Tag Archive for 'civil rights movement'

From the Archives: An NCCU President Resists Pressure to Discourage Student Participation in Civil Rights Action

This post is the 10th in a series from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing more than 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions.  For more on this digitization project, click here.

Alfonso Elder Papers, Folder 215, speech: scans 2-9

When North Carolina Central University President Alfonso Elder was asked to address a regional meeting of the National Student Association at Duke University on 25 February 1962, the administration hoped he would dissuade students from participation in local civil rights protests while he lectured those gathered on the “proper form of student commitment to an ideal of racial justice” and the “proper relationship of the university to its donors and legal owners” [1]. The speech that Elder gave, titled “The Responsibility of the University to Society (With Special Emphasis on Student Involvement in Extra-Class Affairs),” was not the lecture on passivity that some may have hoped for. Instead, Elder clearly articulated his heartfelt belief in the multi-faceted roles and responsibilities of the academic community and the indisputable right of students, faculty, and employees to display their “loyalty to the ideal of social justice” [1].

Continue reading ‘From the Archives: An NCCU President Resists Pressure to Discourage Student Participation in Civil Rights Action’

From the Archives: Alfonso Elder on the Pursuit of Excellence in a Changing World

This post is the 8th in a series from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing more than 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions.  For more on this digitization project, click here.

Alfonso Elder, NCCU President (1948-1963)

President of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) during the height of the civil rights era, Alfonso Elder was placed in an ideal position to observe student activism and the role that young adults played within the civil rights movement. He was an adamant supporter of such student involvement and strongly believed that one of the best ways for youth to contribute to the cause was the serious pursuit of their studies. [1]

Elder, the second president of NCCU, served from 1948 to 1963 at a time when the institution was known as the North Carolina College at Durham. However, Elder’s history at NCCU began two decades before his presidency, when he worked as a professor of Education and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1924 to 1943. [2] In 1925, soon after Elder’s arrival, NCCU became the nation’s first state-supported liberal arts college for African Americans. [3] As both an educator and a university president, Elder was fiercely dedicated to his students and to the field of higher education.

Continue reading ‘From the Archives: Alfonso Elder on the Pursuit of Excellence in a Changing World’

Remembering Three Young Civil Rights Workers

On June 21, 1964—48 years ago today and only one day after they began a new civil rights campaign—three young civil rights organizers disappeared in Mississippi.

The three men—James Earl Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman—were part of the first wave of Mississippi Freedom Summer workers. At the time, intimidation of blacks was commonplace, and new voting laws had made registration increasingly difficult for African Americans. The young men and women set out in a hostile (and often violent) atmosphere to register thousands of African Americans to vote for the first time.

The activists—two of whom were white and one of whom was African American—were held in jail on a speeding charge while they were on their way to investigate a church burning. They were released from jail at night, and headed toward Meridian. The men, who had previously been quite careful to report their whereabouts, never arrived at their destination.

The FBI, on instruction from the Justice Department, began an exhaustive search for the missing civil rights workers—a search which ended six weeks later when the three bodies were recovered near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

The Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Cecil Price et. al. that the federal government had the power to police civil rights violations, and the FBI compiled enough evidence to convict seven individuals of violating the men’s civil rights. However, no one was convicted of murder; the 1967 federal trial of prime suspect Edgar Ray Killen ended in a hung jury.

In 2005—forty-one years after the workers’ deaths—Edgar Ray Killen (by then 80 years old) was convicted of recruiting the killers and was sentenced to 60 years in jail for manslaughter.

The horrifying disappearance and deaths of the three young workers shocked the nation and galvanized the civil rights movement. Hundreds of other Freedom Summer workers braved the journey, and successfully registered thousands of African Americans to vote.

To learn more, click here.

The movie Mississippi Burning recalls the investigation. (Note that the investigation was code-named Miburn, short for “Mississippi burning.”)

If you have access through your library, a good biography of James Earl Chaney is in African American National Biography, available online through the Oxford African American Studies Center.

For more information, check out Howard Ball’s Murder in Mississippi (University Press of Kansas, 2004) and Bill Scheppler’s The Mississippi Burning Trial: A Primary Source Account (Rosen Publishing Group, 2003).

To learn more about the activists’ work that summer, check out one young volunteer’s account of her experience, provided by PBS. The Wikipedia summary of Freedom Summer is available here.

There are also dozens of books available which provide insight into the struggles African Americans faced in Mississippi during this period. UNC Press offerings include Françoise Hamlin’s Crossroads at Clarksdale and Emilye Crosby’s A Little Taste of Freedom.

Remembering Medgar Evers

On June 12, 1963—49 years ago today—white separatist Byron De La Beckwith shot and killed civil rights worker Medgar Evers, horrifying the American public and galvanizing the civil rights movement.

As the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi, Medgar Evers was a vocal opponent of racial discrimination and a frequent victim of threats and violence. On June 12, he was shot in the back while walking from his car to the door of his house, where his wife and children were waiting for him. He died less than an hour later.

Although De La Beckwith was quickly apprehended, he was tried and acquitted twice in 1964, with hung juries both timesall-white juries, of course. More than two decades passed before further attempts at conviction were made. After the Jackson Clarion-Ledger uncovered documents that indicated official misconduct during the trial, Assistant District Attorney Bobby DeLaughter decided to retry the case—with a mixed-race jury this time.

Three decades after the crime, De La Beckwith was finally convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2001.

A former soldier, Evers made lasting contributions to the civil rights movement, organizing sit-ins and voter registration campaigns and fighting for the enforcement of Brown v. Board of Education. His violent death shocked the nation, forcing Americans to recognize the hostility and violence faced by Southern African Americans and further mobilizing the struggle for equality.

To learn more, click here.

Click here to watch a video of UNC’s Minrose Gwin discussing her scholarly project, Mourning Medgar Evers.

To learn more about Medgar Evers, click here. Numerous books also discuss his life, work, and death, including Michael Vinson Williams’ Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr (University of Arkansas Press, 2011) and Adam Nossiter’s Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers (Da Capo Press, 2002).

DeLaughter later published a book about the 1994 trial: Never Too Late: A Prosecutor’s Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case (Scribner 2001).

There are also dozens of books available which provide insight into the struggles African Americans faced in Mississippi during this period. UNC Press offerings include Françoise Hamlin’s Crossroads at Clarksdale (2012) and Emilye Crosby’s A Little Taste of Freedom (2005).

Southern Oral History Program on WUNC

This morning, WUNC aired the first installment in a series entitled Voices for Civil Rights, a collection of stories about oral histories of the civil rights movement.

The Smithsonian Institution broke ground on its new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the end of February and plans to open the museum in 2015. Its collection will include oral histories from the civil rights movement—many of which will be drawn from an inventory of existing oral history collections throughout America, but several of which will be newly completed interviews with individuals who participated in the civil rights movement. UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) will provide many of these interviews.

WUNC reporters will speak with LCRM blogger and SOHP digital coordinator Seth Kotch each Friday this month. Today, Kotch described the aims of the SOHP and shared a story from Jamila Jones, a woman who was active in the civil rights movement from age nine. Click here to listen to this story.

Kotch says, “We really wanted to dig up untold stories from people whose names might not appear in history textbooks.”

Check it out!

Injustice and Masculinity

In this interview clip, Wallace Roberts recounts a lesson he learned about the emasculating effects of racial segregation while staying in the home of the legendary activist Fannie Lou Hamer. This interview was conducted as part of the Southern Oral History Program’s interviewing project at the conference marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Pap Doesn’t Have Many Ways to Be a Man Any More from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Taking the Civil Rights Movement Seriously

Could we do so, argues Taylor Branch, the activists of the 1960s would not be struggling for recognition.

Taking the Civil Rights Movement Seriously from Southern Oral History Program on Vimeo.

Branch spoke with the Southern Oral History Program last April. See his full interview here.


Every Martin Luther King Day brings a nationwide wave of commemorations celebrating the life and legacy of one of the most important figures in our nation’s history. But toward what that life was bending when it so suddenly ended, and what that legacy is are hotly contested questions. On on side, King has transformed from a divisive radical to a leader who sought to inspire Americans to color-blindnesss. On the other, a radical King was growing only more radical at the time of his death, condemning the war in Vietnam and standing with black sanitation workers seeking a living wage in Memphis, Tennessee. In the middle are the comforting images of King leading the nonviolent protests that changed hearts and minds in a South led astray by its past.

This mug shot of Martin Luther King from his arrest in 1956 shows a determined King in conflict with the criminal justice system even as he began his struggle.

To most scholars, the debate has been settled. Though King should be remembered for his soaring rhetoric and his unifying vision, he should also be remembered as an activist whose vision of the present and future was in flux at the time of his death, and who was increasingly convinced that the aim of the civil rights movement should be the dismantling and restructuring of the American economic system. In 1967, King gave a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in which he confessed doubting his own rhetoric shortly after the famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” a speech that is played and replayed yearly to offer Americans a snapshot of who King was (This year, it could be heard on NPR, among other places.). “I must confess to you today,” he told the congregation, “that not long after talking about that dream I was starting to see it turn into a nightmare.” (Read a portion of that speech with some context in Drew D. Hansen’s The Dream: Martin Luther King and the Speech That Inspired a Nation.)

By 1967, King was tired. He said it himself, and his friends noticed. Speaking to congregants at Ebenezer, he insisted he had not given up his dream, but not because he still believed in it; instead, he said that he had not given up his dream because “you know, you can’t give up in life.” That rhetorical slump of the shoulders is not how very many people remember Martin Luther King. But to remember him as a visionary exhausted by and eventually killed by the massive resistance to the movement he has come to symbolize seems as powerful a memory as that of his vision of the promised land. It is a chilling national memory, but one that should perhaps add to the complex understanding of King and his legacy that is gaining currency.

WNYC hosted an event to tease out that legacy, particularly King’s focus on economic justice. Check out the panel below the fold.
Continue reading ‘MLK Day’

Haley Barbour Reverses Course on Civil Rights Movement

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, excoriated for saying that the Jim Crow era wasn’t “that bad”–and maybe it wasn’t, for him–has reversed course and is now supporting a $50 million dollar civil rights museum. He wants the museum to be built with private donations, so he might avoid sour looks from those who think that history is too frivolous to spend cash on during an economic slump, but more important is what political observers believe the move means: Barbour is serious about running for president in 2012. And apparently believes that supporting construction of a civil rights movement will win him some support in his effort to unseat the United States’s first black president.

Lurking in Barbour’s explanation of his support for the project are hints of the crisis of memory historians have been calling attention to for years: the confinement of the civil rights movement to history. “The civil rights struggle is an important part of our history, and millions of people are interested in learning more about it,” Barbour said. It won’t be up to Barbour to make choices about how the story of the civil rights movement is told in the museum, but his position is clear–the movement is over.

Ernest Withers

Ernest Withers took this iconic photo as well as many others. (Photo from the New York Times)

Ernest Withers is responsible for some of the most arresting images of the civil rights movement: Martin Luther King riding one of the South’s first desegregated buses in Memphis in 1956, Dr. King resting in the Lorraine Motel after the 1966 March Against Fear, and men holding signs stating, “I Am a Man” at the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis.

Now, it has emerged that while Withers was documenting the movement as a journalist, he was providing inside information to the FBI. According to the conclusions of an investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, he was a paid FBI informant. The day before King’s assassination, Withers gave the FBI details of a planned meeting with so-called black militants; after King’s funeral, he told the FBI about plans to support a sanitation strike in Memphis. According to the investigation, Withers’s information played a key role in the successful disruption of the Invaders, a Black Panther-style group in Memphis that rose and fell in the late 1960s.

In short, Withers used the special access he gained through earning movement leaders’ trust to undermine the movement itself, particularly the more confrontational factions that emerged in the late 1960s. It is not clear if Withers had an agenda–he seemed to target “militant” activists and notably described James Lawson as a demagogue capable of inciting young people to violence–or if he simply wanted to earn some extra cash.

Civil rights veterans and friends have reacted with shock. A fellow black journalist and friend of Withers worried that Withers had not only betrayed the movement, but also black journalists’ pledge to their communities. On the other hand, Andrew Young quipped, “I don’t think Dr. King would have minded him making a little money on the side.”

This is not just a shocking revelation about civil rights history; it’s also a story about thorough research sparked, as it often is, by luck. Although the Justice Department refuses to release files on Withers’s role as an informant, the government did release details about a corruption probe that targeted Withers in the 1970s. A government censor missed a single notation of Withers’s informant identification number. The Commercial Appeal then used that number to comb through files released under a Freedom of Information Request in the 1970s. The result was a rich body of data about Withers, ME 388-R.