Civil Rights Revision Cards 1945-68

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  •  abolishes  in the U.S.
  • 1868: The Fourteenth Amendment  - guaranteed all citizens equality before the law and declared that federal government could intervene if any states tried to deny this.
  • 1870:  guarantees the right of male citizens of the United States to vote regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

However …

  • Individual states controlled voting, education, transport and law enforcement. Southern States introduced laws that legalised segregation – known as Jim Crow Laws. Examples = laws that separated white from black on trains, buses, restaurants, schools, theatres etc)
  • By 1890S most blacks in the south were disfranchised through voter registration restrictions – eg -  , residency and . This shut them out of the political process, including service on juries and in local offices.
  • The  provided exemption for illiterate whites to voter registration literacy test requirements.
  • The Supreme Court/Federal Government did nothing about these laws. In 1896  –   - the  upheld   of "" facilities. The Court stated that separate but equal facilities were not against the 14th amendment.
  • Lynching = commonplace, those responsible never brought to justice. Blacks had no legal protection.


On the one hand …

  • To Secure These Rights (groundbreaking Government Report into CR)
  • said US could not claim to lead the free world while blacks were not equal
  • argued that segregation should be eliminated by using federal power
  • revolutionary recommendations
  • raised awareness (of … lynchings, discrimination in army, wage gap, health care issues, education, voting rights)
  • Truman’s pro-civil rights speeches – state of the Union addresses 1947/48 – ‘our first goal’ must be ‘to secure fully the essential human rights of our citizens’
  • Truman decreased discrimination in federal employment and contracts  (Executive Order 9980)
  • 1948: Executive Order 9981 - ends discrimination in armed forces 
  • Appointment of blacks to prestigious posts  (eg – 1949: William Haist = first black federal judge,  Ralph Bunche = Ambassador to UN in 1950)

On the other hand …  

  • Truman tried to open more public housing to blacks. BUT … urban renewal programme often left blacks home less – fewer houses available
  • Federal defence contracts not supposed to be given to companies that discriminated. BUT … the Committee on Government Contract Compliance (CGCC) could only recommend not enforce

The Golden Years of the NAACP

(a) Lynching Investigation Squad

  • Lynching = commonplace in 1940
  • NAACP put pressure on gov. and tried to bring perpetrators to justice  
  • By 1955 it had declined significantly

(b) Non-violent direct action (developed tactics used to great success in late 50s & 60s)

  • Encouraged black voter registration (eg – Louisiana Progressive Voters League)
  • Picketed department stores (eg – New Orleans hat store in 1947)
  • Organised boycotts (eg – School in Lafayette in 1953)
  • Inspired local activism (eg – Rosa Parks & Montgomery Bus Boycott, Students at Little Rock)

(c) 1945-1955: Supreme Court Rulings (NAACP brought  legal challenges to segregation. – nb - Supreme Court under Chief Judge Earl Warren was more sympathetic to CR)


  • Morgan v. Virginia – Supreme Court ruled that segregation on interstate bus services = illegal


  • In , the Supreme Court rules that the State of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Law School could not deny admission based on race ("color").


  • In  the Supreme Court rules that a  could not provide different treatment to a student solely because of his race.
  • In  the Supreme Court ruled that a separate-but-equal Texas law school was actually unequal, partly in that it deprived black students from the collegiality of future white lawyers.
  • In  the Supreme Court abolished segregation in railroad dining cars.


The  rules on the landmark case  unanimously agreeing that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

  • The ruling paves the way for large-scale desegregation.
  • The decision overturns the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that sanctioned "separate but equal" segregation of the races, ruling that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
  • It is a victory for  attorney , who will later return to the Supreme Court as the nation's first black justice.


  • The Supreme Court rules in "Brown II" that desegregation must occur with "all deliberate speed".
  • Brown Case = highly significant – seemed to removed all constitutional sanction for racial segregation by overturning Plessy V Ferguson

President Eisenhower (1953-61)

  • less inclined than Truman to move towards racial equality – eg: rarely met black leaders (eg – MLK just once)
  • reluctance to use federal power – eg - said federal government had no power to intervene when the governor of Texas used state troopers to prevent school integration

1957 Civil Rights Act


  • 1956 Bill = Attempt to ensure that all citizens could exercise the right to vote (E = trying to win black vote in 1956 election).  Individuals found guilty of preventing black Americans from voting would be fined or face jail.
  • Act established a Civil Rights division in Justice Dept and a federal Civil Rights Commission to monitor race relations.


  • Opposition from Democratic senators – meant a much weakened act.  Did little to help blacks vote (eg – any public official indicted for obstructing a black voter to be tried by all-white jury)

1960 Civil Rights Act


  • Made it a federal crime to obstruct court ordered school desegregation
  • Established penalties for obstructing black voting
  • 57 & 60 Acts acknowledged federal responsibilities for civil rights & encouraged activists to work for more legislation.


  • Did little to help blacks vote (eg Only 3% of black voters added to electoral rolls during 1960) – lack of political power to change situation

1955-56: Evidence of limited progress in the civil rights movement

  • Brown Case (limited impact)
  • Chief Justice Warren argued desegregation could be gradual.
  • acceptance of ruling varied - urban south desegregation introduced quite quickly. BUT … in the heart of the South (Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) schools remained segregated. By 1957 only 3% of black Americans studied education in a mixed, desegregated school!
  • Southern Manifesto (1956)  – signed by most Southern politicians – committed themselves to fight against BROWN decision.
  • President Eisenhower  did not believe it was the presidents job to enforce change
  • Southern States – attitudes v.slow to change – used local judges, local government, local police to resist change and intimidate black Americans. Major obstacle to change = attitudes.
  • Citizens’ Councils – formed to prevent desegregation - by 1956 – 250,000 members. Threatened activists. Revival of Ku Klux Klan.
  • Emmett Till (1955) – wolf-whistled at a white woman. Mother – open casket at funeral so everyone could see the mutilated body. First time white men were charged with murdering a black man in Mississippi. BUT … verdict = not guilty
  •  is admitted to the  (1956) Whites riot, and she is suspended. Later, she is expelled for her part in further legal action against the university.

Montgomery  Bus Boycott (1956: King /SCLC, NAACP)


  • NAACP member  refuses to give up her seat at the front of the "colored section" of a bus to a white passenger, defying a southern custom of the time.
  • In response to her arrest the Montgomery black community launches a bus boycott, which will last for more than a year, until the buses are desegregated Dec. 21, 1956.
  • As newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), Reverend , is instrumental in leading the boycott.

  1. Who?


  • RP = member
  • Cost half million
  • Took case to court (federal district court said segregation was unconstitutional, Supreme Court backed this when challenged by Montgomery City commissioners) nb – the boycott itself did not change the segregation laws – NAACP’s court case did – BROWDER v GAYLE – made segregation of buses illegal.


  • Leader of MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) that led the boycott
  • His church used as meeting place to plan boycott & provided the organisation, inspiration and some financial aid
  • Church involvement increased working class black participation
  • Speeches = inspirational (appealed to some whites)
  • Set tone for protest – ie – active, non-violent resistance

ACTIVISTS & local black community

  • Women’s Political Council (founded by black lecturers at Alabama State College in Mont’) – distributed leaflets
  • Faced KKK opposition … but waved!

(b) Impact?

  • Successful – buses desegregated.
  • BROWDER v GAYLE  established that the segregation of transport was illegal
  • Demonstrated power of black community – economic power (businesses lost one million dollars from black custom) & power of non-violent direct action
  • Demonstrated effectiveness of NAACP strategy of working through courts
  • Inspired support (financial) of white/blacks in North
  • Inspired further bus boycotts – 20 southern cities
  • Brought the inspirational King to the forefront of the CR movement
  • Led to the establishment of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957) –churches v.important in fight for equality.  
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  • Bus Boycotts not new (tactics used successfully in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1953 – blacks gained bus seating on first come, first served basis)
  • Limited victory – apart from buses rest of Mont’ remained segregated
  • De facto change was slow – see transport – Civil Rights Act of 1964 was necessary to give the federal government the power to enforce desegregation of transport in South

Freedom Rides (1961: CORE … + SNCC)


Over the spring and summer of 1961, student volunteers begin taking bus trips through the South to test out new laws that prohibit ...

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