|Southern States Try to Destroy NAACP (1956-1964)|
|Mississippi Sovereignty Commission (March)|
|Autherine Lucy at the Univ. Alabama (Feb)|
|Fred Shuttlesworth and the Birmingham Resistance (1956-1962)|
|Tallahasee Bus Boycott (May 1956-Jan 1958)|
|Student Protests & Boycotts Orangeburg, SC (April - May)|
|Clinton TN & Desegregation of First White Schools in the South|
By the start of 1956, some significant blows have been struck against segregation — among them the Brown decision, the ongoing Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Autherine Lucy's temporary admission to the University of Alabama. In many of these efforts the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) plays a key role.
Across the South, white political leaders view advocacy for racial desegregation and nonwhite voting rights to be the very definition of 'communist treason.' White religious leaders, business owners, publishers, and politicians, proclaim that civil rights for nonwhite Americans is a vile plot to subvert the American way of life. For them, the malevolent instigator of these treasonous ideas and acts is the NAACP, an organization they accuse of being either a 'communist front,' or 'communist dominated,' or at the very least 'under communist influence.' Economic retaliation, intimidation, and violence against NAACP leaders and members spirals upward.
The newly-formed White Citizens Councils leads the attack. Working through state government, in state after state they launch a coordinated effort to outlaw and destroy the NAACP through litigation and legislation. In 1956, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia all initiate court cases or pass laws aimed at eliminating the NAACP. While these laws and cases vary in detail, each state's attack involves one or more of the following strategies:
The heart of any organization is its membership and contributor lists. Though the NAACP has been active in the South for decades, state courts in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia suddenly order the NAACP to turn their rolls over to the state on various legal pretexts.
Given the climate of race-related repression and terror, and the close cooperation between the state government, the police, the Citizens Council, and the Ku Klux Klan, NAACP officers know that surrendering their lists will subject members and contributors to economic retaliation (firings, evictions, boycotts), harassment, threasts, arrests, beatings, and lynchings. (The Citizen Council and KKK are, of course, not required to turn over their membership rolls to anyone.)
When the NAACP refuses to comply, state courts then levy crippling fines and issue injunctions prohibiting the organization from continuing to operate in the state. The NAACP fights back with lawsuits of its own, the most famous of which is NAACP v. Alabama. Though the NAACP has had active branches in Alabama since 1918, in 1956 Alabama Attorney General (and later Governor) John Patterson demands that it register with the state and hand over its membership and contributor lists. When the NAACP refuses, Montgomery Circuit Judge Walter Jones issues an order barring the organization from operating in the state and levies a fine of $100,000 (equal to $843,000 in 2012) a huge amount guaranteed to bankrupt a shoe-string civil rights organization funded by small contributions. It takes the NAACP eight years to fight NAACP vs Alabama through the court system to eventual victory before the Supreme Court in 1964 — during which time it's activities in the state are crippled.
Concerned that state efforts to destroy the NAACP don't go far enough, some Alabama counties have the legislature enact county-specific regulations such as the law that requires any membership organization in Wilcox County — where Blacks comprise 80% of the population but none are allowed to vote — to pay a $100 licensing fee, provide the names and addresses of all members, and pay five dollars to the county for each member. Religious, charitable, literary, scientific, and government groups are excluded from coverage by this statute — leaving only civil rights groups and labor unions subject to it. As the bill's sponsor forthrightly explains: "Without such a proposal it would be very easy for the NAACP to slip into Wilcox County and teach the Negroes undesirable ideas." Governor Folsom vetoes the bill, condemning it as "unjust, unfair, and undemocratic," but the legislature overrides his veto. 
In another 1956 example, Louisiana attempts to eradicate the NAACP with a double-prong attack. First they enact a law requiring organizations to file an annual affidavit that none of its officers, or the officers of any out-of-state parent corporation (such as the National NAACP in New York), are affiliated with any Communist, Communist-front, or subversive organization as cited by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Since HUAC routinely declares civil-rights, labor, and peace organizations to be "subversive" without any real evidence, and there is no way to know what other groups the 78 national NAACP officers in New York might be associated with (or for that matter, the more than 100 Louisiana NAACP officers), it is impossible for the NAACP to submit such an affidavit without risking perjury charges.
Back in 1924, Louisiana passed an anti-Klan law requiring organizations to file annual membership lists with the Secretary of State. But the law was never enforced against the KKK (or any other group) until 1956 when Louisiana demands the names and addresses of all NAACP members and officers. A few NAACP branches comply with the order, and their members are immediately hit with economic reprisals orchestrated by the White Citizens Councils. When the NAACP State Conference and the remaining branches refuse to divulge their members names or submit the non-Communist affidavit, state Attorney General Jack Gremillion obtains an injunction barring the NAACP from "doing any business or acting as a corporation in Louisiana."
The NAACP is forced to close its Louisiana offices, its funds are sent
to New York for safekeeping, and field secretary Clarence Laws is
transferred to another state. Branch leader C. W. Anderson writes
As of today, I'm sending my resignation as President of this
Branch. About to go underground. Hoping to come up someday fighting on
the forefront." To protest this attack and support the
Montgomery Bus Boycott a "blackout" of the
New Orleans Mardi Gras season is organized around the slogan: "It is
immoral for Negroes in New Orleans to dance while Negroes in Montgomery
walk!" They collect $60,000 for the National NAACP.
It takes years for the NAACP to fight Louisiana v. NAACP to a successful conclusion in federal courts, during which time it is effectively suppressed in the state of Louisiana.
Overt, explicit employment discrimination limits the great majority of Blacks to the lowest-paid and most menial jobs in both the public and private sectors. The major exception are teachers and administrators in the segregated "Colored" school systems, who are, of course, paid less than their white counterparts, but still much more than maids, farm hands, and laborers.
Across the South, Black teachers employed in public "Colored" schools are a mainstay of NAACP membership. In 1956, states such as Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina repeal or amend teacher tenure laws. They then pass legislation aimed at firing educators who belong to the NAACP. Mississippi, for example, enacts rules barring teachers who belong to "subversive" organizations and requiring all teachers to file an affidavit listing the organizations they have belonged to for the past five years. Since the state declares the NAACP to be a "subversive" group, teachers and administrators in the segregated Colored schools must resign their NAACP memberships or lose their jobs. South Carolina passes similar regulations.
Under regulations enacted by the Georgia State Board of Education in
1956, the license of any educator who "
condones, or agrees to teach mixed [race] classes" is to be revoked
forever." This draconian decree prompts some modest free
speech protests by moderate whites, so the Board amends their rules to
require all teachers to sign an oath that they will "
and defend the constitution and laws of
Georgia" — which, of course, mandate segregation in
all aspects of life, particularly schools.
Louisiana passes laws to fire any school employee who is "
member of or contributing to any group, organization, movement or
corporation that is by law or injunction prohibited from operating in
the State..." Since Louisiana has just enjoined the NAACP from
existing in the state, the effect is clear. But just to make sure,
they also decide that, "
advocating or in any manner performing
any act toward bringing about integration of the races within the
public school system..." is grounds for dismissing any teacher
or school employee.
These attacks are effective. Faced with the threat of losing their livelihood, educators across the South are forced to resign their memberships in the NAACP. But a few resist. When South Carolina orders all educators to reveal the organizations they belong to, Septima Clark, a teacher in the Charleston, "Colored" school system, defiantly lists her membership the NAACP. Septima Clark recalls:
The next year the South Carolina Legislature passed a law that said that no city or state employee could belong to the NAACP. You see, our legislature was joining others across the deep South in a systematic campaign to wipe out the NAACP. ... I feel the big failure in my life was trying to work with the Black teachers to get them to realize, when that law was passed in South Carolina, that it was an unjust law. But there were such a few jobs that they didn't see how they could work against the law. I had the feeling that if all of them would say "We are members of the NAACP," that the legislature would not have said, "All of you will lose your job," because that would mean thousands of children out on the streets at one time. But I couldn't get them to see that.
I signed my name to 726 letters to Black teachers asking them to tell the state of Sourth Carolina that it was unjust to rule that no city or state employee could belong to the NAACP. If whites could belong to the Ku Klux Klan, then surely Blacks could belong to the NAACP. ... I don't know why I felt that the Black teachers would stand up for their rights. But they wouldn't. ... Only 26 of them answered my letter, and I wrote them that we should go and talk with the superintendent. Eleven decided that they would go to talk to the superintendent, but when it was time to go there were only five of us. ... From that day on I say, "I'm going to have to get the people trained. We're going to have to show them the dangers or the pitfalls that they are in, before they will accept." And it took many years. You always have to get the people with you. You can't just force them into things. That taught me a good lesson... — Septima Clark. 
Septima Clark goes on to work with the Citizenship Schools, first with the Highlander Center and then with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) — becoming a grassroots organizer and one of the unsung heroes of the Freedom Movement.
All states have malpractice laws to regulate the legal profession. While the details vary from state to state, the practice of bringing repeated, baseless legal actions to harass an opponent (barratry) is usually a misdemeanor or felony. In many states, funding someone else's lawsuit in return for a share of the winnings (champerty) is also illegal. In 1956, Virginia, Texas, and other southern states amend their legal malpractice statutes to redefine civil rights lawsuits involving groups such as the NAACP — particularly class-action suits — as unlawful forms of legal malpractice.
In Texas, the state Attorney General sends heavily-armed State Troopers to seize NAACP records. He charges the organization with barratry for supporting anti-segregation and anti-discrimination lawsuits. A court injunction then cripples NAACP operations in the state for years to come.
In Virginia, the malpractice laws are amended to make illegal NAACP school-desegregation efforts such as Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, VA (one of the original Brown v. Board of Education cases). Legislation is also passed to require groups like the NAACP to report to the state the names of all contributors whose donations are used to fund racial-discrimination cases (Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas, adopt similar laws). The NAACP fights back, and seven years later the Supreme Court finally rules in their favor in NAACP v. Button.
In 1956, Mississippi establishes a Sovereignty Commission to act as the state's secret political police and guardian of white-supremacy. Its purpose is to maintain segregation by any means necessary, and to destroy the NAACP and other civil rights organizations who dare to operate in Mississippi. The main focus of commission activities is investigation, spying, disruption, sabotage, and elimination of organizations and intimidation individuals who challenge the racial status quo. Other southern states follow Mississippi's lead and establish similar commissions and agencies.
See Mississippi Sovereignty Commission below for more information.
In the long run, the Citizens Council campaign to destroy the NAACP in the South fails. But in the short run, between 1956 and the mid-60s — the most active years of the Freedom Movement — they succeed in hampering the NAACP in some states and crippling it in others. The most immediate effect is a sharp drop in the NAACP's southern membership, from almost 130,000 members in 1955 to less than 80,000 in 1957. In national terms, southerners fall from 45% of the total NAACP membership to 28%, and some 246 NAACP branches disappear in the South between 1955 and 1958. The attacks are most effective in the Deep South states; in Louisiana alone, membership falls from 13,000 in 65 branches, to 1700 members in 7 branches, all of them in or around New Orleans. 
In regards to program, some of the remaining members and branches in the South adopt a lower profile out of self-defense, and resources that could have been used for struggles against segregation, organizing, and voter registration have to be diverted to defending the organization and fighting just to survive. But the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) — commonly referred to as the "Inc Fund" — is based in New York and thus little affected by the Citizens Council assault. Since the Inc Fund handles a large portion of the organization's legal challenges to Jim Crow and defense of Movement activists, work on critical cases still moves forward.
In some southern communities, state suppression of the NAACP has consequences that were unintended by the White Citizens Council as Black freedom fighters organize new groups to circumvent the ban. In Birmingham, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth forms the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACHMR). He proclaims: "They can outlaw an organization, but they cannot outlaw the movement of a people determined to be free." Other communities do the same. When the NAACP is suppressed in Louisiana, activists establish the Bogalusa Voters & Civic League (BVCL). In many cases, these new organizations are based in the Black church (or in Louisiana in Black trade unions), and as the '50s evolve into the '60s some of them are far more willing to engage in militant direct-action than the judicially-oriented NAACP.
In 1957, a year after enactment of the anti-NAACP laws, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is founded. In 1960, the student-led sit-in movement erupts across the South. A few of the campus-based sit-in groups are led by NAACP Youth Councils that managed to survive the repression of 1956 and some others receive support from branches that are still alive, but most have little or no ties to the NAACP either because no local branch exists or the organization's preference for litigation rather than direct-action. When the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded by student activists it is established as an independent entity. It is impossible to say whether these two southern-based organizations would have come into existence had the NAACP still been free to operate openly throughout the South, but they certainly put paid to the Citziens Council strategy of suppressing the Freedom Movement by destroying the NAACP. In the words of Victor Hugo: "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come," and when one organization is suppressed, others rise to replace it.
For eight years the NAACP fights the raft of un-Constitutional anti-NAACP laws through the courts. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in their favor. The Court declares in NAACP v. Alabama that forced disclosure of an organization's membership has the effect of suppressing peoples' right to free association and is a violation of the 14th Amendment. In Louisiana v. NAACP they rule that the political associations of officers cannot be used as the basis for banning an organization. And in NAACP v. Button they rule that organizing and funding class action lawsuits are not forms of legal malpractice.
The White Citizens Council is a racist, right-wing political organization. It is well funded by wealthy plantation owners, merchants, landlords, employers, and others who economically benefit from the Jim Crow system of racial discrimination and exploitation. Many southern newspapers, radio, and TV stations are owned or managed by Citizens Council members or supporters and their news coverage, editorials, and programing echo the Council political agenda. Some politicians are themselves Council members or leaders, others support the Council politically in return for the Council's election endorsement. Once in office, these elected officials work hand-in-glove with the Council to pass Council-inspired legislation and provide state funds to further the Council's influence. In many areas it becomes difficult to distinguish between government and the White Citizens Councils.
Working through state governments across the South, the White Citizens Councils effectively stage a coup d'etat against the Constitutional rights of Black Americans and their organizations. White Citizens Council demagoguery foments racial hatred and violence — though they themselves piously profess distaste for KKK assassinations, bombings, and brutalities. In a striking illustration of the famous observation that, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," the federal government is cowed into silence even though a central tenet of the Council's political agenda strikes directly against the federal government's authority and power to enforce the law and court rulings. Washington's cowardly failure to protect the fundamental Constitutional rights of Black citizens leads directly to a decade of violence, blood, and jailings as Blacks and their white allies struggle on their own for the justice and dignity that is supposedly the birthright of every American.
Some pundits later proclaim that the system worked as it should because the Supreme Court eventually overturned the anti-NAACP laws and righted many of the gross injustices inflicted on Black citizens. But many Freedom Movement activists recall that for eight long years the largest civil rights organization in the South was crippled during the most critical period of the struggle. They also note that while NAACP v. Alabama and Louisiana v. NAACP were decided by a unanimous 9-0 court, NAACP v. Button was a 6-3 decision. Had a more conservative court heard that case and decided the other way, the kind of class-action lawsuits that are filed every year by civil rights organizations, unions, womens, gay-rights, and environmental groups, and the victims of public and private misconduct, might well be impossible today. It's also important to remember that the anti-Constitutional coup of the White Citizens Council in 1956 was not a unique occurrence. There have been other occasions when well-funded political factions used demagoguery, ethnic hatred, states-rights rhetoric, and false claims of persecution to defend the wealth and privilege of the elite while riding roughshod over the rights of those at the bottom of society. All it takes is the silence of those who should stand for justice and equality. It could happen again tomorrow.
For more information:
Dismissal, Septima Clark
Web: Anti-NAACP Attacks, 1956-1964
As part of the South-wide attack on the NAACP and the growing Freedom Movement, in 1956 the Mississippi legislature enacts a swarm of bills aimed at protecting segregation, maintaining the exploitation and inequality of the "Jim Crow" system, and defying federal court rulings, executive orders, and Congressional legislation that might threaten white-supremacy. Determined to defend the "southern way of life" from "illegal federal encroachment," they adopt "interposition" and "nullification" resolutions that proclaim Mississippi's "sovereign right" to block (nullify) federal government actions that the state opposes.
[The concepts of "interposition" and "nullification" originated before the Civil War by slave state leaders seeking legal justifications to prevent the federal government from restricting or ending slavery.]
To enforce these resolutions, the legislature creates the Mississippi
Sovereignty Commission (MSC) to "
... do and perform any and all acts
deemed necessary and proper to protect the sovereignty of the state of
Mississippi, and her sister states ... [from] ... encroachment thereon by
the federal government or any branch, department or agency thereof."
Though the words "segregation" and "integration" do not appear in the the
commission's charter, everyone understands that terms like "federal
encroachment" refer to federal efforts to force integration of schools and
other institutions. Nor is there any doubt that the whole point of the MSC
is to maintain segregation by any means necessary and to destroy the NAACP
and other civil rights organizations that dare to operate in Mississippi.
The MSC is granted a hefty budget and extensive investigative powers to act as the state's secret political police. It sets up a public relations arm that distributes literature and dispatches speakers outside the South to defend segregation and condemn civil rights groups as "Communists" and "Communist-inspired." It works closely with, and grants state funds to, the White Citizens Council.
But the main focus of commission activities is investigation, spying, disruption, sabotage, and elimination of organizations and individuals who challenge the racial status quo. Working closely with local sheriffs and police departments, the MSC hires Black informers throughout the state to report on NAACP and other Freedom Movement organizations and activists. Within three years, by 1959, they've identified and indexed more than 4,000 alleged "race-agitators" and created hundreds of investigative files and political dossiers. During the height of civil rights activity in the 1960s, their files and reports expand voluminously. Through the efforts of the MSC, civil rights activists such as Clyde Kennard are framed and jailed on phony charges and others are targeted for eviction, dismissal, boycott, or other forms of economic retaliation.
Throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Sovereignty Commission works closely with county voter registrars, local law enforcement, and the White Citizens Council to deny Blacks the vote. Among other efforts, the MSC helps the registrars oppose and evade voting-related federal court orders. After passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 ends the ability of local registrars to deny voting rights to Blacks, the MSC switches tactics; they covertly develop and promote an organization called the Mississippi Negro Citizenship Association as a counter-weight to COFO and the MFDP, and they encourage conservative Blacks who opposed the Freedom Movement to register to vote. Meanwhile, attempts to directly disrupt and sabotage the MFDP continue.
Other southern states follow Mississippi's lead and establish similar commissions and agencies to oppose and disrupt civil rights organizations and activities.
For more information:
Web: Mississippi Sovereignty Commission
After attending Selma University and graduating from Miles College in Birmingham, Autherine Lucy applies for admission to graduate school at the University of Alabama (a segregated, all-white institution). Though the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision outlawed school segregation in theory, she knows she faces implacable opposition. She asks the NAACP for assistance and Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Arthur Shores volunteer to be her attorneys.
In June of 1955, the NAACP lawyers win a court order prohibiting the University from denying her or anyone else admission based on race. In February 1956, Autherine Lucy enrolls in the graduate School of Library Science at the main U of A campus in Tuscaloosa Alabama.
A mob of students, townsmen, and KKK thugs from across the South try to keep her from attending class. "Kill her! Kill her!" they chant. A police escort is required to protect her from their violence. The University administration suspends Lucy, but not the white students who attack her. They claim that the suspension is "for her own safety." When the NAACP files a lawsuit charging the University with contempt of court and acting in support of the mob, Autherine is expelled. The federal government fails to enforce either the Brown decision or the court order against the University of Alabama.
In 1988 32 years later the University finally admits it was wrong and overturns her expulsion. Autherine and her daughter Grazia both enroll and in 1992 both are awarded degrees.
See Standing In the Schoolhouse Door for subsequent events.
For more information on school desegregation:
Books: Schools and School Desegregation
Web: Autherine Lucy & University of Alabama.
With the NAACP Banned in Alabama, Freedom Movement leaders form new local organizations to carry on the struggle. In Birmingham, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and other local leaders form the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). Says Shuttlesworth, "They can outlaw an organization [NAACP], but they cannot outlaw the movement of a people determined to be free."
[BACKGROUND: The Supreme Court's 1946 ruling in Morgan v. Virginia blocked enforcement of local segregation ordinances in regards to inter-state commerce facilities such as train stations and bus depots. But municiple bus systems that did not cross state lines were not covered by that ruling. In 1956, the Court's ruling in Browder v. Gayle — the case brought by the Montgomery Bus Boycott — overturned segregation on local busses. The Court's official ruling in that case was hand-delivered to Alabama officials on December 20, 1956. Of course, Court rulings in Washington are one thing, what actually happened to Blacks who asserted their rights in places like Birmingham Alabama was quite another.]
On December 20, 1956, the day of the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory, Shuttlesworth and the ACMHR call for an immediate end to bus segregation in Birmingham. Five days later, on Christmas night, the Klan bombs both his home and his church. He and his family narrowly escape injury. He and other courageous activists then board city busses and refuse to sit in the rear as required by the same kind of local segregation ordinances that the Supreme Court has just overturned in the Montgomery case. Shuttlesworth and 20 others are arrested. The cases are appealed.
On March 6, 1957, Shuttlesworth and his wife Ruby attempt to use the "White" waiting room at the Birmingham train depot. A white mob gathers as do the police. But instead of arresting the Shuttlesworths, Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Robert Lindbergh orders the cops to obey the Supreme Court's Morgan ruling and prevent mob violence. Four months later, Lindbergh is voted out of office in an election that few Blacks can vote in. The victorious candidate is Eugene "Bull" Connor — a vicious and violent segregationist who campaigns on virulently racist, segregation-forever platform.
During 1957, Shuttlesworth and ACMHR work with Dr. King to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and ACMHR becomes one of SCLC's most important affiliate organizations. But like most SCLC affiliates, ACMHR's membership of around 600 is just a tiny sliver of the more than 200,000 Blacks who live in Jefferson County, and they know that anyone who defies the established order risks police brutality, Klan terrorism, and Citizens Council economic retaliation.
On Labor Day evening, September 2nd, 1957, the KKK burns crosses at ten Birmingham schools to intimidate anyone in the Black community thinking of school integration. But the cross burnings are not enough for half a dozen Klansmen filled with drunken rage against Blacks. They look for a "nigger to scare the hell out of." They come across a 34 year old, disabled war veteran, named Judge Aaron walking to the store with his girlfriend. They kidnap him off the street, brutally beat and torture him, castrate him, and then dump him out on a road. Somehow he survives. Aaron later testifies, "I did not know any of the men, and they did not know me. I was just another Negro to them. It could have happened to any Negro." In an action unusual for the Deep South, the six Klansmen are arrested, tried, convicted by an all-white jury, and sentenced to 20-year jail terms. (When George Wallace is elected governor with Klan support in 1962, he immediately commutes their sentences to time-served and restores their civil rights including the right to vote — a right denied to Judge Arron and other Blacks.)
When school opens for the Fall semester, Shuttlesworth and six other Black families attempt to enroll their children in nearby "white" schools in compliance with the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision. The schools refuse to admit them. Shuttlesworth and others are attacked with whips and chains by a gang of whites. Rev. J.S. Phifer is beaten and his daughter Ruby stabbed. That night, the Shuttlesworth home is bombed again.
To circumvent the Supreme Court's rulings against bus segregation laws Birmingham passes an ordinance granting bus drivers authority to tell passengers where to sit (race is not mentioned in the text of the new law). This derails ACHMR's lawsuit. On October 20, 1958, Shuttlesworth and 20 ACMHR supporters are arrested for defying that ordinance when they refuse a driver's order to move to the back of the bus. A few days later, Shuttlesworth invites three of the ministers who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott to Birmingham to discuss the possibility of boycotting the busses in Jefferson County. While they are meeting in the Shuttlesworth living room, cops bust into the house without a warrent and arrest the three ministers on charges of "vagrancy."
That evening, more than a thousand Blacks attend an ACMHR mass meeting to protest the arrests. They call for a bus boycott. Bull Connor vows to arrest anyone supporting the boycott. Reverend Charles Woods is quickly jailed for urging his congregation to walk rather than take the buses. Others are also put busted on flimsy, trumped-up charges. Connor's arrest-everyone policy combined with Birmingham's greater size and complixity makes it impossible to organize an effective carpool system as was done in Montgomery. Nor are Black leaders united behind the boycott as they were in Montgomery. After a few weeks, the boycott proves ineffective and is ended.
Meanwhile, the court cases grind on. In 1959, Shuttlesworth and ACMHR win a partial victory against the new "driver's orders" scheme when a judge rules that Blacks cannot be arrested for refusing orders to move to the back of the bus. But cops can still arrest "uppity" Blacks on trumped-up charges such as "disturbing the peace," or "disorderly conduct," so few Blacks dare to defy the custom of segregation by sitting in the traditionally "white" seats at the front of the bus.
In 1961, a federal court orders desegregation of the city's parks. In retaliation, Bull Connor closes all of the parks so that nobody can use them. When the CORE Freedom Riders are attacked and beaten at the bus station that same year, Shuttlesworth and ACMHR shelter them, and then work with SNCC activists from Nashville to resume the ride into Montgomery. In 1962, ACMHR and student activists begin picketing and boycotting segregated stores. Meanwhile, the Klan's unrelenting terror campaign continues. There are so many violent attacks and terrorist bombings against Freedom Movement activists in Birmingham that people call the city "Bombingham."
In 1963, ACMHR asks Dr. King and the SCLC to come to Birmingham to help ACMHR wage a broad attack on segregated stores & lunch counters and discrimination in employment. (See The Birmingham Campaign and Birmingham Church Bombing for continuation.)
For more information on the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Birmingham Movement
Alabama Christian Movement Human Rights
In May of 1956, two Florida A&M University (FAMU) students Carrie Patterson, 21 and Wilhemina Jakes, 26 are arrested for sitting at the front of a Tallahasee bus. They are charged with "inciting a riot," though the white woman they sit next to makes no objection. The next night a cross is burned outside their rooming house.
Furious at the arrest and the cross-burning, a "students-only" mass meeting of more than 2,000 votes to boycott the buses in emulation of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, then in its sixth month just a few hours drive to the north. Under the leadership of Rev. C.K. Steele, the local community rallies behind the students' boycott and forms the Inter-Civic Council (ICC) to lead the boycott and negotiate with the white power-structure when the students go home for summer vacation.
As the boycott continues, so many are arrested for the "crime" of giving car rides to boycotters that the jail is filled to overflowing.
In November, the Supreme Court rules in the Montgomery case that bus segregation is unconstitutional. The ICC suspends the boycott and the bus company stops enforcing segregation. Three days later, 9 white bus drivers and the company manager are arrested for the "crime" of allowing Blacks to sit near the front of the bus in violation of the local segregation rules. Florida Governor Leroy Collins suspends all bus service in Tallahassee (which is the state capitol). In January, a federal judge rules that all Florida bus segregation laws are unconstitutional and Collins allows the busses to resume on an integrated basis.
Years later, Tallahassee's bus terminal is named after Rev. Steele in honor of his courage and dedication to the Freedom Movement in Tallahasee.
For more information on the Tallahassee Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Florida Movement
Tallahassee Bus Boycott
Orangeburg, SC, is a small, politically conservative, town of 14,000 in the middle of the state. The majority of its population (60%) are Black, there are two Black colleges (Claflin and South Carolina State), and segregation is rigidly enforced.
In response to the Brown decision, parents in Orangeburg SC sign a petition asking that city schools be integrated. The White Citizens Council uses economic terrorism (firings, evictions, foreclosures, etc) to force those who signed the petition to remove their names. Blacks organize a counter-boycott of stores owned by members of the Council. The Citizens Council then orders distributors to halt all food deliveries to Black-owned markets so that Blacks will be forced to shop at the white-owned stores in order to eat.
Fred Moore, Student Council President at South Carolina State College (SCSC), organizes SCSC and Claflin College students to support the community. They ask college administrators to stop buying food from white distributors who are blocking food deliveries to Black neighborhoods. When the administrators refuse, the students organize hunger-strikes in the school dining halls, mass meetings, and freedom marches in solidarity with Black citizens who are being denied the necessities of life.
Fred Moore, Alice Pyatt, Alvin Anderson, Barbara Brown, and 11 other student leaders are expelled from school. Moore is just two weeks from graduation. 1500 students participate in protest marches and demonstrations against the expulsions.
See Mass Arrest of Student Protesters, Orangeburg, SC for continuation.
For more information on the Orangeburg Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Freedom & Justice: Four Decades of the Civil Rights Struggle..
See "The "Brown II," ("All Deliberate Speed") Decision for preceding events.
In 1948, President Truman ordered the armed forces desegregated. In 1953 — a year before the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling — the Eisenhower administration orders that 11 schools run by the military on southern bases be integrated. These are the first southern schools to be desegregated. (On-base schools serving military families that are run by local school boards remain segregated until after Brown.)
The Brown decision in May of 1954 strikes down the legal basis for
separate white and "Colored" school systems. Declaring that "
educational facilities are inherently unequal," the Court mandates
school desegregation across the nation. Just west of Knoxville TN is the
huge Oak Ridge National Laboratory where highly secret nuclear weapons
projects employ a large number of scientists and
technicians — many of whom are northerners opposed to the
southern system of separate and unequal white and "Colored" school systems.
Within the boundaries of the 35,000 acre laboratory reservation, schools
are run by the federal Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) rather than elected
local school boards. In compliance with Brown, all AEC-run schools
are desegregated in September of 1955 with only minor opposition.
One year after "Brown," in 1955, the Supreme Court's "Brown II All Deliberate Speed" decision allows southern school systems to delay and evade desegregation as lawsuits are sent back to federal district courts for further consideration. One of those cases is McSwain v. County Board of Education of Anderson County, Tennessee. The small town of Clinton TN, a few miles from Oak Ridge, is the seat of Anderson County. To end school segregation in Clinton, Black parents file the McSwain case. They are represented by Avon Williams and Z. Alexander Looby of Nashville (whose home is later bombed during the Nashville sit-ins). To push forward implementation of Brown, Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund joins the case.
In January of 1956, federal Judge Robert Taylor rules that Clinton High School must admit some Blacks for the Fall term. When the school board chooses not to appeal Judge Taylor's ruling, Clinton High becomes the first locally-controlled white public school in the South to face desegregation under a court order based on the Brown decision.
On August 20th, 1956, a dozen Black students — the "Clinton-12" — quietly sign-up for classes scheduled to begin the following week. A few days later, John Kaspar arrives in Clinton from Washington DC where he is head of the recently formed Seaboard White Citizens Council ("Honor-Pride-Fight: Save the White"). He immediately begins mobilizing whites to resist the desegregation of Clinton High and condemn the school board for choosing not to support the "Massive Resistance" strategy of forever stalling and delaying integration.
Other white-supremacists from outside the area soon join him in whipping up race hatred. The segregationists understand that as the first southern school to be integrated under "Brown," what happens in Clinton may set a pattern for the entire region. At best, they hope a strong show of white opposition will force the federal government to abandon Brown enforcement efforts, allowing it to become just one more in the long line of Constitutional amendments, federal laws, and court rulings that white officials simply ignore as part of their cherished "southern way of life." But if that proves beyond reach, they are confident that turmoil and disruption in combination with the "Massive Resistance" campaign will slow desegregation efforts across the South. They do not hesitate to threaten violence — intimidation is a key component of their strategy. They know that officials and politicians from local city halls to the halls of power in Washington dread civil disorder. And they are certain that violence will cow Black parents into submission — if parents fear to send their children to a white school, integration dies regardless of what the Supreme Court might say.
On Monday, August 27, the Clinton 12 walk together into history — the first Black students to integrate a southern "white-only" school. A few dozen whites protest without incident. Kaspar and the other racist agitators work furiously to foment fear, anger, and hatred. Their first rally draws fewer than 50, but each evening their crowds grow. By mid-week more than 1,000 whites are cheering fiery denunciations of "race-mixers" and "federal-tyranny," and applauding passionate appeals to defend the "sanctity of white womanhood." Soon the twelve Black students have to walk through a gauntlet of hostile whites on their way to school, enduring jeers, threats, and thrown rocks.
Judge Taylor issues a restraining order to prevent Kaspar from interfering with school integration. Kaspar defies the injunction and is arrested for contempt of court. From Birmingham, Alabama, white-supremacist and virulent anti-Semite, Asa Carter, founder of the North Alabama Citizens Council and future speech writer for Alabama Governor George Wallace, arrives to take over leadership of white opposition to integration. Drawing as many as 1,500 whites to his rallies, he incites them to fury. Over the Labor Day weekend of September 1-2, the crowd breaks loose, mobbing Blacks in the street, attacking cars with Black drivers, smashing windshields and overturning vehicles. Carloads of white men threatening violence careen through a Black neighborhood, others call for blowing up the Mayor's home, the school board, and the school buildings. They are setting a pattern of mob violence and racist resistance for the entire South.
Foreshadowing later events in other southern states, Tennessee Governor Frank Clement calls out the National Guard to restore order and suppress mob violence — the first use of troops in the modern Civil Rights Movement. The Guardsmen suppress further rioting on the part of whites and are then soon withdrawn. Harassment and intimidation escalate. Crosses are burned at the home of the Mayor and others who complied with the court's desegregation order. Threats and violence continue against the Clinton 12. Shots are fired into their homes at night. On December 4th, dseveral white ministers volunteer to escort the Black students through a white crowd blocking their way to class. As he returns to First Baptist Church, Reverend Paul Turner is viciously beaten. For the safety of the students, Clinton High is closed for the rest of the week.
Over the following weeks and months, two of the Clinton 12 move out of state, but the others hold on, enduring harassment, threats, intimidation, and violence. They too set a pattern — a pattern followed by courageous Black children in communities across the South — Little Rock, New Orleans, Americus, Grenada, and so many others.
In May of 1957 — three years after the Supreme Court's Brown ruling — Bobby Cain becomes the first Black man to graduate from a public white high school in the South since the imposition of the Jim Crow system. In the Spring of 1958, Gail Epps becomes the first Black woman graduate. Later that year, dynamite bombs blast Clinton High, destroying it.
The school is rebuilt and remains integrated. And for the next decade, the pattern set in Clinton of white mob violence and courageous Black students echoes across the South.
See Nashville "Grade-a-Year" School Desegregation Scheme for continuation.
For more information on school desegregation:
Books: Schools and School Desegregation
Web: School Desegregation
Story of Desegregation in Clinton, TN (Green McAdoo Cultural Center)
1. Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement, Septima Clark, Cynthia Brown.
2. Hearings, Before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 86th Congress, Part 3, page 1535. 1959.
3. Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972, Adam Fairclough.
© Bruce Hartford