Author Archive for Alison Shay

On This Day: Martin Luther King, Jr., Accepts the Nobel Peace Prize

On December 10, 1964—48 years ago today—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., accepted the Nobel Peace Prize “as a trustee … on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood.”

Two months earlier, on October 14, 1964, news of King’s award was released. King, at only 35 years old, became the youngest winner of the prize in its 63 year history. King pledged every penny of the prize (over $50,000) to the civil rights movement.

In his acceptance speech, King expressed hope for the eventual success of the civil rights movement, and honored all those who fought for justice, stating “[I]n the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally.” His speech read, in part:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice. …

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. …

I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. … I still believe that we shall overcome”

Over the next three and a half years before he was shot and killed, King continued to make a lasting impact on America through his unending dedication to nonviolence and the struggle for civil rights and equality—both in his capacity as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and in his work with other civil rights activists.

Today, King’s contributions are remembered each January on Martin Luther King Day. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened to the public in August 2011 south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In October 2011, politicians, public figures, and citizens from across the country came together to dedicate the memorial, which had been in planning for more than two decades.

To view a video excerpt of King’s acceptance speech, check out this link from CBS News. To read the full speech, check out this link from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

To read the October 14 New York Times article announcing King’s award, click here.

Publications and collections that pay tribute to King are almost too numerous to list; here is a modest sampling:

To learn more about King, check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and this blog post.

HarperOne published a collection of King’s writings and speeches: A Testament to Hope.

The University of Pennsylvania Press published Thomas F. Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Struggle for Economic Justice back in 2006.

On This Day: The Thirteenth Amendment

On December 6, 1865—147 years ago today—the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

It had been a long time coming. Nearly three years earlier, in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the rebellious states. (Lincoln had also issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation several months earlier, on September 22, 1862.) Before the end of the Civil War in 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to formally abolish slavery. It would take months, though, before the Amendment was ratified—and President Lincoln, who had fought tirelessly for the Amendment, was assassinated before he could see it ratified.

On December 6, 1865, the amendment finally received the necessary number of state ratifications. Consisting of two sections, the Amendment read as follows:

Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Era Constitutional amendments. Nineteen months later, the Fourteenth Amendment would be ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves. And, in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment would grant African American men the right to vote. To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, and to view a digitized copy, check out this page from the National Archives.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, check out Alexander Tsesis’ The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History (NYU Press 2004), and his edited volume, The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment (Columbia University Press 2010).

To learn more about the abolition of slavery, check out Michael Vorenberg’s Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge University Press 2001).

The recently released movie, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis as President Lincoln, was co-written by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and focuses on Lincoln’s drive to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  To learn more about President Lincoln’s work toward emancipation, check out Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard’s edited volume, Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Southern Illinois University Press 2007). For more on the Emancipation Proclamation, check out William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger’s edited volume, Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered (UNC Press 2009).

Remembering Boynton v. Virginia

On December 5, 1960—52 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia held racial segregation in bus terminals illegal, stating that such segregation violates the Interstate Commerce Act.

The case had been ongoing for two years, since Howard University Law School student Bruce Boynton boarded a Trailways bus to travel to his home in Alabama. During a forty-minute stop in Richmond, Virginia, he was arrested for trespassing for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus terminal restaurant. The NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, represented Boynton in court, arguing that Boynton had been denied equal protection under the law, and that the arrest placed an undue burden on interstate commerce.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Boynton, stating that interstate passengers were protected by the Interstate Commerce Act, and representing bus transportation facilities (in this case, the terminal’s restaurant) as sufficiently related to interstate commerce to warrant provisions against racial discrimination. The decision read, in part,

Without regard to contracts, if the bus carrier has volunteered to make terminal and restaurant facilities and services available to its interstate passengers as a regular part of their transportation, and the terminal and restaurant have acquiesced and cooperated in this undertaking, the terminal and restaurant must perform these services without discriminations prohibited by the Act. In the performance of these services under such conditions the terminal and restaurant stand in place of the bus company in the performance of its transportation obligations.

This ruling effectively extended to interstate travel the Court’s earlier ruling in Morgan v. Virginia, which had voided a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation; however, Southern states were reluctant to enforce it.

The Court’s decision inspired the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to adapt the earlier Journey of Reconciliation (meant to test Southern states’ adherence to the Supreme Court’s ruling) into a new protest: the Freedom Rides of 1961. During the Freedom Rides, civil rights activists rode Greyhound and Trailways buses through the Deep South to challenge local segregation laws and customs.

In 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission would finally finish the job, at Robert Kennedy’s insistence, by ordering an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities.

To learn more about Boynton v. Virginia, check out this page from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and this 1961 article from the California Law Review. To hear the oral argument, click here.

The ruling had been a long time coming; five years earlier, the Supreme Court in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company had outlawed segregation on interstate buses and at the terminals servicing such buses. To learn more about protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press, 2010), and this page from the Virginia Historical Society.

To learn more about the 1961 Interstate Commerce Commission ruling, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration. To read the regulations, click here.

To read about the Freedom Rides, check out this blog post and also Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007).  A documentary film on the freedom riders is available via PBS.

To learn more about other important cases argued by the NAACP, click here.

On This Day: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander

On December 5, 1925—87 years ago today—the jury in the annulment trial Rhinelander v. Rhinelander found in favor of a mixed-race woman sued for marriage annulment by her white husband.

Leonard Kip Rhinelander, a wealthy white society man, pursued and in 1924 married Alice Jones, a working class woman with British parents—one white, the other of mixed ethnicity. Only one month after their marriage, Leonard sued to annul the marriage, claiming that Alice had misrepresented her racial background.

Leonard’s family had objected to the couple’s relationship throughout their courtship, but had failed to break them up. By marrying Alice, Leonard caused her to be the first African American woman listed in The Social Register.

Although many individuals were against mixed-ethnicity marriages and laws existed to block them in many states, interracial marriage was not illegal in New York. That said, racial classification was so important to white society at the time that knowledge of an individual’s background was considered crucial in understanding a marriage contract—to the point that annulment based on a lack of this knowledge was considered acceptable.

Once news of the Rhinelanders’ marriage broke, media surrounded them. Leonard soon left with his family and filed the annulment suit.

Characterized by fiery rhetoric, the trial was heavily reported in national news. Leonard’s lawyers tried to characterize Alice as a low-class woman who tricked Leonard into marrying her—and Leonard as a boy incapable of making rational decisions or successfully avoiding temptation. When lawyers read out loud love letters to prove Alice’s inferior character, the judge asked the women present to leave the courtroom.

Alice’s lawyer, though, introduced evidence showing that Leonard was indeed aware of Alice’s racial background at the time of their marriage. In an important victory, the jury found that Alice did not conceal her racial background from Leonard and that Leonard had married her fully aware of this background.

This decision was not the end of the matter, though. After Leonard sued Alice for divorce, Alice sued both him and his father. It would be five years before the legal conflicts were resolved, but eventually Alice dropped her lawsuits and received a monetary settlement.

In Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness (UNC Press 2009), Elizabeth Smith-Pryor argues that the Rhinelander trial encapsulated the tremendous anxieties over racial passing, class slippage, and black migration in the northern United States during this era.

Other books about the trial include Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family (Yale University Press , forthcoming in 2013) and Heidi Ardizzone’s Love on Trial: An American Scandal in Black and White (Norton 2002).

To view a photograph from the trial, click here.

The concept of interracial marriage would continue to be debated for decades, especially in states which, unlike New York, had outlawed such marriages. Finally, in 1967, interracial marriage was legalized across the country through Loving v. Virginia.

For an excellent study on interracial marriage, check out Fay Botham’s Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law (UNC Press, 2009).

Shaw University: 147 Years of History

On December 1, 1865—147 years ago today—Rev. Dr.  Henry Martin Tupper formed a theological class that would soon develop into Shaw University, the first HBCU in the American South.

After moving to Raleigh, Tupper, a former Union soldier, began to teach Bible classes to freed slaves. However, it soon became clear that demand existed for an overall education beyond simply religious study.

Initially, classes were held in the Guion Hotel and in Tupper’s home, but more permanent facilities were soon needed. The Institution moved to a lot on the corner of Blount and Cabarrus streets, where it became known as the Raleigh Theological Institute, educating equal numbers of men and women. The lot and structure were financed by Tupper’s own money, the Freedman’s Bureau, and the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

The school continued to grow, though, and soon needed even more space. In the 1870s, the institution moved to its present site. The new building was named Shaw Hall in honor of Elijah Shaw, its largest contributor, and the school became known first as the Shaw Collegiate Institute and then, in 1875, as Shaw University.

The university continued to expand, and celebrated many more firsts. Shaw’s Leonard Medical School was the first four-year medical school in North Carolina to train African Americans for careers as doctors and pharmacists; the University also provided the only law school for African American students in the South.

Shaw alumni later became presidents of new HBCUs founded in North Carolina, such as Fayetteville State University and North Carolina Central University. Other notable alumni include SNCC leader Ella Baker, twentieth-century NCCU president James Shepard, and historian Benjamin Quarles.

In 1960, Shaw University was also the site of the organizing conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; some 300 students gathered at the university to form an organization which over the coming years would become deeply involved in the freedom rides, the Albany Movement, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Mississippi Freedom Summer, discussing issues ranging from desegregation of public facilities to racial problems in education.

One hundred forty-seven years after its founding, Shaw University continues to educate young men and women in Raleigh, North Carolina.

To learn more, and to view illustrations, check out this link from Shaw University Archives & Special Collections, this link from the UNC Library, and this page from the North Carolina History Project. Additional information can be found in Wilmoth Annette Carter’s Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation (Shaw University 1973).

To learn more about Henry Martin Tupper, check out this link from North Carolina State University. The Tupper Memorial Baptist Church was named for him.

To view The Catalogue of Shaw University (1876-1877), check out this link from Documenting the American South, which also provides a summary of Shaw University’s history.

For more about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007), and this blog post. To learn more about Ella Baker, check out Barbara Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (UNC Press 2005).

Benjamin Quarles’ 1961 publication The Negro in the American Revolution is available from UNC Press and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

Remembering Rosa Parks

On December 1, 1955—57 years ago today—civil rights activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her arrest would set off a nearly year-long battle against segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

In the 1950s, the first ten seats in Montgomery’s public buses were reserved for white passengers, while African Americans were made to sit in the back. Seated in the front of the African American section of a city bus, Parks refused to move when the driver told her to give up her seat to a white male passenger. She was arrested and convicted of disorderly contact.

Her arrest inspired a group of civil rights leaders to organize a bus boycott, which was immediately successful in emptying the buses. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., was formed to supervise the boycott that emerged and gained momentum over the next year as African Americans boycotted public transportation facilities in protest of the arrest and of segregation laws in general. Simultaneously, Parks’ lawyer filed for appeal of her conviction.

Nearly a year later, in November 1956, leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycott were at long last able to celebrate victory after the Supreme Court (in a separate case regarding racial segregation) ruled Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional. The Court upheld a U.S. district court’s ruling in Browder v. Gayle, in which bus segregation laws were found to be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision involved only Alabama laws, but it had far-reaching effects; at the time, seven other states had laws similar to those found unconstitutional in Alabama.

Thus, the movement Rosa Parks helped inspire achieved a decisive victory; the activists’ success heralded future progress against segregation and discrimination.

Parks paid the price; she lost her job after her arrest and had to move after she was unable to secure new work. Later, she would spend more than twenty years as secretary to U.S. Representative John Conyers. At the same time, she cofounded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation, and, a few years later, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.

Parks later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, among many other awards and honors. After her death, she became the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

Her life was chronicled in the documentary Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks.

To learn more about Rosa Parks, and to view her arrest records, check out this page from the National Archives’ website. To view Parks’ arrest photo, click here. More information can also be found on the Scholastic website, online at Gale Cengage Learning,  and in Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins’ Rosa Parks: My Story (Puffin 1992). With Gregory Reed, she also published a memoir, Quite Strength.

Numerous books pay tribute to Parks’ courage; some of these include Douglas Brinkley’s Rosa Parks: A Life (Penguin 2005) and Jeanne Theoharis’ The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Beacon, forthcoming in January 2013). Readers may also be interested in the juvenile nonfiction book, The Bus Ride that Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks, by Danny Shanahan and Pamela Duncan Edwards (Houghton Mifflin 2005).

To learn more about the long history of protests against transportation discrimination, check out Blair Kelley’s Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson (UNC Press, 2010).

For more information about the Montgomery bus boycott, check out Stewart Burns’ Daybreak of Freedom (UNC Press, 1997), this blog post, and this page from the PBS website. For a video clip from PBS, click here.

Upcoming Events for the Week of November 26, 2012: Randal Jelks, Lori Rotskoff, Bland Simpson, and More

This week, a busy month of civil rights related events comes to a close with several book talks and signings. Here are a few highlights from this week’s calendar:

Washington, DC—On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography, will give a book talk at Busboys and Poets.

Chicago, IL—On Thursday, November 29, 2012, Lori Rotskoff, co-editor of When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference It Made, will give a book talk at Women & Children First.

Beaufort, NC—Bland Simpson, author of Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War, will spend Friday, November 30, 2012, in Beaufort. He will visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum at 12:00 and Scuttlebutt at 4:00.

For more information, and to see our full event calendar, click here.

On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1991

On November 21, 1991—21 years ago today—President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening Federal civil rights legislation and providing for monetary damages up to a certain limit in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

The Act had been a long time in the making. And, in fact, President Bush had vetoed a similar act just one year earlier amid political divisions and congressional conflict.

During the previous years, the Supreme Court had heard several employment discrimination cases, leading to decisions that made it more difficult for employment discrimination cases to resolve on the side of the plaintiff.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 allowed for jury trials and compensatory and punitive damages in cases involving intentional discrimination—both governmental and private. Codifying the disparate impact theory of discrimination, the Act allowed a plaintiff who showed that an employer had intentionally discriminated in employment to seek injunctive relief, attorney’s fees, and costs from the liable employer. However, it also placed caps on the amount of damages that could be awarded, based upon the size of the company in question.

Expanding the scope of protection, the Act also covered U.S. and U.S.-controlled employers operating abroad, provided increased protection to employees of Congress and certain high-level political appointees, and expanded the rights of women and religious minorities to sue.

The signing, though, was overshadowed by a proposed presidential order that would have ended the use of racial preferences and quotas in federal government hiring. Although spokespeople claimed President Bush had neither written nor seen the document, civil rights leaders were outraged and most Democrats protested by refusing to attend the signing ceremony for the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

To learn more, check out this summary form the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

To read the full text of the Act, check out this page from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

To learn about an earlier court case involving the disparate impact theory, check out this blog post about Griggs v. Duke Power Company.

To view newspaper articles published following the signing, click here and here.

To learn more about the Bush Administration’s relation to civil rights, check out this collection from Gale Cengage Learning.

For a comprehensive summary of civil rights acts, check out this page from Prentice Hall and this page from the Civil Rights Center.

For more laws and regulations related to equal employment, check out this page from the United States Coast Guard.

To learn more about employment discrimination, check out this page from Civil Rights 101.

The Civil Rights Monitor in 1991, prior to the bill’s signing, published this short report regarding current work on the legislation.

John F. Kennedy and Executive Order 11063

On November 20, 1962—only fifty years ago today—President John F. Kennedy signed into law Executive Order 11063, prohibiting segregation in the sale, leasing, or rental of federally owned or operated properties, as well as those provided with federal funds.

Arguing that excluding individuals because of their race, color, creed, or national origin was “unfair, unjust, and inconsistent with the public policy of the United States,” Kennedy stated that it was the duty of the executive branch of the federal government to ensure that laws were fairly administered. The order read:

I hereby direct all departments and agencies in the executive branch of the Federal Government, insofar as their functions relate to the provision, rehabilitation, or operation of housing and related facilities, to take all action necessary and appropriate to prevent discrimination because of race, color, creed, or national origin.

Furthermore, Kennedy directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other executive agencies to help eradicate discriminatory practices through litigation and other means. He established a President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing charged with enforcement. (To listen to a tape of a 1963 meeting of this committee, check out this link from the JFK Library.)

The portions of the order that established and delineated the powers of the Committee were amended in 1980 under Executive Order 12259, which placed authority under the leadership of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and were again amended in 1994 through Executive Order 12892.

Six years after Executive Order 11063, the spirit of the order would be furthered through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which included fair housing legislation and significantly expanded on previous legislation, marking a huge step in eliminating discrimination in one of the most basic elements of life: finding a home. Later housing policy addressed other issues such as accessibility and affordability.

To learn more about the struggle against housing discrimination, check out John M. Goering’s edited volume, Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

For summaries of—and links to—fair housing laws and executive orders, check out this page from HUD’s web site.

For summaries of other discrimination-related executive orders, click here.

To learn more about Kennedy, check out Richard Reeves’ President Kennedy: Profile of Power (Simon & Schuster 1994).

Remembering the Albany Movement

On November 17, 1961—51 years ago today—representatives from various civil rights organizations including the NAACP and SNCC, as well as individual residents frustrated by segregation, came together in Georgia to form the Albany Movement—a coalition that would spend the next year fighting for integration.

Two weeks earlier, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s official ban of interstate bus segregation had gone into effect; on instruction from SNCC leaders, nine students from Albany State College had conducted a sit-in to test these policies. These students’ actions, as well as the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott several years earlier, helped inspire the formation of the Albany Movement.

Hoping to achieve the desegregation of all facilities throughout Albany, Georgia, activists utilized nonviolent mass demonstrations, sit-ins, litigation, and other tactics, all the while fighting for the release of individuals jailed in desegregation protests and for the establishment of a biracial committee to further the desegregation movement. These protesters lived under the constant threat of arrest; more than 500 were jailed in the first couple of weeks, and that number quickly reached 1,000.

Once Martin Luther King, Jr., became involved with the coalition, the Movement predictably gained national attention. After King was arrested on December 16, city officials and protesters reached a truce. However, the peace did not last, and demonstrations and arrests both increased.

Unfortunately, despite its success in mobilizing mass nonviolent protests, the Movement was not concretely successful at eliminating segregation policies. Albany’s police chief, Laurie Pritchett, was determined to block the movement’s progress, and his tactics were quite effective. That said, as King explained, civil rights leaders were able to learn from the Albany Movement, paving the way for future struggles, such as the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. And of course, local activism continued even after the Albany Movement itself wound down, with segregation laws ending in the spring of 1963.

To learn more about the Albany Movement, check out this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, this page from the New Georgia Encyclopedia, this page from the University of Georgia, and this page from PBS.

Archival resources can be found in the Civil Rights Digital Library. Information on the Albany Movement is also included in Swarthmore College’s Global Nonviolent Action Database.

To learn more, check out this news story published fifty years after the movement.

To learn more about Charles Sherrod, one SNCC activist who helped start the campaign and later became a city commissioner, check out this article.

To learn more about the Interstate Commerce Commission’s segregation ban, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration and this blog post. To read the regulations, click here.

To learn more about SNCC, check out this blog post.