Tag Archive for 'NAACP'

From the Archives: The NAACP Reviews Robert H. Bork

This post contains highlights of material from the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s CCC project, digitizing 40 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement from four area institutions. For more on this digitization project, click here.

Judge Bork's Views Regarding Racial Discrimination

Former Solicitor General and US Court of Appeals judge Robert H. Bork is remembered for his role in the Watergate scandal and his time serving as an advisor to Mitt Romney, but perhaps most vividly for the historic rejection of his nomination to the US Supreme Court. After President Reagan recommended Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the nomination was strongly opposed by a public campaign led by Democratic politicians like Edward Kennedy and organizations that included the NAACP, ACLU, and NOW.

Bork’s record as a strict constructionist who often disagreed with the racial and gender reforms of the 1960s and 1970s concerned many civil and women’s rights activists who feared that, as a Supreme Court Justice, Bork might work to overturn recent decisions on abortion and affirmative action. In August 1987, the NAACP released a report on “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination,” in which they detailed Bork’s record of opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and his criticism of previous voting rights and affirmative action-related decisions. A copy of the NAACP’s report can be found in the Helen Edmonds papers. In one section the report quotes an article Bork wrote in 1964 where he described the “dangers” implied by the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “enforc[es] associations between private individuals which would, if uniformly applied, destroy personal freedom over broad areas of life.” 1 Bork’s hostility to the Civil Rights Act is attributed by the NAACP to his belief “that it infringed on the freedom of whites to discriminate.” 2 The report also highlighted Bork’s disapproval of laws protecting minorities against housing discrimination and poll taxes, as well as his support of Nixon’s anti-busing legislation, which hoped to limit the use of busing to desegregate public school systems across the South.

It was documents like this NAACP report that swayed opinion against Bork in 1987. After his nomination was rejected, Bork left the Court of Appeals and spent the rest of his life as a scholar, legal advisor, and best-selling author. Despite his controversial career, Bork was an extremely influential figure who inspired a generation of conservative lawyers and politicians. Judge Bork passed away in December 2012.

1. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 1.

2. “Judge Bork’s Views Regarding Racial Discrimination.” Helen G. Edmonds Papers. Folder 100, Scan 15.

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.

Remembering Sarah Keys

On November 7, 1955—57 years ago today—the Interstate Commerce Commission in Keys v. Carolina Coach Company ruled segregation on interstate buses a violation of the Interstate Commerce Act.

The previous 59 years, following the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision, had been characterized by legally sanctioned segregation in public transportation. Although the Supreme Court in Morgan v. Virginia (1946) had voided a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation, such discrimination continued across the South, perpetuated by policies from the transportation companies themselves.

Keys v. Carolina Coach Company was rooted in an arrest three years earlier. While on leave, Women’s Army Corps Private Sarah Keys, who was traveling from New Jersey to North Carolina, refused to give her seat to a white Marine. She was arrested, jailed overnight, fined $25, and convicted of disorderly conduct.

Represented by attorneys Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Julius Robertson, Keys mounted a legal battle against racial discrimination. After at U.S. District Court refused on jurisdictional grounds to hear the case, Keys filed suit with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Her attorneys used the Interstate Commerce Act and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling to argue that “segregation per se in fields affected with a public interest subjects the person segregated to an unreasonable and constitutionally forbidden discrimination.”

Extending the logic of Brown v. Board of Education’s condemnation of “separate but equal” to the area of bus travel across state lines, the eleven commissioners condemned “separate but equal,” stating that the Interstate Commerce Act prohibited such segregation. They wrote:

We conclude that the assignment of seats in intestate buses, so designated as to imply the inherent inferiority of a traveler solely because of race or color, must be regarded as subjecting the traveler to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage. In addition to the discrimination, prejudice and disadvantage resulting from the mere fact of segregation, additional disadvantage to the passenger is always potentially present because the traveler is entitled to be free from the annoyances which inevitably accompany segregation and the variety and unevenness of the methods of its enforcement.

Unfortunately, it would be six years before the integration promised by the Keys decision would come to fruition, as the Interstate Commerce Commission failed to enforce its own ruling. That said, Keys v. Carolina Coach Company and its companion case, NAACP v. St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company, foreshadowed significant progress to come—and Sarah Keys’ unending fight inspired future work by individuals like Rosa Parks (who soon would soon after refuse to give up her seat) and groups like the Freedom Riders. In 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission would finish the job, at Robert Kennedy’s insistence, by ordering an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities.

To learn more, check out this article from the Washington Daily News, this tribute by Representative Edolphus Towns, and this page from Wikipedia.

To learn more about Roundtree, and to read her summary of the Keys case, check out her autobiography: Justice Older than the Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree (University Press of Mississippi 2009).

To learn more about Keys and Roundtree, check out this summary, and this summary, both from the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation’s web site.

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).

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.

Remembering Buchanan v. Warley

On November 5, 1917—95 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Buchanan v. Warley took a strong stand against racial discrimination when the justices unanimously invalidated a Louisville, Kentucky, ordinance that prohibited the sale of property to African Americans.

As increasing numbers of African Americans migrated from rural to urban areas, white legislators in the South and Midwest passed legislation mandating housing segregation. The Louisville ordinance prohibited African Americans from occupying lots on blocks where the majority of the residences were occupied by whites.

Charles Buchanan (white) sold his house to William Warley (African American). Warley refused to pay the full price of the property, arguing that the ordinance, by prohibiting him from occupying the property, made it less valuable. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1916.

The Supreme Court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional on the basis of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment protects life, liberty, and property from invasion by the States without due process of law. Property is more than the mere thing which a person owns. It is elementary that it includes the right to acquire, use, and dispose of it.

While the justices noted the importance of promoting the public peace, they submitted that this could not be done at the price of denying rights created or protected by the Constitution of the United States.

That there exists a serious and difficult problem arising from a feeling of race hostility which the law is powerless to control, and to which it must give a measure of consideration, may be freely admitted. But its solution cannot be promoted by depriving citizens of their constitutional rights and privileges.

The implications were twofold: whites had the right to manage their property as they wished, and African Americans had the same rights. While the decision did not bring an end to residential segregation (which, in fact, would become more common in coming decades through the use of racially restrictive covenants), it did prevent local and state governments from passing certain housing segregation laws, and paved the way for future legislative struggles against discrimination and segregation.

To read the full text of the decision, check out this page from Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

To learn more, check out this post from the Supreme Court of the United States’ blog, and this page from the Library of Congress.

For more about the fight against housing discrimination, click here. It would take decades of legal wrangling before racially restrictive covenants would finally be declared unconstitutional and housing opportunity would finally begin to be equalized (see, for example, the 1940 case Hansberry v. Lee, the 1948 case Shelley v. Kraemer and the 1968 Fair Housing Act).

To see a descriptive timeline of the fair housing struggle, click here. To learn more about racially restrictive covenants, click here.

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.

On This Day: Arrests in Atlanta

On October 19, 1960—52 years ago today—Martin Luther King, Jr., and dozens of other individuals were arrested during a sit-in protest at Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta, Georgia.

More than eight months after four African American college students launched the student sit-in movement at the F.W. Woolworth Co. lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, protests were underway in numerous cities across the county. The movement had already achieved some success, furthered by the organization of a new group: the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In March, San Antonio had become the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, by April Galveston had become the second city in Texas to integrate its lunch counters, and by June six more cities across the nation had followed suit. The students in Atlanta sought to continue this success.

Although he did not lead this demonstration, King participated in it as he did in other sit-in demonstrations.  (He had previously urged college students to “fill up the jails of the South … to arouse the dozing conscience of the nation.”) On October 19, 52 protesters were arrested for violating legislation from 1960 which allowed individuals to be charged with a misdemeanor if they refused to leave private property when asked.

Charges against sixteen of the activists were dismissed by October 20, but 35 protesters remained in jail. King vowed to remain in the cell for a year rather than make bond.

Ultimately, the 35 jailed protesters were released on bond. However, unrelatedly, King had been given a 12-month probationary sentence on a charge of driving without a valid Georgia license (based on an “anti-trespass” law enacted to curb lunch counter sit-ins). Officials used this violation to hold him in jail, and King was sentenced to four months in a Georgia public works camp.

This steep sentence for an arguably frivolous charge was met with shock and anger by the NAACP, civil rights activists, the American populace. NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins stated “This incident and the picketing and the protest and other demonstrations are merely evidence of a problem to which the state of Georgia will have to address itself, whether it wants to or not.”

Fortunately, King did not remain incarcerated for long. His attorneys quickly filed an appeal. Meanwhile, Senator John F. Kennedy, then a presidential candidate, expressed his support to King’s wife, and his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinced a judge to grant bond. King was released on October 27, two days after he was sentenced and one day after he arrived at the Georgia State Prison.

The Kennedys’ efforts to free King convinced many African Americans to vote for the Democratic candidate in the national presidential election less than two weeks after King’s release, which Kennedy won. Click here to read a news article from the Associated Press, in which King thanks Kennedy.

Over the next eight years, before he was assassinated, King continued his fight for civil rights and equality, through sit-in protests, mass marches, writings and speeches, and more. Last October, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial was dedicated (click here to see pictures from the dedication ceremony). With the construction of the memorial, King became the first African American of the many American officials honored on the National Mall in Washington D.C. To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., check out this blog post.

Activists continued sit-in protests across the country. Their work, in tandem with other civil rights protests such as the freedom rides, eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public spaces. (Click here to see a photograph of King at the Act’s signing.)

For a comprehensive list of early sit-ins, click here. Time magazine provides a brief photographic history of the sit-in movement here, including a photograph of the sit-in at Rich’s.

To learn more about sit-ins and other student-dominated civil rights protests, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America (UNC Press 2007).

For a firsthand account by a sit-in protester from Tennessee, check out Merrill Proudfoot’s Diary of a Sit-In, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

In their illustrated children’s book, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, Andrea and Brian Pinkney celebrate the Greensboro Sit-In and the movement to which it contributed.

Lucy v. Adams and the Initial Integration of the University of Alabama

On October 10, 1955—57 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Lucy v. Adams unanimously ordered the University of Alabama to accept its first African American students.

The decision had been several years in the making. Autherine Lucy, a 1952 graduate of Miles College, went to court with Polly Anne Myers in July 1953, determined to gain entrance to the University’s graduate school. However, Myers was unmarried and pregnant at the time, and thus was ineligible for admittance under “moral codes” which then governed admissions. Lucy continued the lawsuit by herself.

A U.S. District Court found that denying the students’ applications violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the case was appealed, it made its way to the Supreme Court. Lucy and Meyers were backed by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, with Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Arthur Shores as their legal representatives.

Finally, more than two years after the battle began and a year and a half after the famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional, the Court ordered the University to admit Lucy. However, the Court did not prevent the University from denying admittance to all other African American applicants.

Lucy attended her first classes the following February, but the success was temporary. Lucy’s admission incited threats from students and community members. After mobs threw rocks and eggs at her—necessitating a police escort—the University suspended her, citing concerns for her safety.

Although the NAACP took the matter to court, lawyers were unsuccessful, and Lucy was ultimately expelled from the school. Her admission, however, paved the way for sustained desegregation in 1963, when two African American students were enrolled. Lucy herself returned to the University three decades later, receiving a master’s degree in elementary education on the same day that her daughter received her degree in corporate finance.

Lucy’s story—and the initial failure of the University of Alabama to abide by the Supreme Court’s orders—is a distressing reminder that segregation and discrimination did not end with Brown v. Board of Education, but it is also a heartening tale of dedication and persistence in the face of hostility, threats, and violence.

To learn more about Autherine Lucy, check out this blog post about her first day at the University, and this blog post about her graduation in 1992. For a brief history and photos, check out this page from the University of Alabama’s web site.

Armando G. Hernandez’s article in the SAGE Encyclopedia of African American Education offers a wonderful summary of the legal battle.

Several years later, when two more students tried to enroll at the University of Alabama, Alabama’s Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium, attempting to prevent their enrollment. President Kennedy ordered Wallace to cease and desist—but it took more than four hours before Brigadier General Henry Graham of the National Guard enforced the order, allowing James Hood and Vivian Malone to register at long last and forever integrating the University. To learn more about the final integration of the University in 1963, check out this blog post, as well as E. Culpepper Clark’s The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama (Oxford University Press 1995).

To view a timeline of the struggle for educational equality, check out this page from Harvard@Home.

On This Day: The ICC and Interstate Transportation Desegregation

On September 22, 1961—51 years ago today—the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), at Robert Kennedy’s insistence, ordered an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities.

The Commission’s new rules, which were set to become effective on November 1, 1961, followed years of anti-segregation demonstrations, perhaps most notably by the Freedom Riders who risked verbal and physical attacks to challenge Jim Crow laws. Although individuals and groups had challenged segregation for decades, the Freedom Rides officially began in May 1961, and were heavily reported by national and international media.

Robert Kennedy, who had sought protection for Freedom Riders, asked the Interstate Commerce Commission on May 30 to end bus segregation. In mid-August, the Justice Department urged the Commission to back these plans, and on September 23, the ICC announced the new rules, which prohibited segregation in interstate travel and required interstate buses to post signs reading “Seating aboard this vehicle is without regard to race, color, creed or national origin by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission.”

The new rules certainly represented a great victory; however, questions remained over whether transportation officials would actually follow them. Civil rights activists from groups like the NAACP and CORE put enforcement to the test, traveling through many Southern states. They found that some areas were fully compliant with the new rules, while others—especially in Mississippi and Alabama—resisted them.

Ultimately, federal court rulings proved necessary (see, for example, a ruling by a federal court voiding three Mississippi segregation laws). However, the ICC ruling represented a significant step in the fight against segregation, and a milestone in the broader civil rights movement.

To learn more, check out this page from the Federal Highway Administration. To read the regulations, click here.

To read an article from the Crisis, 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 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).

To learn more about Robert Kennedy, check out this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

On This Day: Cooper v. Aaron

On September 12, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in its landmark case Cooper v. Allen ruled that the states (in this case, Arkansas) were bound by the Supreme Court’s decisions, and therefore could not pass laws or constitutional amendments designed to negate the Court’s rulings.

Four years earlier, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional—and then, in the 1955 Brown II decision, the Court had ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

The integration orders met resistance in many states, including Arkansas, where the legislature (supported by the governor) passed laws and even constitutional amendments outlawing integration.

In September 1957, the world watched as nine African American students, escorted by more than 1,000 armed soldiers, attended their first day of school in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the remainder of the school year, these nine African American students endured intimidation, bullying, and threats of violence, as well as physical and verbal attacks.

In February 1958, a local federal court approved the school board’s request to remove the African American students and postpone integration. Fought by the NAACP, the case made its way first to a Court of Appeals and then to the United States Supreme Court.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ordered that the African American students be allowed to remain in school and that integration must move forward.

The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ‘ingeniously or ingenuously.’

Although the Court recognized that public education was primarily a state issue, it made clear that the U.S. Constitution was the “supreme Law of the Land.” Expanding on the reach and significance of the ruling, the Court stated that the Arkansas was bound by its orders and therefore, no legislation or amendment could be used to negate the opinion of the nation’s highest court.

Article VI of the Constitution makes the Constitution the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’ In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court, referring to the Constitution as ‘the fundamental and paramount law of the nation,’ declared in the notable case of Marbury v. Madison… that ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’ This decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and that principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the Country as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system. . . . No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.

With this unanimous decision, the Court ordered the school district to admit African American students for the new school year. The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated. The Court made it clear that federal courts can and should enforce federal civil rights laws and court decisions, taking one more step in the fight for integration and equality.

To learn more about Cooper v. Aaron, check out this page from PBS and this page from the U.S. Department of State.  Readers will also be interested in Tony Freyer’s Little Rock on Trial: Cooper v. Aaron and School Desegregation (University Press of Kansas 2007).

To listen to the oral arguments, check out this page from Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Oyez Project.  To read the full text of the opinion, click here.

To read about the Little Rock Nine, check out this blog post. Readers might also be interested in Karen Anderson’s Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School (Princeton University Press 2009), John A. Kirk’s edited collection An Epitaph for Little Rock: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective of the Central High Crisis (University of Arkansas Press 2008), and John A. Kirk’s edited collection Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis (University of Arkansas Press 2007).

On This Day: Claymont High School Integrates

On September 4, 1952—60 years ago today—eleven African American students attended their first day of school at Claymont High School in Delaware. They were the first African Americans to legally integrate a white public school within the then-segregated states.

Twenty months earlier, eight African American students had applied for admission to the school. As expected, their request was denied on the grounds of the “separate but equal” doctrine, but attorney Louis Redding brought suit in court—and won. And soon, on September 3, 1952, the Claymont School Board voted to admit a dozen students.

The first day of integrated education went smoothly and without incident. However, the next day, Delaware’s state attorney general requested that Superintendent Harvey Stahl send the students home, pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Unwilling to back down, the students remained in school—with the backing of school officials and Stahl himself.

The desegregation efforts were successful—in fact, the case became an example of peaceful integration, and was included for argument in Brown v. Board of Education two years later—the same year that the first integrated class graduated from Claymont High School.

The fight for integration throughout the rest of the segregated states would last for years, but Claymont stood as a shining example of what could be achieved when discrimination and hostility were overcome in favor of equality and peace.

Today, the peaceful integration is commemorated by a historic marker placed outside Claymont High School.

To learn more, check out this page from Delaware’s state website.

For more on Delaware’s desegregation efforts, check out Brett Gadsden’s forthcoming book, Between North and South: Delaware, Desegregation, and the Myth of American Sectionalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, due out in October 2012).

To learn more about the case, check out this page from the Brown Foundation’s website. To view a photo of Louis Redding and Thurgood Marshall conferring during the Supreme Court trial, click here.

To read the April 1952 opinion ruling the separate facilities in Delaware unequal, check out this newspaper article.

To learn more about the Redding family’s influence on civil rights, check out Annette Woolard-Provine’s Integrating Delaware (University of Delaware Press 2003).

Desegregation efforts had been ongoing for many years. To learn more about the fight for integration, check out Mark Tushnet’s The NAACP’s Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950 (UNC Press, 2005).

Numerous books discuss the history of Brown v. Board of Education, including Waldo E. Martin’s Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998), Robert Cottrol, Raymond Diamond, and Leland Ware’s Brown v. Board of Education: Caste, Culture, and the Constitution (University Press of Kansas, 2003), and Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (Vintage, 2004).

For discussions about racial integration and educational policy, check out Integrating Schools in a Changing Society: New Politics and Legal Options for a Multiracial Generation (UNC Press 2011, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Elizabeth DeBray).

49 Years Ago: The March on Washington

On August 28, 1963—49 years ago today—more than 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., present what would become his most famous speech.

It had been a long time coming. Famed activist A. Philip Randolph had proposed the march in late 1962. Organization took time, because Randolph needed to bring together various civil rights organizations, notably the NAACP, the SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and the National Urban League. Randolph’s associate, Bayard Rustin, worked with roughly 200 volunteers to put together the nonviolent protest.

The largest human rights demonstration in U.S. history, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom brought individuals and civil rights organizations together. After a mile-long march across the National Mall, participants gathered to listen to speeches by activists and religious leaders. At the end of the day, protest leaders met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

The event’s significance cannot be overstated. In bringing so many people together in support of one common goal, the march helped pressure the federal government to create civil rights legislation. Soon after, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The march is not only famous for its sheer size and success, but also for a speech given that day by Martin Luther King, Jr.—a speech which today is still quoted in books and classrooms throughout the nation. In his “I Have a Dream” speech (audio), King spoke of a brighter future—a time when blacks and whites would be able to come together as brothers and sisters, when his children would be judged by their character rather than by the color of their skin, and when the American creed, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” would truly be realized.

Forty-eight years later, near the spot from which King spoke these famous words, Americans again celebrated the life of this well-known minister and the contributions of the civil rights movement. 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.

The spirit which brought the individuals and organizations together on August 28, 1963, is still remembered today. Large nonviolent protests modeled after the March on Washington have taken place in years since. Five years later, thousands of Americans camped out on the National Mall in opposition to economic inequality and poverty. And just recently, on August 18, 2012, individuals and activists again descended on the National Mall, this time for women’s rights. (Click here to see photos from the We Are Woman rally.)

To learn more, and to see the official program of the 1963 march, check out this page from the Our Documents Initiative, and this page from Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. This page from the White House Historical Association also provides information and photos.

To read a newspaper article published after the march, click here. For photos of the event, published in the Milwaukee Journal, click here.

To view photos from the October 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, click here.

For more on Bayard Rustin, check out PBS’s film Brother Outsider and the related website.