(The UNITED STATES and EQUAL RIGHTS, 1947-65 – continued)

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The UNITED STATES and EQUAL RIGHTS, 1947-65 (2 of 5)

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Fledgling School Integration, 1956-63

In 1956, Autherine Lucy became the first African-American allowed to attend the University of Alabama. In February, 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. was elected president of a newly formed group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In March, Ghana took part in the new respect for freedom by winning independence from British rule. On 17 July, President Eisenhower declared at a new conference that he could not imagine any set of circumstances that would induce him to send federal troops into the South. Eisenhower did not want involvement in what he regarded as a state problem.

On 9 September, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, said to be a show of support for the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision on school integration, although the Civil Rights Act was primarily a voting rights bill. Whites in Virginia responded with a "Massive Resistance" campaign, and violence against blacks in other states. That month, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas was televised as he made a show of trying to prevent school integration in Little Rock. President Eisenhower reluctantly federalized the Arkansas National Guard, and he sent 1,000 men of the 101 Airborne Division to Little Rock to "prevent anarchy."

Public schools in Arkansas remained closed for the school year of 1958-59. When schools reopened, Arkansas was ready to comply with the federal law regarding integration.

More efforts at integration were attempted. In 1960, some brave souls engaged in lunch-counter sit-ins at the Woolworth department store in Greensboro North Carolina. In 1961, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes began their studies at the University of Georgia, without incidents of violence. Violence did appear in the spring of 1961 with "Freedom Rides" from Washington DC into the South – busses filled with blacks and some whites – their purpose being to challenge desegregated interstate bussing in the South. Local law enforcement in Alabama allowed people to attack the busses and people in the busses. In Montgomery, a crowd waiting for the bus targeted one of the white riders and crippled him for life. In Jackson, Mississippi, the "freedom riders" were imprisoned for forty to sixty days, but on the issue of civil rights, the rides were a success. In November, largely as a result of the Freedom Rides, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on interstate buses, trains and supporting facilities.

In December, Martin Luther King was in Albany, Georgia, helping to fight for integrated public facilities. And in 1962 came the well-publicized enrollment of James Meredith at the university called Ol' Miss. In 1963, the nation watched the struggle for civil rights shift back to Birmingham, Alabama. There, in May, school children joined the demonstrations, and the Police Commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Conner, used police dogs and fire hoses against the demonstrators – all of it displayed for the world to see on television. People across the nation were siding with the demonstrators. The segregationists in the South were losing the battle in the US for hearts and minds, and on May 20 the Supreme Court ruled that Birmingham's segregation ordinances were unconstitutional.

Terrorist futilities continued. In June,1963, the leader of the Jackson, Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, Medgar Evers, was gunned down at his home, and that year four little girls were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

In 1963 tensions existed across the United States. Blacks sat-in in California's capital, Sacramento, and they sat-in in Detroit's city hall. In New York they dumped garbage on City Hall Plaza. Blacks clashed with police in Chicago at a cemetery that refused to bury African Americans. In Philadelphia, African-Americans clashed with police at a construction site. The Department of Justice, headed by Robert Kennedy, was keeping track of the demonstrations, and that summer it counted 758 across the nation and the arrest of 13,786 demonstrators in seventy-five cities.

It was in late August, 1963, that King made his "I Have a Dream" speech before a great gathering at the nation's capital. And it was around this time that Governor George Wallace of Alabama stood at a schoolhouse door as he had promised in his political campaign the year before. He had declared "Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." But it was just political show. Immediately after his demonstration he stepped aside and let federal marshals proceed with registration for classes.


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