A Look at Black History, Post WWII

Reminiscent of the end of Reconstruction in the post-Civil War era, racism, discrimination, and violence against blacks and other minorities increased after World War II. Riots broke out in cities throughout the North. In the South, returning black soldiers were targeted by the KKK. Blacks began to fight back. They refused to stand and take the punishment.

Black leaders, again led by A. Philip Randolph, demanded that the military be integrated. Truman, now president after the death of FDR, established a Civil Rights commission to study the issue. One year after being formed, the commission gave the president an extensive list of suggestions. Based on the recommendations from the commission, President Truman desegregated the military. Under Truman, the fortunes for blacks did see some changes. Truman spoke out against racism and discrimination. He garnered much support from the black community, especially after speaking at the 1947 NAACP national convention. He was the first president to do this.

A black lawyer for the NAACP by the name of Charles Houston began to look at the effects of segregation in education. Houston and a group of social scientists studied various education facilities in Clarenton County, South Carolina. Houston coupled what he had learned from his research with a case he had been working on in Topeka, Kansas. The group of cases finally reached the Supreme Court in 1953 under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. The NAACP was using the case as an opportunity to challenge the notion of “separate but equal” that was explained in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. The lawyers for the NAACP argued that the Fourteenth Amendment indicated that the policy established by the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling was unconstitutional. When the decision came in, all nine justices voted that the policy of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional and ordered immediate desegregation of public schools. According to the ruling, blacks would be admitted to white schools.

Upon hearing of the Supreme Court ruling, Americans were shocked. In 1957, a gathering of whites stood in front of the entrance, attempting to stop the admittance of nine black students to a local Little Rock high school. Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus ordered the state’s National Guard to keep the students from entering the building. Black Civil Rights leaders pressured President Eisenhower to send federal troops to protect the rights of the students. As several presidents before him, he told the leaders that progress on the matter must come slowly. Eisenhower spoke with Gov. Faubus on multiple occasions and asked him to let the black students enter the school. As Faubus continued to prevent the students from attending the school, Eisenhower had to act. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent in one thousand paratroopers from the 101st Airborne to protect the nine Black students.

On December 1, 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. This relatively obscure act revitalized the Civil Rights movement. When the NAACP became aware of the arrest, they immediately saw it as an opportunity to challenge segregation on public transportation. They called all of the local political and religious leaders together and asked them to support a boycott in protest to Mrs. Parks’ arrest. The boycott was an immediate success. The 381 days of boycotting transportation and white business put the transportation system on the verge of bankruptcy and decimated white businesses.

With the success of the Montgomery boycott, Black leaders charted a new path for the struggle for Civil Rights. In January of 1957, southern Black ministers met and established the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
In Greensboro, North Carolina, a student was refused service at a bus terminal lunch counter. After the incident, the student and three others decided to go to the local Woolworth store and remain there until they were served. The waitress refused to serve them, so the four young men just sat there until they were arrested. Each day, the protesters return and grew in numbers. Actions like this were known as civil disobedience, a form of resistance that Martin Luther King, Jr. was very passionate about. Black adults soon joined in, and a boycott of downtown area stores began. When many of the stores were near bankrupt, the decision was made to break with tradition and desegregate the lunch counters. When success of the boycott spread around the country, other black students performed similar non-violent protests around the country. In October of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was formed at Shaw University in Raleigh, NC.

In the 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began something known as the freedom rides. It was an effort to desegregate bus services. On May 1, 1961, the buses left from Washington DC. The authorities were told what the students were attempting and when they arrived in Alabama, the KKK was waiting for them. Freedom riders were savagely beaten. But this didn’t break the spirit of the movement. Riders traveled to Birmingham, Alabama and boarded another bus. In November of 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations that ended segregation at interstate bus stations.

For the next few years, tens of thousands of protesters were beaten and jailed. Some lost homes, jobs, and even their lives. In January of 1963, Martin Luther King announced that SCLC was going to Birmingham to integrate public facilities and department stores. Later in that same year, A. Philip Randolph and other black leaders felt that is was time for a march on Washington, demanding the issue of Civil Rights be addressed. The nation looked on as hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial to listen to MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

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