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Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, December 1955
On December 1, 1955, an African–American woman named Rosa Parks was riding a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama when the driver told her to give up her seat to a white man. Parks refused, and was arrested for violating the city's racial segregation ordinances, which mandated that blacks sit in the back of public buses and give up their seats for white riders if the front seats were full. Parks, a 42–year–old seamstress, was also the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. As she later explained: "I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed&.I had decided that I would have to know once and for all what rights I had as a human being and a citizen." Four days after Parks' arrest, an activist organization called the Montgomery Improvement Association—led by a young pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr.—spearheaded a boycott of the city's municipal bus company. Because African Americans made up some 70 percent of the bus company's riders at the time, and the great majority of Montgomery's black citizens supported the bus boycott, its impact was immediate.
About 90 boycotters, including King, were indicted under a law forbidding conspiracy to obstruct the operation of a business. Found guilty, King immediately appealed the decision. Meanwhile, the boycott stretched on for more than a year, and the bus company struggled to avoid bankruptcy. On November 13, 1956, in Browder v. Gayle, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision declaring the bus company's segregation seating policy unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. King, called off the boycott on December 20, and Rosa Parks—known as the "mother of the civil rights movement"—would be one of the first to ride the newly desegregated buses.
Central High School integrated, September 1957
Although the Supreme Court declared segregation of public schools illegal in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the decision was extremely difficult to enforce, as 11 southern states enacted resolutions interfering with, nullifying or protesting school desegregation. In Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus made resistance to desegregation a central part of his successful 1956 reelection campaign. The following September, after a federal court ordered the desegregation of Central High School, located in the state capital of Little Rock, Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African–American students from entering the school. He was later forced to call off the guard, and in the tense standoff that followed, TV cameras captured footage of white mobs converging on the "Little Rock Nine" outside the high school. For millions of viewers throughout the country, the unforgettable images provided a vivid contrast between the angry forces of white supremacy and the quiet, dignified resistance of the African–American students.
After an appeal by the local congressman and mayor of Little Rock to stop the violence, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the state's National Guard and sent 1,000 members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne division to enforce the integration of Central High School. The nine black students entered the school under heavily armed guard, marking the first time since Reconstruction that federal troops had provided protection for black Americans against racial violence. Not done fighting, Faubus closed all of Little Rock's high schools in the fall of 1958 rather than permit integration. A federal court struck down this act, and four of the nine students returned, under police protection, after the schools were reopened in 1959.
Sitâ€“in movement and founding of SNCC, 1960
On February 1, 1960, four black students from the Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at the lunch counter in a local branch of Woolworth's and ordered coffee. Refused service due to the counter's whites–only policy, they stayed put until the store closed, then returned the next day with other students. Heavily covered by the news media, the Greensboro sit–ins sparked a movement that spread quickly to college towns throughout the South and into the North, as young blacks and whites engaged in various forms of peaceful protest against segregation in libraries, on beaches, in hotels and other establishments. Though many protesters were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace, their actions made an immediate impact, forcing Woolworth's—among other establishments—to change their segregationist policies.
To capitalize on the sit–in movement's increasing momentum, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina in April 1960. Over the next few years, SNCC broadened its influence, organizing so–called "Freedom Rides" through the South in 1961 and the historic March on Washington in 1963; it also joined the NAACP in pushing for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Later, SNCC would mount an organized resistance to the Vietnam War. As its members faced increased violence, SNCC became more militant, and by the late 1960s it was advocating the "Black Power" philosophy of Stokely Carmichael (SNCC's chairman from 1966–67) and his successor, H. Rap Brown. By the early 1970s, SNCC was effectively disbanded.
CORE and Freedom Rides, May 1961
Founded in 1942 by the civil rights leader James Farmer, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sought to end discrimination and improve race relations through direct action. In its early years, CORE staged a sit–in at a Chicago coffee shop (a precursor to the successful sit–in movement of 1960) and organized a "Journey of Reconciliation," in which a group of blacks and whites rode together on a bus through the upper South in 1947, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in interstate bus travel. In Boynton v. Virginia (1960), the Court extended the earlier ruling to include bus terminals, restrooms and other related facilities, and CORE took action to test the enforcement of that ruling. In May 1961, CORE sent seven African Americans and six whites on a "freedom ride" on two buses from Washington, D.C. Bound for New Orleans, the freedom riders were attacked by angry segregationists outside of Anniston, Alabama, and one bus was even firebombed. Local law enforcement responded, but slowly, and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy eventually ordered State Highway Patrol protection for the freedom riders to continue to Montgomery, Alabama, where they again encountered violent resistance. Kennedy sent federal marshals to escort the riders to Jackson, Mississippi, but images of the bloodshed made the worldwide news, and the freedom rides continued. In September, under pressure from CORE and other civil rights organizations, as well as from the attorney general's office, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that all passengers on interstate bus carriers should be seated without regard to race and carriers could not mandate segregated terminals.
Integration of Ole Miss, September 1962
By the end of the 1950s, African Americans had begun to be admitted in small numbers to white colleges and universities in the South without too much incident. In 1962, however, a crisis erupted when the state–funded University of Mississippi (known as "Ole Miss") admitted a black man, James Meredith. After nine years in the Air Force, Meredith had studied at the all–black Jackson State College and applied repeatedly to Ole Miss with no success. With the aid of the NAACP, Meredith filed a lawsuit alleging that the university had discriminated against him because of his race. In September 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Meredith's favor, but state officials including Governor Ross Barnett vowed to block his admission. When Meredith arrived at Ole Miss under the protection of federal forces including U.S. marshals, a mob of more than 2,000 people formed on the Oxford, Mississippi campus. Two people were killed and close to 200 injured in the ensuing chaos, which ended only after President Kennedy's administration sent some 31,000 troops to restore order. Meredith went on to graduate from Ole Miss in 1963, but the struggle to integrate higher education continued. Later that year, Governor George Wallace blocked the enrollment of a black student at the University of Alabama, pledging to "stand in the schoolhouse door." Though Wallace was eventually forced by the federalized National Guard to integrate the university, he became a prominent symbol of the ongoing resistance to desegregation nearly a decade after Brown v. Board of Education.
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