Gains in political and social rights for minorities have constantly been achieved in varying degrees. Tracing the Civil Rights Movement from the end of the Civil War to the 1960s is a good era to focus regarding the role of media during this crusade for justice.
The beginning of the Civil Rights Movement really began with the early abolitionists but from post Civil War to the 1960s is an era in which huge changes took place. At some point in time, conservatives felt that appointing Hugo Black, from Birmingham, Alabama, as a judge was an appropriate move. Even though he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), he claimed that he had to do so in order to keep clients as a lawyer. I am certain that everyone changed his or her minds about him, whether from good to bad or bad to good. He proved to be a strong Civil Rights liberal judge.
Jim Crow Laws (1880s) were segregation laws designed to keep blacks and whites separate since whites were no longer enslave blacks. This segregation had its pros and cons: whites used this separation to show their created dominance over the blacks but blacks used their new found obstacles as a way to work together. One way that this came to be was through the emergence of African American newspapers, before the Civil War there were 24 weekly African-American papers and after there were 500.
Blacks quickly noticed the differences in their quality of life versus that of whites: for instance, education. In 1954, a monumental case of Brown versus the Board of Education came up against the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, there were six other states where people were suing the school system on the grounds that black education was not equal to whites, and their stipulations were that they were separate but equal. This case proves to be a hard one for blacks because the state legislature loosely defines equality and there are no prior cases or substantial evidence that can be brought in to prove the case.
Thurgood Marshall, chief attorney, argued on the basis of what is right. For some evidence, he does an experiment. He entered into auditoriums full of children and held up a white doll and a black doll. Then he asked each child to come up and pick which doll is better. They all chose the white doll. Some time after this, the chief justice dies during the decision so the case had to be tried over.
President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren, a conservative republican from California, as his replacement. Earl Warren was a man with a heavy conscience and still felt horrible for interning the Japanese-Americans. Once they argue the case again, Warren told the other justices that they must unanimously decide in favor of the NAACP. He argued passionately for this because he felt as if this will make up for the wrong choices he had made in the past.
Now school integration arises from this. But whites begin to create private schools. Eisenhower (and presidents up to JFK) believe that Civil Rights is a good concept but he does not want to deal with it. The people begin to take on Civil Rights activism after they realize that their politicians are trying to keep up a particular image that stops them from taking a firm stand on any side.
Many incidents that unified the black community took place in order to let America know that they would no longer stand by and watch the rest of the world prosper while they continued to live without their basic social and political rights. The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1956) was a retaliation that showed the bus system and community how powerful blacks were in the community. Another monumental moment involved Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is best known for sitting on the bus and refusing to move when a white person wanted her seat. Originally, a 17-year old, unwed, pregnant girl was chosen.
This shows a moment where people were realizing the power of image in the media and Rosa Parks was chosen in her place. Rosa was 40 years old at the time and secretary of NAACP. She refuses to move from her seat. Since she was respected by whites and blacks and well known in the community, the bus driver and other members of the community that came to remove her from the bus attempted to reason with her before degrading her. The Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC) was founded and headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. SCLC sued Montgomery Bus under Warren and he rules in favor of NAACP.
Once the decision to integrate Little Rock High School is passed the media arrives to cover it as it happens in 1957. Since none of the southern schools had, this one was forced to integrate. Daisy Bates, a black publisher of a black newspaper asks parents in the community if they would be willing to enroll their children in this white school. Nine children and their parents agreed to be a part of this life-threatening experience. The south shuts the school down. A white girl on a video that we watched said, “They have their own schools and now they want to come to ours too?” and I immediately wondered why whites didn’t just go to the black schools as a rebuttal? We all know the answer, it’s because they knew how horrible the black schools were; they just weren’t willing to say it.
Daisy Bates went to federal government and insisted that Eisenhower open the school. With this being done she also asked for the National Guard to be at hand in order to protect the students. Only 5 of the 9 students graduated. They did so as the outcasts and objects of their peers.
The north wasn’t completely open to blacks, or non-whites for that matter. While fighting for integration in the south, in the north, they had restrictive covenants, which were outlawed in 1948. These covenants allowed certain areas to be designated for only white Christians (no Jews, no Mexicans, etc.) These covenants were continuing illegally.
At this time, the children are more affected and outraged by what they are seeing then their parents are. This is the part of the development that leads to the rebellions that occur in the 1960s. The younger generation feels that their parents didn’t take Civil Rights far enough. Even though it definitely was a start, they didn’t feel like boycotting accomplished enough and were ready to push the limits. Once students began to get involved with Civil Rights, young reporters also began to get involved. College students entered into Civil Rights on a confrontational manner and regularly held sit-ins for hamburgers. They were able to integrate Tennessee and North Carolina lunches and freedom rides occurred on buses during the early 1960s.
This change in tactics morphed Civil Rights and violence more than other pressing issues in 1965-6 during the Vietnam War. For instance, in Mississippi in 1964 was connected to freedom summer. The SNCC recruits 1000 white students from the north to organize blacks in south to vote since during 1964 only 5% of blacks vote. Unfortunately, 2 white and 1 black students disappear. They are later found mutilated and this enrages the SNCC which is a movement based on nonviolent work. There were very few mediums left unused in attempting to bridge the gap between blacks and whites even Elvis Presley brings black music to white America.
With the Vietnam War, non-whites are drafted first because they’re not in school. When Martin Luther King Jr. comes out against the war he loses his financial support. June 1966, James Meredith, a Korean War Veteran, claims the racists are gone and believes that he can walk across Mississippi without incurring any danger. On his second day of walking, he gets shot. On his behalf, the NAACP, SNCC, along with other organizations and individuals promise to finish his walk. During this time a divide arises between the walking ensembles; the older Martin Luther King affiliated crowd is chanting “freedom now”, while the younger Stokeley Carmichael crowd is chanting “black power.” Even though the United States is a melting point, it always amazes me how whites are the ones that are captured during those historical moments that occur in American history, for instance: the Vietnam War video. It’s a good possibility that most of the non-whites had already died by the time they got cameras out there.
Ida B. Wells is an amazing part of American history but I can’t recall a time when she was mentioned more than a few seconds in the US history classes I’ve taken in the past. She was a journalist and reformer that proved herself time and time again throughout her tumultuous life. She was born to persevere and beating odds that would have stopped anyone else. She never stopped fighting for what she believed in.
A monumentous occasion for her was when she was taking the train and was sitting in the white car with women. She didn’t smoke and wasn’t interested in being in the smoking car with men. She was kicked off the train and sued the railroad company for trying to put her in a smoking section. She wins $500 which is unheard of so the railroad appeals and she ends up being forced to pay them.
After having three friends lynched in Memphis she buys into a “Free Speech” publication. At this point she takes on many activist roles in the community expanding to as far as she could get. Anti-lynching is one of the causes that she takes on since her friends were so unnecessarily killed. The southern politicians and African American men do not like her because she’s so powerful. Fighting for what she believed in was her life and she remains one of the most important figures in American history.
There is a massive Civil Rights Movement including African Americans and women after World War II. Even celebrities like Gary Cooper were active in Civil Rights. During World War II (1942-5), the FBI targets African American publishers. “VV for Victory” was a paper that was created by African Americans and targeted by the government. This publication dealt with fighting fascism in other countries and fighting racism at home. Charlotta Bass was another activist and owner of the “California Eagle”. The FBI threatens her but she was 70 years old and was willing to fight for what she believed in until her dying day. She goes to the attorney general, protests what they are doing and they leave her alone. In 1944, the wavering of trust between media and government begins to appear when the Motion Picture Alliance for Preservation of American Ideals is created: “Are you or have you ever been a member of the communist party?”
Many media facades have had an impact on the Civil Rights Movement because they have the power to reach the people. Just as Hearst had taken on activism in his newspapers, television was beginning to do the same in the mid to late 1950s. Edward R. Murrow had a radio show called “Hear it Now” which CBS later got a hold of and on television it became “See It Now.” This proved to be what the public likes to hear. In 1968 the name was changed once again to “60 minutes” in order to show that this is simply a synopsis of what has taken place in the last seven days and that with every second history is being made. This show started off hard hitting, Milo Radulovich had a sister that’s a liberal and he’s fired because of it. Once Edward R. Murrow interviewed him, he was able to get him his job back. This is the power of media.