Why did an organised campaign against segregation and discrimination emerge in the southern states during the 1950s
During the 1940s Segregation was practised throughout the USA, although it was beginning to be challenged by the 1950s. During the 1950s there was an apparent rapid increase in the battle against segregation and discrimination. The aim of reaching racial equality was set to be achieved by a three stage plan, which involved making people aware that segregation was not a good thing, to put an end to it and to make it illegal (unconstitutional). Achieving these would give Black Americans moral, political, economic and legal power. It believed in deliberate action to force the government to make changes in the law.
In the late 1940s President Truman had backed the campaign but he did not make much progress during his presidency, after the war he attempted to improve the legal position of the black population were vetoed by congress. Then when Eisenhower came to power his dislike to government intervention led to many successes for the black population in the courts. The late 1940s, early 1950s there was an economic boom, there was a labour shortage and as a result wages went up and led to a consumer boom. This gave rise to blacks having economic power, due to higher disposable incomes.
The first attempt at trying to abolish segregation in the southern states was taken by trying to obtain legal power through court cases. The first conflict erupted in the early 1950s over the issue of desegregating schools. In 1954 the Brown case was the first step in the campaign against segregation and it began with an attack on the education system. Oliver Brown decided to challenge segregated schools in Topeka, Kansas. Brown was angered that he could not sent his daughter to a whites-only school which was closer to where he lived but had to send his daughter to all-black school 20 blocks away as opposed to only 5 blocks away.
To give the case some support and backing the NAACP decided to join Brown in his appeal to the Supreme Court. The NAACP felt they had a good chance of success, as they had already chipped away at the ‘separate but equal’ decision of the courts and also due to the fact that Kansas was not a southern state. The NAACP’s lawyer Thurgood Marshall represented Brown before the Supreme Court and argued that segregation was against the fourteenth amendment. The Supreme Court agreed and Chief Justice Earl Warren even believed that even if facilities were equal, separate education was psychologically harmful to black children.
This was a break through on the path to desegregation and was in defiance of President Eisenhower’s wishes. Once again conflict erupted with the Montgomery bus boycott, which was triggered by an event which occurred the previous year. In 1955 Mrs Rosa Parks was travelling home on a bus and refused to give up her seat for a white man to sit. She was arrested and charged with a violation of the Montgomery city bus segregation ordinance. This stunt had been premeditated. She had joined the NAACP in 1943 and had become Montgomery branch secretary. It was through this position that she was chosen to challenge the Montgomery bus laws.
They had planned to use Claudette Colvin who had been arrested in 1955 but was a pregnant, unmarried teenager who had been accused of assault, Rosa Parks was a far better test case. They wanted the best of everything to ensure a victorious outcome. Support was gathered from the black community, the black Alabama state college helped her, students distributed propaganda leaflets to elicit total support. The NAACP also increased their involvement with church leaders to increase working-class black participation, it also helped them take the moral high ground.
The blacks gained economic power through this boycott because their refusing to use the bus service was having large impact on the white bus owners’ pocket, they were loosing money. The campaign against segregation was led by Martin Luther King, a Baptist Minister who believed that change could be “provoked” through peaceful means. As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King became the leader of the peaceful campaign to achieve equal rights. King was a good speaker, he argued in threes which made them very effective and he brought morality into the argument with words like ‘evil’.
King was a compromise candidate because he believed in a bit of everything; legal, moral, economic not just concentrating on one which had failed previously. By using the church there was no need for legal reasons as they had the moral arguments. They had cleverly orchestrated a campaign; step by step, which include students and the church which could not be accused of being communist because they were anti-communist. After the cold war, social developments at home helped the issue of black civil rights to come to the forefront.
Some people experienced racial integration during the war, when they went to the UK and other European countries. The blacks who went abroad found integration but realised that they themselves lived in ‘the land of the free’, but in reality were not and this triggered the need for change back home. In crowded wartime cities, blacks and whites had found themselves in closer proximity than usual. This caused tension especially in the south. The war presented blacks with job opportunities. However segregation was preserved in civilian life and in the military.
Despite the opening of new factories across America, many of them initially refused to employ blacks. The segregated armed forces damaged the morale of some blacks but increased the incentive for change for others. The trend towards integration was highlighted by President Truman’s decision to abolish the race quota for the armed services in 1948. Media power had increased, and had been played upon by Martin Luther King. A very important method of forcing change was to take cases of discrimination to the Supreme Court.
This meant that the Constitution could be used to protect and extend the rights of blacks. The black’s actions were opposed by violent white youths and KKK men, these caused many riots and conflicts. In which the government would have to act upon and make changes but the blacks were looked upon as peaceful even though they had caused violence to occur as a direct result of their actions. In 1957 in Little Rock 9 blacks students attempted to enter Central High School and suffered a lot of abuse and racist comments.
However, one girl, Elizabeth Eckford, had to walk up the street to the school on her own, facing many comments such as ‘lynch her’ but she proceeded with dignity. In Little rock the blacks were playing the ‘race card’ to cause uproar, both within the white community and the media. They had photographs taken of black students. It had resulted in the blacks taking the moral high ground, the NAACP had what they wanted ‘propaganda’. The image of black children being harassed and spat at by aggressive white adults, helped influence moderate white opinion and was a victory for the NAACP.
Mass migration of over 6 million blacks from rural south to the great cities of the north between 1910 and 1970, also added to the beginnings of a strong campaign, with economical backing. As the industrialised north offered greater economic opportunities for the blacks. As a result of the economic boom, blacks had more money and had gained economic power. The northern blacks started to give their financial support, because economic power was mainly in the industrialised north.
In conclusion I believe an organised campaign against segregation and discrimination emerged during the 1950s due to previous failed attempts, including Booker T. Washington’s accommodationalist, passivist approach to civil equality through economic power. Du Bois’ activist approach to economic equality through civil equality had also not been successful then Truman’s attempt at achieving civil rights for blacks had not been accomplished. Although he had increased awareness of the need for greater equality, with the FEPC and had decreased discrimination in federal employment and contracts.
There were a number of various developments which occurred during the 1950s which gave way for a campaign against segregation. After 1945, the anti-communism mood of the cold war made militant campaigning more difficult, although it did raise the issue of racist attitudes in the ‘land of the free’. The NAACP had concentrated on legal campaigns and eventually achieved success in 1954 with the Brown case, although a white backlash to its success led to the destruction of many southern branches.
In 1956 it was even outlawed in Alabama. The brown case was a major breakthrough for the Civil Rights Movement, even thought it did not bring about the standard of change that was first anticipated. Also the event which took place at Little Rock was an important date in the history of civil rights in the 1950s, although it had not been a typical one. There had also been some presidential support of civil rights, but this had a limited effect, a more direct, organised campaign against segregation was the answer.