Tag Archive for 'thurgood marshall'

Remembering Boynton v. Virginia

On December 5, 1960—52 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Boynton v. Virginia held racial segregation in bus terminals illegal, stating that such segregation violates the Interstate Commerce Act.

The case had been ongoing for two years, since Howard University Law School student Bruce Boynton boarded a Trailways bus to travel to his home in Alabama. During a forty-minute stop in Richmond, Virginia, he was arrested for trespassing for sitting in the whites-only section of a bus terminal restaurant. The NAACP, led by Thurgood Marshall, represented Boynton in court, arguing that Boynton had been denied equal protection under the law, and that the arrest placed an undue burden on interstate commerce.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the Court ruled in favor of Boynton, stating that interstate passengers were protected by the Interstate Commerce Act, and representing bus transportation facilities (in this case, the terminal’s restaurant) as sufficiently related to interstate commerce to warrant provisions against racial discrimination. The decision read, in part,

Without regard to contracts, if the bus carrier has volunteered to make terminal and restaurant facilities and services available to its interstate passengers as a regular part of their transportation, and the terminal and restaurant have acquiesced and cooperated in this undertaking, the terminal and restaurant must perform these services without discriminations prohibited by the Act. In the performance of these services under such conditions the terminal and restaurant stand in place of the bus company in the performance of its transportation obligations.

This ruling effectively extended to interstate travel the Court’s earlier ruling in Morgan v. Virginia, which had voided a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation; however, Southern states were reluctant to enforce it.

The Court’s decision inspired the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to adapt the earlier Journey of Reconciliation (meant to test Southern states’ adherence to the Supreme Court’s ruling) into a new protest: the Freedom Rides of 1961. During the Freedom Rides, civil rights activists rode Greyhound and Trailways buses through the Deep South to challenge local segregation laws and customs.

In 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission would finally finish the job, at Robert Kennedy’s insistence, by ordering an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities.

To learn more about Boynton v. Virginia, check out this page from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and this 1961 article from the California Law Review. To hear the oral argument, click here.

The ruling had been a long time coming; five years earlier, the Supreme Court in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company had outlawed segregation on interstate buses and at the terminals servicing such buses. 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), and this page from the Virginia Historical Society.

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.

To learn more about other important cases argued by the NAACP, click here.

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.

Remembering the Port Chicago Mutiny

On July 17, 1944—68 years ago today—the segregated Port Chicago naval munitions base off San Francisco Bay suffered a massive explosion which killed 320 men and led to the largest mutiny trial in American naval history—a trial with strong civil rights implications.

African Americans had long been segregated in the U.S. armed forces, forced into menial positions and excluded from officer status. At Port Chicago, 1,400 enlisted African Americans—who had not received any training in handling ammunition—loaded bullets, bombs, and depth charges onto ships. Forced to work at great speed by the white officers, the men were in constant danger.

On July 17th, a ship holding thousands of tons of ammunition exploded. Two hundred and two African Americans and 118 white men died that day, and many more were injured.

Following the disaster, the white officers were honored as heroes and given leave, while hundreds of surviving African Americans were sent back to the dangerous work loading ammunition on another ship. They refused, but, in a blatant display of racial discrimination, fifty were charged and convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms.

Attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was present during the trial, appealed the case; however, the convictions held.

It became increasingly difficult for the Navy to justify these severe sentences, and ultimately the men were released after serving reduced sentences; however, the convictions were not overturned. One of the three surviving men was pardoned in 1999, but to this day efforts to posthumously exonerate the other 49 have not been successful.

The mutiny trial made the Navy’s deeply ingrained racial inequality starkly apparent, highlighting the exclusion of African Americans from officer status and the hostility and danger they faced. It came at a time when the “Double V” campaign began to call for victory not only over enemies abroad but also over racial prejudice on the home front.

By the summer of 1945, the Navy had begun to desegregate; in 1948, the armed services were formally integrated when President Truman signed Executive Order 9981.

To learn more about the Port Chicago mutiny—and to view pictures and read a list of the men killed during the explosion—check out this summary from the American Merchant Marine at War site. The Equal Justice Society also provides a summary, as does the National Park Service.

Today, Port Chicago is a designated National Memorial, established as part of the National Park Service in 2009.  The 68th annual commemoration will be held on Saturday, July 21st.

To learn more, check out Robert L. Allen’s The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History (Heyday, 2006; first published in 1989).

To learn more about the integration of the armed forces, check out this page from Digital History, hosted by the University of Houston.

To learn more about African Americans’ service in the U.S. armed forces, check out Kimberley Phillips’ War! What Is It Good for?: Black Freedom Struggles and the U.S. Military from World War II to Iraq (UNC Press, 2011).

Remembering McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents

On June 5, 1950—62 years ago today—the Supreme Court, in one of two education desegregation decision that day, struck another blow to segregated education when it declared an Oklahoma statute unconstitutional, arguing that the differential treatment shown to an African American student was itself a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

George W. McLaurin was denied admission to the University of Oklahoma’s Doctorate in Education program, solely because of his race. A state statute declared it a misdemeanor to operate a school in which both whites and African American students were taught. McLaurin filed suit, and a three-judge panel in federal court struck down the law, ordering the University to admit McLaurin.

This wasn’t the end of McLaurin’s struggle, though. Although the University was required to admit him, he was separated from the other students on campus, forced to sit by himself in classrooms, libraries, and the cafeteria. The federal Court, although it had required his admission, upheld the University’s discriminatory measures.

The NAACP came to McLaurin’s aid, led by attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was, at the same time, arguing another desegregation case. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision, stating that the University’s treatment of McLaurin violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The justices discussed McLaurin’s separation from other students, stating that:

The result is that the appellant is handicapped in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction. Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession.

The ruling reached further, delineating the ways in which the University’s discrimination against McLaurin would affect others in the future:

Our society grows increasingly complex, and our need for trained leaders increases correspondingly. Appellant’s case represents, perhaps, the epitome of that need, for he is attempting to obtain an advanced degree in education, to become, by definition, a leader and trainer of others. Those who will come under his guidance and influence must be directly affected by the education he receives. Their own education and development will necessarily suffer to the extent that his training is unequal to that of his classmates. State-imposed restrictions which produce such inequalities cannot be sustained.

The decision, along with the Sweatt v. Painter ruling the same day—milestones in the fight for integration—foreshadowed continued legal action and ultimate success. Within the next few years, the Supreme Court would further dismantle segregated education through Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II.

Today, the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library is a national historic landmark.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To learn more, click here.

The National Archives hosts online access to three images which illustrate McLaurin’s separation from his classmates: click here.

Click here to learn about Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, a precursor to McLaurin v. Oklahoma.

To learn about the three milestone cases decided on June 5, 1950, click here.

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).

Remembering Heman Marion Sweatt and the Fight for Integration

On June 5, 1950—62 years ago today—the Supreme Court dealt a significant blow to segregated education when it ruled that the exclusion of an African American student from the University of Texas Law School was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Four years earlier, Heman Marion Sweatt had been denied admission to the law school because of his race. After Sweatt pursued legal action, the University attempted to provide “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans wishing to pursue a legal education. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall arguing the case at the same time as another segregation case, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents.

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court held that the University’s actions violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The separate school would have been unequal to the University of Texas Law School, the Court said:

. . . [W]e cannot find substantial equality in the educational opportunities offered white and Negro law students by the State. In terms of number of faculty, variety of courses and opportunity for specialization, size of the student body, scope of the library, availability of law review and similar activities, the University of Texas Law School is superior. What is more important, the University of Texas Law School possesses to a far greater degree those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school. Such qualities, to name but a few, include reputation of the faculty, experience of the administration, position and influence of the alumni, standing in the community, traditions and prestige. It is difficult to believe that one who had a free choice between these law schools would consider the question close.

And the Court took it one step further, contending that separation in and of itself would harm the students’ abilities to compete in the legal arena:

The law school, a proving ground for legal learning and practice, cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts. Few students and no one who has practiced law would choose to study in an academic vacuum, removed from the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views with which the law is concerned.

The Court stated unequivocally that the Fourteenth Amendment required the University to admit Sweatt to the law school, thereby striking an important blow to the “separate but equal” doctrine utilized in the decades following Plessy v. Ferguson.

The Sweatt v. Painter decision and the McLaurin v. Oklahoma decision the same day—milestones in the fight for integration—foreshadowed continued legal action and ultimate success. Within the next few years, the Supreme Court would further dismantle segregated education through Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II.

Click here for the article on the case in the Handbook of Texas, from the Texas State Historical Association.

To read the full text of the Court’s decision in Sweatt v. Painter, click here.

To learn more about the case and its significance, check out Gary Lavergne’s Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice (University of Texas Press, 2010).

To learn more about the fight for educational equality in Texas, check out Amilcar Shabazz’s Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity in Higher Education in Texas (UNC Press, 2003).

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).

Remembering Morgan v. Virginia

On June 3, 1946—66 years ago today—the Supreme Court voided a Virginia law requiring segregation on public transportation, taking a major step in the fight for equality.

Two years earlier, Irene Morgan, an African American woman, boarded a Greyhound bus in Virginia bound for Maryland. When ordered to move to the back of the bus as Virginia law required, Morgan refused, and was forcibly removed. She was fined $10—which she refused to pay—and the state appellate court upheld her conviction and fine.

A team of NAACP attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall, mounted a legal campaign on Morgan’s behalf, arguing that laws requiring segregation in interstate transportation placed an undue burden on interstate commerce and violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

The decision read, in part:

As no state law can reach beyond its own border nor bar transportation of passengers across its boundaries, diverse seating requirements for the races in interstate journeys result. As there is no federal act dealing with the separation of races in interstate transportation, we must decide the validity of this Virginia statute on the challenge that it interferes with commerce, as a matter of balance between the exercise of the local police power and the need for national uniformity in the regulations of interstate travel.

Although the ruling itself did not ban segregated transportation within the state, it was an important step in the fight against segregated transportation—a struggle which would continue for several decades.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, by extension, struck down all similar laws in other states. The following year, sixteen civil rights activists began the Journey of Reconciliation to test Southern states’ adherence to the Supreme Court’s ruling. The protest would be continued more than a decade later during the Freedom Rides of 1961. It was a long road ahead, but Morgan v. Virginia foreshadowed significant challenges to come—and Irene Morgan’s actions inspired future work by individuals like Rosa Parks.

Irene Morgan’s courage in refusing to give up her seat was finally honored in 2001, when President Clinton included Morgan among 28 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal (also included in the list were Ruby Bridges, Constance Baker Motley, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth).

To read the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision, click here.

To read a New York Times article printed the following day, click here.

For more information, click here and here.

To learn more about the long history of 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 other important cases argued by the NAACP, click here.

On This Day: Corrigan v. Buckley and Housing Discrimination

On May 24, 1926—86 years ago today—the Supreme Court through its refusal to hear a case upheld the legality of racially restrictive covenants, ushering in decades of unabated racially motivated housing discrimination.

The case, Corrigan v. Buckley, resulted from a 1921 agreement between thirty white persons who owned 25 parcels of land. These individuals agreed that no part of any of these properties would be sold, leased, or given to anyone of African American descent.

Irene Corrigan in 1922 sold a lot and house to Helen Curtis and her husband Dr. Arthur Curtis, both African American. John J. Buckley brought suit against Corrigan and Curtis in an attempt to prevent the sale, and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.

Corrigan and Curtis argued that the covenant violated various rights conferred upon citizens by the Constitution of the United States, including the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, stating that constitutional amendments were applicable only to state action rather than individual action, that there was no substantial constitutional or statutory question giving the Court jurisdiction of the appeal, and that it thus could not determine that the covenant was void and discriminatory.

The Supreme Court’s quick dismissal of the case in effect validated the use of racially restrictive covenants—and in fact they became quite common afterwards. 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).

However, Corrigan inspired attorneys such as  Charles Hamilton Houston (of Howard University School of Law) and Thurgood Marshall to develop a legal strategy to outlaw such covenants—a struggle that would continue for years, frequently through the work of NAACP attorneys.

Today, the Curtis/Corrigan address is marked by the African American Heritage Trail.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Corrigan v. Buckley, click here.

Records from the case are available through Gale’s The Making of Modern Law: U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs collection through paid online access (click here) and in book form (click here).

To learn more about Hansberry v. Lee, click here.

To see a descriptive timeline of the fair housing struggle, click here.

To learn more about racially restrictive covenants, click here.

For more on this topic, check out Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy (ed. John Goering), available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

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 Smith v. Allwright

On April 3, 1944—68 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright chipped away at race-based voter discrimination, ruling that a state cannot “permit a private organization to practice racial discrimination in elections.”

The case was brought in response to a resolution by the Democratic Party of Texas (described as a “voluntary association” by the Texas Supreme Court)—a policy which allowed only whites to participate in Democratic primary elections. Lonnie Smith, a 39-year-old African American man, was denied the right to vote in the 1940 Texas Democratic primary, and thus began his four-year legal struggle.

Famed NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall—who four years earlier in Chambers v. Florida had won his first of 29 Supreme Court victories—argued that Texas’s Democratic Party’s policy violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and as such denied African Americans their full citizenship rights.

Overturning a nine-year-old decision from Grovey v. Townsend, the Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright ruled:

The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any state because of race. This grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election. Constitutional rights would be of little value if they could be thus indirectly denied.

Not only did this case lead to an immediate increase in African American voter registration, it also represented a milestone in the African American struggle for equality and full citizenship and heralded civil rights victories that would come in the following decades.

For more information, check out the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s summary of the case.

For the full text of the decision, click here.

For background information, check out this essay from the University of Texas.

Charles Zelden published a book about the trial with the University of Kansas Press back in 2004: The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary (search for it here).

Howard University: 145 Years of History

On March 2nd, 145 years ago, President Andrew Johnson approved the charter for Howard University, which would become one of the nation’s most prestigious historically black universities.

Originally conceived in November 1866 as a seminary for training African American preachers, the school was quickly designed as a full liberal arts college and university, including a college of medicine.

The institution was named in honor of General Oliver O. Howard, a Civil War hero who both helped to found the University and acted as a commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau—the organization from which, during its early years, Howard received a large percentage of its financial backing.

Throughout its 145 years, Howard University has produced some of the most well-known and influential African American leaders:   Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Virginia Governor Lawrence Douglas Wilder, Toni Morrison, and Andrew Young, to name just a few.

To learn more about Howard University, and to view photographs and documents, click here.

Click here to see the U.S. Department of Education’s current summary of Howard University.