Civil Rights Movement History

Fayette County TN Tent City for Evicted Voters (Spring)
Second Youth March for Integrated Schools — Washington, DC (April)
Clyde Kennard Framed and Jailed in MS (Sept)
CORE Sit-Ins, Miami, FL (Sept)
Prince Edward County, VA, Closes It's Public Schools (Fall)
The Rising of the Bread


Fayette County TN Tent City for Evicted Voters (1959-1965)

Fayette and Haywood Counties lie just east of Memphis and just north of the Mississippi state line. They're "cotton counties" and in the 1950s Blacks outnumber whites 2 to 1. Economically, culturally, and politically these two counties are more like Mississippi than Tennessee, but they are governed by Tennessee law. And unlike Mississippi, under Tennessee law Blacks are eligible to vote. There is no literacy test, no poll tax, and no "grandfather clause."

Though Blacks in nearby Memphis vote in large numbers, almost no Blacks are registered in Fayette or Haywood counties. In 1958, an elderly Black man in Fayette County is falsely convicted by an all-white jury of an alleged murder that occurred 18 years earlier in 1940. Jurors are chosen from the pool of voters, and the single registered Black voter is afraid to even show up. In response to this travesty of justice, John McFerren, Harpman Jameson, and other young Black men form Civic and Welfare Leagues in Fayette and Haywood counties and begin a successful voter registration drive. Soon Black voters outnumber whites.

In the late 1950s, Tennessee is still part of the "solid South," meaning that only Democrats are elected to office, so the real election is the Democratic Primary. The whites who control the party in Fayette and Haywood counties prevent the newly registered Black voters from voting in the 1959 Democratic Primary for sheriff, judge, and other county offices because they rule that the primary is for "whites-only." The Civic Leagues and the U.S. Department of Justice files a lawsuit against the "white-only" primary under the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

When a federal court overturns the "white-only" primary in April of 1960, the White Citizens Council distributes lists of Black voters and white sympathizers to merchants who refuse to sell them the necessities of life (food, clothing, gasoline, etc). White doctors withold medical treatment, wholesalers and distributors refuse to supply Black-owned stores, and insurance companies cancel policies. White landowners evict more than 400 Black sharecroppers — and bankers foreclose mortgages — to drive Black voters out of the two counties.

Many of the dispossed move into a tent encampment — known as "Freedom Village" or "Tent City" — on land owned by Shepherd Towles, a Black farmer. The initial 14 tents are donated by an anonymous white merchant (his name kept secret to this day for his safety). A second Tent City is established on land owned by Gertrude Beasley.

Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver asks the Red Cross and other agencies to help the evicted Blacks. The local all-white Red Cross chapter refuses, saying there is "No need." The AFL-CIO donates money. Food and clothing are donated by the UAW in Detroit, and volunteer Teamsters drive the supplies south. In 1960, the newly formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), the Quakers, and the National Baptist Convention rally national support for the Freedom Villages.

The NAACP organizes a national boycott of oil companies whose Tennessee stations are refusing to sell gas to Black voters. Gulf, Texaco, and others agree to sell gas to Blacks who desperately need fuel for their tractors and trips to Memphis to purchase food.

In November of 1960, the new Black voters elect Republicans to county office for the first time since the end of Reconstruction more than 80 years previous. They also vote for Democratic senator Estes Kefauver who has supported them against the White Citizens Council and defended their right to vote.

On Christmas night, 1960, Jim Forman records Georgia Mae Turner in her cold, damp tent:

They say if you register, you going to have a hard time. Well, I had a hard time before I registered. Hard times — you could have named me 'Georgia Mae Hard Times.' The reason I registered, because I want to be a citizen. ... I registered so that my children could get their freedom. — Georgia Mae Turner. [1]

In December, 1960, the Justice Department files another suit to halt the evictions and economic warfare against Black voters, charging 45 landowners, 24 merchants, and a bank for their refusal to conduct business with those on the Citizens Council blacklist. In 1962, after years of litigation, a federal court finally halts the evictions and economic retaliation against Black voters. After the Selma Voting Rights campaign in 1965, the Voting Rights Act is passed removing many of the remaining barriers used to prevent Blacks from registering.

For more information on the Fayette County Tennessee Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Step by Step
Web: Fayette County TN Tent City


Second Youth March for Integrated Schools — Washington, DC (April)

See Youth March for Integrated Schools — Washington, DC for preceding events.

A second, follow-up, Youth March for Integrated Schools is held on April 18, 1959 and draws over 25,000 participants. Harry Belafonte leads a delegation of student leaders to the White House to meet with President Eisenhower. They are turned away. Neither the President nor any of his assistants or aides are willing to meet with pro-integration students or receive their statement.

Letter to Student Leaders re Youth March for Integrated Schools, February 13, 1959.
Presidential Delegation Statement.
Why We March flyer.

See New Orleans School Desgregation for continuation.

For more information:

Documents: Documents From the Youth Marches for Integrated Schools
Books: Schools and School Desegregation
Web: School Desegregation


Clyde Kennard Framed and Jailed in MS (Sept)

In 1958, war hero, farmer, and NAACP activist, Clyde Kennard applies for admission to Mississippi Southern College (MSC) — now University of Southern Mississippi — in Hattiesburg. Under the Brown decision, MSC cannot deny him admission because he is Black. His application is "lost." When he reapplies, the local White Citizens Council tells merchants not to sell Kennard supplies for his farm. The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission investigates Kennard to discover information they can use to discredit him, but they fail to find anything they can use against him.

In August of 1959, the MSC board decrees that all transfer students — except atheletes — must have a straight "A" average. Kennard had previously attended the University of Chicago where he had good grades, but not an "A" in every single subject. He is again denied admission. He applies a third time. His car is pulled over by the cops who arrest him on false charges of alchohol-possession (Forrest County is a "dry" county). When the Sovereignty Commission files are opened 40 years later, it is discovered that the Commission framed Kennard by planting whiskey under the front seat of his car.

In 1960, Kennard is again framed on trumped-up charges, this time that he hired a man to steal five bags of chicken feed worth about $25. After only 10 minutes deliberation, Kennard is convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to seven years in the infamous Parchman Penitentiary. When NAACP leader Medgar Evers declares that Kennard's trial was "a mockery of judicial justice," he is sentenced to 30-day in jail for contempt of court. After being denied medical treatment by prison authorities, Kennard dies of cancer in 1963.

As his reward for framing Kennard, the actual thief is given five years probation and set free. Years later, he testifies in a sworn affidavit before a judge that: "Kennard did not ask me to steal, Kennard did not ask me to break into the co-op, Kennard did not ask me to do anything illegal."

In 2005, three students at Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire IL, investigate the Kennard case with the assistance of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. They enter their documentary "Carrying the Burden: The Story of Clyde Kennard" in the National History Day contest. The case is taken up by the Center and draws media attention. On May 18, 2006, Kennard is exonerated and his record expunged by the same court that originally framed him.

For more information:
Web: Clyde Kennard Frameup


CORE Sit-Ins, Miami, FL (September)

In September, CORE organizes a two-week workshop on nonviolent direct action called "Miami Interracial Action Institute." Institute participants and local CORE activists stage a series of sit-ins at the segregated lunch counters of the Jackson-Byron and Grants department stores. Both stores close their counters. The institute ends on the 20th, and Jackson-Byron tells CORE that they are reopening the counter on the following day without segregation — that all races will be served. But when the counter reopens, Blacks from CORE are refused service.

CORE resumes sit-in against Grants and Jackson-Byron on the the 23rd, occupying all of Jackson-Byron's 40 seats from 10am to 3pm. The following day, racists attack them. Miami police harass, and arrest the sit-ins on trumped up charges. The sit-ins are temporarily suppressed, but are successfully resumed by Miami CORE in 1960 when sit-ins sweep across the South.


Prince Edward County, VA, Closes It's Public Schools

See Student Strike at Moton High VA and The "Brown II," ("All Deliberate Speed") Decision for preceding events.

The Supreme Court's "Brown II" decision permits Prince Edward County, VA (site of the 1951 Student Strike at Moton High) to become a model for implementation of Senator Byrd's campaign of "Massive Resistance" to integration.

Based on "Brown II" the U.S. District Court rules that Prince Edward County does not have to desegregate immediately, and they continue their dual white and "Colored" public school systems for four more years. But because the Prince Edward County case is part of the original 1954 Brown decision, it has less legal room to maneuver and delay than other Virginia counties. Time finally runs out in 1959, when a follow-up court case to enforce the Brown decision requires that the county's schools finally admit some Black children to "white" schools. Unable to stall any longer, the county board of supervisors then stops appropriating money for all public schools rather than accept even token integration. A segregationist committee known as the "Defenders of Liberty" is set up to raise money for private schooling of the county's 1,400 white children. They create a foundation to fund and run the "private" — white-only — Prince Edward Academy for elementary and high-school students.

Both the state of Virginia and the county divert taxpayer funds to support this so-called "private" academy by providing tuition grants (today, they're called "vouchers"), special tax-breaks, and scholarships to whites who enroll their children. Bureaucratic maneuvers facilitate the transfer of white teachers from the now closed public schools to the private academy. Almost all of Prince Edward County's white students attend the Academy (a few white families who refuse to accept such "welfare" simply do not send their children to school).

This leaves 1,800 Black children without any education at all. Many are sent by their parents to attend school in other districts and states, and some participate in intermittent, unofficial "freedom schools" in church basements taught by northern volunteers organized by the NAACP, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and similar groups. Other students give up all hope of further schooling and find low-pay jobs to support their struggling families. Some Black parents despair of ever integrating the schools and talk of giving up the struggle so that the county will reopen the "Colored" schools. But NAACP leader Reverend Francis Griffin of First Baptist Church urges them hold fast, "...if the Negro in Prince Edward gives up now, he will retrogress one hundred years."

Rev. Griffin, the NAACP, and the Black parents of Prince Edward County fight on almost alone. The U.S. Supreme Court gives little guidance to lower courts on how — or when;— to implement Brown. Congress refuses to allow the U.S. Attorney General to intervene in school desegregation lawsuits. President Eisenhower remains silent, saying nothing to anyone about Brown, segregation, or simple justice. Reverend Griffin petitions the White House on behalf of locked-out children. "Ike" brushes him off, stating that the federal government is, "powerless to take any action" because schools are matters for the states.

In denying a follow-up case brought by the NAACP, the Virginia State Supreme Court rules in 1962 that county boards of supervisors are not required to appropriate funds for public schools, and cannot be forced by local or state courts to do so. In other words, as far as the Virginia Supreme Court is concerned, if a county wants to close its public school system rather than integrate, that is fine with them.

Prince Edward County's public schools remain closed for five years, from 1959 to 1964 when the Supreme Court finally rules in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County that closing public schools to preserve racial segregation is illegal.

See Protests Rock Farmville VA and Massive Evasion of School Integration for continuation.
     Schools and School Desegregation
     They Closed Their Schools: Prince Edward County, VA.
     Students Strike Moton High
     Kids Fight for Civil Rights (Rethinking Schools Online)
     School Desegregation


The Rising of the Bread

Before they stormed the Bastile back in 1789, the poor and oppressed of the Paris slums whispered to each other "The bread is rising. The bread is rising." As yeast works its invisible magic on the dough before the loaves are placed in the oven, so too the ferment of revolt and the forbidden words of freedom percolated through the dark tenement cellars and the filthy Parisian alleys behind the glittering palaces. "The bread is rising" was the password that gave admittance to clandestine meetings, and it was the first call to arms of the French revolution.

So too in 1959, hidden from establishment eyes, the bread of revolution is secretly rising among Black students on college campuses throughout the South — and in the North as well. Something has to be done about segregation. Stymied by "Massive Resistance" and "All Deliberate Speed," the courtroom strategy of the NAACP is taking too long and has achieved too little. Something has to be done and someone has to do it. If their elders won't, can they?

Over many months, small groups of students study and debate the strategies and tactics of Nonviolent Resistance. Under cover of church, YMCA, and educational conferences, students from different schools meet. And argue. And dream. And plan. They build phone trees and networks. Can Gandhi's nonviolent tactics be applied to the segregated South? Can the nonviolent strategies of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and be adapted to opposing segregation in commercial establishments? Can the sit-in tactics recently used in Oklahoma City and Miami be tried in the Deep Jim Crow South? Is it too dangerous? How will being arrested affect education and future careers? Can they do it? Will they do it?

Beneath the notice of the white power-structure and most (but not all) of the officials at Black colleges, unknown to most (but not all) Black ministers, the bread is rising in the dorms and church basements. And as with the students, so too among at least a few of the elder Black leaders as well — on January 24, 1960, A. Phillip Randolph issues A Call for Immediate Mass Action at a huge mass meeting in Carnegie Hall. Eight days later, on February 1st, 1960, four Black students sit down at a Greensboro NC lunch counter and ask for a cup of coffee in the first Sit-in in the heart of the solidly segregated South.

To the media, to the power-structure, to the college administrators, the sit-ins that sweep across the South come as astonishing bolts from the blue. But the sit-ins are not spontaneous events — they are the product of months of discussion and planning.

See First Southern Sit-in, Greensboro NC for subsequent events.

For more information:
     The Children
     The New Abolitionists


1959 Quotation Sources:

1. Hungry Blues August 02, 2004.



© Bruce Hartford
Webspinner: webmaster@crmvet.org
(Labor donated)