Tag Archive for 'racism'

From the Archives: “The Participation of Negroes in Southern Life,” a Sociological Study from the 1930s

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.

 Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 5

Survey on Discrimination, circa 1930s. Guy B. Johnson Papers, Folder 1312, Scan 5

A former Kenan professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UNC, Chapel Hill, Dr. Guy B. Johnson was a researcher and scholar with strong interests in African American culture and society. Dr. Johnson spent much of his career studying race relations in the American South, and often collaborated with other well known academics, such as Howard Odum and Guion G. Johnson.1 A particularly fascinating study conducted by Johnson during the 1930s distributed questionnaires to African Americans seeking their perspectives on stereotypes, racism, discrimination, and the treatment of Blacks in the South. Hundreds of handwritten responses were collected and contributed to a larger study examining “the Participation of Negroes in Southern Life.” The Guy B. Johnson collection contains hundreds of responses that this survey received. Answers often contain emotional stories of individuals being mistreated, disrespected, and misunderstood, and include details that are arresting and often appalling.

One powerful account from the collection is a narrative written by 20-year-old Onah Belle Hawkins, a junior in college from southern Georgia. As she responded to the questions of the survey, Hawkins described her frustration with the lack of opportunities for blacks in higher education and the daily reminders of racial discrimination present in shops, movie theaters, and restaurants wherever she went. She wrote about segregated trolley cars and how she was always led to the back of the store when trying on shoes, and even how a white debt collector came to her family’s house armed with a revolver and threatened her and her mother. Her candid replies fill the space provided and even continue onto the back of the questionnaire.2

In the 1930s, Dr. Johnson and his colleagues hoped that the information gathered through this study would help “to open the minds of white people of the South.”3 The wealth of information contained within the survey responses can still present a fascinating and revealing resource for researchers today. Survey responses can be found in Subseries 5.8.3, Folders 1311 through 1320 of the Guy B. Johnson Papers.

1. Guy Benton Johnson Papers Finding Aid, Biographical Information
2. Folder 1312: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 9
3. Folder 1311: Survey on Discrimination (1938?), Location Unknown: Scan 1

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).

From the Archives: A Culinary Lens to Segregation

This post is the 9th 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.

Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers, Box 4, Folder 4, scan 71: Durham City Schools – Cafeteria System, Revenue and Expense, Year Ended June 30, 1959 (rnhms01004071).

Rencher Nicholas Harris was Durham’s first African American city councilman as well as a member of the Board of Education and the Secretary for the Board of Directors of Lincoln Hospital.  His papers, collected at the Rubenstein Library and now digitized through a collaborative TRLN large-scale digitization project, cover the scope of his civic efforts from public health to transit planning. The document shown here from the Harris collection is a budgetary analysis of Durham school cafeterias in 1959, yet it is also a prime example of how civic documents demonstrate racial realities.

At first glance, the document lists the budgets of all of the public school cafeterias in Durham, separated into white and “negro” categories.  Examine the figures more closely and the depth of racism in the school segregation policy becomes clear.  For example, compare the operation expenses of white Durham High and African-American Hillside High ($68,475.27 to $39,346.22, respectively).  In addition, the white schools show a net income of $6,205.02 versus the net monetary loss of the African American schools of $4,638.23.  These statistics present a strong quantitative case against the “separate but equal” doctrine that legally supported Jim Crow laws.  One must remain cautious at overusing the figures given above without further contextual evidence.  Fortunately, such context is provided in the digitization of the Rencher Nicholas Harris papers. With Harris’ entire collection online, researchers now have the opportunity to determine the full significance of these statistical witnesses to inequality.

By Josh Hager, CCC Graduate Research Assistant at Duke

On This Day: The Newark Riot

On July 12, 1967—45 years ago today—Newark, New Jersey, dissolved into a bloody riot that would, over the next six days, leave 26 individuals dead, hundreds injured, and between $10 and $15 million in property damage.

Newark was already home to a great deal of racial tension. Neighborhood composition had changed quickly, and unemployment and poverty plagued residents. African Americans were politically marginalized and suffered police brutality on a regular basis.

Within this climate, violence erupted after a cab driver who was arrested for allegedly driving around a double-parked police car was severely beaten by police officers. When rumor spread that the cab driver had died in police custody, an angry crowd threw bricks and bottles at the precinct. Police reacted with speed, force, and brutality.

The riot was characterized by shocking and indiscriminate violence; for instance, a woman named Eloise Spellman was shot while peering out of an apartment window ten stories up. (Click here to learn more about the victims.) Excessive looting and arson led to millions of dollars in property damage.

Three nights into the riot, New Jersey Governor Richard Hughes declared a state of emergency.

The violence settled down on July 17th, after which National Guardsmen and state troopers moved out of Newark. In the end, 24 African Americans, one white police detective, and one white fireman were killed—most of them by police or National Guard troops aiming at suspected snipers. More than 1,500 individuals were arrested.

Coming two years after the infamous Watts Riot of 1965, the Newark riot was followed by more violence as racial tension led to additional riots in other cities—including in Detroit less than two weeks later.

To learn more, check out this detailed summary from Rutgers University. This site also includes video clips of oral history interviews with people who witnessed the violence.

Another website contains day-by-day summaries of the riot, excerpted from Tom Hayden’s 1967 publication Rebellion in Newark.

To read a collection of Newark Evening News articles printed between July 13 and July 16, check out this page from the Newark Public Library.

This 2006 USA Today article about a museum exhibition about the event includes interviews with survivors of the riot.

Four years after the riot, journalist Ronald Porambo, who was in Newark during the violence, published No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark.

To learn more about Newark’s racial history, check out Kevin Mumford’s Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America (NYU Press, 2008).

On This Day: The Hamburg Massacre

On July 8th, 1876—136 years ago today—six African American men and one white man in Hamburg, South Carolina, were killed in a violent confrontation between a white mob and an African American militia.

A decade after the close of the Civil War, Reconstruction Era South Carolina was the scene of strong racial hostility and political and cultural tension.

After a group of African American militia members gathered in Hamburg on July 4th to celebrate the nation’s centennial, white farmers ordered them to move aside for their carriage. Exactly what transpired during this confrontation is unknown, but the next day a white farmer requested that a state justice arrest the leader of the militia for obstructing “my road.”

When the African American militia once again gathered on July 8th, a larger group of white men met the group, demanding that its members disband and hand over their guns. Outnumbered, the African Americans tried to escape, but two dozen were captured and six were killed. One white man was also killed. As was the case with many such riots, looting and property damage also added to the destruction.

The riot was covered in major media outlets, capturing nationwide attention. (Click here to see a political cartoon published in Harpers Weekly in August 1876.) Although several white men were indicted, no one was ever convicted for involvement in the violence or murders.

The event also broadened divisions between South Carolina’s political parties; in the gubernatorial election that year, both parties claimed victory, and two legislatures functioned within the state for some time. The South Carolina Supreme Court declared democratic candidate Wade Hampton III the winner, and the removal of federal troops in 1877 by President Rutherford Hayes (signaling the end of Reconstruction) allowed the Democrats to seize power from former governor Daniel Chamberlain. To learn more about Hampton, check out Rod Andrew, Jr.’s Wade Hampton: Confederate Warrior to Southern Redeemer (UNC Press, 2008).

In 1916, a monument was dedicated honoring Thomas McKie Meriwether, the lone white man killed in the confrontation. However, the murdered African Americans were only recently recognized in such a way (click here to read a newspaper story about the commemorative marker unveiled in 2011).

To learn more about the Hamburg Massacre, check out this summary from the University of Richmond’s History Engine. The New York Times also provides a good summary on the same page as the reprinted political cartoon from Harper’s Weekly.

To read Governor Chamberlain’s August 6th letter regarding the conditions that led to the violence—and suggested measures to prevent similar occurrences—check out this article from the New York Times.

This 2008 article from the Aiken Standard notes the injustice of dedicating a monument to the lone white man killed but not to the African Americans killed that day. Eventually, a marker was produced by a committee formed by the North Augusta Heritage Council.

For more on violence during this era, check out Stephen Budiansky’s The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War (Plume, 2008).

To learn more about this Era in South Carolina, check out Walter Allen’s 1888 publication Governor Chamberlain’s Administration in South Carolina: a Chapter of Reconstruction in the Southern States, which is available digitally through Google Books.

To learn more about Reconstruction, check out John Hope Franklin’s Reconstruction after the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1994) and Mark Summers’ A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction (UNC Press, 2009).

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).

On This Day: The Courage of Deputies Moore and Rogers

On June 2, 1965—47 years ago today—in a horrifying display of the ongoing racial tension in the area, one of the two first African American deputy sheriffs of Washington Parish, Louisiana, was shot and killed while on patrol.

Deputy O’Neal Moore and Deputy David “Creed” Rogers had been on the force for one year and one day when they—the two first African American sheriffs on the force—were ambushed by a group of white men driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal. Gunfire killed Moore instantly; Rogers was shot in the shoulder and lost an eye, but survived.

Although suspects were arrested, no charges were filed, and the case lay dormant for decades. It has been reopened three times, beginning in 1990. Prime suspect Ernest Ray McElveen, a known white supremacist, died in 2003 without ever being tried; while law enforcement officers believe there were two other men involved who may still be alive, they have so far been unable to move ahead with the case.

The shocking display of racial hatred brought to the nation’s attention the discrimination and violence African Americans faced in their daily life in Louisiana and other parts of the South, further mobilizing civil rights activists to fight for equality (and, on a more basic level, safety). Moore’s courage in remaining on the force amidst threats of violence for a full year before he was killed remains an inspiration to this day. (And in fact, Rogers completed a full career in law enforcement, despite his partner’s murder.) It is unclear whether law enforcement will ever be able to move forward with the case, but the murder remains a shocking reminder of America’s long struggle with racial violence.

To read a summary of the ambush and its aftermath, including information provided by Moore’s widow, click here.

To learn more, click here.

To learn more about the civil rights struggle in Louisiana, check out Adam Fairclough’s Race and Democracy: the Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972 (University of Georgia Press, 2008).

The Ku Klux Klan, which was both strong and ruthless in Louisiana at the time of Moore’s death, met resistance from the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of African American men who formed an armed self-defense organization to protect civil rights workers from  police violence. Moore’s widow has stated that the Deacons provided protection and support following her husband’s murder. To learn more about this group, check out Lance Hill’s The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement (UNC Press, 2004)

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).

On This Day: The Los Angeles Riots of 1992

On April 29, 1992—only twenty years ago today—Los Angeles saw the beginning of what would become a nearly week-long riot—the worst the city had seen since the 1965 Watts riots left 38 dead.

The 1992 riot—which left 58 individuals dead, more than 2,000 injured, 16,000 arrested, and $1 billion in property damage—was a response to the jury’s verdict in the case surrounding the controversial beating of Rodney King.

King, who had been drinking, engaged in a high-speed chase with Los Angeles police on the night of March 3, 1991. An amateur cameraman captured a video which showed four police officers beating, clubbing, and kicking King for over a minute while other officers watched; the video was shown repeatedly on television and came to symbolize racism and police brutality. The officers argued that they had acted in self-defense against an allegedly aggressive Rodney King.

On April 29, a jury (with no black jurors) acquitted the four white officers accused of beating King. The verdict immediately sparked anger and violence, including fires, looting, and beatings.

Los Angeles’s mayor, Tom Bradley, expressed concern over the verdict: “Today the system failed us. Today the jury told the world what we all saw with our own eyes wasn’t a crime … The jury’s verdict will never outlive the images of the savage beating.”

In the wake of widespread violence, a curfew was imposed and numerous arrests were made. Many rioters who were arrested were later released when police officers were unable to identify individuals within the large crowds brought in. The National Guard eventually restored order; schools and businesses reopened in early May.

President Bush toured the destruction several days later; members of both political parties urged him to improve economic conditions for poor African Americans.

A year after the riot, the four previously acquitted officers went to trial for a second time, facing federal charges of violating King’s civil rights. Two were found guilty and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail; two were cleared. Each of the four either quit or was fired from the LAPD.

King was eventually awarded $3.8 million in damages. He has since faced several arrests and continues to battle alcoholism. His beating, the officers’ trials, and the days-long riot stand today as a reminder that racial violence is still very much a part of America’s story—and his oft-repeated question “Can’t we all get along?” still rings true, twenty years later.

For more information, check out this BBC story.

James Johnson Jr. and Walter Farrell Jr.’s essay “The Fire This Time: The Genesis of the Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992”—found in the edited volume Race, Poverty, and American Cities (UNC Press 1996)—explores the underlying causes of the uprising.

The Associated Press recently published a short news video about the events: click here.

Click here to read excerpts from President Bush’s speech during the LA riots.

For an interesting opinion about the (lack of) literature concerning the 1992 riots, check out David Ulin’s column in the Los Angeles Times.

Rodney King, in conjunction with Lawrence Spagnola, recently published a memoir about the event: The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. For information on his book tour, click here.

A Murder in Mississippi

People walking out of a theater an hour after the vigil last week said that although Jackson has changed in some ways, racism remains.

A racially motivated attack. Vigils for the victim. Soul-searching. A state that has “struggled mightily to move beyond its past.” In June, an African American man was murdered by a white teenager, one of a group who robbed and beat the man outside a hotel in the wee hours of the morning. In the aftermath of the attack, now deemed a capital murder, Jackson, Mississippi is holding vigils and looking hard at the relationship between whites and African Americans. And concluding that “racism remains.”

The New York Times’s coverage reveals not only a tragic story, but also the odd collusion between southern communities seeking to move “beyond” their pasts and a national media willing to look past evidence to the contrary. The South will never move beyond its past (cue the now cliched Faulkner quotation) and furthermore, until white southerners are willing to look hard at their present absent a murder they will continue to struggle to handle its legacy. A national media sensitive to judging white southern communities on account of their racially oppressive pasts abnegates their responsibility to ask hard questions and find answers and colludes with southerners and others who, whatever their motives, are eager to avoid confronting the very real legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. The denial embedded in this paragraph is, well, undeniable:

Although a conversation with them might be laced with racial slurs, they point to black friends, including some running Tater Tots and limeades to the cars parked at the drive-in. The way people are portraying them is simply wrong, they said.