African American civil rights movement and African American studies in general have been a field of a great scholarly interest in the last decades. Various courses on African American studies have been taught at American as well as European universities, and numerous academic works have been published. So it was no coincidence that a course titled The Politics of Race and Gender in American Culture: African American Writers captured my attention when I was an exchange student at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece in the 2007-2008 academic year.
The course was designed to provide an overview of African American literature and culture and various works were analyzed from the perspective of gender and race. Ms. Domna Pastourmatzi, PhD. was a wonderful lecturer and it was right in her course when I chose to write a comparative essay on the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr.
and Malcolm X as my final assignment. Years later, that assignment inspired me to explore the area of the American civil rights movement more in depth, focusing on different ideological streams within it.I clearly remember that reading of Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, and especially the story of Kiswana Browne, helped me understand that not all the black people shared the same view about how the protest movement for civil rights should operate and what campaigns and activities it should involve. It also made me consider what the main differences between the non-violent generation and the Black Power generation of the movement were, and why the young Black Power generation was critical of the prior non-violent movement.Based on these findings, I decided to analyze in my master’s thesis if the Black Power movement, which partly based its ideology and program on the criticism and a supposed failure of the non-violent civil rights movement, achieved any significant goals, and therefore if it could be considered more successful and influential than the non-violent movement. To do this, I am going to analyze both the movements’ programs and the most significant and illustrative campaigns that brought about some impact, no matter if positive or negative.
The thesis is divided into six chapters, with the first one and the last one being the Introduction and Conclusion, respectively. The second chapter titled “Non-violent Civil Rights Movement” first surveys the most important milestones of the African American civil rights struggle from the 1860s up to the 1950s, and consequently concentrates on some of the civil rights cases and campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s that I find most important and representative.Important personalities such as Martin Luther King, Jr. are not left out of this chapter, either. The third chapter, as its title “Formation of the Black Power Movement as an Alternative” suggests, is concerned with the creation of the Black Power movement as the young generation’s preferred alternative to the already existing non-violent movement. Moreover, it also attempts to explain what is usually understood by the term Black Power, and to sketch the life conditions of the black U.
S. population in the 1960s and 1970s, since these played an important role in the emergence of Black Power.The forth chapter provides an overview of Black Power’s objectives and ideology, as they were set forth by the Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael and interpreted by various scholars. Among these objectives there are calls for black people’s redefinition of themselves, for establishment of new institutions, for economic and political changes, etc.
Other ideological points frequently mentioned by Black Power advocates and discussed in this chapter are the rejection of integration or the criticism of the previous movement. The fifth chapter conveys an analysis of examples and illustrative cases of Black Power activism and impact in different areas such as the community life, politics, black people’s psychology, or the arts and culture. These examples include new political parties, black people’s initiatives to run for public offices, or new tendencies in the arts reflecting the atmosphere of political change of the 1960s and 1970s in the U. S.
A.I would like to emphasize that when providing an overview of both the movements’ campaigns and activism, I decided to concentrate on and include only those campaigns, legal cases and historical events that I considered relevant for my thesis and analysis and were illustrative enough to provide some evidence of the political, social, and cultural situation and changes, as well as the proceedings of the movements’ campaigns.This resulted in not covering of some historical facts or events which, however important in the context of the individual organizations or the American history in general, were of little or no relevance to my analysis of Black Power’s achievements and impact. 2. NON-VIOLENT CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT This chapter is aimed at explaining what we understand by the term ‘civil rights movement’ in the U. S.
A. , and we are also going to provide an overview of some of the non-violent civil rights movement’s key historical events, most illustrative campaigns and major achievements.Definition Before we proceed to explore some of the important milestones and campaigns of the African American civil rights struggle, we have to establish the terminology. The term ‘civil rights movement’ usually refers to the “mass protest movement against racial segregation and discrimination” (Carson) which took place from the post-Reconstruction period in the United States of America up to 1970s.However, some scholars like J.
Bond (qtd. in Williams XI) argue that its beginning could be traced back to the 17th century, since from the importation of the first African slaves and the establishment of slavery there were always acts of protest and resistance. Nat Turner or Frederick Douglass may well be considered early predecessors of the 1950s and 60s civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X.
The first acts of protest performed by slaves were aimed at their achieving of freedom, while after the official abolition of slavery in 1865 the focus shifted to the struggle against racism and for the acquisition of equal civil rights for all U. S. citizens regardless of skin color. 1860s – Mid-1950s Civil Rights Milestones The prospects for former black slaves were quite promising just after the end of the American Civil War and at the beginning of the Reconstruction era.
The institution of slavery was abolished by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and by passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865. Consequently, all the blacks were guaranteed federal citizenship and political rights, including the right to vote, by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.However, the American society and especially the white population of the Deep South wasn’t unanimous about granting the freed slaves their civil and political rights, and neither did President Johnson much to force the southern states to follow the two amendments (Gruver 430-431). During the post-war ‘Reconstruction Era’, there certainly were movements toward the improvement of the social status and economic situation of the blacks.
In 1865 the Freedmen’s Bureau was established, its main goal being to provide food, medical care and education to former slaves, as well their protection from racial injustices.Many black colleges and universities were founded by the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the Howard University in Washington, D. C. , which later played an important role in educating some of the most important leaders of the civil rights movement.
Nevertheless, under the system of sharecropping, most of the southern blacks turned into indebted tenants, a status only a little more economically advantageous than slavery (Gruver 433; Tsesis 95).In addition to that, another threat in the form of ‘white terrorism’ arose in the Deep South in 1860s. Organizations like the Knights of the White Camelia, the White Brotherhood, the Ku Klux Klan, etc. threatened and harassed blacks in order to prevent them from exercising their civil rights, such as voting (Gruver 448). The reaction of the Congress was the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment (qtd.
in The United States Constitution) in 1870, stating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, and the consequent adoption of three Enforcement Acts, which put elections under federal jurisdiction and thus restricted the states’ power to discourage black citizens from voting.A third one, so called Ku Klux Klan Act, made it illegal to “enter into conspiracies for depriving persons of their equal protection under the law” (Tsesis 110-111). In 1875 the Civil Rights Act ending segregation in public facilities was enacted, but it didn’t apply to school segregation and, as Tsesis (114) claims, was eventually found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the so called Civil Rights Cases (see below).Taking into consideration all the above mentioned factors, we can conclude that the status of black people after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 was somewhat better than it was before the abolition of slavery: In theory, blacks had their civil rights granted by the three amendments to the Constitution, but these amendments remained unenforced above all throughout the South until the 1950s and 60s.Intimidation, harassing, whipping and even lynching of black people were common practices of the white population especially in the Deep South1, but they happened to a lesser extent throughout the whole country. The southern states’ governments started inventing obstacles and enforcing laws to prevent blacks from voting, such as discriminatory poll taxes, literacy tests and so called ‘black codes’ and ‘grandfather laws’, some of them remaining in practice till the 1960s civil rights movement (Gruver 449; Tsesis 96-97).
In the last two decades of the 19th century several key legal cases determined the status of blacks throughout the first half of the 20th century. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the so called Civil Rights Cases in 1883 undermined the previously adopted Civil Rights Act of 1875 and thus opened the way for a legal discrimination and segregation on the individual states’ level. Consequently, segregation in schools and public spaces became a law throughout the South (Tsesis 125-126). In the Plessy v.cFerguson case, in 1896, the Supreme Court only confirmed the legality of segregation and established the ‘separate-but-equal’ doctrine (Williams 9).Being aware of all the hardship that black people had to face at the turn of the century, a few black and white intellectuals and reformers formed the Niagara Movement.
Founded in 1905 by W. E. B. Du Bois, the first black Harvard graduate and an advocate of complete equality of races, the movement’s members “opposed segregation and called for racial equality in all areas of American life” (Gruver 626).The movement was transformed into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (usually abbreviated NAACP) in 1909 and gained its importance throughout the first half of the 20th century when its lawyers won several important race-related cases.
At the time of its foundation, the NAACP's goal was “to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively.” (“NAACP: 100 Years of History”).In both World War I and World War II blacks served in the U. S. military or took over the vacant workplaces in factories and thus proved that in these areas they were no less competent than white workers or servicemen. Most scholars, like Estes (12-13), believe that this fact had a particular impact on the emergence of the civil rights campaign in the 1950s and 1960s.
He also argues that in World War II, “more than one million African Americans served in the U. S.Armed Forces”, most of them motivated by the hope to “uplift their race and gain them respect and recognition as men”. Nevertheless, discrimination was an everyday practice at the workplace as well as in the army.
The former was ended by President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, issued in 19412 (Estes 16), the latter persisted throughout the World War II till 1948, when President Truman signed an executive order to desegregate the U. S. Armed Forces (Estes 37)3.The Struggle for School Desegregation in the 1950s In Tsesis (252) we read that several legal cases attempting desegregation of higher education were tried between the 1930s and 1950s and therefore that phase of the civil rights struggle was characterized by a legal effort made by lawyers rather than any mass activism on the part of common people. Tsesis (3) claims that “law is an essential component of progressive change, which is best achieved through coordinated efforts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches”, and legal effort was indeed the key tool in the above mentioned decades.
In this section, we are going to give a brief account of two illustrative cases: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and the Little Rock crisis, and introduce the eminent lawyers involved, whether directly or not, in these cases. Among the most important lawyers who contributed the most to the legal action towards school desegregation in the 1930s-50s were Charles Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and Nathan Ross Margold. Charles Hamilton Houston received a law degree from Harvard University in 1919 and later became a teacher and vice dean of the all-black Howard University’s School of Law.He reorganized the law school, significantly improved its reputation and trained a generation of lawyers who would eventually argue the forthcoming civil rights cases (Williams 4-5).
One of those students was Thurgood Marshall, who worked with Houston on several legal cases challenging university segregation and later as an NAACP attorney argued and won the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case (see below).He eventually became the first black justice of the US Supreme Court (Diggins 280; Williams 11, 14). Nathan Ross Margold, a white Harvard-trained NAACP lawyer, is the author of the Margold Report, published in 1933, which attacked the ‘separate-but-equal doctrine’ (Williams 9-10).
Many scholars like Bond (qtd. in Williams XI) believe that “for most Americans, the civil rights movement began on May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision outlawing segregation in public schools”.The ‘Brown case’ was undoubtedly a turning point in the history of African American struggle for civil rights. We should stress here that four similar cases originating in Kansas, Delaware, Virginia and South Carolina were consolidated under the title of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Tsesis 252).
The Brown case carries the name of Linda Brown, a black third-grader whose parents wanted to register her at a nearby white elementary school, because they considered her commuting to the distant all-black school too dangerous and time-consuming (Williams 21).However, the principal refused to enroll Linda on the basis of a Kansas law requiring school segregation, which inspired Linda’s father, Reverend Oliver Brown, to file suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The lower trial courts repeatedly turned the suit down, so it went up through the appeal system and reached the Supreme Court, where the Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren ruled in favor of Brown and declared school segregation “inherently unequal” and thus unconstitutional (Diggins 279-281).A part of the evidence in favor of school desegregation was the Dolls Test, carried out by the psychologist Kenneth Clark and his wife in Washington, D. C. in 1939-40, and later in Clarendon County, South Carolina.
The experiment revealed that children in the South didn’t reject the feeling of inferiority resulting from being black, which had a negative impact on their self-esteem (Clark qtd. in Williams 23; Williams 20-21).Implementing the Brown decision was problematic because the Supreme Court didn’t issue an implementation decree and, as Diggins (281-2) states, “left it up to local school authorities to assume responsibility for carrying out the law. ” Aware of the vagueness of the law, adds Diggins, the Court later issued the so called ‘Brown II’, ordering the schools to “make a prompt and reasonable start towards full compliance [with the law] … with all deliberate speed”.Nevertheless, the Brown decision is often considered one of the most important milestones in African American history and one of the major achievements of the civil rights movement, since it is the decision that finally overrules Plessy v.
Ferguson after more than five decades of institutionalized school segregation. In addition to that, Brown’s success showed a possible way to other civil rights activists and motivated them to continue their struggle.