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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights movement’

A Name You Should Know: Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Most everyone knows Rosa Parks whose courageous action of not giving up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white passenger on December 1, 1955, helped launch the civil rights movement.  Most people do not know Claudette Colvin who also refused to give up her seat on the bus — nine months before Rosa Parks.

On March 2, 1955, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin remained seated when a white passenger boarded the bus and waited for her to move.  She believed it her constitutional right to sit wherever she chose even though Jim Crow laws of the day dictated otherwise.  She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.  Claudette would later say, “I couldn’t get up that day.  History kept me stuck to my seat.  I felt the hand of Harriet Tubman pushing down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth pushing down on the other.”

Claudette Colvin’s arrest provided the spark needed to make a stand and provide a test case to end segregation on city buses.  However, local African-American leadership thought otherwise.  They believed Claudette would be perceived as too militant.  Her image was not the one the movement wanted to cast.  When she became pregnant a few months later, their belief was reinforced.  Instead, Rosa Parks’ similar act of defiance would hasten the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and lay the foundation for the modern civil rights movement.

Not until many years later would Claudette Colvin become more than just a footnote in history.  Her role is not celebrated, but it is nonetheless pivotal.  In a recent honor, Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange called her “an early foot soldier in our civil rights.”  Claudette Colvin stands alongside Rosa Parks — two women, two generations — taking a stand and helping to change history.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

“Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers….Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964

Stone of Hope at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Stone of Hope at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (public domain)
via National Park Service

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man who spent his life promoting nonviolent methods of social change to end segregation and discrimination and help African Americans gain their civil rights, was himself a victim of violence when he was assassinated outside his Memphis hotel room on the evening of April 4, 1968. Four days later, Michigan Congressman John Conyers introduced the first legislation providing for a Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday to honor King’s life and achievements. Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, headed the mission to rally popular support for a King Holiday. She worked for years, testifying before Congress, launching petition drives, and urging governors, mayors, and chairpersons of city councils across the U.S. to pass resolutions to honor her husband’s birthday on January 15.

While some individual states passed laws honoring Dr. King with a legal holiday, the idea of a federal holiday faced opposition and stirred controversy. Finally, in 1983, the legislation declaring the third Monday in January a federal legal holiday commemorating Dr. King’s birthday was signed by President Ronald Reagan. It was observed for the first time on January 20, 1986, though many states continued to boycott the holiday. It was not until 1999 that New Hampshire became the last state to make it a paid state holiday.

The only federal holiday commemorating an African-American is now celebrated each year as a remembrance of Dr. King’s life and work, and with people joining together to honor the civil rights leader’s memory through volunteer service to make an impact on their local and global communities.

You can learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the King Holiday by visiting these websites, available through SIRS Issues Researcher:

Dr. Martin Luther King Day

The King Center

Martin Luther King Day of Service

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site

Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Rosa’s Refusal: 60th Anniversary

Sixty years ago today, on Dec 1, 1955, an African American woman named Rosa Parks was arrested on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her crime? Refusing to surrender her seat to a white man.

Rosa Parks Research Topic

Rosa Parks Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Her arrest as a result of this incident sparked a 381-day boycott of Montgomery buses by African Americans.

Montgomery Bus Boycott Research Topic

Montgomery Bus Boycott Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Even before the incident, Rosa Parks was an activist for civil rights, influenced by her husband, Raymond, and her grandfather. But her courageous stance on that bus in 1955 cemented her legacy as being the “mother of the civil rights movement.”

 

 

Rosa Parks receives an award from Bill Clinton

RosaParks-BillClinton
[Public domain],via Wikimedia Commons

eLibrary has an abundance of information on this and other historic events in the civil rights movement, including these:

Brown v. Board of Education

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Civil Rights Movement

Civil Rights (U.S.)

Freedom Rides

Freedom Summer

Greensboro Sit-Ins

Martin Luther King Jr.

Selma to Montgomery March

50 Years Ago: Selma to Montgomery and the Right to Vote

Selma to Montgomery March Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary

Selma to Montgomery March Research Topic in ProQuest eLibrary

Imagine you go to your county clerk to register to vote. You complete the required registration forms and give them to the clerk. However, before being added to the voter roll, you are told you must pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test—a test with questions such as “How many county judges are there in the state?” or “Name each of the county judges in the state.” Many people, educated or not, would not be able to answer these questions. Scenes like this (as depicted in the recent movie Selma) played out in the South daily for many African Americans when trying to register to vote.  Though the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the denial of the right to vote of any citizen based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude” by both the federal and state governments, it would be 100 years before African Americans had that right fully enforced.

Efforts to register black voters in Selma (Dallas County) Alabama began in 1963 with local organizers joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which banned racial discrimination and protected voting rights, African Americans continued to be disenfranchised at every turn. In the spring of 1965, at the urging of local activists, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the cause.

On February 18, during a peaceful protest march, activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state police officer. He died from his wounds on February 26. His death would be the catalyst for the march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.

Police attack Selma to Montgomery marchers on March 7, 1965 (Bloody Sunday).

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

At Dr. King’s encouraging, supporters from all over the country came to Selma to march. The first march took place on March 7.  Some 600 marchers would be attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by troopers and county locals armed with barbed-wire billy clubs and tear gas. John Lewis, one of the leaders, sustained a head injury. Another leader, Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious, lay on the bridge. Images of the violence on Bloody Sunday as it would become known were seen worldwide.  Two days later, instead of walking through the police presence which had moved to allow the marchers to pass, Dr. King led marchers back to Selma in order to receive federal protection for the march.  That same night, James Reeb, a Unitarian pastor from Boston who had heeded the call to come to Selma, was murdered.  The nation was outraged by what it had seen in Selma.  In response, on March 15, President Lyndon Johnson before a televised session of Congress asked for the passage of a voting rights bill stating “the real hero of this struggle is the American negro…he has asked us to make good the promise of America.”

The final march to Montgomery began six days after President Johnson’s appeal.  With federal protection, marchers walked 54 miles on Route 80 sleeping and eating on the side of the road.  Arriving in Montgomery on March 24 and at the state capitol building on March 25, the group was 25,000 strong.

The Selma marches were pivotal in the civil rights movement.  From the small town of Selma, Alabama one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation was born.  On August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.  The pressure of activists, many whose names are not known, resulted in the enfranchisement of millions of African Americans over the years.

July 1964: 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of a turning point in American civil rights history. It was on this day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Many consider this law the toughest civil rights statute since Reconstruction and perhaps the most significant piece of legislation of the entire twentieth century. The Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. It banned racial segregation in the workplace, schools and public facilities. It protected voter rights by barring unequal registration requirements for people of color, although it did not bar all voting discrimination.

While it was originally proposed by President Kennedy in 1963, he had reservations about passing civil rights legislation. Southern legislators who controlled the Senate were opposed to it, and President John Kennedy wanted to ensure his other legislative priorities would be given attention and passage. President Kennedy believed he would have a second term to enact civil rights legislation.  His assassination in November 1963 would be the catalyst for President Lyndon Johnson, a former senator from the South, to use his political skill in working with the Senate to achieve a law long overdue even risking his own political future.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes the hand of Dr. Martin Luther King at the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beyond the surface of the Civil Rights Act, its impact was almost immediate and its legacy varied. Strides were quickly made in regard to desegregation in public accommodations and voting rights which helped spur the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  While there remained inequities among the races, division by race and class primarily, opportunities for African Americans, and in later years Latinos, Asians and Native Americans increased.  Rep. John Lewis, a notable veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, in recalling the days of discrimination and segregation, perhaps put the impact and legacy of the law best:  “Those signs are gone, the fear is gone.  America is a better nation and we are a better people because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

 

Fifty Years Ago: “I Have a Dream”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Delivering "I Have a Dream" Speech at the March on Washington

Fifty years ago on August 28, 1963 between 200,000 and 300,000 African Americans and supporters of civil rights converged on the nation’s capital at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Rallying for civil and economic rights, it became one of the foremost events in the modern civil rights movement.  At this landmark assembly Dr. Martin Luther King, standing on the Lincoln Memorial, delivered perhaps the most significant speech of the civil rights movement – “I Have a Dream.”

Marker on the Lincoln Memorial Commemoraing Dr. Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream Speech

 I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment I still have a dream.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

eLibrary offers several reference books in which Dr. King’s speech and other noteworthy speeches from the civil rights era can be found.  American Heritage Book of Great American Speeches for Young People, Britannica Annals of American History and Vital Speeches of the Day are just three of these excellent resources.  Look for these titles directly under the Publications tab in eLibrary and then search the alphabetical listing to find the speech.  Another means to locate a specific speech within these titles and other reference works is to use Advanced Search.  Type in keywords from the speech you are searching in the Advanced Search box and then type in the publication title in the Publication Name field.  You can also search the title of the speech in the Document Title field along with searching the publication title in the Publication Name field.  Using Advanced Search will help narrow your search and get you the best results.

Historic speeches remind us of the good and the bad of our history.  Reading and researching historic speeches help us to better understand and form opinions about our nation’s history, its present and the future to come.