A New Civil Rights Movement

54a. Separate No Longer?

Jim Crow Fountain
Jim Crow laws existed in several southern states and served to reinforce the white authority that had been lost following Reconstruction. One such law required blacks and whites to drink from separate water fountains.

During the first half of the 20th century, the United States existed as two nations in one.

The Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decreed that the legislation of two separate societies — one black and one white — was permitted as long as the two were equal.

States across the North and South passed laws creating schools and public facilities for each race. These regulations, known as Jim Crow laws, reestablished white authority after it had diminished during the Reconstruction era. Across the land, blacks and whites dined at separate restaurants, bathed in separate swimming pools, and drank from separate water fountains.

Truman ends armed forces segregation
The July 31, 1948, edition of the Chicago Defender announces President Truman's executive order ending segregation in the U.S. armed forces.

The United States had established an American brand of apartheid.

In the aftermath of World War II, America sought to demonstrate to the world the merit of free democracies over communist dictatorships. But its segregation system exposed fundamental hypocrisy. Change began brewing in the late 1940s. President Harry Truman ordered the end of segregation in the armed services, and Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball. But the wall built by Jim Crow legislation seemed insurmountable.

The first major battleground was in the schools. It was very clear by mid-century that southern states had expertly enacted separate educational systems. These schools, however, were never equal. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led by attorney Thurgood Marshall, sued public schools across the South, insisting that the "separate but equal" clause had been violated.

Jackie Robinson
In the summer of 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play major league baseball. After a stellar career, he became the first African American player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In no state where distinct racial education laws existed was there equality in public spending. Teachers in white schools were paid better wages, school buildings for white students were maintained more carefully, and funds for educational materials flowed more liberally into white schools. States normally spent 10 to 20 times on the education of white students as they spent on African American students.

The Supreme Court finally decided to rule on this subject in 1954 in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.

The verdict was unanimous against segregation. "Separate facilities are inherently unequal," read Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion. Warren worked tirelessly to achieve a 9-0 ruling. He feared any dissent might provide a legal argument for the forces against integration. The united Supreme Court sent a clear message: schools had to integrate.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
May 17, 1954, saw the Supreme Court — in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka — rule that segregation of public schools was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that all citizens deserve equal protection under the law.

The North and the border states quickly complied with the ruling, but the Brown decision fell on deaf ears in the South. The Court had stopped short of insisting on immediate integration, instead asking local governments to proceed "with all deliberate speed" in complying.

Ten years after Brown, fewer than ten percent of Southern public schools had integrated. Some areas achieved a zero percent compliance rate. The ruling did not address separate restrooms, bus seats, or hotel rooms, so Jim Crow laws remained intact. But cautious first steps toward an equal society had been taken.

It would take a decade of protest, legislation, and bloodshed before America neared a truer equality.

On the Web
Jackie Robinson and the Color Line in Baseball
He's the only player to have his number retired by all the teams in baseball. He was the first African American player in Major League Baseball, and his rise to fame helped bridge the gap between races during a troubled time in American history. This very informative Library of Congress website provides info not only on Jackie Robinson, but also on the Negro Leagues and early baseball politics.
Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, served on the court for 24 years. His appointment by President Johnson followed his success as head lawyer for the plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the legal attack on segregation in America's schools.
Earl Warren
Earl Warren might be most famous for heading the Warren Commission that investigated John F. Kennedy's assassination, but he played a very important role in the extension of civil rights in America. This webpage, presented by the Earl Warren College at the University of California-San Diego, offers a short biography of the former Chief Justice and Vice Presidential nominee.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the oldest organization for the advancement of civil rights in the country. It helped bring school segregation to an end, fought for anti-lynching laws, and protested the film Birth of a Nation (1915). Visit the NAACP homepage for more on the past, present, and future of this vital American organization.
The Desegregation of the Armed Forces
Even before the high court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Truman administration began the large task of desegregating the United States armed forces. The Truman Library and Museum presents this lesson plan to help students understand this momentous step forward in American History.
Jim Crow Laws
Named after a black character in a minstrel show, Jim Crow laws were in force from the 1880s until the 1960s and ensured that blacks and whites remained separate in the South. Visit this National Park Service site for a look at a long list of various Jim Crow laws addressing all aspects of human behavior. The laws discussed here include the one stating that blacks and whites could not marry and the statute making sure that blacks and whites were not buried in the same cemetery.
"I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. "
-George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, at his inaugural address in 1962
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To cope with overcrowding in black schools before desegregation, some black students in Washington, D.C., attended school in shifts. The first shift began at 8 a.m. and ended at 12 p.m.; the second shift ran from 12:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
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