Civil Rights Movement
Created on July 6, 2020
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The Civil Rights Movement
Malcolm X was born on May 19th, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Earl, was an avid supporter of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, which led to the family reaching death threats from white supremacists and the family had to relocate various times as a result. However, despite their attempts to escape, their home was burned to the ground in 1929 and Earl was found dead in 1931. Malcolm’s mother suffered a breakdown and the children were divided among foster homes.
In 1946, Malcom and a friend were arrested for burglary. Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years, 7 of which he served. He used this time to educate himself, and during this period his brother visited and told Malcolm about his conversion to Islam. Malcolm began studying the Nation of Islam (NOI) and leader Elijah Muhammad, who taught that white society worked to keep African Americans from empowering themselves and succeeding. When he got out on parole in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower of Islam and changed his surname to X to represent his lost tribal name.
Malcolm was appointed as a minister and national spokesperson for the NOI. He used newspapers, radio, and television to spread the NOI’s message and attracted a large number of new members. He had captivated the media, and also captured the government’s attention. The FBI infiltrated the NOI to monitor the group. Another issue Malcolm faced was that his mentor, Elijah Muhammed, had not been adhering to the rules of Islam. Malcolm ended his relationship with the NOI in 1964 and began the Muslim Mosque, Inc.
After a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm returned preaching to all races and with a new hope for the future. However, after his falling out with Muhammed, the FBI undercover informants in the NOI discovered that the NOI wanted to have Malcolm assassinated. Malcolm began traveling with bodyguards. However, on February 21st, 1965, Malcolm X was rushed by three gunmen while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was shot 15 times and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
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On MLK Day, Honor the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement
Medgar Evers was born in Decatur, Mississippi, and attended school there before being drafted into the US Army in 1943. Evers attended Alcorn State University and majored in business administration. He moved to Mound Bayou, MS after completing his degree because he had been hired to sell insurance for the Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. He was hired by T.R.M Howard, the president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a civil-rights organization. His involvement with RCNL gave Evers training in activism.
Evers applied to the University of Mississippi Law School in 1954, but the school was segregated at the time and his application was rejected. Evers then became the focus of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school. In December 1954, Evers became the NAACP’s first field officer in Mississippi. He moved to Jackson where he participated in a boycott against white merchants, and had an important role in desegregating the University of Mississippi.
Evers’ support of civil rights pioneer Clyde Kennard and his public investigation into the murder of Emmett Till made him the target of threats. In May of 1963, a homemade fire bomb was thrown near his home, and he was nearly run over by a car while leaving the NAACP office in Jackson. After Evers gave a speech about the goals of the Jackson movement on a local television channel in Mississippi, the threats increased. On June 12th, 1963, Evers arrived home and was shot in the back while exiting his car. He died an hour later. He was buried with full military honors at the Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Myrlie, became an activist later in life, and eventually served as chairwoman of the NAACP.
John Lewis was born to sharecropper parents on February 21st, 1940 near Troy, Alabama. When he was young, he was inspired by the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Martin Luther King Jr., and he vowed to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. While a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in protests at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He also volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides in 1961, risking his life by sitting in seats reserved for white passengers. He was arrested by police for protesting the injustice of Jim Crow segregation laws in the South. Lewis also served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a committee Lewis helped form which organized student activism. Lewis was nationally recognized at a young age, being dubbed one of the “Big Six” Civil Rights Leaders in 1963 and serving as an organizer and keynote speaker for the March on Washington in August 1963.
In 1965, Lewis and Civil Rights leader Hosea Williams led peaceful protesters over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. They wanted to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest for voting rights, but the protestors were attacked by state troopers in what is now known as “Bloody Sunday.” The photographs showing the cruelty helped pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Lewis went on to serve as Associate Director of the Field Foundation, then Director of the Voter Education Project, and was later appointed by President Carter in 1977 to direct the volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency. He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981, and was elected to Congress in 1986. Lewis served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 until his death on July 17th, 2020.
Ella Baker was born on December 13th, 1903 in Norfolk Virginia. She grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories about life during slavery, which inspired her passion for social justice. Baker attended Shaw University in North Carolina, and graduated in 1927 as class valedictorian. She moved to New York and joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League in 1930. The League’s purpose was to develop black economic power, and Baker was committed to economic justice for all people. Baker began working as a field secretary for the NAACP in 1940, and later served as director of branches from 1943 to 1946. In 1955, she founded the organization In Friendship to raise money to fight Jim Crow segregation laws in the South. Baker moved to Atlanta in 1957 to help organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
However, Baker left the SCLC after a group of black college students held a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960. Baker wanted to help student activists, so she organized a meeting at Shaw University for the leaders of the sit-ins, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was created from that meeting. SNCC joined with activists from CORE, the Congress of Racial Freedom, to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964, the SNCC helped create the Freedom Summer, which was an effort to bring national attention to the racism in Mississippi and to register black voters.
Baker remained an activist until she passed away in 1986 at the age of 83.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended public schools in Georgia and graduated high school at age 15. He received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1948, and was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951 from Crozer Theological Seminary, where he was president of a predominantly white class. He received his doctorate from Boston University in 1955. King met Coretta Scott in Boston, and he later married and had four children with her.
King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery in 1954. He was also a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1955, he led the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to the Supreme Court declaring laws requiring segregation on buses to be unconstitutional.
King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. The organization was formed to provide leadership for the civil rights movement. Between 1957 and 1968, King wrote five books, spoke over 2,500 times, and traveled 6 million miles. He led a protest in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 which was intended to bring attention to the integration efforts of African Americans in Birmingham. King also directed the March on Washington and delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to 250,000 marchers in Washington, D.C..
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968 while on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, where he was going to lead a protest in sympathy with the garbage workers of the city. He was the youngest man to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, receiving it at age 35. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1977 by President Carter.
Rosa Parks was born on February 4th, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She attended Alabama State Teachers College for Negroes (now Alabama State University) but had to drop out when her grandmother became sick. She was exposed to racial discrimination and violence from a young age growing up in the South, and as a result she was active in the Civil Rights Movement from a young age. Rosa was elected secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
On December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery and sat in the front of the bus. The Montgomery City Code required that public transportation be segregated, and that black passengers sit in the back while the front was reserved for white passengers. The bus began to fill with white passengers, and the bus driver asked Parks to move to the back. She refused, and was arrested. At this time, Parks was an established leader in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. In addition to resisting on the bus, she helped plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The African American community avoided city buses on December 5th, 1955 to protest Parks’ arrest. However, the organizers realized a longer protest could effect change and the Montgomery Bus Boycott ultimately lasted a total of 381 days. The boycott was a success, with the Supreme Court ultimately declaring that segregating on public transportation was unconstitutional in 1956. Rosa Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996 by President Clinton.
Bayard Rustin was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on March 17th, 1912. He was raised by his grandparents as his mother was only 16 when she had him. Rustin attended Wilberforce University in Ohio as well as the Cheney University of Pennsylvania. He moved to New York in 1937 and studied at the City College of New York. Rustin was briefly involved with the Young Communist League but became disillusioned with the group and resigned.
Rustin was punished over the years for his beliefs. He was jailed during World War II for not registering for the draft. He was arrested when he protested the segregated public transit in North Carolina in 1947. He was also arrested in 1953 for engaging in “homosexual activity” and went to jail for 60 days, but he continued to be openly gay.
Rustin met Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and began working with him as an organizer in 1955. He taught King about non-violence and assisted him with the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956. Rustin was also important in the organization of the March on Washington in 1963. Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African American trade union members, in 1965. He continued working within the civil rights and peace moments, and continued to speak about the importance of economic equality within the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the need for social justice for LGBTQ people. Rustin died on August 24th, 1987 at the age of 75.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County Mississippi. Her family was poor growing up, and she had to pick cotton at age 6 and leave school at age 12 to work. She married Perry Hamer in 1944 and they worked on a plantation in Mississippi until 1962. In 1961, Hamer had her uterus removed without her consent while she was having surgery to remove a tumor. This was an example of forced sterilization meant to reduce the black population. Hamer and her husband adopted two daughters since they were unable to have children.
In 1961, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists from the SNCC and the SCLC. Angry about efforts to deny the vote to black people, Hamer became a SNCC organizer and led volunteers to register to vote at a Mississippi courthouse. However, they were denied the right to vote and unfairly fined by the police. Hamer was fired from the plantation for trying to vote, and she and her husband moved.
In 1964, Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) whose goal was to challenge the local Democratic Party’s attempts to stop black participation. Hamer and the MFPD went to the Democratic National Convention and tried to speak, but President Lyndon B. Johnson held a press conference so her speech would not be televised. However, it was televised later and by 1968, Hamer was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated delegation.
Hamer also helped organize Freedom Summer in 1964, which brought hundreds of college students to help with African American voter registration. Hamer announced her candidacy for the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1964 but she was not allowed on the ballot. In 1971, she helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus. She also founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC), an organization that bought up land black people could farm and own together. Hamer died of breast cancer in 1977 at the age of 59.
Whitney Young Jr. (1921-1971) was born on July 31st, 1921 in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky. He attended Kentucky State Industrial College, worked as a teacher, and then served in World War II. When he returned to the United States, Young received his master in social work from the University of Minnesota. He worked with the Urban League of St. Paul, an organization which provided employment services for African Americans. Young became executive secretary of the Omaha branch of the League in 1950. In the mid 50s, Young accepted a position as dean of Atlanta University’s School of Social Work. However, he remained actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement and headed the state branch of the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1961, Young was appointed executive director of the National Urban League. The League under Young became a co-sponsor of the March on Washington in 1963.
Young was also an adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Young became known for the “Domestic Marshall Plan” he devised, which helped shape the president’s policies. Young received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1968.
Whitney Young Jr. died at age 49 on March 11th, 1971, in Lagos, Nigeria. He is remembered as a Civil Rights leader who dedicated his career to ending employment discrimination in the United States, as well as for his strong leadership of the National Urban League.
Dorothy Height was born in Richmond, Virginia on March 24th, 1912. Height received a scholarship to attend college, and was accepted to Barnard College in 1929, but was not allowed to attend because the college did not admit African Americans. Instead, Height attended New York University and received a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in psychology. Height worked for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), but after meeting African American leader Mary McLeod Bethune, she began working with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). During her time at the NCNW she focused on ending the lynching of African Americans and reforming the criminal justice system. Height became president of the NCNW in 1957, and served as president for 40 years. Under her leadership, the NCNW provided financial aid to civil rights activists and supported voter registration in the South.
As a prominent Civil Rights leader, Height was called on by Eleanor Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, and President Lyndon B. Johnson to give advice on political issues. Height helped to plan the 1963 March on Washington. However, she was not asked to speak - no women were included at all until she helped persuade the other organizers to allow a woman to speak.
Height received the Citizens Medal Award from President Reagan in 1989, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 1994, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004. Height passed away at the age of 98 on April 20th, 2010.