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One Hundred Years of Overcoming Segregation in the South

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Separate but Equal?. One Hundred Years of Overcoming Segregation in the South. Mississippi Department of Archives and History 2011. Freedom from Slavery.

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Separate but Equal?

One Hundred Years of Overcoming

Segregation in the South

Mississippi Department of Archives and History 2011

Freedom from Slavery
  • During the Civil War, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the states in open rebellion only.
  • Following the Civil War, during Reconstruction, several amendments and acts were added to the U.S. Constitution.
    • 13th Amendment in 1865 – outlaws slavery.
    • Civil Rights Act of 1866 – tried to give citizenship to all native-born Americans.
    • 14th Amendment in 1868 – grants African Americans equal protection under the law.
    • 15th Amendment in 1870– grants African American males the right to vote.
    • Civil Rights Act of 1875 –grants equal access to public accommodations.
  • Freedmens Bureau – A federal bureau organized to help freed slaves adjust to their new lives.
  • Ku Klux Klan – is founded in Tennessee, but spreads across the south in reaction to Radical Republican control.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The Rise of Jim Crow

Jim Crow was a series of state and local laws in the United States passed from 1876 to 1965 that segregated public facilities. These facilities were segregated with the promise that they would be "separate but equal.” The Jim Crow laws applied to public facility restrooms, waiting areas, entrances, and schools. In practice however facilities for non-whites were not equal–they were inferior.

  • The following laws and rulings were passed and sometimes written to make the Jim Crow possible and strengthen it.
    • The U.S. Supreme Court nullifies the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
    • Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution disenfranchises African Americans and poor whites.
    • Plessy v. Ferguson – The U.S. Supreme Court decision validates “separate but equal.”
    • 19th Amendment – grants women the right to vote in 1920.
    • Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 – Native Americans are given citizenship and the right to vote.
  • Early civil rights fighters and groups
    • Ida B. Wells-Barnett – in 1883 Mississippi native Wells refused to give up her seat on the train to Memphis.
    • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909.
    • Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in 1942.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Testing the Waters

Following World War II African American veterans returned home to the same world they had left. They began to question the segregation and the treatment of African Americans in a country that they had fought to defend.

  • Stirrings of change
    • CORE’s Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 tests the segregation of busing in America.
    • In 1952 Women’s Air Corps Private Sarah Keys is arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus ride home to North Carolina.
  • National actions
    • In 1948 President Harry S. Truman starts the end of segregation in the U.S. Military with Executive Order 9981.
    • 1955 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. This U.S. Supreme Court bans the separate but equal standard and orders the integration of schools throughout the country.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

The Integration Movement Begins

After the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the push for integration grew. Other Supreme Court decisions would make integration beyond the classroom a possibility and the effort to make it a reality came to life. For those who challenged the “separate but equal ” standard, the chosen form of protest against Jim Crow was non-violence. Protesters would not physically fight, but passively demand change .

  • National actions that start change in motion
    • U.S. Supreme Court states that separate but equal should not apply to interstate bus travel in its 1955 Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company decision.
    • With the help of the U.S. Military and President Eisenhower, Little Rock Central High School is forcibly integrated in 1957.
  • Taking a Stand for Integration
    • Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat in1955.
    • The 1957 integration of the city buses ends the 381 day Montgomery Bus Boycott.
    • Also in 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Council is formed to fight segregation with non-violence.
  • Taking a Stand for Segregation
    • The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission is formed and funded by the state of Mississippi in 1956.
    • In 1957 Sovereignty Commission condones films and speakers advocating segregation as “wholesome and good.”
Freedom Rides

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia, a national movement to integrate public facilities begins. More groups took shape to fight the ongoing segregation. The Freedom Rides brought national attention to not only segregation in the south, but also the violence that was behind its enforcement.

  • Pressure from the federal government for integration increases.
    • 1961 Boynton v. Virginia – U.S. Supreme Court stated racial segregation on public transportation and related public facilities is illegal under the Interstate Commerce Act.
  • Freedom Rides – In 1961 CORE organizes inter-racial groups of riders for a bus ride through the south. Eventually all forms of public transportation are tested with the Freedom Rides.
    • On May 4, 1961 the Riders left from Washington, D.C. bound for the south and New Orleans.
    • They met resistance and violence to their presence and actions in South Carolina and other stops on the trip.
    • The violence reached its peak in Alabama.
    • The federal government made a deal for the safety of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi, so further public violence could be avoided.
    • Riders were arrested in Jackson and given the choice of jail or bail. Those who chose jail suffered many indignities at the hands of the authorities behind closed doors.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Integration Takes Root

The Freedom Rides were the start of a major movement for civil rights. Following the rides national groups such as CORE, SNCC, NAACP, would have a more active presence in Mississippi. Integration slowly took root and other events such as the 1964 Freedom Summer encouraged African American Mississippians to register and vote to change Mississippi. Civil rights activists in Mississippi demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination in facing threats and loss of employment and money.

  • 1962-1970 – Integration fight in Mississippi
    • 1962 – After numerous attempts to block his admission and riots, African American James Meredith is admitted to the University of Mississippi under the protection of the federal government as riots rage in Oxford.
    • 1963 – Tougaloo College students begin sit-ins in downtown Jackson that result in 50 arrests of college and high school students and the beatings of two men.
    • 1963–1964 – During Mississippi’s violent Freedom Summer, SNCC and other groups help African Americans register and vote.
    • 1968 – U.S. Supreme Court after many attempts demands that segregation in schools must end at once.
    • 1970 – Thirty-one years after Brown v. Board of Education , Mississippi declares its schools fully integrated.

Image courtesy of Mississippi Department of Archives and History