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Remembering the Civil Rights Movement

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FC: Remembering the Civil Rights Movement A Scrapbook

1: My name is Mary Baker. I’m a 15 year old white girl with curly brown hair and brown eyes. I have lived in Bryant, AR my whole life, but I love traveling to new places and meeting new people. Bryant is a very small, close-knit town; everyone knows each other, and each other’s business. My family lives in a decent sized home – not a mansion or anything but certainly no shabby apartment – across from Mills Park. My father travels up to Little Rock (the capital) every day to manage his retail shop that sells household electronic items, and we have been pretty well off regarding money since colored TV’s and kitchen appliances have become so popular. My mom tends to the house and garden all day, and I go to our town’s public high school. Both of my parents grew up on plantations in Mississippi, so they’re very conservative. However, since I’ve been going to school since I was little and have been able to watch political debates on TV, my views have developed differently. I don’t totally disagree with their traditional views, but on certain topics, such as civil rights, I don’t see why they’re so harsh. I really like going to school, reading, and writing, as well as watching the news on TV. One day I hope to combine these by becoming a journalist. All in all, I enjoy my life in little Bryant, Arkansas and will have to wait a few more years to see where my life takes me.

2: May 18, 1954 | Yesterday was the official court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education. A few years ago, in 1951, Oliver Brown sued the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas for now allowing his daughter to attend a white-only school, making her take a long bus ride to a distant black school instead. Judge Marshall supported desegregation of schools, and yesterday it was officially declared that the “separate but equal” has no place in public education! My parents, along with most of the whites in Arkansas, are in a complete fury; they don’t want me attending school with the “inferior race.” All of last night the adults in my town gathered on different streets and protested that the Court overstepped its limits and is interfering with state rights. They think that integrating schools will cause lots of violence. However, I’m rather indifferent to the situation. I think that the only reason there would be violence is because of the actions of rowdy whites. Going to school with blacks would be extremely weird and different for me as I’ve never really encountered them, and I’m not sure that I would like it, but I think that the Court made the right decision as long as schools can try to desegregate peacefully.

3: September 24, 1955 | I am appalled by the events of the past couple months. During August, a 14-year old black boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, was visiting his cousin in Mississippi. On the 24th he was leaving a grocery store when he reportedly said “bye baby” to a white woman in the store. While this was a rude and derogatory remark, especially coming from an African American, it wasn’t overbearingly insulting or anything to get excessively mad about. However, on the 28th, the husband and a few friends of the Carolyn Bryant (the white woman) kidnapped Till and beat him. They scraped his eyes out, shot him through the head, tied him to 70lb cotton gin fan with barbed wire and disposed of his body in a river. The murderers’ trial, Roy and Milam, took place this past week. They testified not guilty under the circumstances that there was no real proof it was them that took Till from his cabin, and that they had let him go before he was killed. Although this clearly was a lie (in my opinion), they got off without any charges. Now, I’m all for African Americans showing their respect to whites, but with a murder so disgusting as this one, for a reason that was feeble to begin with, I think the people of the South should be ashamed to let these two men get away without any reparations.

4: Around this time last year, African American Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man when the bus she was riding got crowded. The bus driver, rightly so, called the police to arrest Parks for violating the segregation laws. Little did anyone know that this small act would start one of the biggest boycotts ever – the Montgomery Bus Boycott. From that point on, blacks refused to use buses until the buses agreed to desegregate. It’s been going on for the entire past year, and the bus company has rapidly been losing money as thousands of blacks found other means of transportation to use. Finally, two days ago, the Court ruled in Browder v. Gayle that the Alabama and Montgomery bus laws requiring segregation were unconstitutional. This entire process put me at awe. I’ve been raised to believe black are inferior, and though I don’t necessarily believe they are, I had no idea they were powerful enough to organize a movement like this. I generally don’t ride the bus, so this court ruling has no direct impact on me. However, the fact that more than 50,000 blacks were willing to walk or bike to work for an entire year just to desegregate buses makes me think many more movements like this are to come. | December 22, 1956

5: November 15, 1957 | The movement’s finally been localized for me and my family; intense riots have been going on due to the group of nine blacks trying to attend Little Rock Central High School, just a few miles outside of Bryant. Our governor rejected the Brown decision and told the Arkansas National Guard to stand outside of the school and not allow the nine blacks in. Mobs gathered outside the school and tried using violence against the kids and yelling at them; it was total commotion. A few days after Einsenhower sent the National Guard in to protect the students and let them attend the school. The soldiers followed the students to class and made sure they went throughout their days unharmed. The black students have been there for about two months now, and I finally understand where the core of the mobs were coming from: the parents. Although the students undergo some discrimination and bullying in school, most students have learned to accept them at this point – one of my friends at that high school has even said a few of them are sort of smart! The mobs and discrimination come from the angry white parents in our area – mine included. We’ll see what happens if more schools in our area are forced to integrate; I don’t think I would have a problem with it, but I’m afraid of more mobs of parents and military presence.

6: Despite all the riots that have occurred, I’ve noticed a trend in the blacks’ tactics: non-violent direct protest. Years ago, CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) was created with the intent to bring change peacefully. In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr (essentially the leader of the whole civil rights movement) created the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), and SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) was created in 1960, both supporting nonviolent protest. The forms of “nonviolent protest” that blacks have adopted include marches, speeches, and sit-ins. Sit-ins entail simply sitting down in a segregated restaurant or public place; the business is either forced to serve them or suffer loss of business. Usually whites come in and try the beat the blacks until they leave. Sometimes the sit-ins do the trick though, like recently when they desegregated a Woolworth in Nashville, waves and waves of blacks coming in after their fellow activists were arrested. | Since at this point it is inevitable for blacks to protest, I think they are doing it in the best way possible. Being violent would only hurt them (physically and restrain any civil rights progress), and make whites hate them even more. Obviously they’re asking for trouble by trying to desegregate areas in the deep south, hence the arrests, but I respect their decision to keep their side of the fight nonviolent. It’s also interesting that nearly 70,000 students have participated – I can not imagine what it’d be like to stand up to violent, opinionated adults at my age! | December 1, 1960 nonviolent direct protest

7: At the end of last year, it was ruled that instate buses must also be integrated. So, in order to make sure this law would be upheld, CORE and SNCC created the Freedom Rides at the beginning of this month. The two buses, filled with blacks and whites, departed from DC on the 4th, and had no trouble getting through the first few stops. But, once they left Atlanta on the 14th, they faced real issues. In Anniston, white mobs members slashed the bus’s tires, and one member threw a firebomb into the bus! Next they arrived in Birmingham, where the riders were beaten so badly that new volunteers replaced them. When they arrived in Jackson, Miss., all riders were immediately arrested and the journey was cut short. Unlike many others in Arkansas, I’m completely appalled by how the whites reacted to the blacks. If it wasn’t their right, maybe I’d feel differently. But, it’s the blacks right to be able to travel between states on integrated buses, and the fact that whites would go so far as to throw firebombs into the bus is outrageous! At least somewhere in the country people agree with me – Robert Kennedy just passed a law that made the Interstate Commerce Commission and Justice Department prohibit segregation on all interstate transportation (i.e. buses, trains and planes). | May 30, 1961

8: One fellow from my home town sat down at my table in the cafeteria. 'If you're here to get an education, I'm for you,' he said. 'If you're here to cause trouble, I'm against you.' That seemed fair enough to me." -James Meredith | This past summer, the Supreme Court overheard James Meredith’s case; he wanted to transfer from Jackson State College to the all-white University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), but was denied just because he’s black. The court endorsed his claim, but governor Ross Barnett refused to allow Meredith into the school. Blatantly ignoring the Justice Department, JFK sent in federal marshals to walk Meredith around campus. Whites gathered around to protest, destroying the marshals’ vehicles and throwing tear-gas around campus, killing 2 and hurting thousands! Kennedy sent in army troops to stop the violence, but marshals are still walking Meredith to class daily. Since I’m now attending college, this story really frightened me. I would never want to be around insane riots like that. The whites are extremely harsh and scary, but I don’t think I support the black cause enough to risk dying for them. I’d be fine with my college integrating, but it’s extremely frightening to think how the surrounding towns would act and the violence that could potentially start. The quote I put to the left is something I ready in the article Meredith wrote for the Saturday Evening Post. It sums up how I feel about the whole situation, and how I wish other whites could see it as well, in order to avoid so much violence. | September 30, 1962

9: In attempt to integrate the most segregated city in the US, the protesters headed down to Birmingham, AL for their next big move this past month. Led by Martin Luther King, the protesters marched and conducted sit-ins, as well as organized boycotts. They received a court command to cease demonstrations, but in an act of “civil disobedience” Dr. King ignored the order. He and many other demonstrators were arrested. However, he was released about a week later, and this time allowed teenagers to join in. Police commissioner Bull Connor used fire hoses, police dogs, and beating to get the protesters to stop. In response, JF Kennedy televised a speech supporting civil rights. However, this only cause more anger, and hours later NAACP field secretary and civil rights leader Medgar Evers was shot outside of his house. My family and I watched all of this unfold in the past few weeks on TV and in the news. I was disgusted, and even my deep-south parents were slightly alarmed by the brutality of the policemen. The demonstrators got their wish though, as JF Kennedy recently passed a bill banning segregation in all public places, anywhere federal funding takes place, and in schools. | June 13, 1963

10: August 29, 1963 | More and more people are beginning to realize that the civil rights demonstrators, along with the accompanying violence, aren’t going to go away until their demands are met. JFK started out his term rather slow on the issue, only appointing a few blacks to office. However, as I mentioned in my last entry, after Birmingham he realized how disturbing the violence is, and he proposed the new civil rights bill to help fix this. The protesters (black and white) were eager to support this bill, and just this month launched a gigantic march on Washington DC to help gain support. | The march was a big success and insane to get to see; 200,000 people from all around the US flooded into the National Mall chanting “jobs and freedom.” It was all organized by A. Philip Randolph, with presentations by James Farmer, singers Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and many more. The person who really hit it home, though, was Martin Luther King Jr. with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Watching it in on a tiny TV in the student lounge, the words still rang through me. Seeing the mass amount of support and getting to here Dr. King’s powerful words really hit me inside. Some of the demands were a little far-fetched, but I can see change coming, and I’m going to spite my Arkansas roots and support it! | "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

11: July 2, 1964 | The Civil Rights Act (1964) passed! JFK will always be in our memories, but Lyndon Johnson has been much more persistent and relentless when it comes to civil rights – he even managed to get both democratic and republican support for the bill to pass! There are four major parts to the bill: banned usage of different voter registration standards for blacks and whites, prevented discrimination in all public places and accommodations, allowed the government to withhold money from programs that practice discrimination, and banned discrimination by employers or unions (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to look into job discrimination charges). This act marks a huge advance in the movement’s progress, but it will be interesting to see how the public reacts.

12: July 10, 1965 | Despite the new rights gained in ’64, blacks have still been having trouble utilizing them, especially gaining their voting rights. Last summer, “Freedom Summer,” a few groups tried to organize a voter registration drive in Mississippi. White Mississippians were angered though, and there were about 80 mob attacks. One of these attacks included the murders on James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, whose bodies were found buried in an earthen dam. Thousands were arrested and many homes destroyed, yet the new voters managed to organize a group called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and sent their delegates to the Democratic national convention to argue that the state’s segregated party didn’t accurately represent MS. Johnson only offered them 2 of Mississippi’s 68 seats though, to which they denied his offer thinking it fell short. Again in Selma, Alabama blacks still had trouble with their rights, as police arrested any blacks simply standing in line to register. This brought Dr. King’s attention, and he lead a march from Selma to Montgomery (the capital). State officials rode horses through the crowd, whipping, clubbing, and tear-gassing the marchers. Johnson was shocked by this, and sent in the National Guard to protect the route for the marchers. In a final response, he proposed the Voting Rights Act (1965), which was just passed yesterday! I was worried that the blacks on the MFDP might’ve made a mistake by rejecting Johnson’s offer at the Democratic Convention, or that they’d give up after so much abuse. I couldn’t believe the size of the march though, reaching 25,000 people by the end of it! Luckily their work paid off, and federal officials can now help register voters anywhere that local officials were getting in the way.

13: It seems as though the blacks are becoming more and more forceful in their desire for equality and rights. Years ago, at the start of the movement, Malcolm (Little) X brought the idea of black nationalism to the US – a belief in the racial integration but separate identity of blacks. At first he was harsh and wanting nothing to do with all the nonviolent nonsense, but after he returned from a trip to Mecca in 1964 he was ready to work with other demonstrators. However, he was shot 9 months later before he was able to spread his ideas much beyond SNCC. Stokley Carmichael was a leader of SNCC at this time, and began adopting some of Malcolm X’s more radical views. He ordered members of SNCC to carry guns, and spoke about how ineffective nonviolence is. He spread the idea of black power, which, in his words, was “to unite, to recognize [blacks’] heritage, to build a sense of community to begin to define their own goals.” This idea resonated with many African Americans, and just this fall a new, militant group arose called the Black Panthers. They have much more extreme demands, like rebuilding all the nation’s ghettos, getting rid of police brutality, and releasing all blacks from prison. Already they’ve found themselves in many violent encounters. It’s respectable for blacks to have pride, but I think the radical groups are only hurting their cause. It’s almost like they want to go back to segregation; Carmichael even banned whites from being in SNCC! I would definitely have participated in a nonviolent protest or march if one stumbled on my area, but not with groups that invoke violence. Plus, the only way for blacks to get equal rights is to try and get whites to see their views; so, if they’re barring more and more whites out they’re only taking steps backwards. | November 24, 1966

14: The pent up feelings are finally beginning to boil over into violence. I got a job a few months ago as a journalist for the Arkansas Democrat, and I was sent up to New York City to get coverage on some new buildings, businesses, and renovations to black neighborhoods going on there. However, when I was there a massive riot happened to breakout nearby in Newark on July 12th, so (with my instinctive journalistic qualities) I went to the city to check it out. There was police brutality at every corner, black homes and business were torn to shreds, 26 died, and 1,500 arrested. I regretted going there the instant I got to the city, as it was terrifying to walk across the razed streets, and have to encounter fuming blacks and whites. The sparking event was when John Smith, a black cabdriver, was arrested for illegally passing two Newark cops. Smith’s neighbors allegedly saw him being dragged across the floor unconscious, and that he’d been killed while in police custody. Of course, this isn’t the first time riots like this have happened. Back in 1965 an extremely violent uproar occurred in Watts, Los Angeles. The LA police pulled over black drunk driver; the driver resisted the arrest and the policemen starting waving their batons at him. This set off violence in the area; cars were burned, stores ruined, shooting in the streets, and fires set off all over the place. 34 people died in a span of 6 days. | August 26, 1967 | Newark

15: The main cause of both of these riots, and the others that have been springing up, aren’t the “spark event” though. The tension has been building up for years; de jure segregation in cities technically doesn’t exist in most fields anymore, but de facto segregation is just as prevalent. Cities have become overcrowded, so many whites have moved out to the suburbs, taking away the tax base for cities. This leads to poor social services (i.e. schools, parks, garbage pick-up, etc) and a poorer standard of living. The government is supposed to supply federal funds to help rebuild slum-areas, but the whites that remain in the cities take the money and use it to renovate their own areas and businesses. There’s also been lots of deindustrialization, leading to lower pay and unemployment. It was intense to see all the pent up anger between the black and whites explode in Newark, but hopefully the violence can cease soon. It’s certainly one way to bring attention to the inequality that still exists all throughout the country, but, as I stated about the black radical groups, violence is only going to minimize support. | Watts, Los Angeles

16: April 5, 1968 Yesterday was a devastating day. This year, Dr. King has been focusing on economic injustice rather than just racial injustice. He went to Memphis, Tennessee on the 3rd in order to give a speech about his Poor People’s Campaign, and to rally support for the march he was organizing. He spoke powerfully, as usual, but the next day when he was standing out on his balcony, he was shot and killed. The country has been in a violent uproar all of yesterday and today. There are federal troops all over the place trying to placate the riots and mobs. It looks as though the death of King is going to mean the death of nonviolent protest. | April 11, 1968 In timing with King’s assassination, another civil rights bill was enacted today. The Civil Rights Act of 1968, being referred to as the Fair Housing Act, prevents unequal housing opportunities from occurring based on race, religion, or national origin. It prohibits discrimination in the contract of a rental or purchase, discrimination when advertising, refusing to sell solely based on race, and interfering with a person’s housing rights based on racial grounds.

17: The end of the Civil Rights Movement essentially came with Dr. King’s death. The new Civil Rights Act has passed, and the number of African Americans elected to office has risen by 88%. There will always be racist people and underlying issues, and I’m sure I’ll be of the first to encounter them, now being a journalist, but hopefully the country has met the most aggressive demands and will no longer have to suffer from violence. I have a little girl now who will be attending school soon, and, unlike my parents, I’ll steer her in the direction towards thinking of all races as equal. It will be interesting to see if she needs my guidance in that regard, though, or, as Dr. King said, if “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

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