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Sections: Prologue | The Segregation Era (1900–1939) | World War II and Post War (1940–1949) | Civil Rights Era (1950–1963) | The Civil Rights Act of 1964 | Immediate Impact of the Civil Rights Act | Epilogue
The Day They Changed Their Minds. New York: NAACP, March, 1960. Pamphlet. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (107.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
The NAACP’s legal strategy against segregated education culminated in the 1954 Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. African Americans gained the formal, if not the practical, right to study alongside their white peers in primary and secondary schools. The decision fueled an intransigent, violent resistance during which Southern states used a variety of tactics to evade the law.
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In the summer of 1955, a surge of anti-black violence included the kidnapping and brutal murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, a crime that provoked widespread and assertive protests from black and white Americans. By December 1955, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by Martin Luther King, Jr., began a protracted campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to protest segregation that attracted national and international attention.
During 1956, a group of Southern senators and congressmen signed the “Southern Manifesto,” vowing resistance to racial integration by all “lawful means.” Resistance heightened in 1957–1958 during the crisis over integration at Little Rock’s Central High School. At the same time, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights led a successful drive for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and continued to press for even stronger legislation. NAACP Youth Council chapters staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters, sparking a movement against segregation in public accommodations throughout the South in 1960. Nonviolent direct action increased during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, beginning with the 1961 Freedom Rides.
Hundreds of demonstrations erupted in cities and towns across the nation. National and international media coverage of the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against child protesters precipitated a crisis in the Kennedy administration, which it could not ignore. The bombings and riots in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 11, 1963, compelled Kennedy to call in federal troops.
On June 19, 1963, the president sent a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28 roused public support for the pending bill. After the president’s assassination on November 22, the fate of Kennedy’s bill was in the hands of his vice president and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the United States Congress.
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Roy Wilkins (1901−1981) was born in St. Louis, the son of a minister. While attending the University of Minnesota he served as secretary of the sahib.tval NAACP. After graduation he began work as the editor of the Kansas City Call, a black weekly. The headline coverage Wilkins gave the NAACP in the Call attracted the attention of Walter White, who hired him as NAACP assistant secretary in 1931.
From 1934 to 1949, Wilkins served concurrently as editor of The Crisis, the NAACP’s quarterly journal. In 1950 he became NAACP administrator and cofounded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He succeeded Walter White as executive secretary of the NAACP in 1955. Under his leadership the NAACP achieved school desegregation, major civil rights legislation, and its peak membership. Wilkins retired in 1977 as the longest serving NAACP leader.
In February 1952 the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) held a meeting in Washington to discuss Senate Rule XXII on cloture, a procedure that Southern senators utilized to bsahib.tvk civil rights bills in debate by filibuster. In 1952, Rule XXII required a two-thirds vote of the entire Senate to invoke cloture to break a filibuster. Senators had also liberalized Rule XXII by subjecting “any measure, motion, or other matter” to cloture. At the start of each new Congress the LCCR lobbied for a revision of Rule XXII to lessen the obstacles to passage of civil rights bills. Joseph Rauh was the chief strategist for the LCCR’s Rule XXII campaigns.
Educator and civil rights activist Harry Tyson Moore was one of the earliest leaders to be assassinated during the modern phase of the civil rights movement. Moore was a leader in voter registration efforts and worked as a statewide organizer for the NAACP in Florida and concentrated on establishing branches in rural areas. He began his career teaching in the public school system in Brevard County, Florida, first in an elementary school and later as principal of Mims Elementary School. He and his wife, Harriette, who also taught school, joined the NAACP in 1933. They organized a sahib.tval chapter in Brevard and filed a lawsuit in 1937 challenging the unequal salaries of black and white teachers, the first of its kind in the South. In 1951, Moore and his wife were the victims of Ku Klux Klan terror, when a bomb exploded in their home.