Segregation Issue: A Historical Perspective Blacks amidst Whites
When on May 17, 1954, United States Supreme Court declared segregation in the educational institutions as unconstitutional; it proved to be deadly assault on the emotions and passions of the Southerners. The White Citizen’s Councils, States rights groups, and even committee for constitutional governments and other groups put their strong front as far as possible to nullify decision of 17th May and bring back white supremacy.
In the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, North as well as South Carolina, these groups seized the political opportunities to give their voice on behalf of the segregation making the part of their agenda to see that no white follows laws that supports desegregation. (Nabrit Jr, 286) Segregation issue was not new as the amendments in the laws especially Jim Crow Laws of 1876 against all kinds of racism and discrimination on bases of color had already been making headlines. Segregation was started soon after the slavery came to an end.
As soon as the civil war came to an end, Congress sought the rights to free slaves by passing three amendments – 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution. Congress also adopted several procedures that could be beneficial to the African-Americans. (Loevy, 3) But after the Presidential election of 1876, Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes got elected and whites gained the political domination and the African Americans once again lost their gained privileges. (Loevy, 4) It was rightly predicted by W.
E. B DuBois in1903 that the single most issue of the 20th century America would be the “color line”. (Singleton & Linton, 26) Following essay will show the impact segregation issue had on both the white and black people and subsequent desegregation as various laws were passed to remove the discrimination between the blacks and whites. The whole concept of segregation had its roots in Jim Crow Laws of 1876 formulated to make the African Americans and other minorities enjoy separate privileges provided by the government.
In other words, blacks and minorities could not share the public facilities with the whites for e. g. Black children could attend the schools only meant for the blacks, had different modes of transportation to commute and separate arenas for their entertainment. This law was aimed to provide them separated yet equal treatment however paradoxically their status remained inferior. The term Jim Crow was originated around the year 1830 when during one of the minstrel shows, Thomas Daddy Rice got his face blackened with the charcoal paste and danced a jig on the lyrics “Jump Jim Crow”. Davis, para. 1) He created this character when he saw a crippled black man singing and dancing on the lyrics ending with the “……I Jump Jim Crow. ” (Davis, para. 1) This whole act of Rice became so popular that by 1850’s it became a standard part of minstrel show of America, presenting a stereotypical image of black inferiority in popular culture America. Even century later, people would associate any acts of racial abuse, and any signs of segregation with the Jim Crow laws.
Though many cars towards the northern railroad lines were prefixed with the Jim Crow Cars before the Civil War as the signs of segregation, yet the era of Jim Crow started from 1890 when the southern states of America framed laws to give the African Americans their respective position in the society. Most of these steps were adopted with the aim to separate the blacks from whites from all the public places and to prohibit the black males to caste their votes. In almost all the states in 1910, the legalized segregation and disfranchisement was already in place and so was the predominance of white supremacy and whiteness.
Davis, para. 3) There was lawlessness and brutal acts of violence against the southern blacks every where in support of the segregation and disfranchisement laws. From the years 1889 to 1930, more than 3,700 men and women were reported to have been brutalized in the United States with most of them being southern blacks. Many of the lynching and mob attacks continued to terrorize the blacks through out the century but left unreported. Riots continued to erupt during the whole Jim Crow era, in almost all the towns and cities, with only one purpose to regain the supremacy of the white power and in support of the segregation.
Areas from East St. Louis and Chicago to Tulsa in Oklahoma and from Wilmington in North Carolina to Houston in Texas were most affected by the riots especially during the years 1865 to 1955. Only in year 1919, there were twenty five separate incidents of murders, deaths and rioting reported. The summer of the year was so bloody that many people called it Red Summer of 1919. (Davis, para. 4) However the bloodiest race riots in Springfield, Illinois in 1908 had brought an interracial group together to form an organization that could fight to provide all the civil as well as political rights to the African Americans in 1909.
The group had called upon for a national conference on the eve of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909. This call had a greater effect, as the National Negro Conference was held for two days on 31st May and 1st June 1909 in New York. Just next year at their second meeting, the committee adopted their new name- the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and recorded its purposes officially as “to promote equality of rights, eradicate caste or race prejudice…. advancement of colored citizens…. mpartial suffrage…promote education for children…complete equality before law. ” (Hughes, De Santis, Rampersad, & Hubbard, 39-41)
The Association took their first case in 1910, in support of Pink Franklin, a black South Carolina sharecropper. This black man had a case of murder against him. He was accused of murdering a police officer on duty who had come to arrest Franklin for “breaking his agricultural agreement. ” (Meier & Rudwick, 137) Soon after Franklin was convicted and got death sentence, the NAACP interfered and conduced the court to turn his conviction of sentence to life imprisonment.
In 1919, he was set free. (Meier & Rudwick, 137) Blacks had suffered at the hands of whites all their history. Whatever constitutional remedies adopted to give privileges to the Blacks were given to them as segregated sect and their own efforts to come out of their present condition only meant further persecution and subjugation. Insurgency continued to erupt and was seen more during the years 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. There was no sign of end of violence against them and it was obvious Negroes were still not being accepted. (Gavins, 6)
However, the year 1940 did show some signs of reprieve for the blacks as they stood up against all the injustices they had to face every day. The segregation cases in the schools induced the Supreme Court to again look at their “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson case and the murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett made the blacks realize that now was the time to make their position felt in the society. Though during this period segregation in the public places was hardly given so much importance yet blacks were now joining hands to posit their case against the Jim Crow Laws.
A case Brown v Board of Education was first step towards the disintegration process, and case where NAACP again intervened. In the case that followed, a black third grader Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas had to walk one mile to reach elementary schools for Blacks even though only white school was just seven blocks away. Linda’s father Oliver Brown pleaded to the principle of the white school to get her daughter enrolled, but the principle refused. Brown then filed a case with the help of the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Topeka’s branch.
Other black parents too supported him. (Knappman, 467) During the court proceedings 25th -26th June 1951, the NAACP pleaded segregated schools increase inferiority complex among blacks, while the Board of Education argued these schools prepare the children to face the segregation in the future life. For the board, segregated schools were not as harmful as they appeared. Court too agreed these schools could cause disaster impact on the psychology of black children and would increase inferiority complex among them but ruled in favor of the Board as in Supreme Court’s ruling of Plessy v Ferguson.
The Supreme Court had allowed for separated but school with same facilities for both the blacks and whites. Brown and the NAACP then appealed to the Supreme Court on 1st October, 1951. In the case that followed Supreme Court struck down the doctrine of “separate but equal” allowing for desegregation of schools in 1954. (Knappman, 468) The case was the first step towards the disintegration process, however it was the partial move, as there was neither any ruling to remove the segregation policies from the public places nor the court announced disintegration of the schools within that particular time frame.
However, it was a great step towards equality and to desegregate themselves, and a great victory for the Blacks of South. The case not only provided the blacks with the equal opportunity to get an education without any racial bias but also increased their hope that government would now sure make laws to control racial abuse and inequality and also modify Jim Crow Laws. With this ruling it was proved among Blacks that government was now going to apply the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution that had already provided all rights and privileges to the Blacks as citizens of America. (Lewis, para. 16)
In 1955, a case of Emmett Till caught national attention when Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black boy of Chicago was brutally murdered by the whites near Money, Mississippi because he had said to a white lady of a store, “Bye baby. ” (Williams, 44) This was one of the extreme cases of racism. Despite of the witnesses, Roy Bryant, and J. W Millam, convicts in the case were found “not guilty” by the court. The Emmet Till case had a much greater impact on the black Americans in contrast to the Brown case. This was the first time Blacks residing in the North realized the serious implication of the racial violence.
Before it, they were subjected to racial abuse of lesser degree in contrast to their brethren in the Southern areas, however now they too felt the impact of the deeply rooted scar of the racial abuse and violence. (Williams 57) Segregation became part of life for the African Americans as almost whole of Southern part of United States of America was practicing one or the other part of the segregation. The whites were looking at the segregation as a way of their lives and at the same time blacks were feeling the necessity for the change.
They were now asking for equal opportunities and same respect by forming the groups and taking part in the segregation movements. They were boycotting busses, holding demonstrations and March pasts and joining the civil rights groups to put an end to all kinds of discrimination against them. The most popular public places were excellent points to showcase the cause of the desegregation process. The buses in the southern areas were most segregated yet were the most popular places where both the blacks and whites could be found easily.
Though the blacks were paying the same amount of money as the whites, yet they were segregated from the whites as they were ordered to get off from the bus and enter the same through the back door only. The front seats of the buses were kept reserved for the whites. If there was no space in the bus then it was black who had to get down from the bus and walk all the way to his or her destination. Blacks were now totally frustrated by this racial treatment and many other forms of hatred and realized the necessity for the change. On 1st December 1955, a black woman, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to the white man.
Though she was arrested yet this had a greater impact on the psychology of the blacks and they began to organize the boycotts of buses popularly known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement. (Williams, 62) As the profits of the buses began to get reduced, it worried the administration making them realize the importance of blacks in the American economy. After a long fight of almost one year, US Supreme Court on November 13, 1956 declared the segregation on buses as unconstitutional. This was much bigger step towards disintegration process.
Whites too began to realize importance of blacks and the extent they could go into to get their demands met. This boycott also motivated other blacks to carry forward their movements for their rights and respect in the society and realized that they could make the segregation policy to come to an end. Yet another situation came to light when four college students began to sit at the college counter, which was reserved for the whites only. Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Joseph McNeil, and Davis Richmond were outraged when they were regularly asked to get up from the seat at a food counter.
Inspite of repeated warning these four students continued to sit at that particular place only. These students were then arrested but later got freed. The whole black community could not believe at their courage. Soon other blacks and even some whites who joined these black students were found sitting at “white-only” counters. This had a serious implication, as whites shouted hateful words at them and threw them out of the food joints. Blacks reciprocated with the “sit ins” as they would sit on the places meant for the whites, go to jail, come out and sit again at the same spot.
This cycle continued endlessly. Gray, Davis & Williams, 348) Their action was an ample proof to show they were now unstoppable and were determined to put an end to all kinds of discrimination against them. This was signal to whites that they could not subjugate them anymore. Blacks in large numbers took to the streets organizing demonstrations and marches; even children joined their parents singing songs of freedom. In October 1963, they moved towards Selma where they demanded their right to cast their vote and held “Freedom Day”, as around two hundred and fifty blacks stood outside their County Courthouse with their signatures. Zinn, 76)
The result was positive as the whole world became witness to the slowly deterioration of the segregation policies and laws of the whites. Overall the laws on segregation created more divisions amidst blacks and whites, increased the inferiority complex among the blacks and maintained the same old superior position of the whites, while the disintegration process displayed a positive portrayal of the Blacks in the whole world.
Bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, actions of civil rights groups and various demonstrations placed pressure on the whites that now the time was changing, and blacks should be respected and treated with equal dignity and respect. Moreover laws framed by the Congress and the amendments in the previous acts too entitled blacks to the various rights and privileges which were since centuries denied to them. Racial subjugation and abuse continued to decline, and the Blacks began to feel themselves as a part of the white society.