

Revels had been chosen to fill Albert Brown’s seat (set to expire in 1871), while a white man was chosen to fill the seat vacated by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. The irony was obvious; Nevada Senator James Nye declared:

[Jefferson Davis] went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin different from his. Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample underfoot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat on the floor.

While not entirely accurate, given that Revels replaced Brown rather than Davis, this quote pretty well summed up the significance of Revels’ election. Senate Republicans strongly backed Revels, and on February 25, 1870, he was sworn in, following Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner’s declaration that “The time has passed for argument. Nothing more need be said. For a long time it has been clear that colored persons must be senators.”

When his term expired in 1871, Revels returned to Mississippi and became the first president of Alcorn State University, the nation’s oldest public historically black land-grant institution. He later served as Mississippi’s interim secretary of state, and ultimately returned to ministerial work.

Although his term lasted just over one year, Revels paved the way for future African American legislators. While the path has throughout time been littered with hurdles,—in  fact, to date, there have been just six African American United States Senators—Revels’ work stood as an example of racial progress in America and heralded changes to come—including the election of the nation’s first African American president in 2008.

To see a digitized copy of Hiram Revels’ credentials, click here.

For a detailed summary of Hiram Revels’ life and accomplishments, click here.

Last year, Westlaw highlighted significant aspects of Revels’ career: click here.

Remembering Daniel Desdunes

Taught in classes at all levels of education, Plessy v. Ferguson (in which the term “separate but equal” was coined) remains one of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions. But many people don’t realize that the action leading to the trial—Homer Plessy’s intentional test of racially segregated seating facilities on Southern transit—was not the first, but rather the second orchestrated attack on Louisiana’s segregated transit laws in 1892.

On this day 120 years ago,—several months before Homer Plessy was arrested—a young African American named Daniel Desdunes, under instruction from a group of elite African American men in New Orleans (the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law), bought a ticket for Alabama, boarded a Louisville & Nashville Railroad train, and sat down in the “white” coach. He was arrested and scheduled for trial in the criminal district court of New Orleans.

Although lawyers quickly filed a not-guilty plea for Desdunes and prepared to challenge the constitutionality of segregated seating on interstate travel, the case came to an abrupt end when the Louisiana Supreme Court, in an entirely separate case (State ex rel. Abbott v. Hicks), ruled segregation laws unconstitutional insofar as they applied to interstate travel. Because Desdunes was an interstate passenger, his conviction was no longer valid. Importantly, however, the court’s ruling did not address intrastate travel, and thus segregation remained legal within the state (as it was within most states in the region).

Although Desdunes’ case never made it to trial, his efforts and those of the men backing him laid the groundwork for Homer Plessy’s actions only a few months later. The Plessy decision certainly did not end in victory (the court voted 7-1 that the segregation laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment and that separate could still be equal), but the actions of Daniel Desdunes and Homer Plessy marked important steps in the African American battle for equality.

For more information about Desdunes, Plessy, and efforts to end segregated transportation, click here.

To learn more about these and similar challenges to segregation, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press 2010).

Remembering Moore v. Dempsey

On this day 89 years ago, the Supreme Court in Moore v. Dempsey took a major step in defending the rights of black defendants, ruling that the mob-dominated murder trial of a group of African American men—which led to death sentences for all twelve—violated the right to due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The case was rooted in the 1919 Elaine (Arkansas) Massacre, which started after whites rioted against African American farmers, and which led to the deaths of five white men and dozens of African Americans, the arrest of 700 African Americans, and the imprisonment of dozens of African Americans. Of the 67 African Americans ultimately indicted, twelve were charged with murder and brought to trial.

In the aftermath of the riot, an all-white jury bowed to public opinion and threats to lynch the twelve defendants if they were acquitted; the jury convicted all twelve of first-degree murder and sentenced them to death.

NAACP lawyer Walter White traveled to Arkansas, first posing as a newspaper reporter to gain access and then appealing the death sentences on the grounds that the mob outside the courthouse made it impossible for the defendants to receive a fair trial, as guaranteed in the Constitution.

The Supreme Court overturned the district court’s decision by ruling that the mob scenes outside the courthouse had indeed made a fair trial impossible:

… [I]f the case is that the whole proceeding is a mask—that counsel, jury, and judge were swept to the fatal end by an irresistible wave of public passion, and that the State Courts failed to correct the wrong, neither perfection in the machinery for correction nor the possibility that the trial court and counsel saw no other way of avoiding an immediate outbreak of the mob can prevent this court from securing to the petitioners their constitutional rights.

The case was remanded to the district court, and two years later, the men were finally released. In an era when African American defendants did not often receive equal treatment within the court system (or outside of it, for that matter), the Supreme Court’s ruling represented a decisive victory.

For more information about the Elaine Massacre and the ensuing trial, and to view documents and photographs, click here.

To learn more about Walter White, check out Kenneth Janken’s Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press, 2006).

Remembering Jimmie Lee Jackson

On this day 47 years ago, weeks of demonstrations in Alabama reached a tragic climax when black civil rights protester Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper while defending his mother and grandfather from white state troopers in Marion, Alabama. Eight days later, he would be pronounced dead.

Jackson, 26, was one of a few hundred people who marched from Zion United Methodist Church toward the city jail. The march was violently broken up by state troopers, causing demonstrators to run for safety. Jackson and his family sought cover in a café, where they were beaten by state troopers. He was shot in the abdomen, and at least twelve other protestors were hospitalized.

Martin Luther King, Jr., visited Jackson in the hospital before he died, and delivered a moving eulogy at his funeral, stating:

A State trooper pointed the gun, but he did not act alone.

He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law.

He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism.

He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam and cannot protect the rights of its own citizens seeking the right to vote.

He was murdered by the indifference of every white minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of his stained-glass windows.

And he was murdered by the cowardice of every Negro who passively accepts the evils of segregation and stands on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.

Four decades passed before any charges were filed: 42 years after the shooting, state trooper James Bonard Fowler was finally indicted of the murder. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge—second-degree manslaughter—and was finally sentenced to jail in 2010 … but only for six months.

Jackson’s murder inspired the Selma-to-Montgomery March (which culminated in “Bloody Sunday”), galvanizing the civil rights movement and eventually leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

For more information, consult this article.

To see a page from Jackson’s emergency room logbook, click here.

Artist Jonathan Frost, four decades after the event, painted 18 scenes illustrating what he imagined the events of February 18, 1965, might have looked like, using knowledge he first gained on a 2008 tour civil rights tour.

The SCLC: Celebrating 55 Years

On this day 55 years ago, the Southern Leadership Conference—which six months later became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)—established its board of directors and elected its first group of officers, including Martin Luther King, Jr., as president.

Formed less than two months after the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) achieved bus desegregation through the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the SCLC had its roots in a January 1957 meeting between civil rights groups wishing to coordinate protest activities throughout the South.

A racially mixed group, the SCLC stressed nonviolent mass action and organizational cooperation as a means toward ending racial segregation and discrimination.

Well known for its commitment to voter registration through its “Crusade for Citizenship,” the SCLC did not function simply as an independent organization, but rather acted as an umbrella under which civil rights groups across the South could organize mass action. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, and Ralph Abernathy coordinated protests throughout many states.

The SCLC is still active today as a national organization made up of chapters and affiliates dedicated to worldwide human rights causes. More information on its history and current activities can be found on the organization’s website.

In this interview, a former SCLC fieldworker talks about his experiences.

Check out Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement to learn about one of the SCLC’s founders.

The NAACP: 103 Years of History

On this day, 103 years ago, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in order to secure for all citizens the rights guaranteed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution: an end to slavery, equal protection under the law, and universal suffrage for adult males.

Organized only six months after the Springfield (Illinois) Race Riot left eight African Americans dead, the NAACP brought together some of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders, both black and white. Within nine years of its founding, the NAACP had organized 165 branches, with a total of roughly 44,000 members.

Most Americans connect the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois, whose Niagara Movement had focused on many of the same goals; however, many don’t realize that Du Bois, who was one of 60 original members, was one of only a handful of African American members. In fact, when the organization named its first board of directors in 1910, Du Bois, as the director of publications and research, was the only African American among the NAACP’s executives. (William English Walling, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Josephine Ruffin, and Jane Addams were other notable early members.)

Through democratic processes, the NAACP has consistently fought to eliminate racial prejudice and ensure equality for minorities. During the mid-1900s, the NAACP became increasingly well known for its lawyers’ tireless work within the court system. Lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall (who would later become the first African American Supreme Court justice) argued case after case, chipping away at legalized segregation and discrimination. (See, for example, Gaines v. Canada).

The organization’s official publication, The Crisis, which Du Bois founded in 1910, is still published today. And the NAACP continues to fight for equality, both within the courts and without. (See, for example, this recent lawsuit).

For more information about the NAACP, click here.

To learn more about the NAACP’s battle against segregation, check out Mark Tushnet’s The NAACP’s Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950 (UNC Press, 2005 reprint).

Kenneth Janken wrote a wonderful biography of one of the NAACP’s prominent members: Walter White: Mr. NAACP (UNC Press, 2006).

Remembering Orangeburg

On this day 43 years ago, three African American students died after being shot by white highway patrolmen on the campus of South Carolina State College (now South Carolina State University).

On February 8, 1968, racial tensions, precipitated by a protest by African American students seeking to integrate a local bowling alley, reached a climax. After firemen arrived on campus to put out a bonfire lit by students, state troopers moved in to protect them. One trooper was hit in the face by a tossed banister rail, and a crowd of 66 officers converged on the street. Officers fired buckshot into the crowd, and many students were shot in their sides and backs.

The Orangeburg Massacre left 27 students wounded and three students (Henry R. Smith and Samuel Hammond, Jr., both 18, and Delano Middleton, 17) dead.

As was not uncommon at the time, popular coverage did not accurately describe what had happened For instance, this article reported that only one student had been killed, and this one described the event as an “exchange of gunfire.”

Coming two years before the now-infamous shootings of anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University, the Orangeburg deaths led to the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. However, the nine defendants were all acquitted.

One person was convicted—a black man who had been involved in the bowling alley demonstration. Cleveland Sellers, Jr., previously program director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was convicted of “riot” and served seven months of a one-year sentence in state prison. (He was pardoned more than two decades after the incident.)

For more information, check out this article from the Nieman Foundation.

The site of the massacre was later designated as an historic district by the National Park Service, as was the All-Star Bowling Lane where the February 6 protest was held.

The massacre was chronicled in the 2009 film Scarred Justice and in a scholarly text, The Orangeburg Massacre, first published in 1970.

From the Archives: Race in the Courtroom

This post is the second in a series from the UNC Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, where more than 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement, from four area institutions, are in the process of being digitized.  For more on this digitization project, click here.

In a 1933 letter to Frank Porter Graham, president of the University of North Carolina System, a Charlotte lawyer named Marvin L. Ritch made a personal appeal on behalf of a man whom Ritch believed was wrongly convicted of murder and harshly sentenced. The defendant, Earnest Stamey, was a decorated veteran of World War I, and Ritch hoped that Graham would “not object to joining in the request for a real review” of the case. In the postscript of the letter Ritch writes:

“. . . Mr. &. Mrs. Stamey, and Mr. &. Mrs. John Carpenter, all white people took the stand in the trial and swore that Stamey did not leave his home on the night the crime was committed. Don’t you think that more than a reasonable doubt amount of direct and positive testimony?” Continue reading ‘From the Archives: Race in the Courtroom’