Tag Archive for 'protest'

From the Archives: Greensboro Demonstrates

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.

Newspaper Clipping, from the Durham Morning Herald, May 17, 1963. Floyd B. McKissick Papers, Folder 7013, Item ID: 04930_7013_0009

In May of 1963 the Greensboro downtown area was filled with protesters campaigning for an end to segregation in city businesses, and close to 240 students, many from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now University), were arrested in a single day on trespassing charges. The demonstrations were staged largely due to the unwillingness of four major Greensboro establishments, S&W Cafeteria, Mayfair Cafeteria, the Center Theater, and the Carolina Theater, to change their segregation policies despite both community protests and the urging of two Greensboro business groups.

These two groups, the Greensboro Merchants Association and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, responded to anti-segregation reports from the Mayor’s Committee on Human Relations by encouraging businesses throughout the city to cease all practices “which deny rights or services to any citizen.” Even after this plea, Boyd Morris, the owner of the Mayfair Cafeteria, one of the restaurants targeted by Greensboro protesters, remained firm in his resolution against integrating his business, pledging that he would not change company policy until “the US Supreme Court rules against ‘the rights of an individual to operate his business as he wishes.’”

You can read more about these turbulent times in a May 17, 1963, article from the Durham Morning Herald. This article was digitized as part of the TRLN CCC grant; find it here in the Floyd B. McKissick Papers.

On This Day: The Million Woman March

On October 25, 1997—15 years ago today—hundreds of thousands or even a million women filled the streets of Philadelphia in the largest gathering of women in the world.

The event had been months in the planning, and by early October the organizers expected half a million attendees—and hoped for many more. Organized by grassroots activist Phile Chionesu and housing activist Asia Coney, the protest drew speakers, musicians, and individuals from across the country to an event intended to unify and empower African American women of varying ages and backgrounds and to strengthen bonds in the African American community.

Chionesu and Coney, who argued for improvements in education, healthcare, economics, and more, developed specific proposals to help African Americans, particularly women. Ultimately, the march led to the development of a global movement for females of African descent. Soon after the march, U.S. House of Representatives member Dale Kildee paid tribute to the march.

Although there are no official attendance numbers, estimates range from 300,000 to more than 2,000,000—very impressive numbers, especially given that, rather than working through major civil rights organizations and famous speakers, organizers relied on a network of smaller organizations, fliers, the Internet, and word of mouth to publicize the event. Women who attended said they came away with pride, confidence, and hope.

This was not the first large-scale march in America; earlier years had seen the March on Washington, the Million Man March, and more—and, three years later, the Million Family March would again draw crowds.

To learn more, check out this article from the Los Angeles Times, printed the day after the march. This earlier article, printed right before the event, discusses the plans.

For more information, check out this page from BlackPast.org.

To see a photograph showing the crowd, check out this page from Wayne State University’s Reuther Library. To listen to a few excerpts from speeches made that day, check out this article from CNN.

From North Carolina alone, thousands of women traveled to the event, many in large groups. To see a WRAL article published prior to the march, click here.

Readers will also be interested in Peter Ling and Sharon Monteith’s edited volume Gender and the Civil Rights Movement (Rutgers University Press 2004).

Remembering the Women’s Strike for Equality

On August 26th, 1970—42 years ago today—more than 20,000 women rallied across the country in favor of workplace, political, and social equality for females.

Coming 50 years after the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, the protest was at that time the United States’ largest strike for women’s rights.

By 1970, women were still paid less than men who performed the same jobs, were restricted from higher education, and in some states were limited in their ability to own their own property or serve on juries.

Organized by leading feminist Betty Friedan and sponsored by the National Women’s Strike Coalition, the Women’s Strike for Equality was centered in New York City, where thousands of women gathered on Fifth Avenue to listen to speeches, carrying signs with such slogans as “Don’t Iron While the Strike Is Hot” and “Housewives are Unpaid Slave Laborers.” A group of women even placed a banner reading “Women of the World Unite!” on the Statue of Liberty.

The protest was not confined to New York City; individuals and groups in other cities across the country joined forces, holding their own marches and rallies.

Although there were of course mixed reactions, the strike was deemed a success and many political figures came out in support. The protest strengthened the second wave feminism movement already taking root in the U.S.

Since 1971, August 26th has been designated “Women’s Equality Day,” celebrating suffrage while also calling attention to women’s continued fight for full equality.

To learn more about the protest, check out this article from Ms. Magazine, and this page from the Jewish Women’s Archive. The protest was later chronicled in Al Sutton’s documentary Equality, I Am a Woman.

To read an Associated Press account of the protest, published the next day, click here.

Click here to read a March 21, 1970, New York Times article highlighting Betty Friedan’s initial call for the protest.

To learn more about Betty Friedan, check out this article from the New York Times. Friedan’s extensive writings are available through various publishers.

To learn more about the accomplishments of the women’s movement, check out Ruth Rosen’s The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America (Penguin 2006).

To learn more about second-wave feminists, check out Jules Archer’s Breaking Barriers: The Feminist Revolution from Susan B. Anthony to Margaret Sanger to Betty Friedan  (Puffin 1996)

To learn more about the suffrage struggle, check out Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr.’s Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement (published by the collaboration of American Graphic Press and the National Women’s History Project).

For a study of how physical spaces in society, work, and the home illustrated women’s inequality throughout history, check out Daphne Spain’s Gendered Spaces (UNC Press 1992).

For a discussion of the meaning of male and female in American history, check out Mary Ryan’s Mysteries of Sex: Tracing Men and Women through American History (UNC Press 2006).

For more on women’s history, check out the edited collection U.S. History As Women’s History: New Feminist Essays (UNC Press 1995).

Out of the feminist movement arose Ms. magazine, a popular icon of the women’s movement. To learn more, check out Amy Erdman Farrell’s Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism (UNC Press 1993).

Remembering the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom

On May 17, 1957—55 years ago today—thousands of civil rights demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to urge the federal government to fulfill the promises laid out in the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, exactly three years earlier.

The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom brought together 25,000 protesters for a day of songs and speeches, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s moving “Give Us the Ballot” speech (listen and read here).

In the years following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, segregationists had proved unwilling to comply with integration orders—despite the Supreme Court’s insistence in Brown II (1955) that school administrators end segregation “with all deliberate speed.”

On February 14, 1957, civil rights activists urged President Eisenhower to condemn segregationists’ refusal to comply with the integration orders—and the violence that segregationists propagated against African Americans throughout the South. In a letter, the activists warned that if the government did not take a public stand against segregation, activists would congregate in D.C. for a day of prayers, songs, and speeches meant to draw Americans’ attention to the violence and inequality prevalent in the South.

Although the event did not draw as many protesters as the organizers had expected, it was heavily covered in the national press. Ultimately it increased both King’s prominence and Americans’ consciousness of the violence and inequality that were still so common across the South three years after Brown v. Board of Education. It motivated activists to continue to fight for an end to segregation and violence, and foreshadowed the 1963 March on Washington and King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

For more information, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed the day after the civil rights protesters wrote to President Eisenhower, click here.

To see a newspaper article printed on the day of the protest, click here.

HarperOne’s collection of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., includes the “Give Us the Ballot” speech, among others.

For more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., click here.

On This Day: The Poor People’s Campaign

On May 12, 1968—44 years ago today, protesters began a movement that would soon involve thousands of Americans of all races and backgrounds in a multi-week protest and march against economic inequality and poverty.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders, had been preparing for the Poor People’s Campaign for several months. After King was assassinated on April 4th, his widow, Coretta Scott King, and a group of black ministers (including Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson), decided to move forward with the plans.

Originally conceived of by Marian Wright Edelman of the NAACP, the campaign sought help from Congress and governmental agencies: jobs for the unemployed, health care, education, and a fair minimum wage.

For six weeks—until their land use permit expired on June 24—protesters camped out in tents and shacks on the National Mall, in an area they named Resurrection City.

Ultimately, as many as 50,000 people participated in the campaign. At the time, many thought the concessions the protesters secured were insufficient. However, the campaign was highly visible and increased consciousness of poverty across the nation—and it foreshadowed protests to come in the ensuing decades, including the current Occupy Movement.

For more information, check out this story from NPR.

To learn more, and to view a video and several news articles, click here.

To view a flyer announcing the movement, click here.

Gerald McKnight’s The Last Crusade: Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People’s Campaign (Basic Books, 1998) examines the demonstration and responses to it.

Thirty-six years before the Poor People’s Campaign, another group of protesters set up encampments in Washington, D.C. During the Great Depression, World War I veterans—left hungry and homeless after the government announced they would not receive their service compensation until 1945—launched a large-scale protest. The Bonus Army arrived in D.C. on May 25, 1932, and quickly drew thousands of veterans. To learn more, click here.

Remembering the Freedom Riders

On May 4, 1961—51 years ago today—the first group of Freedom Riders left Washington, D.C., aboard Greyhound buses bound for the segregated South. Their courage and persistence over the next six months would change American history.

Sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Freedom Rides involved more than 400 African American and white individuals who traveled in groups throughout the South, deliberately challenging Jim Crow laws, in particular strict prohibitions against integrated bus travel.

Freedom Riders faced hostility, discrimination, and quite frequently mob violence. (Click here to read about James Zwerg, one young Freedom Rider who fell victim to an angry white mob). But they persevered, maintaining their dedication to nonviolent direct action.

This was not the first such demonstration: 14 years earlier, 16 CORE members had participated in the Journey of Reconciliation, traveling south from D.C. via Greyhound and Trailways buses. Despite this and other early demonstrations—and despite court cases mandating desegregation of interstate travel—African Americans still faced racism while traveling through the South in the early 1960s.

CORE and SNCC brought together individuals of all ages, races, genders, and regional affiliations to challenge the deeply ingrained Jim Crow policies of the South, aiming to move past discrimination and violence into a climate of equality. Heavily reported by national and international media, the Freedom Rides ultimately prevailed. In September 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s insistence, ordered an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities. By the time the rides ended in November 1961, participants had made a lasting impact on America.

To hear civil rights scholar Paul Ortiz discuss the impact of the Freedom Rides, click here.

Mike Wiley’s moving play, The Parchman Hour, commemorates the Freedom Rides and celebrates the courage exhibited by those who served sentences in one of the most brutal prisons in the South, Parchman Farm. To learn more, check out these two blog posts: click here and here.

As part of a larger site connected with the film Freedom Riders, PBS hosts an interactive map allowing viewers to trace the routes of the freedom rides.

For more about this movement, check out Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford University Press 2007), on which PBS’s documentary is based.

For more information about SNCC, check out Wesley Hogan’s Many Minds, One Heart, UNC Press, 2007, as well as a series of LCRM blog posts and videos related to SNCC’s 50th reunion.

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).

Remembering the Children’s Crusade

On May 2nd, 1963—49 years ago today—more than a thousand African American students gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham to begin an unprecedented march downtown, facing police lines and arrest.

Trained in the strategies of nonviolent direct action by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), thousands of students on May 2ndseveral weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr., had been arrested in Birmingham—launched the Children’s Crusade, an initiative of the Birmingham Campaign.

Hundreds of the initial protesters were arrested and taken to jail, but hundreds more joined in the following day. After public safety commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor instructed police to use force against the demonstrators, television and newspaper coverage of children facing beatings, high-pressure fire hoses, and dog attacks spread quickly across the nation and world.

Ultimately, the Children’s Crusade proved much more expedient and successful than previous civil rights protests in the city: the Birmingham Campaign ended on May 10th  (after intervention from the U.S. Department of Justice), when local officials agreed to desegregate downtown stores and release jailed demonstrators following the end of the protest.

That wasn’t the end of the protesters’ struggle, though. Soon after the campaign ended, the city’s board of education announced that it would suspend or expel all students who had participated in the crusade. The local federal district court upheld the ruling, but, on the same day, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, condemning the board of education’s decision and ordering the schools to reinstate the students.

The young protesters’ success—as well as strong national outrage over the violence against schoolchildren—further energized the civil rights movement and highlighted the need for reforms that would soon be seen in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The children’s courage inspired countless other individuals and groups to continue the fight for equality and justice.

For more information, click here.

For the Encyclopedia of Alabama’s entry on the Birmingham Campaign, click here.

For more on Birmingham’s significance in the civil rights struggle, check out Glenn Eskew’s But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle (UNC Press 1997).

For more about the crusade, check out Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, from Peachtree Publishers.

For more about children’s involvement in the civil rights movement, check out Rebecca de Schweinitz’s If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality (UNC Press 2009).

Remembering Barbara Johns and the Students of Moton High School

On April 23, 1951—61 years ago today—16-year-old Barbara Johns organized what would become a ten-day strike by African American students protesting against decrepit segregated school facilities.

Farmville, a rural Virginia town, provided a large and well-equipped school for white students while sending African American students to the poorly equipped and exceedingly overcrowded Moton High School—a school which “solved” its overcrowding problem by building shacks made of plywood and tarpaper to house additional students.

Johns, frustrated by the town’s failure to follow through on building a new school, convinced all 450 students to walk out until construction began on a new school building.

This protest set into motion more than the students had originally hoped for. Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers convinced the students that, rather than requesting a new school, they should demand that the court strike down Virginia’s segregation laws. And, as such, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County was born, filed in the name of Dorothy Davis, a ninth-grade student at Moton.

After the federal district court upheld segregation, the NAACP appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court finally ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Today, the strike is commemorated by the Robert Russa Moton Museum, housed in the former high school building.

To learn more about the original Farmville walkout, and to view photographs, click here and here.

To view documents associated with Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, click here.

To view documents associated with Brown v. Board of Education, click here.

To learn more about the long struggle for integrated education in Prince Edward County, check out Jill Titus’ Brown’s Battleground: Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County (UNC Press 2011).

Remembering the San Antonio Sit-In

On March 16th, 52 years ago, San Antonio became the first major Southern city to integrate its lunch counters, marking a decisive victory for the sit-in movement that involved more than 70,000 participants.

After students in Greensboro, N.C., staged a sit-in protest at F.W. Woolworth Co., African American students from across the country followed suit. San Antonio’s protests began in earnest on March 13, and led to swift victory. By March 19th, an interracial, interfaith dinner was held to commemorate the end of the eventful week.

San Antonio’s integration heralded lunch counter desegregation success to come. By April 6th, 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.

For a comprehensive list of sit-ins, click here.

For more on civil rights in Texas, check out Brian Behnken’s Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas (UNC Press 2011).

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.

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).

Upcoming Conference: 50 Years after the Sit-Ins

This coming January, scholars will reflect on “the role of protest in social movements and law reform.” The conference features a very sold line-up of panels and panelists, including Risa Goluboff, author of The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, and keynotes by Julian Bond and Charles Sherrod. Take a look and register here. (h/t Mary Dudziak)