Tag Archive for 'citizenship'

From the Archives: A Symphony in Citizenship

The first page of the 1952 skit "A Symphony in Citizenship"

One of the many undertakings of NCSU’s Cooperative Extension Service in the 1950s was youth citizenship education. In addition to providing basic lessons on government, the Cooperative Extension Service also sought to teach children acceptance of immigrants through programs such as a 1952 skit entitled “A Symphony in Citizenship.”1

“A Symphony in Citizenship” opens with a mother explaining to her two children – Skippy and Margaret Alice – that the United States is made up of immigrants just as an orchestra is made up of instruments. As she explains, various nationalities walk across the stage, bow, and sit down next to Uncle Sam and his wife, Columbia.

An American Indian is attributed with teaching the first immigrants how to live in the new land; Dutch, Italian, and Chinese characters follow, and all are honored for their diverse gifts and talents. When a “Negro” woman enters the stage, the names of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver are invoked. After the arrival of Iranian and Indian immigrants, the symphony concludes with the mother’s lesson that “Even as a great musical symphony is made up of many notes and played on many instruments, so is the symphony of America made up of many people from many countries – Americans all – building and working together for a greater America in a peaceful and better world.”

While hardly an all-inclusive look at the immigrant populations of the United States, for the 1950s this was a remarkably progressive skit: negative stereotypes are avoided, and the children in the skit are encouraged to think of everyone in America as a type of immigrant.

1. The full skit can be viewed at http://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/ua102_052-002-bx0021-001-000/pages/ua102_052-002-bx0021-001-000_0129.

Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer and Voter Registration

On August 31, 1962—50 years ago today—Fannie Lou Hamer led seventeen people to a courthouse in Indianola, Mississippi, to attempt to register to vote. It was the beginning of a long struggle.

For decades, white supremacists had blocked African American voter registration by enacting various discriminatory rules and regulations—particularly unreasonable tests that most applicants would inevitably fail. Despite voter registration drives, only a tiny segment of the African American population was registered.

When Hamer and the others arrived at the courthouse on August 31 to register, they were met by men with rifles determined to prevent their registration. Ultimately, not one member of the group was able to register that day. And Hamer lost her job because her employer objected to her attempted registration.

Unwilling to give up, Hamer attended a SNCC leadership training conference, and then continued her registration attempts until officials finally allowed her to register in December 1962. But Hamer wasn’t just seeking registration for herself; she wanted true voting equality for all.

Hostility and violence always loomed over fights for civil rights. In June 1963, on her way back from a SCLC citizenship training program, Hamer was arrested after being refused service in a restaurant. She and her 15-year-old traveling companion were beaten by two other African American prisoners under orders from the police. Although five were charged in the beating, an all-white jury later acquitted the police.

Undeterred, Hamer continued the struggle, walking in James Meredith’s march against fear and in 1968 sitting as a delegate at the Democratic Party’s nominating convention. Her later activism included not only voting rights but also anti-poverty campaigns and desegregation protests.

A testament to her influence and contributions, Hamer’s funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including Andrew Young, who gave the eulogy. A member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, she was also honored as the namesake of several institutions, including parks and educational facilities.

Hamer, like so many other civil rights activists and ordinary citizens, risked hostility and violence to make major contributions to the civil rights movement. In 1964, poll taxes—another common disfranchisement tool—were banned through the passage of the 24th Amendment; in 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed the disfranchisement practices that kept Hamer and many other African Americans from registering to vote.

To learn more about voting rights, take a look at this lengthy contextual report published by the National Park Service.

To learn more about Hamer, check out this page from Mississippi History Now, an online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, and this page from Howard University. The Encyclopedia Britannica article can be found here.

For more on Hamer’s life and work, check out Kay Mills’ This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (University Press of Kentucky 1993) and Chana Kai Lee’s For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (University Press of Illinois 2000). Hamer herself wrote an autobiography in 1967: To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography.

For a study of the opposing activities of Fannie Lou Hamer and segregationist politician James Eastland, check out Chris Myers Asch’s The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer (UNC Press 2011).

To listen to Hamer’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which she recalls the August 31 registration effort and the events which followed, click here. To read the text, and to access a summary, check out this page from American Public Media.

To learn more about the freedom struggle in Sunflower County—the location of the August 31 voter registration attempt—check out J. Todd Moye’s Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986 (UNC Press 2004).

To learn about voting rights in Mississippi, check out Frank Parker’s Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi after 1965 (UNC Press 1990).

Disfranchisement began long before Hamer was born. To learn more about the systematic exclusion of African Americans from elections, check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press 2001).

On This Day: The Fourteenth Amendment

On July 9, 1868—144 years ago today—the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves.

One of three Reconstruction Era amendments, the Fourteenth Amendment granted to all Americans the right to equal protection and due process of law, greatly expanding the protection of civil rights.

The Amendment stated, in part:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Although the passage of the Amendment certainly was monumental, a narrow interpretation was often taken in the ensuing decades, resulting in the continuation of restricted rights for African Americans. For years, citizens and politicians battled within the courts, in legislative arenas, and in American society at large to make these liberties truly a reality.

The Fourteenth Amendment was cited in Supreme Court cases involving interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia, 1967) and school desegregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

More recently, the Fourteenth Amendment has been used to fight for women’s reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992) and to overturn legalized discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals (Romer v. Evans, 1996).

To learn more—and to read the full text of the document—check out this page from the Our Documents initiative, a collaborative effort of National History Day, the National Archives and Records Administration, and USA Freedom Corps.

This site from the Library of Congress provides links to documents related to the passage and scope of the Fourteenth Amendment, including several newspaper articles available through Chronicling America.

To learn more, check out William Nelson’s The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine (Harvard University Press, 1998) and Michael Perry’s We the People: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court (Oxford University Press, 2001).

To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative (cited above) also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

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 about one of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, check out Hans Trefousse’s Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (UNC Press, 1997).

On This Day: The Civil Rights Act of 1866

On April 9th, 1866—146 years ago today—Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, granting full citizenship and the accompanying rights to all “citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Passed by a two-thirds majority over President Andrew Johnson’s veto, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 enumerated the rights of U.S. citizens, including the right to make contracts, sue, give evidence in court, and purchase and sell property.

Published with the heading “An Act to protect all Persons in the United States in their Civil Rights, and furnish the Means of their Vindication,” the new legislation stated, in part, that all citizens would have the same right “to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statue, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Essentially overturning the Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (in which the Court ruled that African Americans, whether enslaved or free, were not citizens of the United States), this Act marked a milestone in the African American struggle for equality, and heralded further Reconstruction- era legislation that would be enacted over the next decade.

Although these Reconstruction-era laws would be set aside during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century after Jim Crow policies went into effect, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and other civil rights legislation of the decade marked important steps in the struggle for equality and foreshadowed the progress that would be made in the mid-twentieth century.

Click here to read the full text of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

For a chronological view of Reconstruction-era policies, click here.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

Announcing Freedom’s Teacher, the Enhanced E-book

The University of North Carolina Press today announced the publication of a special enhanced e-book version of Freedom’s Teacher:  The Life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron.  Produced in collaboration with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, the enhanced e-book features nearly 100 primary-source items, including photographs, documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and 60 audio excerpts from oral-history interviews with 15 individuals–including Clark herself–each embedded in the narrative where it will be most meaningful.


YouTube demo of Freedom’s Teacher enhanced e-book

First published in 2009, this biography tells the story of civil rights activist Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987), who developed a citizenship education program that enabled tens of thousands of African Americans to register to vote and to link the power of the ballot to concrete strategies for individual and communal empowerment.

Clark, who began her own teaching career in 1916, grounded her approach in the philosophy and practice of southern black activist educators in the decades leading up to the 1950s and 1960s, and then trained a committed cadre of black women to lead this grassroots literacy revolution in community stores, beauty shops, and churches throughout the South. In this engaging biography, Katherine Charron tells the story of Clark, from her coming of age in the South Carolina lowcountry to her activism with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the movement’s heyday.

“Developing this enhanced e-book, we undertook a wondrous journey,” said Charron. Continue reading ‘Announcing Freedom’s Teacher, the Enhanced E-book’

Remembering Dred Scott

On March 6th, 155 years ago, the Supreme Court in one of its most infamous decisions ruled that African Americans—whether enslaved or free—were not citizens of the United States of America and thus could not sue in federal court.

Born a slave, Dred Scott moved with his master to the Wisconsin Territory in the 1830s—a territory in which slavery was illegal under the Missouri Compromise. Scott and his family moved to Louisiana and then St. Louis with their owner, who, when he died, left the family to his wife. The Scotts, who had spent years saving what little money they were able to make, eventually sought to buy their freedom, but were refused.

Dred Scott took the case to state court in Missouri, suing his owner, Eliza Irene Sanford, under the argument that he and his family were legally free because they had lived in a territory where slavery was illegal.

The state court in 1850 declared Scott free. However, John Sanford, Eliza’s brother, appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court, which overturned the court’s decision. Scott filed a lawsuit in a federal circuit court claiming damages for alleged physical abuse—charges for which the jury ruled he did not have the right to sue. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1856, and on March 6, 1857 ruled that Scott was not a citizen and thus had no right to file a lawsuit in federal court.

The decision—which effectively robbed African Americans, both enslaved and free, of their citizenship status—is still discussed today as one of the most significant and damaging rulings of its time.

For more information, click here.

To see primary documents related to the case, click here. Washington University in St. Louis also provides digitized versions of primary documents.

To view a chronological summary, click here.

To learn more about the Missouri Compromise, check out Robert Forbes’ The Missouri Compromise and Its Aftermath (UNC Press 2007).