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Segregation and Desegregation

Further Readings

Separate but Equal
De jure segregation, or the legal separation of races--in this case African Americans and whites-- developed in the late nineteenth century. Priorto this, de facto segregation, or the separation of races on the basisof custom, was carried out by the institution of slavery. A series of constitutional amendments helped bring an end to de facto segregation. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the subsequent ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, which outlawed the institution of slavery, signfied the beginning of the end of de facto segregation.The Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments extended fundamental civil rights such as due process and the right to vote to African Americans. However, states intent on segregating the races devised ways to circumvent theConstitution. For example, legal codes were enacted in the South designed torestrict the freedom of African Americans such as prohibiting first-class seating on railway cars, and denying African Americans access to public schools.Although the post-Civil War Reconstruction legislation discouraged much of these types of laws, Southern states took measures to re-institute segregation. The body of laws which was instituted with the intent to legally separate African Americans from whites was known as "Jim Crow Laws."
The federal government responded with what would be a long line of civil rights legislation. The first of such measures was the Civil Rights Acts of 1866and 1870, which guaranteed equal rights under the law for all people living under U.S. jurisdiction. Included under the acts were the rights to sue and besued, the rights to own real and personal property, and the rights to testify and present evidence in courts of law. In 1875 Congress was forced to enactlegislation when many whites refused to make such public facilities as hotels and railroads available to African Americans. The 1875 Civil Rights Act prohibited such discrimination and provided for the "full and equal enjoyment" of such public establishments. Southern states, however, largely ignored thesefederal laws, or contested their constitutionality in the courts. Southern segregationists, relying on the Tenth Amendment, claimed that the federal government did not have constitutional authority to tell the states how to run their affairs. In many instances, the Supreme Court sided with the states. In United States v. Reese (1876) and United States v. Cruikshank (1876) the Court limited the federal government's ability to protect the civilrights of African Americans. In these cases the Court declined to uphold an indictment against southerners who prevented qualified African Americans fromvoting. The decisions limited the power of the federal government to enforcethe Fifteenth Amendment. The Civil Rights Cases of 1883 found the Civil Rights Act of 1871 unconstitutional because it did not confine statutory provisions to discriminatory practices of the states (i.e. the Civil Rights legislation was too broad). The most influential decision by the Court came in 1896 with Plessy v. Ferguson. Here, the Court upheld a Louisiana law which required "separate but equal" railway facilities for African Americans and whites. The Court determined that laws requiring separation of the races donot necessarily imply the inferiority of either race and that the notion of"separate but equal" facilities does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The only dissenting voice on the Court was that of Justice John Marshall Harlan, who quite accurately predicted the effect of the ruling: "Our constitutionis color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens . . .In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case. . . " Just before the Civil War, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) Justice Taney delivered perhaps the most regrettable opinion ever issued by theSupreme Court. After being enslaved, Dred Scott sued on the grounds that hisresidency in a territory that banned slavery made him free. Justice Taney not only rejected Scott's argument but went out of his way to suggest that DredScott did not even have the right to sue in federal court because, legally,he was not a citizen. He also went on to say that Congress did not have the power to prohibit slavery in any state.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was a landmark decision which sanctioned de jure segregation which precipitated a host of Jim Crow laws restricting the rights of African Americans in all spheres of life from education to voting. The 1898 Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Mississippi essentially approved legal disenfranchisement. African Americans were denied the vote by the use of literacy tests, poll taxes and so-called grandfather clauses which denied suffrage to anyone whose grandfather had been ineligible to vote. It would be another half century before the federal government enacted civil rights laws that deterred legal segregation.
The Face of Segregation
The first segregation laws to be passed dealt with separation of the races ontrains. A majority of southern states passed laws that designated African American and white seating laws for both trains and railway station waiting rooms by 1910. In time, streetcars, theaters, amusement parks, hospitals, jails,swimming pools, drinking fountains, and schools, were all targeted by stateand local segregation laws. The military was also segregated, with African American soldiers usually serving in menial positions. Education was a particular focal point for segregation; it soon became clear that the "separate but equal" clause of Plessy v. Ferguson was not being observed. For example, by 1915 South Carolina was spending 12 times as much per capita to educatewhite children than African American children. Conditions were somewhat better out of the South. By 1900, 18 states of the North and West had passed lawsdesigned to discourage racial discrimination practices. However, de facto segregation was still the rule rather than the exception throughout the country.
In 1910, approximately 90 percent of the African American population lived inthe South and 30 percent of the total population of the South was African American. By and large, the entire African American population in the South wasdenied basic civil rights. In the first decade of the twentieth century, over 300,000 African Americans fled such oppressive conditions for northern andwestern states in what has been called the Great Migration. This demographicchange has continued throughout the century. However, the demographic changesbrought on new tensions between the races which resulted in race riots in 1917 and 1919 in both border and Northern states. Thirty-eight people were killed in the Chicago race riots of 1919 which was instigated when four African Americans attempted to enter a de facto white beach on Lake Michigan.
In response to the discriminatory laws of de facto segregation AfricanAmericans began to organize, beginning with the formation of the National Urban League in 1909. The NUL concentrated its resources on helping working class African Americans adjust to new urban environments. The extremely influential National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) formedshortly thereafter. Founded in 1910, the organization concentrated its resources on the three tenets of education, litigation and legislation. Their first legal success came with the 1915 Supreme Court decision in Guinn v. United States, in which an Oklahoma grandfather clause was stuck down. Then,in Buchanan v. Warley, (1917), the Court ruled that a Kentucky statuteforcing residential segregation violated the Constitution. Another NAACP legal victory came in 1919 when the Court upheld the right of African American citizens to serve on juries in State v. Young. The NAACP also called attention to the need for anti-lynching legislation.
However, African American leaders were not of one mind in determining the best strategy with which to combat segregation. Some influential leaders such asBooker T. Washington, felt that the best approach for improving the condition of African Americans was economic advancement. Civil and political justice,he argued, would follow. Toward this end, he founded the Tuskegee Institute,which was designed to provide African Americans with an industrial educationthat would enable African Americans to find better jobs. This strategy was supported by many whites just as eager to put an end to racial disharmony. Other African American leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and representatives of the NAACP insisted that the best approach to racial equality was to fight forimmediate universal political and civil equality. They saw Washington and hispolicy of "accommodation" as leading African Americans backward into slavery, pointing out that education was difficult to come by for African Americansin the South. The rampant poverty in the South allowed for only a three-monthschool year for African Americans who were fortunate enough to go to school.In addition, African American teachers made less than convicts. Although county training schools began to emerge in the South, they merely provided an industrial education which served to keep southern African Americans in a subordinate economic position.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century modest progress was made in the fight against racial discrimination and segregation. Militant white racism, exemplified in organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, reached its peakin the mid-1920s, with membership reaching an all-time high of five million in 1929. However, many states disapproved of the atrocious intimidation tactics employed by the Klan which helped reduce membership to less than 100,000. The number of lynchings dropped from 83 to 7 in 1929. U.S. involvement in world affairs also served as a vehicle for progress in the area of racial discrimination as many African Americans courageously answered the call of militaryservice during World War I, though in segregated regiments.
Although the political and social climate was progressing, the Supreme Courtwas still reluctant to address the important issues of racial equality. The Great Depression was particularly hard on African Americans who were already in an economically compromising position. Education for African Americans continued to be problematic. In the 1930s, while the average expenditure per student per year in schools was $80, for African Americans it was only $15. Increasingly, in the North, African Americans began to fight segregation in the schools. In Philadelphia, for example, concerted efforts by the Education Equity League and the NAACP resulted in desegregated schools, the admittance of African American teachers in African American and white schools, and placementof an African American on a school board by 1940. The NAACP also establisheda strategy to tackle Plessy v. Ferguson in the courts, by slowly chipping away at the "separate but equal" doctrine in specific cases. For example,Murray v. Maryland (1936) forced Maryland to desegregate its law schools and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950)and Sweatt v. Painter (1950) addressed graduate school inequalities.Still, the Court did not reverse the position it advanced in Plessy. The NAACP legal defense team continued to look for the case that might reversethat decision and open the floodgates of reform. Meanwhile, America was drawn into another world war in which African Americans again took part despite their unequal treatment at home.
Brown v. Board of Education
The NAACP finally got its test case when Oliver Brown, of Topeka, Kansas, a welder for the railroad, decided to challenge segregation laws. Brown refusedto send his daughter through the switchyard of a railway, to an all-African American school a mile away, when a school was located merely seven blocks from his home. That school, which happened to be all-white, denied Linda Brown admittance when Mr. Brown tried to enroll her. Brown persisted, and the NAACPLegal Defense Fund, led by Thurgood Marshall, stepped in to help with the defense. Marshall and the NAACP lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court, where the Court was forced to address the issue of segregation. In a landmark decision in 1954, the Court overturned the "separate but equal" provision of Plessy, and declared that "separate educational facilities are inherentlyunequal" and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, the Court remanded all other such cases to district courts, with the direction to desegregate schools "with all deliberate speed."
Desegregation, however, was a painfully slow process, taking more than 20 years to institute. Initially, the South refused to comply with desegregation laws; it took legal action and federal troops and marshals to enforce the laws.In 1957 U.S. marshals were used to enforce desegregation laws in a highly publicized incident in Little Rock, Arkansas. Alabama governor George Wallace physically resisted the desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1963. Federal troops were called upon to quell disorder at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith was admitted to the all-white college.
The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, however, went far beyond schools. In effect, the Court had implied that segregation was no longer legalin any domain: educational institutions, transportation facilities, public places, housing complexes, or the voting booth. In 1957, Congress passed its first Civil Rights Act in more than 80 years. Even the military had been desegregated by executive order in 1948, though discrimination persisted. African American organizations were quick to capitalize on the changing political andsocial climate. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942, washighly influential in spreading its confrontational tactics to other groups.In the 1940s CORE employed direct, nonviolent action to end segregation. Theorganization used sit-ins and stand-ins in Chicago and organized the FreedomRide in 1947, which tested freedom of transportation in the South in 1947. By1960 the desegregation movement was taking on national proportions. Desegregation was no longer an issue for the "South," as African Americans continuedto migrate to the North and West. New leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), applied the non-violent strategies espoused by CORE and Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistancewhich forged a new resistance to racial intolerance. King helped stage a successful boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system in 1955. The boycott protested the arrest of Rosa Parks who refused to move to the African American section of a public bus. Thereafter boycotts and picketing spread to other southern cities as a new weapon in the arsenal against segregation. From 1955 to1960, such tactics helped to integrate schools, transportation, and public places in the border states. However the Deep South stubbornly resisted the new laws.
The sit-in movement of the 1960s began in Greensboro, North Carolina, in an attempt to desegregate a public lunch counter. The movement spread across theSouth to restaurants, department stores, theaters, and libraries, as a nonviolent response to racial intolerance. In the summer of 1961 the Freedom Ridesresumed. White and African American students from the North and South rode southern transportation units and tested hotels for compliance with desegregation laws. Roughly 70,000 students participated in the desegregation movement that summer, which resulted in 3,600 arrests. White supremacists in the Southmet these tactics with increased violence and, on one occasion shot down a Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, Medgar Evers, in 1963. The Klan alsokilled four African American girls in a church bombing in Birmingham Alabama, and murder three volunteers of the Congress of Federated Organization who were teachingdAfrican Americans in rural Mississippi how to register to vote.The nation was stunned by news footage from Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 depicting the use of dogs and fire hoses to deter peaceful protesters. The civil rights movement reached its zenith with the 1963 march on Washington, in which250,000 people participated.
The federal government responded with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the mostcomprehensive legislation of its kind. This act prohibited segregation in allprivately owned public facilities which were subject in any way to interstate commerce provisions. The Civil Rights Act prohibited discriminatory practices for public accommodations, facilities, education, and federally assisted programs and employment. The constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964was challenged in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964). TheCourt held that the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of1964 was constitutional. Title VII of the 1964 act prohibits discriminationbased on an employee's race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Further congressional laws and executive orders were put in place to guarantee voting rights and equal housing. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was aimed primarily at guaranteeing African American suffrage, while the Civil Rights Act of 1968 focused on discriminatory policies in housing. Such unfair practices as zoning to achieve racial segregation and redlining--in which lending institutions discriminated against minorities--were declared illegal. In Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968), the Supreme Court found it illegal to refuse torent or sell to a person on the basis of race.
These gains were met by fierce resistance from those intent on preserving segregation. Despite legal guarantees, whites still found ways to discriminate against African Americans. Rioting broke out in the Los Angeles ghetto of Watts in 1965, a result of frustration and poverty. In the summer of 1967 more riots broke out in 30 different cities, leaving 100 dead, 2,000 injured, and causing millions of dollars in property damage. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 set the desegregation movement back decades. The movement divided into conservative and radical organizations. Newer groups such asthe Black Muslims and Black Panthers elected leaders such as H. Rap Brown andHuey Newton who advocated Black Nationalism and revolution.
Meanwhile, school desegregation was encouraged by the 1971 Supreme Court decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which heldbusing in the service of integrating schools constitutional. Busing has continued to be a hotly contested issue by both African Americans and whites. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s further gains were made with the institution of affirmative action programs designed to promote social and economic justice. However, the constitutionality of such programs has been called into question through such cases as University of California v. Bakke (1978) and United Steel Workers of America v. Weber (1979). Affirmative action, whichhas been described as reverse discrimination, was outlawed by California voters in 1996 with the adoption of proposition 209. While the legal foundationsof segregation have been dismantled, de facto segregation is still practiced. Significant gains have been made in areas such as education, transportation, access to public accommodation, and representation. The Congressional Black Caucus, which began with only six members in 1969, has become a formidable political force over the years. Many African Americans have been elected to public office and appointed to federal courts which is indicative of progress made. However, political, social, and economic disparities between African Americans and whites seem to suggest that racial equality is still a distant ideal.

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