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Vocapedia > USA > Race relations > African-Americans


Civil rights, Desegregation, Integration





Chicago Sections Of Northern Discrimination Story



Photographer: Francis Miller


Life Images


Related > Same pic with date (1957)


















Mary Reid

holding threatening notes with swastikas

and American Nazi Party propaganda.


July 1964.


Photograph: Charles (Teenie) Harris

Teenie Harris Archive, Carnegie Museum of Art


Past and Present Collide in Pittsburgh


Jun. 2, 2015
















A More Perfect Union        Story Corps        30 June 2015





A More Perfect Union        Video        Story Corps        30 June 2015


When Theresa Burroughs came of voting age,

she was ready to cast her ballot

—but she had a long fight ahead of her.


During the Jim Crow era,

the board of registrars

at Alabama's Hale County Courthouse

prevented African Americans from registering to vote.



Theresa remembers venturing to the courthouse

on the first and third Monday of each month,

in pursuit of her right to vote.


Directed by: The Rauch Brothers

Art Direction: Bill Wray

Producers: Lizzie Jacobs, Maya Millett & Mike Rauch

Animation: Tim Rauch

Audio Produced by: Nadia Reiman & Katie Simon

Music: Fredrik

Label: The Kora Records

Publisher: House of Hassle


Funding Provided by:

Corporation for Public Broadcasting

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

In partnership with POV.


YouTube > Story Corps
















President Obama Speaks on Civil Rights        White House        10 April 2014





President Obama Speaks on Civil Rights        Video        10 April 2014


President Obama delivers the keynote address

at the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit.

April 10, 2014.









































civil rights pioneer












civil rights activist












civil rights lawyer










National Association for the Advancement of Colored People    N.A.A.C.P.























































Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of an integrated society


































racial integration










integration of the military




















integrated law firm

















legislation > Voting Rights Act        1965







voting rights






voter registration drives        1950s






legislation > Civil Rights Act of 1964                July 2 1964


President Lyndon Johnson enacts

the Civil Rights Bill in the United States,

officially ending segregation in the South 

http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/laws/majorlaw/civilr19.htm - broken URL









15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Voting Rights        1870







14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Civil Rights        1868



















Martin Luther King Jr

at a rally held in Selma, Alabama,

during marches to Montgomery. 1965.


Photograph: Flip Schulke/Corbis


Forty years after the shot rang out,

race fears still haunt the US

The Observer        Paul Harris       30.3.2008









Martin Luther King    1929-1968















civil rights



















USA > civil rights        UK










USA > 1960s > black America        UK










civil rights era













Remembering the Civil Rights Era


NPR Coverage

of Anniversaries in the Struggle for Equal Rights






Images of 20th Century African American Activists






civil rights movement










civil rights crusader











civil rights struggle






























freedom anthem > “We Shall Overcome” early 1960s



















The Civil Rights Photographs of James Karales    1930-2002










International Civil Rights Center and Museum

















black press


the black press is not what it used to be.


At their height

during the Great Migration decades

between 1915 and 1970,

dozens of weeklies

— including

The New York Amsterdam News,

The Pittsburgh Courier

and The Los Angeles Sentinel —

reported the news of black America.


The Chicago Defender,

unofficial organ of the migration,

had a national circulation of 130,000.


Everything that was fit to print,

from the latest racial pogroms

to Negro League baseball box scores,

filled its ­pages, giving voice to the voiceless

along the color line

of American political and social life.


In 2000,

Vernon Jarrett,

a longtime Chicago Defender reporter

and a syndicated columnist

at The Chicago Tribune,

described black newspaper as

“the most predominant media influence

on black people. . . .

They were our Internet.”



















civil rights-era killers











hate crime






USA > murders of civil-rights activists

in the American south in the 1950s and 60s        UK






USA > Mississippi > Neshoba

Mississippi Freedom Summer > triple murder        UK       1964








USA > murder > murders of civil-rights activists

in the American south in the 1950s and 60s        UK
























May 17, 1963

Vol. LXXXI No. 20

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601630517,00.html - broken URL
















August 30, 1963

Vol. 82 No. 9

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601630830,00.html - broken URL



















Police drag Ruth Tinsely

away from a Richmond store,


Library of Congress

added 5.3.2005





















Walter Gadsden, 17,

defying an anti-parade ordinance of Birmingham, Ala.,

is attacked by a police dog on May 3, 1963.


Photograph: Bill Hudson/Associated Press


Boston Globe > Big Picture

Revisiting Martin Luther King's 1963 Dream speech        August 28, 1963





Guardian caption: A young civil rights protester defies a ban on parades

in Birmingham, Alabama, in May 1963.


Civil rights heroes may get pardons

Alabama could lead the way

in expunging criminal records of people arrested for breaking racist laws

Julian Borger in Montgomery, Alabama

The Guardian        p. 15        Tuesday April 4, 2006



















Civil rights activist...


Baldwin, front right,

at memorial service

for four girls killed in a church bombing

in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963


Notes on a native son

The Guardian        Review        p. 5        12.2.2005




















L to R: Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young and President Johnson

on Jan. 18, 1964,

five months before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


Associated Press


'Judgment Days': How They Overcame

By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN        NYT        Published: February 6, 2005




















11.04.1963        Birmingham, Alabama


Bus protest


Birmingham police chief Jamie Moore

talks to a uniformed officer outside the city bus station

as black demonstrators protest at racial segregation

in transport and other areas of the south


Historic pictures of US civil rights struggle published after 40 years

The Guardian        pp. 18-19        28.2.2006
















Mississippi Burning: the movie        1988



















An armed National Guard patrolman leans against a street sign

following the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California,

August 1965.


Photograph: Getty


The six-day explosion that shook America

Residents say little has altered

in 40 years since riots tore apart Watts

The Guardian        p. 18        11.8.2005
















Washington black riots        1968






riots > Los Angeles, California > The Watts Riots        August 11, 1965














962: Mississippi race riots over first black student        1962






Zoot suit riots        1943






riot > Chicago Race Riot        1919
















march > Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March        1995







march > USA > 20th century > Civil rights > Martin Luther King Jr.

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

"I have a dream" - August 28 1963





march > Selma to Montgomery marches > Bloody Sunday        March 7 1965







protest > Mississippi > Freedom Summer of protests        1964






racial equality    UK / USA








Malcolm X > freedom        October 11, 1963
















legislation > Brown v Board of Education    /    Thurgood Marshall        1954
























Michelle Robinson / Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama’s family tree        2009






Barack Obama Sweeps to Victory

as First Black President        November 2008






civil rights campaigner >  Rev. Abraham L. Woods Jr.        2008






march > Louisiana civil rights march / Jena six        2007














James Brown    1933 or 1928-2006






Devin Brown        2005






Brenton Butler        2000
















film > In the Heat of the Night        1967




















Kirk Anderson



The St Paul Pioneer Press


c. 1999/2000

The Amadou Diallo Case

by all of the top editorial cartoonists






















Joe Heller



The Green Bay Press-Gazette


c. 1999/2000

The Amadou Diallo Case

by all of the top editorial cartoonists






















Kirk Anderson



The St Paul Pioneer Press


c. 1999/2000

The Amadou Diallo Case

by all of the top editorial cartoonists





















Chris Britt


Springfield, IL

From the State Journal-Register


c. 1999/2000

The Amadou Diallo Case

by all of the top editorial cartoonists



















Amadou Diallo (1999) > Bruce Springsteen's American Skin / 41 shots        UK / USA
















James Byrd Jr - Jasper, Texas, on 7 June, 1998










trial > O. J. Simpson Trial       1995





















The Bell Curve        1994



















Rodney Glen King    1965-2012
















Rodney Glen King


Rodney King race riots in Los Angeles        1991-1992



















The all white jury in the Rodney King trial

finds the four policemen involved not guilty,

sparking riots in LA        29 April 1992










Rodney King > Los Angeles riots        1992
















1970s > blaxploitation / blaxploitation pictures


The 1970s produced the genre

that would later come to be known

as 'Blaxploitation'.


The film genre

emerged during this decade

as films were made specifically

with an urban black audience in mind.


The term 'Blaxploitation'

emerges from a fusion

of the words black and exploitation.


These movies

were larger-than-life, action-packed,

and full of funk and soul music.


Known not only for their exciting nature,

these films also involved progressive social

and political commentary.


From Pam Grier to Bill Cosby,

check out who delved into this genre

and what the actors have been doing

since the '70s ...



















black cowboy films

















musical > Finian’s Rainbow        1947






The Scottsboro Nine        March 25, 1931





Al Jolson / The Jazz Singer        1927
















Tuskegee Airmen - the all-black force of elite pilots        WW2


The Tuskegee Airmen

were the country's

first black aviation combat unit.


The legendary all-black fighting force,

originally 16,000 pilots and ground crew,

fought in World War II


















Tuskegee Syphilis Study        1932-1972














Tuskegee Airmen

Invited to Obama Inauguration


December 10, 2008

The New York Times



When the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black force of elite pilots, emerged from combat in World War II, they faced as much discrimination as they had before the war. It was not until six decades later that their valor was recognized and they received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give.

Now, the roughly 330 pilots and members of the ground crew who are left from about 16,000 who served are receiving another honor that has surpassed their dreams: They are being invited to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama as the country’s first black president.

“I didn’t believe I’d live long enough to see something like this,” said Lt. Col. Charles A. Lane Jr., 83, of Omaha, a retired Tuskegee fighter pilot who flew missions over Italy.

“I would love to be there, I would love to be able to see it with my own eyes,” he said, chuckling on the phone as he heard about the invitation. But, he said, he had a “physical limitation” and was not sure he would be able to attend.

Thousands of people who participated in the fight for civil rights over several decades helped pave the way for Mr. Obama’s triumph. But the Tuskegee Airmen have a special place in history. Their bravery during the war — on behalf of a country that actively discriminated against them — helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the military in 1948.

“The election of Barack Obama was like a culmination of a struggle that we were going through, wanting to be pilots,” said William M. Wheeler, 85, a retired Tuskegee combat fighter pilot who lives in Hempstead, N.Y. He tried to become a commercial pilot after the war but was offered a job cleaning planes instead.

Mr. Obama has acknowledged his debt to the airmen, issuing a statement in 2007, when they received the Congressional Gold Medal. It said in part: “My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail-blazed.”

The invitation to his swearing-in was extended Tuesday by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Howard Gantman, staff director for the committee, said of the decision to invite them: “They served honorably on behalf of our country, helped fight the battle to overcome racial barriers and because of the historic nature of this election, we thought they deserved to be there.”

Tickets to the Jan. 20 inauguration are the most sought-after commodity, with more than 1.5 million people expected in Washington. Of the 240,000 tickets, the airmen would have seats among the 30,000 on the terrace below the podium, along with former members of Congress and others.

For logistical reasons, the actual invitation ended up with Robert D. Rose, a retired Air Force captain in Bellevue, Neb., who was not a Tuskegee airman but is the first vice president of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc., an association of the original airmen and their supporters.

The onus is on the association to extend the invitation to the airmen, who must respond by Dec. 19. Each can bring one guest. The tickets are not transferable, so if an airman cannot make it, he cannot give his ticket away.

“We’ll have a lot of happy fellows and ladies,” said Mr. Rose, who predicted that many would try to attend.

He said that before the invitation was made Tuesday, he had already been trying to get word to higher ups that the airmen would like to be invited. “I thought if the name ‘Tuskegee’ surfaced at a high enough level, someone would recognize it and it would make sense to invite them,” he said.

There is no firm handle on how many are still alive. More than 300 came forward in March 2007 to collect their bronze replicas of the Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony at the Capitol. The actual Gold Medal itself was given to the Smithsonian Institution.

In all, 994 pilots and about 15,000 ground personnel collectively known as the Tuskegee Airmen were trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama from 1942 to 1946.

About 119 pilots and 211 ground personnel are still alive, according to Tuskegee Airmen Inc. They are in their 80s and 90s, many are frail, and it is unclear how many will be able to make the trip to Washington. And those who make it will face various challenges: they will most likely have to walk some distance, the weather could be harsh, the crowds will be huge and accommodations are scarce.

Still, these are some of the airmen who flew more than 150,000 sorties over Europe and North Africa during World War II, escorting Allied bombers and destroying hundreds of enemy aircraft. Some were taken prisoner. And most faced fierce discrimination during and after the war.

“Even the Nazis asked why they would fight for a country that treated them unfairly,” President Bush said in awarding the medals.

Mr. Rose, of the airmen’s association, said he saw a direct connection between the Tuskegee experience and Mr. Obama’s election.

“The Tuskegee Airmen preceded Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and if they hadn’t helped generate a climate of tolerance by integration of the military, we might not have progressed through the civil rights era,” he said. ”We would have seen a different civil rights movement, if we would have seen one at all.”

Tuskegee Airmen Invited to Obama Inauguration,






Obama Sweeps to Victory

as First Black President


November 5, 2008

Filed at 2:23 a.m. ET

The New York Times



WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama swept to victory as the nation's first black president Tuesday night in an electoral college landslide that overcame racial barriers as old as America itself. ''Change has come,'' he told a jubilant hometown Chicago crowd estimated at nearly a quarter-million people.

The son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, the Democratic senator from Illinois sealed his historic triumph by defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in a string of wins in hard-fought battleground states -- Ohio, Florida, Iowa and more. He captured Virginia and Indiana, too, the first candidate of his party in 44 years to win either.

Obama's election capped a meteoric rise -- from mere state senator to president-elect in four years.

Spontaneous celebrations erupted from Atlanta to New York and Philadelphia as word of Obama's victory spread. A big crowd filled Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

In his first speech as victor, to an enormous throng at Grant Park in Chicago, Obama catalogued the challenges ahead. ''The greatest of a lifetime,'' he said, ''two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.''

He added, ''There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face.''

McCain called his former rival to concede defeat -- and the end of his own 10-year quest for the White House. ''The American people have spoken, and spoken clearly,'' McCain told disappointed supporters in Arizona.

President Bush added his congratulations from the White House, where his tenure runs out on Jan. 20. ''May God bless whoever wins tonight,'' he had told dinner guests earlier.

Obama, in his speech, invoked the words of Lincoln, recalled Martin Luther King Jr., and seemed to echo John F. Kennedy.

''So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder,'' he said.

He and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, will take their oaths of office as president and vice president on Jan. 20, 2009. McCain remains in the Senate.

Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, returns to Alaska as governor after a tumultuous debut on the national stage.

He will move into the Oval Office as leader of a country that is almost certainly in recession, and fighting two long wars, one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.

The popular vote was close -- 51.7 percent to 47 percent with 84 percent of all U.S. precincts tallied -- but not the count in the Electoral College, where it mattered most.

There, Obama's audacious decision to contest McCain in states that hadn't gone Democratic in years paid rich dividends.

Shortly after 2 a.m. the East, The Associated Press count showed Obama with 349 electoral votes, well over the 270 needed for victory. McCain had 144 after winning states that comprised the normal Republican base, including Texas and most of the South.

Interviews with voters suggested that almost six in 10 women were backing Obama nationwide, while men leaned his way by a narrow margin. Just over half of whites supported McCain, giving him a slim advantage in a group that Bush carried overwhelmingly in 2004.

The results of the AP survey were based on a preliminary partial sample of nearly 10,000 voters in Election Day polls and in telephone interviews over the past week for early voters. Obama has said his first order of presidential business will be to tackle the economy. He has also pledged to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months.

In Washington, the Democratic leaders of Congress celebrated.

''It is not a mandate for a party or ideology but a mandate for change,'' said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Said Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California: ''Tonight the American people have called for a new direction. They have called for change in America.''

Democrats also acclaimed Senate successes by former Gov. Mark Warner in Virginia, Rep. Tom Udall in New Mexico and Rep. Mark Udall in Colorado. All won seats left open by Republican retirements.

In New Hampshire, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen defeated Republican Sen. John Sununu in a rematch of their 2002 race, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole fell to Democrat Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

Biden won a new term in Delaware, a seat he will resign before he is sworn in as vice president.

The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, survived a scare in Kentucky, and in Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss hoped to avoid a December runoff.

The Democrats piled up gains in the House, as well.

They defeated seven Republican incumbents, including 22-year veteran Chris Shays in Connecticut, and picked up nine more seats where GOP lawmakers had retired.

At least three Democrats lost their seats, including Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney, turned out of office after admitting to two extramarital affairs while serving his first term in Florida. In Louisiana, Democratic Rep. Don Cazayoux lost the seat he had won in a special election six months ago.

The resurgent Democrats also elected a governor in one of the nation's traditional bellwether states when Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon won his race.

An estimated 187 million voters were registered, and in an indication of interest in the battle for the White House, 40 million or so had already voted as Election Day dawned.

Obama sought election as one of the youngest presidents, and one of the least experienced in national political affairs.

That wasn't what set the Illinois senator apart, though -- neither from his rivals nor from the other men who had served as president since the nation's founding more than two centuries ago. A black man, he confronted a previously unbreakable barrier as he campaigned on twin themes of change and hope in uncertain times.

McCain, a prisoner of war during Vietnam, a generation older than his rival at 72, was making his second try for the White House, following his defeat in the battle for the GOP nomination in 2000.

A conservative, he stressed his maverick's streak. And although a Republican, he did what he could to separate himself from an unpopular president.

For the most part, the two presidential candidates and their running mates, Biden and Republican Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, spent weeks campaigning in states that went for Bush four years ago.

McCain and Obama each won contested nominations -- the Democrat outdistancing former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton -- and promptly set out to claim the mantle of change.

Obama won California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

McCain had Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

He also won at least four of Nebraska's five electoral votes, with the other one in doubt.

Obama Sweeps to Victory as First Black President,
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/washington/AP-Election-Rdp.html - broken link






Op-Ed Columnist

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


November 2, 2008
The New York Times


AND so: just how far have we come?

As a rough gauge last week, I watched a movie I hadn’t seen since it came out when I was a teenager in 1967. Back then “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was Hollywood’s idea of a stirring call for racial justice. The premise: A young white woman falls madly in love with a black man while visiting the University of Hawaii and brings him home to San Francisco to get her parents’ blessing. Dad, a crusading newspaper publisher, and Mom, a modern art dealer, are wealthy white liberals — Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, no less — so surely there can be no problem. Complications ensue before everyone does the right thing.

Though the film was a box-office smash and received 10 Oscar nominations, even four decades ago it was widely ridiculed as dated by liberal critics. The hero, played by the first black Hollywood superstar, Sidney Poitier, was seen as too perfect and too “white” — an impossibly handsome doctor with Johns Hopkins and Yale on his résumé and a Nobel-worthy career fighting tropical diseases in Africa for the World Health Organization. What couple would not want him as a son-in-law? “He’s so calm and sure of everything,” says his fiancée. “He doesn’t have any tensions in him.” She is confident that every single one of their biracial children will grow up to “be president of the United States and they’ll all have colorful administrations.”

What a strange movie to confront in 2008. As the world knows, Barack Obama’s own white mother and African father met at the University of Hawaii. In “Dreams From My Father,” he even imagines the awkward dinner where his mother introduced her liberal-ish parents to her intended in 1959. But what’s most startling about this archaic film is the sole element in it that proves inadvertently contemporary. Faced with a black man in the mold of the Poitier character — one who appears “so calm” and without “tensions” — white liberals can make utter fools of themselves. When Joe Biden spoke of Obama being “clean” and “articulate,” he might have been recycling Spencer Tracy’s lines of 41 years ago.

Biden’s gaffe, though particularly naked, prefigured a larger pattern in the extraordinary election campaign that has brought an African-American to the brink of the presidency. Our political and news media establishments — fixated for months on tracking down every unreconstructed bigot in blue-collar America — have their own conspicuous racial myopia, with its own set of stereotypes and clichés. They consistently underestimated Obama’s candidacy because they often saw him as a stand-in for the two-dimensional character Poitier had to shoulder in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” It’s why so many got this election wrong so often.

There were countless ruminations, in print and on television, asking the same two rhetorical questions: “Is He Black Enough?” and “Is He Tough Enough?” The implied answer to both was usually, “No.” The brown-skinned child of biracial parents wasn’t really “black” and wouldn’t appeal to black voters who were overwhelmingly loyal to the wife of America’s first “black” president. And as a former constitutional law professor, Obama was undoubtedly too lofty an intellectual to be a political street fighter, too much of a wuss to land a punch in a debate, too ethereal to connect to “real” Americans. He was Adlai Stevenson, Michael Dukakis or Bill Bradley in dark face — no populist pugilist like John Edwards.

The list of mistaken prognostications that grew from these flawed premises is long. As primary season began, we were repeatedly told that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the most battle-tested and disciplined, with an invincible organization and an unbeatable donors’ network. Poor Obama had to settle for the ineffectual passion of the starry-eyed, Internet-fixated college kids who failed to elect Howard Dean in 2004. When Clinton lost in Iowa, no matter; Obama could never breach the “firewalls” that would wrap up her nomination by Super Tuesday. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the many who bought its spin noticed the take-no-prisoners political insurgency that Obama had built throughout the caucus states and that serves him to this day.

Once Obama wrested the nomination from Clinton by surpassing her in organization, cash and black votes, he was still often seen as too wimpy to take on the Republicans. This prognosis was codified by Karl Rove, whose punditry for The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek has been second only to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as a reliable source of laughs this year. Rove called Obama “lazy,” and over the summer he predicted that his fund-raising had peaked in February and that he’d have a “serious problem” winning over Hispanics. Well, Obama was lazy like a fox, and is leading John McCain among Hispanics by 2 to 1. Obama has also pulled ahead among white women despite the widespread predictions that he’d never bring furious Hillary supporters into the fold.

But certainly the single most revelatory moment of the campaign — about the political establishment, not Obama — arrived in June when he reversed his position on taking public financing. This was a huge flip-flop (if no bigger than McCain’s on the Bush tax cuts). But the reaction was priceless. Suddenly the political world discovered that far from being some exotic hothouse flower, Obama was a pol from Chicago. Up until then it rarely occurred to anyone that he had to be a ruthless competitor, not merely a sweet-talking orator, to reach the top of a political machine even rougher than the Clinton machine he had brought down. Whether that makes him more black or more white remains unresolved.

Early in the campaign, the black commentator Tavis Smiley took a lot of heat when he questioned all the rhetoric, much of it from white liberals, about Obama being “post-racial.” Smiley pointed out that there is “no such thing in America as race transcendence.” He is right of course. America can no sooner disown its racial legacy, starting with the original sin of slavery, than it can disown its flag; it’s built into our DNA. Obama acknowledged as much in his landmark speech on race in Philadelphia in March.

Yet much has changed for the better since the era of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” thanks to the epic battles of the civil-rights movement that have made the Obama phenomenon possible. As Mark Harris reminds us in his recent book about late 1960s Hollywood, “Pictures at a Revolution,” it was not until the year of the movie’s release that the Warren Court handed down the Loving decision overturning laws that forbade interracial marriage in 16 states; in the film’s final cut there’s still an outdated line referring to the possibility that the young couple’s nuptials could be illegal (as Obama’s parents’ marriage would have been in, say, Virginia). In that same year of 1967, L.B.J.’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, offered his resignation when his daughter, a Stanford student, announced her engagement to a black Georgetown grad working at NASA. (Johnson didn’t accept it.)

Obama’s message and genealogy alike embody what has changed in the decades since. When he speaks of red and blue America being seamlessly woven into the United States of America, it is always shorthand for the reconciliation of black and white and brown and yellow America as well. Demographically, that’s where America is heading in the new century, and that will be its destiny no matter who wins the election this year.

Still, the country isn’t there yet, and should Obama be elected, America will not be cleansed of its racial history or conflicts. It will still have a virtually all-white party as one of its two most powerful political organizations. There will still be white liberals who look at Obama and can’t quite figure out what to make of his complex mixture of idealism and hard-knuckled political cunning, of his twin identities of international sojourner and conventional middle-class overachiever.

After some 20 months, we’re all still getting used to Obama and still, for that matter, trying to read his sometimes ambiguous takes on both economic and foreign affairs. What we have learned definitively about him so far — and what may most account for his victory, should he achieve it — is that he had both the brains and the muscle to outsmart, outmaneuver and outlast some of the smartest people in the country, starting with the Clintons. We know that he ran a brilliant campaign that remained sane and kept to its initial plan even when his Republican opponent and his own allies were panicking all around him. We know that that plan was based on the premise that Americans actually are sick of the divisive wedge issues that have defined the past couple of decades, of which race is the most divisive of all.

Obama doesn’t transcend race. He isn’t post-race. He is the latest chapter in the ever-unfurling American racial saga. It is an astonishing chapter. For most Americans, it seems as if Obama first came to dinner only yesterday. Should he win the White House on Tuesday, many will cheer and more than a few will cry as history moves inexorably forward.

But we are a people as practical as we are dreamy. We’ll soon remember that the country is in a deep ditch, and that we turned to the black guy not only because we hoped he would lift us up but because he looked like the strongest leader to dig us out.

    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, NYT, 2.11.2008,






Forty years after the shot rang out,

race fears still haunt the US

Life has changed beyond recognition for many Americans
since an assassin's bullet killed Martin Luther King in 1968.

Yet despite the rise of a black middle class
and Barack Obama's challenge for the White House,
the racial divide still exists
- and for an urban underclass,
things have only got worse.
Paul Harris reports from Memphis


Sunday March 30 2008
The Observer
Paul Harris in Memphis
This article appeared in the Observer
on Sunday March 30 2008 on p30 of the Focus section.
It was last updated at 00:27 on March 30 2008.


Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, looks frozen in time. The sheets of the beds are rumpled, undrunk coffee stews in cheap cups, a meal seems half-eaten. It is a re-creation of the room as it was at 6.01pm on 4 April, 1968. That was the moment when, on the balcony outside, the room's most famous guest, Martin Luther King, was shot dead.

King died four decades ago at the end of an era of civil rights victories that ended racial segregation and won black Americans the vote. It was a struggle that finally cost him his life, felled at the Lorraine by a white assassin's bullet from across the street.

But though Room 306 - preserved as part of a museum - is unchanged from that bloody day 40 years ago, black America itself is almost unrecognisable from King's time. It has been transformed, both for the better and for the worse. Some positive developments would have been unimaginable for King. Senator Barack Obama is running for President and could become the first black person to hold the job. Black politicians hold top offices in cities and states across the continent. They are buoyed by a large black middle class every bit as wealthy, suburban and professional as its white counterpart.

Yet, since 1968, much of black America has also been beset by disaster. A vast underclass inhabits America's ghettos, mired in joblessness, drugs and gang violence. In the inner cities half of all black males do not finish high school. Six in 10 of those will end up in jail by the time they reach their mid-thirties. These people grow up in an environment often more segregated, more hopeless and more dangerous than the Jim Crow era of the Deep South.

It is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes facing modern American black leaders such as Charles Steele, now president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King founded and used as his tool to bring civil rights to America. 'If Dr King was alive now, he would be distressed and disappointed in America,' Steele said. 'America is still racist to a large degree. More so perhaps. It's subliminal and embedded in the system.'

That is pretty much the view of Thelma Townsend, 68, who should be retired but still works as a nurse in the suburb of Orange Mound. The suburb is a landmark in Memphis, built for black Americans more than 100 years ago on the 5,000-acre site of a slave plantation. Once it rivalled New York's Harlem as a centre of black culture and economic power. But now it has been hit hard by drugs and gangs and unemployment. Many houses are dilapidated and abandoned. Townsend snorts in disgust at the past 40 years in black America. 'It ain't changed for the better that I can see,' she said. 'Drugs are rampant, so killings are rampant. If anything, it's got worse around here.'

This is the bad side of black America since King died, and it exists in cities across the country. In Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, Kansas City, St Louis and many other places, once proud black neighbourhoods have fallen prey to the ravages of crime and drugs. Even King's hometown neighbourhood of Auburn Street in Atlanta is a wreck and shadow of its former self. Orange Mound and other black Memphis inner-city suburbs are typical. Gangs with such names as Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples boss the local drugs trade. Killings and shootings are common. Drug addicts seem more common than jobs.

The roots of this decay partly lie in the fatal shot that felled King. His murder sparked race riots in 125 cities that left 46 people dead, 2,600 injured and 21,000 arrested. Entire black and inner- city neighbourhoods were burnt down overnight. Many never recovered. The violence quickened the process of 'white flight', destroying the tax base of many city cores.

At the same time new civil rights laws allowed the black middle class to flee too. What was left behind became the underclass, deeply vulnerable to the wave of drugs such as crack and heroin that invaded in the Seventies and Eighties and hit by the decline in manual jobs as America's manufacturing industry disappeared overseas.

Statistics indicate that things are getting worse. More black people are being jailed than a decade ago. Only 31 per cent of black children born to middle-class parents earn more than their parents, compared with 68 per cent of white children. More than half of black workers are stuck in low-paid jobs.

Many experts think there is little prospect of the underclass's plight changing at all. 'The outlook is very bleak,' said Professor Jerald Podair, an expert on civil rights history at Lawrence University. near Appleton, Wisconsin.

Yet that is also far from the whole picture. Obama's run for the presidency has energised even those with little hope. 'Obama does make me proud,' said Townsend. But it also shows the successes of the black middle class, fulfilling King's dream of black Americans taking their rightful place in the nation.

For Obama is far from alone in seeking high office. New York state and Massachusetts boast black governors despite both states being in New England, far away from traditionally southern centres of black population. Big cities such as Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia and Newark have black mayors who have based their appeal on the same sort of 'post-racial' consensus that is powering Obama's campaign.

At the same time, the successes of such mayors and governors have undercut the traditional power of 'old style' black leaders such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton, whose roots lay in black churches. Now modern black politicians are perhaps more at home in the boardroom than the pulpit. They self-consciously - and successfully - woo white voters as much as they appeal to their black base.

Now Obama is trying to make that case on a national scale. Though recent weeks have seen Hillary Clinton's supporters and Republicans try to raise race as an issue, Obama has fought back with a bold speech challenging America to have a frank and open debate about race. 'Race is the question in America that has still never really been asked,' said Podair.

Not everyone is ignoring it, though. Wendi Thomas, 36, is asking the race question in Memphis. She is a local black columnist on the city's Commercial Appeal newspaper who deals with racial issues. Now she is setting up a project called Common Ground to encourage Memphis citizens of all races to come together at weekly meetings and talk frankly about the race issues that bother them. At the end of it the 'graduates' will be encouraged to go out into the rest of the city and break down racial boundaries. Her first pilot scheme with 200 places has rapidly filled up and will begin meeting on 24 April. 'I just wanted to actually do something, rather than just write about it,' Thomas said.

Memphis is a city much in need of such a project. The city is split almost 50-50 between black and white. Yet it feels like a segregated place whose two halves rarely meet, maintaining their own neighbourhoods, schools and parks. It is a city where the issue of race lies constantly under the surface, boiling below a patina of tourist-friendly Southern charm. 'Race underlies everything in this community. We need to have these discussions, even though they are painful and messy,' Thomas said.

That is true. The fact remains that even middle-class black people and whites have fundamentally different perceptions of America. While many whites are flocking to Obama's campaign on the base of its post-racial appeal, that is not how many blacks see it. As he sweeps up more than 90 per cent of the black vote in the Democratic race, there is a clear feeling of racial pride in his candidacy. Indeed fervour and hope for Obama have become a keystone of black America in 2008. 'It is unreal. It is surreal. I hate to hope too much. But I genuinely think that King would be bursting with pride,' said Thomas.

But there are many other points on which black and white Americans differ. Many whites were outraged when Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, said the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington were 'chickens coming home to roost'. They saw his words as conspiracy-minded, unpatriotic and anti-white.

But many blacks reacted with a collective shrug, pointing out that much of what Wright said - even some outrageous claims about government conspiracies - were fairly common in some urban black churches and always had been.

The news would have come as less of a shock if black and white Americans (both of which groups are deeply religious) worshipped together. But they do not. Thomas, a Memphis native, has spent years looking for a racially mixed church to go to each Sunday. 'I still have not found one,' she said. That sort of de facto segregation has kept black and white America very much apart. After all, both have had such a different experience of the country. With the black middle class there is still a certain ambivalence about America; about whether they have truly been accepted. And there is a lot of evidence to say they have not been,' said Podair.

Ironically, one of the main reasons blacks and whites may start addressing race is in the growth of the Hispanic community in America. Hispanics are now America's largest ethnic minority, overtaking blacks, and numbering about 44 million people. They have pioneered communities all over the US, fundamentally changing the dynamics of race in a country that has long seen itself in terms of literal black and white.

Even in Memphis the issue has begun to appear. It is thought the number of Hispanics in the city could top 50,000 people. One in 10 babies in the city born last year was Hispanic. There is a Spanish-language local newspaper, Spanish radio stations and churches offer Spanish-language services. If black and white Americans really want to have a discussion about race, some think they need to hurry up and start talking before the conversation changes entirely.

For Steele, the man who now wears King's old mantle as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, such concerns are for the future. On Friday, he, the leadership conference and dozens of other groups will be holding ceremonies to remember King. Though many whites despised or feared King when he was alive, he is now a national American hero.

Those memorials will now take place against the backdrop of Obama's bid for the White House and it might be tempting to see a straight line linking the two. But for Steele many Americans were missing one of the most overlooked points of King's career. The fact is, by 1968, King himself had moved on from purely racial issues. Yet again he was ahead of his time. His final campaigns were focused on fighting poverty and labour disputes. He came to Memphis in support of striking workers.

'He was killed in Memphis because he had started to focus on poor folks, regardless of their colour,' Steele said. That was 40 years ago. As Obama's campaign changes the American political landscape, it might be wise to remember that race is not the only controversial issue that mainstream politics still tends to shun. There is the thorny issue of class, too.

'If you thought having a talk about race was difficult in America, then having one about class is even harder,' said Podair. Yet 40 years ago King tried to start that debate as well. A bullet cut short his ambitions. Room 306 at the Lorraine was not the only thing his death left frozen in time.

    Forty years after the shot rang out, race fears still haunt the US, O, 30.3.2008,






Push to Resolve

Fading Killings of Rights Era


February 3, 2007
The New York Times


ATLANTA, Feb. 2 — For every infamous killing that tore at the South in the 1950s and ’60s, there were many more that were barely noted, much less investigated.

Virtually all such cases gained momentum only when the victims of the past found voices in the present, like those that helped arrest a 71-year-old man last month in connection with the Klan killings of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964. Rather than police officials, it has often been journalists and filmmakers who have combed through documents and tracked down witnesses, fueling some 15 years of successful prosecutions.

Only now, with time running out because potential witnesses and suspects are dying off, have law enforcement officials begun to take a systematic approach to unsolved civil rights crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently canvassed its field offices for the first time, compiling a list of 51 victims in 39 cases, most of which were never investigated by the bureau.

The list was prompted not by the string of convictions, but by a letter about the lynching of two black couples at the Moore’s Ford Bridge, east of Atlanta, in 1946, said Chip Burrus, the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s criminal investigative division.

“When I read the letter, I said, ‘I’ve never heard of Moore’s Ford. What is this about?’ ” Mr. Burrus said. “There’ve got to be more of these things.”

That a single letter prodded the F.B.I. to action illustrates how slender are the time-brittled fibers that knit together the outcome in these fading crimes.

In the case that produced the recent arrest, timing was crucial. If the bodies of the victims, Henry H. Dee and Charles E. Moore, had been found just three weeks earlier in the summer of 1964, their deaths might have been largely forgotten.

The two friends, a sawmill worker and a college student, were 19 when they disappeared in May 1964, last seen hitchhiking on the highway near Meadville, Miss. They were beaten and drowned by Klansmen who mistakenly believed the two were involved in plotting an armed uprising. Two months later, on July 12, a fisherman spotted the torso of Mr. Moore in a Mississippi River backwater called the Old River. Mr. Dee was found the next day.

At the time, an extensive search was under way for three civil rights workers, two of whom were white New Yorkers, who had disappeared on the opposite end of the state in what became known as the “Mississippi Burning” case. The initial classification of Mr. Moore’s body as that of a Caucasian male, and thus potentially one of the missing rights workers, caused a spurt of media coverage.

That fleeting interest had two results, said David Ridgen, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer who has made a documentary about the case. It prompted the F.B.I. to investigate, and it ensured that there was enough in the historical record to arouse the curiosity, decades later, of scholars and reporters.

Countless other race killings, however, were minimally recorded. In the late 1980s, when the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., was creating its memorial to 40 civil rights martyrs, most of whose cases remain unprosecuted, researchers found more than 80 victims who could not be included because not enough was known about the circumstances of their deaths.

“It was so frustrating and sad,” said Sarah Bullard, the project’s chief researcher. “If the information wasn’t there I couldn’t include them, no matter what I suspected or felt.”

Mr. Burrus of the F.B.I. said he was not familiar with the monument or the center’s research, but that the bureau had also consulted civil rights groups in compiling its list.

Because local newspapers often ignored such killings, Ms. Bullard pored over microfilm of national newspapers and records compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, internal memorandums of the N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights groups, and cartons of news clippings collected by a research group called the Southern Regional Council and stored in the basement of a Korean grocery in Atlanta.

Ms. Bullard recalled references to an unidentified teenager who was found in the Big Black River in Mississippi wearing a Congress of Racial Equality T-shirt. After scouring all her sources, she learned only his name, Herbert Oarsby.

“There were activists who were trying to pay attention,” Ms. Bullard said, “but at the same time there were African-American communities who knew that racist crimes amongst them were not going to be investigated or reported and made the choice not to seek justice because it would bring on further violence against them.”

That may have been the case with Mr. Moore’s mother, Mazie, who made her elder son Thomas promise not to avenge or seek justice for his brother’s death. In 1964, when reporters found her at the country shack where she had lived all her life, she repeatedly praised the white residents of Franklin County, a Klan stronghold, and said there was nothing to be done.

Alvin Sykes, a civil rights advocate who has urged the federal government to pass the Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Bill, which would provide $11.5 million per year to investigate these cases, said part of that money would be used to encourage people scared into silence at the time to come forward. “We have absolutely no idea how many of them are out there,” Mr. Sykes said.

Mazie Moore died in 1977, and in 1998 Thomas Moore finally decided to seek justice, contacting the local district attorney, Ronnie Harper, who was unaware of the case. Mr. Harper requested information from the F.B.I., and was told that no file on the case existed.

But in 2000 two journalists, Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and Harry Phillips of ABC News, obtained copies of the F.B.I. investigation file that was said to be missing, which had led to the arrest of Charles M. Edwards and James F. Seale in November 1964, though the charges were dropped when the district attorney said there was not enough evidence to make a case.

Mr. Phillips used the file to track down the F.B.I.’s principal informant, Ernest Gilbert, then 74, persuading him to do an on-camera interview about the case, and Mr. Mitchell reported that because the crime began in the Homochitto National Forest, where the two victims were tied to trees and beaten with switches, federal prosecutors might have jurisdiction in the case.

But even those breakthroughs did not force prosecutors to act. Mr. Harper says he was told by the F.B.I. that Mr. Gilbert would not testify. The F.B.I. closed the case in 2003 because the jurisdiction issue could not be resolved, said Deborah Madden, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. office in Jackson. Mr. Gilbert died in 2004.

Thomas Moore, living in Colorado Springs, grew tired of telling reporters his brother’s story with no result. But in 2005, Mr. Ridgen, the documentary producer, convinced him that the two should go back to Mississippi together.

On that trip, they discovered that Mr. Seale was not dead, as several newspapers had reported, but was still living in Franklin County. Then came a coincidence: Thomas Moore had served in the same Army unit as Dunn Lampton, who became the United States attorney in Jackson in 2001. Mr. Moore and Mr. Ridgen persuaded Mr. Lampton to reopen the case, resulting in the recent arrest of Mr. Seale, who has pleaded not guilty.

“Thomas Moore had a lot of information about what happened, and I made use of that,” Mr. Lampton said. “You don’t come into an office and go back and start digging through all the old files to find something to do. It’s only when someone brings that to your attention.”

    Push to Resolve Fading Killings of Rights Era, NYT, 3.2.2007,






On This Day - March 11, 1969

From The Times archive

James Earl Ray was convicted of the murder
of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King
after pleading guilty to his assassination


JAMES EARL RAY pleaded guilty in Memphis, Tennessee, today, to the murder of Dr Martin Luther King and was sentenced to 99 years’ imprisonment. But in a statement to the court, which did not affect his plea, he indicated that there had been a conspiracy to kill the civil rights leader and that he did not agree with his own counsel on this question.

Mr Ray will not be eligible for parole for at least 33 years, by which time he will be 74 — today was his forty-first birthday. By pleading guilty he has waived all rights of appeal. Mr Percy Foreman, his counsel, said that the plea was intended to save Mr Ray’s life. Mr Foreman told the court that he had taken months to prove to himself that the murder of Dr King was not a conspiracy. All he had ever hoped to do was “to save this man’s life”.

Both the judge and the defence had made efforts to ensure that Mr Ray should not be “tried by newspaper” through the American tradition of liberal press comment and speculation before and during court proceedings. The jury did not know what case they would be hearing when they reported for duty this morning. Dr King was killed by a sniper’s bullet while standing on a motel balcony in Memphis on April 4 last year.

The jury did not even leave the jury box before agreeing to the sentence recommended by the court. In passing sentence, Judge Battle noted: “There is not conclusive proof that there was no conspiracy.” However, he agreed that there was no indictable evidence of a conspiracy. Mrs Martin Luther King said today that Mr Ray’s plea of guilty to the murder of her husband “cannot be allowed to close the case, to end the search for the many fingers which helped pull the trigger”.

    On This Day - March 11, 1969, The Times, 11.3.2005.






Saturday April 6, 1968

Martin Luther King this side of the Jordan

From the Guardian archive


Saturday April 6, 1968
Jonathan Steele


"He was the first Negro minister whom I have ever heard who can reduce the Negro problem to a spiritual matter and yet inspire the people to seek a solution on this side of the Jordan not in life after death."

So wrote the Negro author Louis Lomax, catching the crucial spark that made Martin Luther King jun. stand out head and shoulders from his fellow-ministers in the South and step into the ranks of the world's martyrs.

King was above all a man of the Negro South. He knew for himself the deep and hopeless fatigue, the age-long tiredness, that hangs over the whole communities in the black belts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

He knew the energy and power that slumbered there, but which only made itself felt in the feet of the few who migrated to the North in the hope of better things, or the voices that turned to the blues and the hymns and the spirituals.

King's genius was to waken that energy and send it out into the streets of the South, marching for justice and social change.

To anyone who was ever there when King spoke, the experience was unforgettable. A small man, barely five foot seven, he dominated the pulpit or the podium. In a slow but sonorous voice the biblical cadences rolled out, and the crowd would sway with them and punctuate them with the answering calls that are the special feature of Negro churches.

"There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over" ... "Amen" from the crowd. "And men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair" ... "Yes, Lord."

"For years now we have heard the word 'wait'"... "Help him, Jesus" ... "But we are tired of waiting, tired of being humiliated and denied. We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights." ... "Yes, Lord."

And the church doors would open and the crowd would surge down to the court house, with its petitions, its banners and its faith that change at last was on the way.

His last sentence to the crowd before he swung out on the first Selma march, in defiance of a court injunction and a hostile police force, was this: "I would rather die today on the highways of Alabama than make a butchery of my own conscience."

In cold print, that reads histrionically, perhaps. King knew, and has now made others know, that it was a real and conscious choice.


· King was assassinated late on April 4

    From the Guardian archive > Martin Luther King this side of the Jordan, G,
    Saturday April 6, 1968, Republished 6.4.2006,






April 5, 1968

Dr Luther King shot dead


From The Guardian Archive


Friday April 5, 1968


Memphis, April 5

Dr Martin Luther King, the Negro civil rights leader, died in hospital here yesterday after being shot in the head by a sniper outside his hotel room.

Police put out a wanted bulletin for "a young white male, well dressed," who was seen running from a brick building across the street from the Lorraine Hotel, where Dr King was shot while standing on the balcony of his second storey room.

Officers surrounded the car and the hotel. He was taken to St Joseph's Hospital. Early reports indicated that police have possession of the weapon. Police said his assailant had dropped the weapon, while running down Main Street, about a block from the shooting. The man had jumped into a blue car and driven off.

There were reports that police and civilian cars had pursued and fired upon a car carrying three white men, that sped out of the city. Police also hustled two young white men into the police station.


News starts riots

Police reported that sporadic acts of violence broke out in the Negro section of the town, as news of the shooting spread.

Dr King, aged 39, held the 1964 Nobel Peace prize. He was in Memphis to lead marches by striking garbage workers. His march on Wednesday ended in violence, in which one person was killed, 62 injured and 200 arrested.

Federal District Judge Bailey Brown issued a temporary injunction on Wednesday banning any march for 10 days. But after hearing arguments by Dr King's lawyers and senior police officers, the judge said he would decide later today whether he could head another march on Monday.

Dr King had been the subject of repeated assassination threats over the past 10 years, and there had been at least two serious attempts on his life.

    From The Guardian Archive > Dr Luther King shot dead, G,
    Friday April 5, 1968,
    Republished 4.4.2006,






On This Day - March 22, 1965

From The Times archive

When the civil rights march
which started on this day
reached Montgomery two days later,
Dr King addressed a crowd of 25,000


DR MARTIN LUTHER KING today set off from Selma, Alabama, at the head of 4,000 civil rights demonstrators, on the Freedom March to the state capital at Montgomery. Before the march started Dr King led the demonstrators in prayer.

Montgomery is hardly the promised land, but today the barriers of the last fortnight were removed and the marchers made their final preparations under the reassuring if not wholly benevolent, gaze of several hundred steel-helmeted troops.

Those who made the attempted march two weeks ago and were repulsed with tear gas, truncheons and clubs, required no reminder of the necessity for this protection but, lest the nation forget, the discovery of at least four crude bombs at Negro buildings 100 miles away at Birmingham, served the purpose. In Montgomery a procession of 80 cars, led by Mr Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, wound its way through the streets this afternoon in protest against the civil rights march.

In these dramatic circumstances the march was late in starting. An hour after he should have stepped off at the head of several thousand marchers, Dr King arrived at the Brown African Methodist Episcopalian chapel to deliver an address. His audience had been there for some time listening to other words of encouragement including some from Mr James Foreman of the student non- violent coordinating committee, who promised that the police state of Alabama would be done away with. “Hitler had his Storm Troopers: Wallace has his State Troopers,” he declared.

The march was described as the greatest demonstration for human dignity since the emancipation proclamation.

    On This Day - March 22, 1965, Times, 22.3.2005.






July 4, 1964

Negro boy tests new Civil Rights law


From the Guardian archive


Saturday July 4, 1964
Richard Scott

One minute after President Johnson last night signed the Civil Rights Act into law, Jene Young, a 13-year-old Negro boy from Mississippi, walked into the barber's shop of an hotel in Kansas City and asked for a haircut.

No Negro had been served in any part of the hotel since it opened 60 years ago. The boy failed. But this morning he tried again; and this time was successful.

However, Missouri is not Mississippi, it is likely to be some time yet before Jene Young and his fellow Mississippi Negroes will be able to have their hair cut in their own state in the barber's shops of their choice.

Reaction in other parts of the country to last night's historic step has been varied. The Administration's hope has been that businessmen throughout the South, who have hitherto been reluctant, would seize the opportunity to act together.

Apart from this there have been a few encouraging signs. The president of the largest chain of cafeterias in the South has said that, rather than defy the law, Negroes would be served. Negroes began receiving service last night, he said. "We are going to obey the law," he added. "There is no other way." That epitomises the reaction which the Administration here has hoped for from those who until today had bitterly opposed the Civil Rights Bill.

In Dallas (Texas) a drive-in last night served Negroes for the first time. And in the same city, a single Negro dined alone in an hotel which had earlier been subjected to civil rights picketing.

Many Southern owners of "public accommodations," however, are going to refrain from complying until the legality has been tested in the courts.

The Governor of Mississippi was asked today if he thought restaurants and hotel owners should comply with the new laws. He replied: "I don't think they should. I think it should be tested in the courts." In Mississippi an attempt to test the voter registration provisions of the Act failed.

The Governor of Tennessee, on the other hand, today urged compliance with the new law.

Governor Wallace of Alabama, predictably, reaffirmed today that he would oppose the new law by not enforcing it in his State. The Governor of Florida expressed the slightly enigmatic hope that the new law would take racial conflict off the street and into the courts.

The Governor of Georgia was equally enigmatic. He said: "I hope that the enforcement of these laws will never be needed in Georgia." The Governor of Virginia thought the burden of making the law work successfully rested with the Negro.

    From the Guardian archive > July 4, 1964 >
    Negro boy tests new Civil Rights law, G,
    Republished 4.7.2006,






June 13, 1963

Civil rights for Negroes are introduced


From the Guardian archive


Thursday June 13, 1963



The United States beyond doubt faces, in President Kennedy's words, "a moral crisis as a country and as a people". The issue of equality between men of different coloured skins has come to a head.

We seem, in fact, to be witnessing one of those upheavals of the collective American conscience that can be frightening in their suddenness when - as in the McCarthy years - fear is at the bottom of them, but which can be awe-inspiring when the community searches in its own foundations for the best resources of the puritanism that made them.

It is easy to say that white Americans would not be searching their consciences and preparing to act on what they find there if Negroes had not now forced them to do so by the vehemence of their words and deeds.

This is true enough. But the new Negro impatience and the new white awareness are part of the same historic moment; the important thing is that the moment has come.

Now that, in the words of President Kennedy's powerful speech on Tuesday night, "the fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand," and that "redress is sought in the streets", the hope must be that the great debate will move swiftly.

The changes needed if, as the President says, "we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated," must be embodied in law. Mr Kennedy is now about to ask Congress for legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities open to the public.

He wants to enhance the Federal Goverment's powers to pursue in the courts the integration of schools, so that this burden is no longer left to private groups.

Legislation, though, is not enough. In a moving passage Mr Kennedy pointed out that a Negro child born today has a life expectancy seven years shorter than a white child and the prospect of earning only half as much.

This has been the fate of most minority groups in America (some of whom, like Jews, would even now benefit from the President's proposed legislation); Negroes are concerned it will not now be remedied by legal action only or by action in the South only.

The equality the President calls for ought to mean that white residents in northern suburbs do not automatically move out when the first Negro family moves in. Will this come about?

Possibly, even probably: for only now are Americans everywhere having to answer in practice, not in theory, "yes" or "no".

    From the Guardian archive > June 13, 1963 >
    Civil rights for Negroes are introduced, G,
    Republished 13.6.2006,






On This Day - April 25, 1956

From The Times archive

The civil rights campaign in the US
continued into the 1960s, and was ended
only after Congress introduced legislation
that overrode the opposition of state
and local government


THE City Bus Company of Montgomery has lost no time in acting upon yesterday’s Supreme Court in a test ruling against segregation on buses travelling within the state boundaries. Within 12 hours of the court’s decision, the company announced that in the circumstances it had “no choice” except to discontinue the practice of segregation of passengers on account of race, and drivers will no longer assign seats to passengers by reason of their race.”

Negroes who have joined in the boycott of the Montgomery company since last December, in an effort to force the abandonment of its segregation practices, have claimed that the company was losing $3,000 (approximately £1,000) a day as a result, and the suggestion is made that the company has found the court’s decision a useful screen behind which to retreat from an increasingly embarrassing position.

The Attorneys-General of Virginia, South Carolina and Texas described the decision as “another unwarranted invasion of state and municipal rights”. Governor Griffin, of Georgia, promised that his state would oppose this “overt usurpation of the liberties of the people.”

Segregation on inter-state buses was described by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in 1946, but it was only last November that the inter-state commerce commission ordered that segregation should cease on all inter-state transport and in waiting rooms used by inter-state travellers.

    On This Day - April 25, 1956, The Times, 25.4.2005.






May 25 1954

A pitiless subjection is outlawed


From The Guardian archive


May 25 1954

The Guardian


The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional has ended a legal battle of several generations.

It may be instructive to recall the landmarks of this constitutional struggle. This controversy is rooted in memories of the Civil War. In 1875 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. But the act was silent on the subject of schools.

Exhausted by war, the energies of the North recoiled from the task of enforcing the rights of the Negro, won at so tragic a cost.

The first case came before the Supreme Court in 1935, and especially from 1948 to 1950 the Court handed down decisions which struck at discrimination.

Physical violence has stained no campus. Negro students have entered freely into the academic life of the various universities, but their record has by no means always been very distinguished. Almost without exception they do not live in mixed residences, bathe in the same pool with white students, or share the exuberant social life.

When the public school cases were argued before the Court the American people suddenly realised that the final stage of the constitutional struggle had been reached. The Court, after two years of argument and after months of deliberation, responded to that plea. By a creative exercise of judicial statesmanship it was able to resolve all its discord and to speak with one voice through the judgement read by Chief Justice Warren.

This unanimity has in itself had a profound influence upon the country. It has subdued many extremists to a whimper of protest and given massive reinforcement to the counsels of moderation.

The Court also gained credit for caution, and for refusing to bludgeon the South into hasty and provocative action, by wisely deciding to hear additional argument in October on the transition in establishing the non-segregated school system. Finally, as significant as the gallant restraint of most responsible leaders of Southern opinion, is the exemplary caution of Negroes themselves. They have won a great victory, but they are walking quietly in their hour of exultation.

They know they can summon any hostile or recalcitrant Southern state to the bar of the Supreme Court; but they are issuing no threats nor proclaiming any manifestos of defiance. It will take many years before the full harvest of the Court's decision can be gathered, but a brave beginning has been made.

Max Freedman

From The Guardian archive > May 25 1954,
A pitiless subjection is outlawed,
republished 25.5.2007,
p. 36,






March 24, 1890

There is still a colour line

in American law


From the Guardian archive


Monday March 24, 1890



A remarkable case has been before the law courts of Louisiana. The plaintiff, Augustus Johnson, a negro, was in the employment of the Cromwell line of steamers, and earning over 500 dollars yearly. While some carboys of sulphuric acid were being landed there was an explosion, by which one man was killed and several were injured.

Johnson's eyesight was entirely destroyed by this lamentable accident; he brought an action against the steamship company for damages, and a jury awarded him 10,000 dollars. The defendants regarded this sum as excessive, and applied for a new trial before the United States Circuit Court.

When the matter came on for argument, Judge Billings asked how much would have been allowed before the war to the master of a slave who had been thus injured. Mr Forman, the counsel for the negro, very properly protested against such a view of the matter.

The slaveholder, he said, would have received "whatever the slave would sell for on the block", added to a "sum sufficient to enable the master to support" the slave during his life. But the master could "recover nothing for the pain and agony of body and mind of the slave".

That was not a test of "amount of damages proper to be allowed now". The negro was no longer a chattel or to be valued as a chattel, but was on the plane of a freeman and a citizen, and all distinctions on account of race or colour were abolished. There is still, it would appear, a colour line even in the American law courts, for the Judge has decided to grant a new trial unless the plaintiff will accept 5,000 dollars - half of what the jury awarded. Does anyone suppose that Judge Billings would have taken similar action if the plaintiff's skin had been white?


History inverts itself

The American papers recently had to record an elsewhere amusing inversion of a famous situation in history. It is now 117 years since Boston harbour was, as Carlyle says, "black with unexpected tea" protest against a tea duty.

To-day the tea traders of Boston, New York, and Chicago are petitioning both Houses at Washington for the reimposition of a tea duty of 10 per cent. They complain that as the United States are [sic] the only nation in the world which admit teas duty free, foreign countries have special facilities for unloading on American soil their low-priced and inferior stock.

This petition is received by the same democracy, now a centenarian, which when a spirited child, unloaded the foreign tea into the bay.

From the Guardian archive >
There is still a colour line in American law,
Monday March 24, 1890,
Republished 24.3.2006,










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