1963 (July-Dec)

Freedom Summer 

1964 Jan-June

January-June Events
Atlanta Sit-ins & Mass Arrests (Dec-Feb)
Freedom Day in Hattiesburg (Jan)
24th Amendment Ends Poll Tax in Federal Elections (Jan)
Louis Allen Murdered (Feb)
Civil Rights Bill Passes in the House (Feb)
Freedom Day in Canton (Feb)
St. Augustine FL, Movement — 1964
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Founded (April)
Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) (April)
Cambridge MD & the "White Backlash" (May)
Repression and Resistance in Tuscaloosa (June-Aug)
Civil Rights Bill — Battle in the Senate (March-June)

Mississippi Freedom Summer Events
Mississippi Summer Project (June-Aug)
         [Sidebar] Organizational Stucture of Freedom Summer
Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner & Goodman (June)
Freedom Schools (Summer)
Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) (Summer)
The McGhees of Greenwood (July-Aug)
McComb — Breaking the Klan Siege (July '64-March '65)
MFDP Challenge to Democratic Convention (Aug)
Wednesdays in Mississippi (1964-1965)

1964 July-Dec
Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed into Law (July)
Effects of the Civil Rights Act
The Selma Injunction (July)
Lemuel Penn Murdered (July)
Deacons for Defense & Justice (July)
Impact of Northern Urban Rebellions on Southern Freedom Movement
Massive Evasion of School Integration
Integrating Americus High School (Fall)
Delta Ministry Founded in Mississippi (Sept)
SNCC Delegation to Africa (Sept-Oct)
MFDP Congressional Challenge (Nov '64-Sept '65)
Hoover Tries to Destroy Dr. King (Nov-Dec)
King Awarded Nobel Prize (Dec)
Scripto Strike, Atlanta (Dec)
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (Dec)
ASCS Elections — A Struggle for Economic Survival (1964-67)

 

Atlanta Sit-ins & Mass Arrests (Dec '63-Feb '64)
Photos

See SNCC Meets Kenyan Freedom Fighter in Atlanta for preceding events.

As 1963 comes to a close, the political battle to pass the Civil Rights Bill continues in Washington. President Johnson pressures civil rights organizations to halt protests and civil-disobediance campaigns. He says that demonstrations anger whites and alienate legislators making it harder to win votes in Congress. SNCC, CORE, and SCLC all refuse declare any moratorium on protests, arguing that it is direct-action that has put civil rights on the nation's agenda and that without continued protests there will be no progress — and no bill. At a rain-soaked rally of more than 4,000 people in Atlanta, Dr. King rejects LBJ's plea and calls for continued demonstrations.

Led by COAHR, the SNCC-affiliate at Atlanta University Center, sit-ins and other forms of protest against segregation and job discrimination have been intermittently ongoing since 1960. These demonstrations by college and high-school students have had some success, a few hotels and eating establishments now serve Blacks, but most of Atlanta is still segregated. Crowds of angry whites harass and threaten young protesters and KKK members in their white robes counter-picket establishments that end segregation. SCLC's Rev. Abernathy organizes local ministers into "Operation Breadbasket." They wield the threat of direct-action and consumer boycotts to open formerly "white-only" jobs to Blacks. They estimate that 750 Blacks have been hired due to their efforts, but that remains a small number compared all those who have been shut out of employment by race discrimination.

On December 21st, 1963, SNCC members are arrested for sitting-in at a Toddle House restaurant next to the Peachtree Manor hotel. Toddle House is a chain more than 250 diners throughout the eastern states owned by the Dobbs Corporation. SNCC members John Lewis, Roberta "Bobbie" Yancy, Prathia Hall, and Movement supporter Lillian Gregory (wife of comedian Dick Gregory) each purchase a share of stock in Dobbs. The next day they return to the Toddle House — which, as stockholders, they now partly own — and are, nevertheless, arrested bringing the total to 21. All 21 adopt Jail-No-Bail and declare they will spend "Christmas in Jail."

SNCC organizes what would today be called a "corporate campaign" around their arrests. Friends of SNCC chapters in the north demonstrate at Dobbs and Toddle House establishments in Hartford, New York, Philadelphia, and similar actions quickly spread to other locations. Within weeks, protests temporarily close a dozen restaurants in the north, and the Dobbs Corporation agrees to desegregate all of their facilities nation-wide — including Atlanta.

COAHR calls for Atlanta to become an "Open City." For COAHR Chair Larry Fox, that means, "... jobs, decent and integrated schools, and the right to eat or rent a room wherever we choose." Mobilized by COAHR, 100 high school students "play hookie for freedom," they boycott classes and sit-in at Mayor Ivan Allen's office to demand that Atlanta become an "Open City."

In January of 1964, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities comes to Atlanta to examine race relations in the city that claims it is "Too busy to hate." Student pickets at the airport greet them with signs saying "Welcome to a segregated city." Sit-ins are staged outside their hotel. Dick Gregory and 80 students are arrested for protesting at the segregated Leb's Deli, and 200 more are busted over the following week for various protests. With bail raised to the huge sum of $1,000 per demonstrator (equal to $7,400 in 2012), protests taper off, but continue at a lower level until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally ends segregation in Atlanta.

For more information on the Atlanta Civil Rights Movement:
Web:
     Atlanta in the Civil Rights Movement (Atlanta Higher Education)
     Atlanta University District (National Park Service)

 

Freedom Day in Hattiesburg (Jan)
Photos

Photos
See Freedom Ballot in MS for preceding events.

Hattiesburg, Mississippi, population 35,000 in 1960, is the seat of Forrest County where almost every white is registered to vote, but only 12 of the 7,500 eligible Blacks — one-tenth of 1% — are on the rolls.

Unlike the Delta counties where Blacks are a majority, in Forrest County Blacks are a bit under one-third of the population. And also unlike the Delta where agriculture completely dominates the economy and poverty is extreme, Hattiesburg has the benefit of some Black-owned farms, and some Blacks are employed in timber-based manufacturing, at the University of Southern Mississippi, and at adjacent Camp Shelby, the second largest Army base in America. So while most Hattiesburg Blacks are poor — median annual family income is $4,000 (equal to $30,000 in 2013) — their economic situation is not as desperate as in the Delta.

Just south of Hattiesburg is the unincorporated town of Palmer's Crossing, one of Mississippi's historically Black communities where African-Americans own property and businesses, and which to some degree serve as havens from white oppression.

[Today, Palmer's Crossing is incorporated into Hattiesburg.]

Hattiesburg & Palmer's Crossing are no strangers to the freedom struggle. When Clyde Kennard was framed and jailed in 1959 for trying to integrate the university, NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer and many others worked to free him. For years, Forrest County Blacks filed voting rights lawsuits against Therron Lynd, the notoriously racist Registrar of Voters. As of March 1962, he has not allowed a single Black to register, but he's registered 1,836 whites without requiring them to even fill out an application or take the literacy test. Lynd not only requires Blacks to take the official test, he is famous for making up questions on the spot such as, "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?" Then "failing" the applicant regardless of the answer. As in the rest of the state, Blacks who try to register face violence, jailing, firings, and evictions. And also as elsewhere in Mississippi, anyone who tries to picket, march, sit-in, or protest in any other way, is instantly arrested.

In March of 1962, two SNCC organizers —  Curtis Hayes and Hollis Watkins, both veterans of the McComb project and the Pike County jail — arrive in Hattiesburg to begin a COFO voter registration campaign and shake Hattiesburg to its social roots. They find fertile ground. In addition to Vernon Dahmer, there is NAACP leader J.C. Fairly, beauty-shop owner Peggy Jean Connor, and over in Palmer's Crossing there is Victoria Jackson Gray — an SCLC Citizenship School teacher and later a SNCC field organizer of renown. Along with John Henry Gould, Johnnie Mae Walker, and others, they found the Forrest County Voters League and begin holding voter-registration meetings in St. Johns United Methodist Church in Palmers Crossing. When Hayes and Watkins are transferred to the Delta in September, Victoria Gray assumes leadership of the Voters League.

By the Fall of 1963, Hattiesburg and Palmer's Crossing are centers of Movement activity. A storefront owned by Mrs. Lenon Woods on Mobile Street in the heart of Hattiesburg's Black community becomes the SNCC Freedom House and COFO headquarters. After being released from jail in Winona, SNCC organizer Lawrence Guyot is assigned to Hattiesburg as project director. When Freedom Ballot votes are cast in November, almost half (3,500 of 7,500) of Forrest County's eligible Blacks participate in the mock vote, the highest percentage of any county in the state.

Building on the Freedom Ballot success, movement leaders call for a Freedom Day in Hattiesburg. Modeled on the one in Selma, it is to be a major mobilization of potential voters, local activists & students, and SNCC leadership. Working with the Commission on Religion and Race (CORR) of the National Council of Churches, SNCC asks northern ministers to participate. The hope is that as in Selma the mostly white clergy will draw national media attention and that their presence will both prevent police repression and pressure the Federal government to enforce legal rulings requiring Therron Lynd to stop blocking Black voting rights.

This experiment of using northerners occurs in the context of a fierce debate within SNCC over the idea of a Mississippi Summer Project to bring a large number white supporters into an overwhelmingly Black struggle. SNCC's Black activists are divided. The presence of whites might (it is hoped) provide some protection for local Blacks, focus national attention on denial of human rights, and increase pressure on the Johnson administration to enforce the Constitution and Federal court rulings. But using whites for protection that is not given to Blacks perpetuates the racist double-standard they so strongly oppose, and there is deep concern that highly educated whites will dominate the fledgling community organizations being slowly built by Mississippi Blacks. Local leaders in Hattiesburg, however, are clear — they want all the support they can muster and if white clergymen are willing to put their bodies on the line at the Forrest County courthouse they are welcome.

On the eve of Freedom Day, some fifty northern clergymen — mostly Presbyterians, some Episcopalians and Methodists, a Unitarian, and two Jewish Rabbis — arrive in Hattiesburg and Palmer's Crossing. Most are white, a few are Black and one is a Chinese-American from San Francisco. Led by the Rev. John Coventry Smith, some are ready to picket the courthouse which they know in Mississippi normally means immediate arrest. Others are there to witness, but are not yet ready to face jail.

The mass meeting that night is the largest held to date. More than 600 people are jammed into St. Paul's Methodist church and overflow outside. Among them them are James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Amzie Moore, and Bob Moses. State NAACP President Aaron Henry is arrested on some pretext as he drives into town, but he's bailed out in time to address the meeting. Annelle Ponder of SCLC, Dave Dennis of CORE, Lawrence Guyot of SNCC, and local leaders Vernon Dahmer and Victoria Gray speak. As does Ella Baker of SNCC who says:

Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free; we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, if people are still hungry, we will not be free ... Singing alone is not enough; we need schools and learning ... Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind." — Ella Baker. [1]

January 22nd, 1964, is Freedom Day in Hattiesburg. A cold rain is falling. Fifty Blacks, mostly students plus a few adults, plus thirty of the northern clergy, picket the Forrest County courthouse. Some carry signs with SNCC's new slogan, "One Man One Vote." Close to 100 Black adults are lined up at the building to register, their numbers dwarfing all previous attempts.

A phalanx of cops and volunteer "auxiliary police" (possemen) in helmets and rain slickers, guns on their hips, clubs in their hands, march down the middle of Main Street towards the protesters. Using a bullhorn, they issue their order: "This is the Hattiesburg Police Department. We're ordering you to disperse. Clear the sidewalk!" The pickets hold the line. No one leaves. The cops threaten again. The pickets hold. SNCC leader Bob Moses is arrested for "Disturbing the Peace" when he tries to escort an elderly Black women into the courthouse to register. But none of the pickets are arrested. For the first time in living memory, an inter-racial civil rights demonstration in Mississippi is not suppressed. As it becomes clear there won't be a mass jailing, more people join the picket line, swelling it to over 200 who by the end of the day are massed on the courthouse steps singing freedom songs (see photos).

Theron Lynd allows only four voter applicants at a time into the building. He slowly takes as long as he can to process each application. Meanwhile, the other applicants continue to stand in the cold rain waiting their turn. Whites are allowed to freely enter the building, but Blacks are not. Justice Department officials and FBI agents take notes, but refuse to intervene. When the courthouse is closed at noon for lunch, only 12 applicants have been processed. The rain, the waiting, and the pickets continue all day until the courthouse closes at 5pm.

Yale graduate Oscar Chase, a white member of SNCC, is arrested on a phony vehicle charge. He is put in a cell with white prisoners who beat him into bloody unconsiousness while the guards watch. The most brutal of the white inmates is rewarded with early release. After Chase is bailed out the next morning, historian Howard Zinn and two Freedom Movement lawyers take him to the FBI office to file a complaint. His clothes are covered with blood, his nose broken, and his face swollen and bruised. The FBI agent studies the clean-shaven college professor, the two lawyers in their neatly-pressed suits, and the battered freedom fighter. "Who was it got the beating?" he asks.

Freedom Day is considered a Movement victory. The pickets are not dispersed by police billy clubs, nor are there mass arrests. More than 150 Forrest County Blacks defy generations of repression by trying to register. Therron Lynd is forced to allow at least some of them into the office to fill out the application and take the literacy test. But it is only a partial victory. Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI enforce the Constitution, Federal law, or court orders to protect voting rights and few, if any, Blacks are actually registered. And when some of those who protested or attempted to register are later fired from their jobs, the Federal government does nothing.

The next day, the picket line returns to the courthouse. All day they picket, and then the following day, and then every day, in what becomes known as the "Perpetual Picket." Week after week, month after month until the late spring when the focus shifts to Freedom Summer organizing, relays of northern clergy join local Blacks on the line. Though there are no mass busts, individual activists continue to be arrested. Guyot makes a freedom speech and is jailed for "corrupting minors." Then in April the state legislature passes a draconian (and utterly unconstitutional) anti-picketing law. The Hattiesburg movement defies it, and 44 pickets, including 8 northern ministers, are arrested.

Beatings, violence, evictions, and firings continue, but for the first time since the end of Reconstruction, Blacks file to run for national office — Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville and John Cameron of Hattiesburg for the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. And Victoria Jackson Gray of Palmers Crossing for U.S. Senate against the arch-racist John Stennis of Mississippi. The crack in the iceberg of segregation that began in McComb, widened in Greenwood, and expanded across the state in the Freedom Ballot, now threatens to shatter and obliterate the old order.

See Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Founded for continuation.

For more information on the Hattiesburg and Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books:
     Faces of Freedom Summer
     Mississippi Movement.
Web: Hattiesburg MS, Movement for web links.

 

24th Amendment Ends Poll Tax in Federal Elections (Jan)

A "poll tax" is a tax you have to pay in order to vote. At one time, state and local poll taxes were common, but by the mid-20th Century they are mainly limited to the South as a means of preventing Blacks and poor whites from voting. (The one non-South state with a poll tax is Vermont.)

State poll taxes range from $1 to $5, and some towns and counties levy additional local poll taxes. In Mississippi, for example, the state's poll tax is $2 per year (equal to $15 in 2012). That might not sound like a lot of money, but for impoverished Blacks (and whites too) feeding their children on free Federal "commodity" food it's a sum that forces many to choose between voting and necessities of life. And in the mid-20th Century South many of those at the bottom of the economic ladder exist entirely outside the cash economy. Many sharecroppers, tenant farmers, agricultural laborers, coal miners, and factory workers buy their necessities at over-priced plantation or company stores on credit and their pay goes directly to the store. They receive little or no cash. In the words of 16 Tons by Merle Travis:

You haul Sixteen Tons, and whadaya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

To make matters worse, the tax has to be paid every year whether there is an election or not, and in many states the tax is cumulative, so if you can't afford it one year you have to pay double the next year, and triple the year after, and so on. In some states, the tax has to be paid in February before the candidates to be voted on in November are even nominated. As one anti-tax activist puts it: "[That's] like buying a ticket to a show nine months ahead of time, and before you know who's playing, or really what the thing is all about." It is estimated that in the presidential election of 1940, two-thirds of all eligible voters in the South are barred from the polls because they have not paid their poll tax. For Black voters, the percentage is even higher.

For decades, civil rights organizations — particularly the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF) and the NAACP — have fought with some success to end the poll tax. As the growing Freedom Movement focuses national attention on southern injustice, in 1962 Congress passes the 24th Amendment prohibiting poll taxes in Federal elections. It is ratified by the states, and goes into effect on January 23, 1964.

But the 24th Amendment only affects Federal elections (Congress and the President). Poll taxes can still be levied by states, counties, and cities as a requirement for voting in state and local elections. These poll taxes are not outlawed until 1966 when the Supreme Court rules 6-3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that any poll tax violates the 14th Amendment.

See State Poll Taxes Ruled Unconsitutional for continuation.

For more information on poll taxes:
Web: Poll Taxes

 

Louis Allen Murdered (Jan)

See Herbert Lee Murdered for preceding events.

Louis Allen is a logger in Amite County and World War II veteran. In September of 1961 he witnesses the murder of voting-rights activist Herbert Lee by state legislator E.H. Hurst. Under threat of being killed himself, Allen is forced to falsely testify that Hurst killed Lee in self-defense.

In August of 1962, Allen and two other men try to register to vote at the Amite County courthouse. Someone takes a shot at them and they are turned away. A white businessman tells Allen: "Louis, the best thing you can do is leave. Your little family, they're innocent people, and your house could get burned down. All of you could get killed."

Privately, Allen tells friends and civil rights activists the truth, that Hurst killed Lee because Lee was registering Black voters. He secretly talks to Justice Department officials, telling them that he is willing to testify against Hurst if they him provide Federal protection. The Justice Department refuses to offer any form of protection.

Somehow, word that Allen is talking to the Feds is leaked to white segregationists — many Movement activists believe the leak came from within the Justice Department. Death threats are made against Allen and his timber business suffers from boycotts. In September of 1962, Deputy Sheriff Dan Jones arrests Allen on phony charges of interfering with a police officer. Jones beats Allen, breaking his jaw. In November of 1963, Jones arrests Allen again. This time for a "bounced check" and a "concealed weapon." Officials threaten Allen with "three to five years" in the penitentiary for these imaginary crimes. It takes three weeks for the NAACP to raise the $800 bail required to release Allen from jail pending trial.

Allen wants to leave Amite County, but he has to care for his elderly parents. Movement organizers beg the FBI to provide him protection. They refuse.

Friends and associates of Allen are also subject to white-terror. In February of 1963, Leo McKnight, a logger who had previously worked for Allen, dies in a mysterious home fire that also kills his wife, his pregnant daughter, and his son-in-law.

After his mother passes away, Allen makes plans to join his brother in Milwaukee. On January 31st, 1964, the night before he is to leave, he is ambushed by persons unknown at the front gate to his property who kill him with multiple shotgun blasts.

Amite County Sheriff E.L. Caston assures reporters that Allen's assasination had nothing to do with voting rights. The FBI quickly endorses the Sheriff's version, claiming (falsely) that there is no Federal crime because, "..the victim is not a registered voter, has never been active in voter registration activities, and there has been no voter registration activity in Amite County in the past two or three years." No one is ever arrested for Allen's murder.

For more information on the McComb and Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web:
     Deposition of Mrs. Elizabeth Allen
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Movement
     McComb MS Movement
     Oh Freedom Over Me, PBS
     Martyrs of the Movement for web links.

 

Civil Rights Bill Passes in the House (Feb)

See Kennedy's Civil Rights Speech for preceding events.

The Situation

When Kennedy calls for a new civil rights bill in June of 1963, most of the south is still segregated despite two and a half years of sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches, dogs, tear gas, and jailings. After years of enduring Klan violence, economic terrorism, police repression, arson, and murder, few Blacks are registered to vote in the Deep South. Civil rights workers have no protection from police brutality and false arrest, and basic 1st Amendment rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and petition are still denied to Blacks. And the Department of Justice and the FBI claim they do not have adequate legal authority to intervene to protect the rights of Black citizens against abuse by local and state authorities.

In the opinion of most Movement leaders a real civil rights bill is needed — one that is strong, not another toothless sham like the 1957 and 1960 acts. To force real change it has to outlaw segregation, not just in schools but in public institutions and private businesses. And it has to guarantee voting rights, end job-discrimination, and protect Blacks from police repression.

But not all Movement activists agree. Some, particularly in SNCC and CORE, argue that the 14th Amendment, 100 years of past legislation, and the Supreme's Court's Brown decision are sufficient — IF they are enforced. Their criticism is that Kennedy has not used the powers he already has to enforce the laws and court rulings currently on the books. They have little faith in Washington's willingness to anger whites by defending Blacks, and so they ask what is the point of yet another civil rights act if it won't be implemented any more than the previous ones? It is not that they are opposed to new laws, but rather that they believe Movement energies should be focused on building Black political power.

But Dr. King and other Movement leaders believe that the nonviolent Freedom Movement has aroused and mobilized Blacks as never before, awakened the nation, and built enough political pressure on both the Kennedy administration and Congress to pass a meaningful bill. In their eyes, Kennedy's speech calling for new legislation is a hopeful response to years of struggle and a tribute to the dignity and courage of tens of thousands of Black men and women, boys and girls, who are defiantly demanding their freedom.

No effective, race-related civil rights legislation has passed Congress since the end of Reconstruction in 1878. In the House, southern Democrats and conservative Republicans often block or weaken bills that address race or increase government regulation. And in the Senate, segregationist southerners control the powerful committees, and if necessary the "Southern Bloc" can filibuster a bill to death.

Drafting the Bill

Immediately after his June 11, 1963, speech, Kennedy orders the Justice Department to draft proposed legislation. In eight days of intensive work overseen by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, they craft a bill that they send to Congress on June 19. It covers topics such as voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation, some new agencies, and an end to race-discrimination in federal programs. It does NOT include any protection against police brutality, ending discrimination in private employment, or granting the Justice Department power to initiate desegregation or job discrimination lawsuites.

A House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Emmanuel Celler (D-NY) holds extensive hearings. They amend the President's draft, strengthening it by adding a ban on overt race discrimination in private employment, providing greater protection to Black voters, eliminating segregation in all publicly-owned facilities (not just schools), and expanding the anti-segregation clauses.

And they add authorization for the Attorney General to file lawsuits to protect individuals against the deprivation of any rights secured by the Constitution or U.S. law. In essence, this is the famous "Title III" that had been gutted out of the 1957 and 1960 Acts. For years now, the Department of Justice and FBI have claimed they do not have statutory authority to go to court on their own to protect Blacks and civil rights workers from police brutality and false arrest; nor, they say, do they have authority to step in when local police refuse to protect Blacks from atrocities such as the Birmingham Church Bombing. But such authority is not included in the original bill sent to Congress by Kennedy. One of the main points of John Lewis' speech at the March on Washington in August was the absence of this provision: "Unless Title III is put in this bill, there's nothing to protect the young children and old women who must face police dogs and fire hoses in the South while they engage in peaceful demonstration."

The subcommittee's revised bill is then submitted to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration. On October 15 and 16, Attorney General Robert Kennedy offers secret testimony in executive session. He urges them to soften the bill because the administration fears the subcommittee's draft is too strong to pass in the Senate. He convinces them to water down anti-segregation enforcement and drop the authorization for the Department of Justice to initiate lawsuits regarding deprivation of civil rights. The revised bill that is finally reported out of the Judiciary Committee is stronger than the President's original draft, but weaker than the subcommittee's version.

The draft bill then goes to the Rules Committee, which is chaired by Howard Smith (D-VA), a staunch segregationist. He stalls action on the bill, just as he did with the Civil Rghts Act of 1960. When Kennedy is assasinated on November 22nd, the bill is still blocked in the Rules Committee. In his first address to Congress as the new president, Johnson calls for passage of the civil rights bill as a monument to the fallen President. Richard Bolling (D-MO) introduces a discharge petition to force the bill from the Rules Committee, but gathers few signatures until LBJ begins mobilizing political support and applying pressure to both Democrats and Republicans.

Congress shuts down for the winter recess at the end of 1963 with the petition close to the 218 votes it needs. Emmanuel Celler, the bill's floor manager, officially files the petition while signatures continue to be gathered. Smith fears the humiliation of being overruled and begins to waver. When Congress reconvenes in January, Representatives from outside the South have heard from their constituents and discovered that the Freedom Movement has had an effect, public support for the bill is building and people want to know where their Representatives stand. With the petition on the verge of success, Smith allows the bill out of his committee.

Adding Women to the Bill

The House debates the bill for nine days. Almost 100 amendments are proposed to either substantially weaken it, or add "poison-pill" provisions that will doom it in the Senate. All are beaten back.

Then, on February 8th, at a sparsely attended Saturday session with the final vote looming near, Howard Smith offers an amendment to also prohibit sex-discrimination in the employment section known as "Title VII." Representative Carl Elliott (D-AL) later explained, "Smith didn't give a damn about women's rights ... he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn't favor women's rights."

Smith's amendment is greeted by hoots of laughter from the floor:

Smith read a letter — "to show you how some of the ladies feel about discrimination against them" — he claimed to have received from a Nebraska woman upset about the nation's "surplus of spinsters." He explained through interruptions of howling laughter her tart demand that Congress equalize the sexual ratio in the population, and recited her indignant charge that "instead of assisting these poor unfortunate females in obtaining their 'right' to happiness, the Government has on several occasions engaged in wars which killed off a large number of eligible males." [2]

Other Southerners pile on. Congressman George Andrews (D-AL) shouts, "Unless this amendment is adopted white women of this country would be drastically discriminated against in favor of a Negro woman!" Celler tries to kill the amendment with ridicule, belittling it as uncessary because of the "delightful accord" that has prevailed in his own household for fifty years. "I usually have the last two words, and those words are, 'Yes, dear.'"

Then the female members of the House — there are only 12 — rise to defend the amendment on its merits rather than as a southern trick to kill the bill. Martha Griffiths (D-MI) declares "...a vote against this amendment today by a white man is a vote against his wife, or his daughter, or his sister." Katherine St. George (R-NY) argues: "We are entitled to this little crumb of equality. The addition of that little, terryfing word, 's-e-x,' will not hurt this legislation in any way."

Suddenly, what had been a ploy to both mock the bill and poison its passage in the Senate explodes into passionate debate over gender, equality, and the meaning of justice. The amendment passes by a vote of 168-133 and the clause is revised to read: "prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin."

[Historic note — In the decades that follow, the emerging womens' movement uses the addition of "sex" in Title VII to force profound changes in the status of women. While today women are still paid less than men, the gap has significantly narrowed in large part due to the legal effect of Title VII. Entire occupations that were once explicitly male-only are now open to women. "Discrimination" has been expanded to include sexual harassment on the job. But the gender provision of Title VII continues to be controversial in areas as disparate as college-funding of womens' sports, contraceptive health costs, and affirmative action.]

The House Passes the Bill

After 70 days of public hearings, 275 witnesses, 5,792 pages of public testimony, and close to 100 proposed amendments, the bill is brought to a vote in the House on February 10, 1964. It passes by a vote of 290 to 130 and is sent to the Senate.

See Civil Rights Bill — Battle in the Senate for continuation.

For more information on Civil Rights Acts:
Books: Civil Rights Legislation
Web: Civil Rights Act — 1964 for web links.

 

Freedom Day in Canton (Feb)

Canton, Mississippi, is the seat of Madison County, a short drive north of Jackson. Blacks make up 72% of the county's population, but only 1% of them are registered to vote (compared to 97% of the white population). In early 1964, Canton and Meridian are the two main centers of CORE organizing in Mississippi.

February 28 is Freedom Day in Canton. On a chill winter morning, 150 Blacks march from the CORE Freedom House to the county courthouse to register to vote. Some 250 more come in from the county by car, foot, and mule-drawn wagon, to form one of the largest voting-rights demonstrations in Mississippi to date. For five hours they wait in the cold. They are harassed and threatend by 50 law enforcement officers armed with shotguns and tear gas. Only five of the 400 or so Blacks are admitted to the Registrars office to take the literacy test.

A few days later, 2,600 Black students stage a one-day class boycott to protest the appalling conditions of their segregated schools. Fifteen CORE and SNCC organizers are arrested for leading the protest.

For more information on the Hattiesburg and Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books:
     Faces of Freedom Summer
     Mississippi Movement.
Web: Hattiesburg MS, Movement for web links.

 

St. Augustine FL Movement — 1964
Photos

See St. Augustine FL, Movement — 1963 for preceding events.

The Situation

Tourism is St. Augustine's most important source of income, and in 1964 the city's white power-structure is busy preparing lavish festivities to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the town's founding in 1565. But St. Augustine is still thoroughly segregated, and they intend to hold a segregated celebration, with Blacks kept firmly "in their place."

Back in mid-1963, St. Augustine's Black community had begun nonviolent protests against the pervasive segregation. They were met with arrests and Ku Klux Klan violence. After the Klan threatened to murder movement leader Dr. Robert Hayling, he declared he would defend himself. When KKK night-riders attacked Lincolnville — St. Augustine's Black community — residents returned fire and a Klansman was killed. NAACP activist Rev. Goldie Eubanks and three others were indicted for murder. Disturbed by Hayling's militancy and his support for self-defense, the national NAACP removed him from office. Hayling, Eubanks, Henry & Katherine "Kat" Twine, and other freedom fighters then left the NAACP and contacted SCLC for assistance. (See St. Augustine Movement — 1963.)

Dr. King answers St. Augustine's call and the St. Augustine Chapter of SCLC is formed. With a filibuster now blocking the Civil Rights Bill in the Senate, and opponents trying to reframe the debate as one of states-rights and government regulation of business rather than human rights and social justice, SCLC seeks to keep the focus on racism, segregation, and the brutality of the Jim Crow system. Just as the children of Birmingham dramatized the issues in 1963, SCLC and the Black citizens of St. Augustine are determined to keep the freedom fires hot in '64.

Sit-ins and Mass Arrests

With Hayling as its President, SCLC's new St. Augustine chapter renews protests against segregation and KKK violence, calling for:

1. An ongoing biracial committee to address long-standing issues of discrimination
2. An end to segregation of public accommodations
3. Hiring of Black policemen, firemen, and city workers
4. Dropping the charges against those arrested for nonviolently exercising their right of free speech to protest against injustice.

At the suggestion of Rev. C.T. Vivian — SCLC's Director of Affiliates — Hayling requests help from SCLC supporters in New England. Clergy, college chaplains from Smith and Amherst, seminarians, and students from colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Mount Holyoke come to St. Augustine over spring break to support the protests. SCLC staff members Bernard Lee and Rev. Hosea Williams (who had led the Savannah Movement) are assigned to support Hayling's campaign and provide greater training in nonviolence.

Lee and Williams lead a large protest on March 26th, and two days later more than 25 people are arrested for sitting-in at segregated establishments. Mrs. Barbara Allen asks to be served, "Coffee, black like me," and is immediately arrested. She is placed in the back of a car next to a snarling police dog and charged with, "Inciting a riot" and "Conspiracy to overthrow the American Government." Day by day the arrests mount. Most of those arrested are Black citizens of St. Augustine, but some are northern supporters including a delegation of Rabbis. In counterpoint, segregationist whites terrorize the few white-owned businesses that seem ready to serve Blacks.

More allies arrive from the North, among them the wives of three prominent Episcopal Bishops — one of them is Mrs. Mary Parkman Peabody, 72 years old, whose son is Governor of Massachusetts. Mrs. Esther Burgess, wife of America's first Black Episcopal Bishop, is arrested with Hayling and others at a restaurant. More than 150 Black high-school students, along with some northern supporters, nonviolently march and they are all arrested.

When they ask to be served at the Ponce de Leon Restaurant, Mrs. Peabody, two other northerners, and five Black women from St. Augustine — Mrs. Georgia Mae Reed, Mrs. Nellie Mitchell, Mrs. Lillian Roberson, Miss Kuter Eubanks, and Mrs. Rosalie Phelps — are arrested for being "undesirable guests" and "conspiracy." As Mrs. Peabody is being locked in a cell, Movement leader Mrs. Katherine ("Kat") Twine who had been arrested earlier tells her: "You look just like Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt." "We are cousins," replies Peabody who refuses to post bail and remains in jail for two nights until those arrested with her can be bonded out.

The arrest of Mrs. Peabody, Yale Chaplain William Sloan Coffin, and other prominent northerners creates a media sensation far greater than the coverage given to the arrests of more than 300 Black protesters. Newspaper, TV, and radio journalists flock to St. Augustine and events there are reported side-by-side with the ongoing filibuster in the U.S. Senate.

Misdemeanor bail for protesters is raised to the astronomical sum of $3,000 each (equal to about $22,000 in 2012), more than the Movement can possibly pay, and demonstrators are caged in an outdoor "chicken coop" beneath the blazing sun with little water and no sanitation facilities. When spring break ends, the students and campus chaplins return to New England. Spirits fall. Hundreds have endured jail, faced vicious police dogs, been burned by cattle prods, and suffered from KKK brutality, yet nothing has changed. The city's white power- structure still refuses to even meet with Black citizens, much less end segregation. Attendance at mass meetings dwindles and few are willing to be arrested on new sit-ins.

"We're Gonna March in St. Augustine Tonight — My Lord!"

By mid-May, the civil rights bill is still stalled by the Senate filibuster with no end in sight. St. Augustine Mayor Joe Shelley, a supporter of the extreme right-wing John Birch Society, assures reporters that there are no racial problems in his city and in the Black community morale is at low ebb. Though some advisors urge Dr. King to shift his attention elsewhere, SCLC commits to a major nonviolent direct-action campaign in St. Augustine. Additional staff are sent in, Hayling and local SCLC activists renew their community organizing, nonviolent training workshops are resumed, and energy begins to revive. On May 18, Dr. King addresses a large mass meeting, lifting their spirits and challenging them to meet the test of history. Someone has to step up and break the logjam in the Senate, someone has to turn the debate back to racial justice and human rights. It's time to march against segregation in St. Augustine.

But the Ku Klux Klan has its eyes on the Senate too, and it also makes plans. Klan leaders believe that if they can provoke enough turmoil and violence in St Augustine, moderate and conservative Senators will reject the civil rights bill for fear of massive white rebellion and racial strife. The Klan mobilizes to meet nonviolent Blacks with mob attack. St. Johns County Sheriff L.O. Davis is a committed segregationist often seen in the company of local KKK leader "Hoss" Manucy. It is clear he will do little to protect Black or white protesters from white attack.

Dr. King moves into a St. Augustine cottage. On the 26th, he addresses a large mass meeting, after which Rev. C.T. Vivian and Dr. Hayling lead 400 St. Augustine Blacks and a handful of northern white supporters on a night march to the Old Slave Market in the middle of the city's tourist district. Night marches allow adults with jobs to participate after work, but they are more dangerous because hostile whites can attack under cover of darkness with little risk of being identified or arrested.

Whites harass the march from the sidelines, but lawmen keep the two groups apart. On the following night, the number opposing the protesters grows to 150, but again police prevent serious violence. By the third night, May 28th, the mob has grown to 250. They viciously beat white reporters covering the campaign and SCLC staff member Harry Boyte is clubbed by a sheriff's deputy and bitten by a police dog. Klansmen charge into the marchers, pummeling them with blackjacks and whipping them with chains. Sheriff Davis and Police Chief Stuart declare "martial law." They order SCLC leader Andrew Young to halt further demonstrations. That night, the KKK riddles Dr. King's cottage with rifle fire, unaware that he is out of town on a speaking engagement, and other gunmen fire on Harry Boyte, narrowly missing him.

Movement lawyers file suit in Federal Court to prevent Davis from blocking the marches. 300 Klan members hold a rally outside of town and threaten to kill Dr. King. A few nights later, arsonists destroy King's cottage with a firebomb. Hayling increases the number of riflemen protecting Lincolnville and he also assigns armed sentinels to guard Dr. King when he spends the night in St. Augustine. As had been the case elsewhere in similar circumstances, King objects that armed protection violates his personal commitment to Gandhian nonviolence. And also as elsewhere, his objections are ignored by the Black community who respect his personal refusal to engage in any form of violence, but insist on their right to defend their community — including him — from night riders and KKK assassins.

On June 9 — the same day that the cloture motion is filed to break the filibuster in the Senate — Federal judge Bryan Simpson issues an order requiring Sheriff Davis to permit freedom marches and protect them from violence. He resets bail for arrested demonstrators to the normal $100 each, and commands Davis to cease "cruel and unusual punishment" such as the chicken coop cage or forcing prisoners into concrete sweat-boxes. That evening, night marches to the Old Slave Market resume and once again the demonstrators are attacked by a white mob.

On June 10th, the Senate filibuster is finally broken. With bond reduced, the Movement can finally bail out protesters who have been held for as many as 10 days in the sweltering "chicken coop." That night, 400 protesters march again to the Old Slave Market where a large white mob awaits them. The Klan still hopes that violence can defeat the Civil Rights Bill on its final vote. Bricks are hurled at the marchers and Andrew Young is beaten to the ground by a man wielding a blackjack. SCLC staff member Willie Bolden covers Young with his own body, receiving the blows on his back as nonviolent protesters are trained to do. Another Klansman attacks Boston University Chaplain Will England, one of the few whites on the march, knocking him down and kicking him savagely until a young Black boy throws his body across the chaplain's to protect him. The cops do not arrest any of the white assailants. Half a dozen marchers require hospital care for their injuries.

The next day Dr. King, Rev. Abernathy, Bernard Lee, and seven others are arrested at the Monson Motor Lodge restaurant for the crime of attempting to order lunch while being Black. The Monson is one of the main tourist motels on the bay front and among its guests are many members of the national press corps. The owner is president of the Florida Hotel and Motel Association and he explains that the only exception he allows to segregation is that Negro servants are premitted to eat in the kitchen while their white employers dine in the restaurant. That night, St. Augustine Blacks again defy Hoss Mauncy's mob of Klansmen by marching to the Slave Market where they endure repeated attack.

While Dr. King and many others remain in jail, night marches to the Slave Market and day-time sit-ins and other protesters continue. Blacks by the dozens are arrested for the smallest transgression against segregation while white mobs are allowed to continue their assaults. With so many freedom fighters from St. Augustine's tiny Black community held in jail, Rev. Shuttlesworth brings in a busload of Movement veterans from Birmingham to bolster their ranks. Reinforcements from SCLC headquarters and other southern towns also come to St. Augustine's aid.

Commenting later, SCLC march leader Dorothy Cotton described St. Augustine in June and July of 1964:

This was about the roughest city we've had — 45 straight nights of beatings and intimidation. In church every night we'd see people sitting there with bandages on. Some would sit with shotguns between their legs. We marched regularly at night. We kept being ordered not to march, especially at night because it was so dangerous. We sang before we went out to get up our courage. The Klan was always waiting for us — these folk with the chains and bricks and things. Hoss Manucy and his gang. After we were attacked we'd come back to the church, and somehow we'd always come back bleeding, singing.... — Dorothy Cotton. [3]

J.B. Stoner, comes to St. Augustine to rally segregationist resistance to the Civil Rights Bill. Archleader & Imperial Wizard of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Chairman of the National States Rights Party, he is an extreme racist and anti-Semite (some years later he is convicted and serves prison time for bombing Rev. Shuttlesworth's church in Birmingham). On June 12th, he tells the white mob, "When [the Founding Fathers] said all men were created equal, they weren't talking about niggers....We're not gonna be put in chains by no civil rights bill, now or any other time!"

Stoner then leads the mob in a march through the Black community with Confederate flags and racist signs. To protect them from expected Black retaliation, police and sheriff's deputies armed with rifles and shotguns march alongside them. There are no streetlights in Lincolnville — the all-white city council has no interest in providing services to Blacks — so the phalanx of cops nervously shine their light beams into every dark corner, porch, and patch of shrubbery.

SCLC and local Movement leaders understand that Stoner is trying to provoke a violent response from the Black community in order to discredit the Freedom Movement, set up local activists for felony arrests, and derail the civil rights bill still under consideration in the Senate. They meet the Klan's provocation with disciplined nonviolence. Reporter Pat Watters described the scene:

When this strange procession, with the armed troopers flashing lights to both sides, their police dogs barking, reached the entrance to the Negro neighborhood, a sign greeted them: "Welcome. Peace and brotherhood to you."

On the second night, when the procession filed into the same street, it was lined on both sides by Negroes. Some held signs: 'I am an American ' ... 'Equality for all in '64.' They extended the length of the street, a good three blocks, outnumbering the white marchers probably three to one. They were still, almost motionless. And as the procession of whites, with Confederate flags and big American flag, and their own signs  — 'Kill the Civil Rights Bill' ... 'Put George Wallace on the Supreme Court' ... 'Don't Tread on Me' .... went by, the Negroes sang their song: 'I Love Everybody.'[4]

"Wade in the Water Children, God's Gonna Trouble the Water"

Day after day the sit-ins and arrests continue, night after night marchers brave Klan violence and defy police repression at the Old Slave Market. White Rabbis from the north and Black freedom fighters from North Carolina arrive to join Augustinians on the line and in the cells. On June 18th, while a group of Rabbis led by Shuttlesworth and C.T. Vivian are being arrested for praying outside the segregated Monson Motor Lodge, two white civil rights supporters who have rented rooms at the motel invite several Black children to join them in the swimming pool as their guests. Images of motel owner James Brock pouring acid into the pool to force them out are broadcast around the world. The next day the same images in the morning papers confront Senators on their way to the final showdown vote on the civil rights bill.

On June 19, the Senate passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there are still two more weeks of legislative process before it becomes law. Meanwhile, the struggle continues in St. Augustine. Brock drains and refills the Monson pool to cleanse it of pollution from Black swimmers. He posts guards to prevent any repeat integration and hoists a Confederate flag to express his sentiments. On the march to the Slave Market that night, sheriffs and city police continue to ally themselves with the Klan, arresting nonviolent march leaders Andrew Young, C.T. Vivian, and Hosea Williams while ignoring the violent assaults by whites.

The day after the bill passes the Senate, an integrated group led by SCLC's Dorothy Cotton attempts to use one of St. Augustine's "white only" beaches. The beach is in a state park, and thus under state jurisdiction rather than the city or county. Whites mobilized by Klan leader Hoss Manucy brutally attack the Black and white protesters. They know there is no longer any hope of preventing the civil rights bill from becoming law, but they still believe they can keep Blacks "in their place" through violence and intimidation. They are shocked and outraged when the Florida Highway Patrol (all of whom are white) intervene to protect the injured Blacks. Said Manucy, "I can't understand why any white citizen would want to protect niggers against white people."

In the days that follow, integrated groups are repeatedly attacked on the beaches despite efforts by state lawmen to protect them. As Dorothy Cotton later recalled: "I remember the wade-ins because the bump hasn't gone off my jaw yet. They started yelling obscenities at us, but we went on — myself and a group of teen-age girls. We were afraid but we felt we just had to go on."

As the civil rights bill continues through the legislative process, violent attacks against beach wade-ins and the night marches to the Slave Market continue. On the 25th, the State Troopers of the Highway Patrol threaten for the first time to arrest whites who harm swimmers on the beach. Ignoring the order, the mob attacks Shuttlesworth and an integrated group of protesters. When the Highway Patrolmen try to make arrests, the Klansmen resist and a trooper strikes one with his club. "They didn't beat the niggers!" shrieks a white women in outraged disbelief. That night, a huge mob of 500 is mobilized by the Ku Klux Klan at the Slave Market to assault the march. The outnumbered state police are overwhelmed, one is shot, and the marchers are beaten with savage brutality, 40 are wounded and require medical care, 19 are battered unconscious and hospitalized.

Florida Governor Farris Bryant issues an emergency decree banning night marches to "prevent anarchy." His order violates Simpson's ruling permitting demonstrations. Caught between rising violence in St. Augustine and the threat of being cited for contempt of Federal court, Bryant resorts to a desperate ploy — he announces formation of a secret biracial committee to mediate the St. Augustine crises. With final enactment of the Civil Rights Act now just days away — and with it an end to segregated public facilities — appointment of a biracial committee is the key remaining issue. Mayor Shelley and the local white power-structure are stunned by the Governor's announcement, they remain adamantly opposed to even meeting with Black leaders, much less accepting them on a formal committee. King, Hayling, and other Movement leaders welcome the announcement. As a show of good faith, they agree to suspend all protests for two weeks and withdraw their complaint from Federal court to give the committee a chance to succeed.

Implementing the Act

But the Governor's biracial committee does not exist. His announcement is a flat-out lie, a successful maneuver to end demonstrations and avoid being cited for contempt of Federal court. By the time this becomes evident, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been signed into law on July 2nd. St. Augustine's business leaders meet and reluctantly agree that they have no choice but to obey the new Act. They vote to end their "white only" policies, but they fear Klan retaliation if they serve Blacks. Assurances are given that police have the situation well in hand. Two days later, on July 4th, the Klan rallies and marches against integration. The next day they attack Blacks trying to use previously "white only" facilities.

But the courage of St. Augustine's Blacks is legendary. They don't back down, and some are served in previously segregated motels and diners. On July 9th, the Klan begins picketing the Monson and other establishments that have accepted Black customers. Waving Confederate flags and carrying signs proclaiming "Niggers Ate Here," Manucy, Stoner, and racist orator Connie Lynch, intensify pressure on integrated businesses. Within days, most motels and restaurants resume operating on a "white only" basis, telling officials that the Klan will retaliate violently against anyone who obeys the Civil Rights Act. Black leader Henry Twine is attacked by whites who beat him and try to drag him from his car when he meets with a motel manager to discuss integration.

The St. Augustine SCLC chapter threatens to resume sit-ins and protests, and they petition for a court order forcing compliance with the Act. The local grand jury names 10 members to a biracial committee, but fear of Klan retaliation causes four of the five white members to quickly withdraw and the committee never meets. Judge Simpson issues an injunction requiring compliance with the Act and the owners agree to reintegrate their facilities. Klan arsonists firebomb the Monson Motel and the businessmen change their minds again, returning to segregation. On August 5th, Simpson issues an order against Hoss Manucy and the Klan barring them from interfering with desegregated businesses.

Slowly, over months, the persistent courage of St. Augustine's Black community and the slow but ponderous weight of the Federal judiciary grinds down segregationist resistance. The Klan cannot stand against the Federal government when it finally bestirs itself in defense of Black civil rights — at least insofar as segregated lunch counters are concerned. Restaurants and motels are eventually integrated, and the tourists who had avoided St. Augustine during its year of racial strife return. Some of them are Black.

But the cost of freedom is high. Some of those beaten by Klan and cops are injured for life, many Blacks have lost their jobs in retaliation for marching or sitting-in, Dr. Hayling's dental practice is bankrupt, hundreds still face trial and possible jail sentences, and racial tensions remain. Overt, legally-sanctioned, segregation and racial discrimination slowly comes to an end — or more accurately, it is driven underground. Covert, defacto segregation and discrimination remain a focus of struggle and conflict to the present day.

St. Augustine — Some Important Points

For more information on the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Florida Movement
Web:
     St. Augustine Movement
     St. Augustine Movement for additional web links.
Personal stories from the St. Augustine Movement:
     Barbara Barnes Allen
     George Conway A Matter of Honor
     Hattie & James White

 

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Founded (April)

See Freedom Ballot in MS and Freedom Day in Hattiesburg for preceding events.

In 1964, Mississippi is still the poorest state in the union. Close to half (45%) of its people are Black, but less than 5% are registered to vote — the lowest ratio in the nation. And most of those Blacks who have managed to register are concentrated in Jackson or along the Gulf Coast — in some of the rural counties of the interior not a single Black is registered, in others no more than a handful. After two and a half years of desperate and courageous struggle, after two and a half years of enduring the firings and evictions of economic terrorism, after two and a half years of beatings, jailings, shootings, bombings, and assasinations; after McComb, Greenwood, Jackson, the Delta, the Freedom Ballot, and Freedom Day in Hattiesburg, the Movement has managed to register no more than a few hundred new voters.

For two and a half years the Movement has tried to register voters using the established system — teaching Blacks to pass the literacy test, going down to the courthouse, and asking the Federal government to enforce the Constitution and existing civil rights laws. But no matter how capable or well prepared the Black applicants are, the county voter registrars always find ways to deny them, and Washington does nothing effective to protect Black voting rights. But failure is not an option. When one strategy fails, try another. So a new concept emerges —  One Man One Vote — the principle that every citizen has a right to vote regardless of education. In the Fall of 1963, the Freedom Ballot tests that approach and more than 80,000 Blacks risk life and livelihood to participate.

The official, or "regular," Democratic Party in Mississippi is white-only and pro-segregation. (See, for example, Mississippi State Democratic Party Platform, 1960.) They bar Blacks from participating in party primaries and party activities. Since Mississippi is a "solid South" state which always elects the Democratic nominee for each and every office (except President if the Democratic candidate is insufficiently pro-segregation), by denying Blacks access to party activities they effectively prevent non-whites from exercising any share of political power.

The national Democratic Party makes no effective effort to oppose these white-only schemes or ensure that all citizens have equal access to its political process. At the March on Washington in 1963, SNCC chairman John Lewis asked "...the party of Kennedy is also the party of Eastland. The party of Javits is also the party of Goldwater. Where is our party?"

At a COFO meeting on February 9, 1964, Bob Moses of SNCC answers Lewis' question by proposing a sophisticated dual strategy, the key component of which is creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The MFDP is to be a party open to all races (though only a few whites ever join). Anyone will be able to register as a Freedom Democrat at any time and place on a One-Man-One-Vote basis with no tests or qualifications other than age and citizenship. Everyone who joins the MFDP will be free to participate in its processes regardless of whether or not they are registered to vote. While attempts to register Blacks using the official process will continue to build the case of voting-rights denial and continue to pressure Washington, a parallel "freedom registration" campaign will build the MFDP. Central to the new party's mission is providing a framework for community organizing to win political power. And when the national Democratic Party convenes in Atlantic City in August to choose its nominee for the 1964 Presidential Election, the MFDP will challenge the "official" white-only Mississippi delegation — and the national party itself — by demanding that the MFDP be recognized as the only legitimate Democratic Party organization in the state.

But for two and a half years, Mississippi Blacks have endured and struggled in isolation with small success and little support from outside. In Washington, the civil rights bill is still blocked by the Senate filibuster, and in any case the administration has stripped out all meaningful voting-rights provisions so even if it does eventually pass it will provide no protection for Blacks who want to vote in Mississippi (or any other Deep South state). Across the region, Movement moral is at low ebb, and turnout for the April 26th meeting in Jackson to officialy establish the MFDP is disappointing.

Nevertheless, Movement activists carry on. They are the "Winter Soldiers," the ones who never give up, the ones who fight on through deepest snow and darkest night. In May they try to attend precinct and county meetings of the all-white "official" party. When they are barred, they hold their own MFDP meetings to qualify four candidates for the June 2nd Democratic Party primary election — including Victoria Gray for Senator and Fannie Lou Hamer for Congress. With Blacks unable to vote, all four are overwhelmingly defeated. But their effort strengthens the case against the "official" party, and continues building support for recognizing both the necessity and the legitimacy of the MFDP.

See Mississippi Summer Project for continuation.

For more information:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web:
   Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
   Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
   Mississippi Movement

 

Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) (April)

Meeting in Nashville on April 4th, 50 students from 15 all-white (or overwhelmingly white) southern colleges found the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), stating:

Most of the SSOC founders had been active in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and other forms of nonviolent direct-action with SNCC and CORE. Back in the Fall of 1961, SCEF had given a $5,000 grant to SNCC for work with white southern students. SNCC staff member Bob Zellner — son of an Alabama minister and also an officer of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) — was assigned to this project. Zellner recruited SNCC staffer members Sam Shirah — another Alabama minister's son — and Ed Hamlett to continue the work when Zellner returned to school in 1963. Moved by media coverage of sit-ins, Freedom Rides, voter registration, and atrocities such as the Birmingham church bombing, more white students became willing to face social ostracism by defying the segregation system, irate parents, and racist school administrations.

At its founding meeting, SSOC adopts 5 goals that go well beyond a narrow definition of civil rights:

  1. Not only an end to segregation and racism but the rise of full and equal opportunity for all.
  2. An end to personal poverty and deprivation.
  3. An end to the "public poverty" which leaves us without decent schools, parks, medical care, housing, and communities.
  4. A democratic society where politics poses meaningful dialog and choices about issues that affect men's lives, not manipulation by vested elites.
  5. A place where industries and large cities can blend into farms and natural rural splendor to provide meaningful work and leisure opportunities for all — the sort of society we can all live in and believe in.

At a following meeting in November there are 125 students from 43 colleges in 10 southern states. In the following years, SSOC continues its activities until 1969, primarily working on civil rights and student rights (university reform) issues. And during this period, many SSOC members and students influenced by them, participate as individuals in a broad range of Freedom Movement activities organized by SNCC, CORE, SCLC and other organizations. Activists associated with SSOC also play leading roles in the development of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the south.

For more information:
Documents: SSOC Documents
Books: Struggle for a Better South: Southern Student Organizing Committee, 1964-1969
Web: Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC)

 

Cambridge MD & the "White Backlash"

See Cambridge MD — 1963 for preceding events.

During the first half of 1964, the Maryland National Guard continues to occupy Cambridge, preventing violent clashes between the white and Black communities by protecting the Black 2nd Ward from attack by white racists. With the civil rights bill still before Congress, the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) continues to observe the protest moratorium agreed to in the "Treaty of Cambridge" even though the town remains segregated because the public accommodations measure was overturned by a public referendum. All sides are now watching Congress to see if the bill passes. If the bill becomes law, the referendum is moot and overt, legally-sanctioned segregation ends. (See Cambridge MD — 1963.)

Meanwhile, the political forces behind the pro-segregation referendum are growing stronger. The all-white Dorchester Business & Citizens Association (DBCA) continues to mobilize and direct a powerful new bloc of poor and working-class white voters. DBCA leaders claim they are not racist or anti-Black, but DBCA politicians try to block distribution of free food commodities to the poorest of the poor who are mostly Black, and they oppose any initiative or program that might result in what they decry as "forced integration."

The rise of the DBCA in Cambridge and the success of their segregation referendum are not isolated events. The DBCA is an early example of an emerging political force that comes to be known as the "white backlash." Across the nation, racist and conservative political leaders are inciting and mobilizing whites who resent and oppose economic, civil, social, or political gains by Blacks and other racial minorities. Over time, white-backlash politics coalesce nationwide around a series of inter-related themes designed to convince whites that they are the innocent victims of an oppressive Federal government subservient to minority groups who are demanding special benefits and privileges at their expense:

Though the mass-media seizes on the "white backlash" as some new and astounding political phenomena, in reality it is just a new, more virulent form of the traditional "race card" strategy of pitting whites against Blacks. Those with wealth and power have always used such divide-and-conquer tactics to oppose voting rights, labor unions, economic reform, and other progressive social issues. In Cambridge, for example, the DBCA's rhetoric builds their base among working-class whites, but the two main DBCA leaders are themselves far from poor or downtrodden — they own large and successful businesses — one is in oil distribution and the other a beer distributor.

In the Spring of 1964, Alabama Governor George Wallace runs against President Johnson in three states for the Democratic Party nomination. He knows he cannot possibly win, but he and his supporters hope that a white-backlash campaign will garner enough support in the North to intimidate fence-sitting Senators and prevent them from ending the southern filibuster against the civil rights bill. Though he fails to prevent passage of the Civil Rights Act, he wins 34% of the Democratic vote in Wisconsin and 30% in Indiana. The media is astonished, Wallace is elated, and civil rights supporters are dismayed at the size of the white-backlash vote.

Maryland is the third state in which Wallace runs in the Democratic primary on a white-backlash platform. He is quickly endorsed by the DBCA in Cambridge who invite him to address a major rally at the segregated RFC Arena which had been a target of protests in 1963 and is still being operated on a "white-only" basis. CNAC is determined to protest this pro-Wallace, pro-segregation, white-backlash assembly. They call in supporters from across the region to join them in a march to the arena on the night of the event.

On May 11, 1964, more than 2,000 whites (no Blacks allowed) rally at the Arena to hear Wallace condemn the civil rights bill and orate on white-backlash themes. 500 Black and white protesters march from the Elks Hall in the Black 2nd Ward towards the Arena. Among them are Black and white students from regional colleges and SNCC leaders Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Cleveland Sellers, and H. Rap Brown.

The marchers are prevented from crossing Race Street (the dividing line between the Black and white communities) by 400 members of the Maryland National Guard armed with rifles and bayonets. Normally, the Guard is commanded by General Gelston who is respected by CNAC and the Black community for his fair and professional conduct. But on this night Colonel Tawes — nephew of Maryland Governor Millard Tawes — is in charge. Though the marchers are peaceful, he orders them to disperse. Movement leader Gloria Richardson refuses. If whites can hold pro-segregation rallies, Blacks must have the right to protest. Tawes arrests her. The marchers sit down on the pavement and continue singing.

Tawes orders the Guard to attack the nonviolent protesters and drive them back into the 2nd Ward. An oddly dressed soldier moves forward out of the ranks. He's wearing a gas mask and has two cylinders strapped to his back. "He looked like a vacuum cleaner salesman from outer space," recalled SNCC photographer Danny Lyon. The soldier sprays a chemical directly on the sitting demonstrators. Kwame Ture (Stokeley Carmichael) is hit in the face by the first blast: "The cloud envelopes those of us in front first, and after that I can see nothing. Instantly my eyes, nasal passages, throat and lungs are afire. I cannot breathe. I rembember thinking, this is it now, I'm dying. Then nothing..." Rushed to hospital by Cleve Sellers, he remains unconscious until the following morning.

Choking from the searing gas — which may have been a military agent being field tested on the nonviolent protesters — the marchers desperately try to fend off the advancing soldiers now pushing with their rifles and prodding with their bayonets. People are choking, retching, sreaming in fear and agony, passing out. Those who can, retreat into the Black community which responds to the unprovoked attack with rage and fury. The next day, a 2 year old child living in the area is found dead. The Coroner rules his death to be from "natural causes," but many in the Black community are convinced he was killed by the cloud of noxious gas. Protests, arrests, gassings, and violent responses continue for several days.

State-wide, Wallace wins 45% of Democrats voting in the Maryland primary a few days later. Local candidates in Cambridge running on white-backlash platforms take control of the city. But in July, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is signed into law, and overt segregation in Cambridge comes to an end. Later that month, with integration of public accomodations now an accepted reality, the National Guard withdraws from Cambridge.

[Four years later, in 1968, Wallace runs for President on a white-backlash platform as the candidate of the American Independent Party. Nationally, he wins 14% of the vote, but he carries the Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and one district of North Carolina for 46 Electoral College votes. The Democratic Party's hold on the "Solid South" is broken.

Impressed by Wallace's success both nationally and in the South, Richard Nixon increasingly puts forward white-backlash themes and rhetoric. In 1972, he successfully adopts a "Southern Strategy" of winning white votes in the South the same way that Wallace did. As Republican strategist Kevin Phillips predicts, "Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans." In 1976, after Nixon and Ford are disgraced by Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, Jimmy Carter of Georgia temporarily regains the southern states for the Democrats. But in 1980, Ronald Reagan reinvigorates the Republican's "Southern Strategy" by announcing his candidacy and support for "States Rights" at the Neshoba County fair in Mississippi — the county where three freedom workers were lynched in 1964 — sending a clear signal that he supports white-backlash politics and that white-racists have a welcome home in the Republican Party.]

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert later sums up the "Southern Strategy" as follows: "The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the G.O.P.'s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks." [5]

See Cambridge MD — Black Power Speech for subsequent events.

For more information:
Books: Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge Maryland
Web: Cambridge MD Movement

 

Repression and Resistance in Tuscaloosa (June-Aug)
Photos

In the spring of 1964, "White Only" signs are posted for the restrooms at the brand-new county courthouse — breaking a promise made to the Black community during the campaign to raise the $3,000,000 for the new building. The Tuscaloosa Citizens for Action Committee (TCAC), an affiliate of SCLC, is the Black community's civil rights organization and this betrayal galvanizes them into renewed action. TCAC is led by Rev. T.Y. Rogers, and his church, First African Baptist, is the Freedom Movement's Tuscaloosa headquarters. SCLC sends in field staff to assist Rogers and to conduct training in nonviolent direct-action. Citizenship School teachers are recruited and trained, and they soon have voter education schools running in local churches and homes.

Several weeks of mass meetings, picket lines, sit-ins, protest marches, and a boycott of white merchants over job discrimination, fail to effect any changes — Tuscaloosa is still totally segregated. A large protest march is planned for Tuesday, June 9 — by coincidence, the same day that the cloture motion is filed to break the filibuster in the Senate. Tuscaloosa police chief William Marable illegally bans the protest. The crowd of more than 500 who gather at First African Baptist are mostly adult women and students from the Black high-school and Stillman College. They are tense. The church is surrounded by cops and deputized Klansmen carrying clubs and electric cattle-prods. Firemen are hooking up hoses to the hydrants. Birmingham is just 60 miles up the road, and those who had participated in the protests there a year earlier know what they face. But they are determined to march.

Two-by-two, the marchers file out of the church behind Rev. Rogers. Chief Marable confronts him: "Do you intend to march ...?"

"Yes," replies Rogers without hesitation.

"You're under arrest," shouts Marable, and Rogers is dragged off. Other TCAC leaders step forward and they are all arrested. But the Black students are not intimidated. They attempt to nonviolently get past the police cordon and are viciously attacked with clubs, cattle-prods, and brusing water blasts from the fire hoses. Most of the protesters retreat into the church, but with all the adult leaders now under arrest, a few teenagers throw some bottles at the police.

The cops assault the historic church — hand-built by former slaves and their descendants. They shatter the windows with high-pressure water and hurl tear-gas bombs into the packed sanctuary. Half blinded by the burning fumes, the protesters desperately try to escape the searing, choking, cloud. As they exit, police and deputies chase them, beating them bloody with clubs and fists. More than 90 demonstrators are knocked down and arrested, 34 require hospital treatment for wounds and lung damage.

The Black community is outraged at this vicious attack on women and young people. Scattered incidents of violence occur throughout the night.

Tuscaloosa (the "Druid City") is home and headquarters of Robert Shelton, Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, a violent terrorist organization that boasts 30,000 members across nine southern states. These are the Klansmen who brutally mobbed the Freedom Riders in 1961, murdered four little girls in the Birmingham Church Bombing of 1963, and later assasinated Viola Luizzo on the road from Selma in 1965. Crosses are burned to intimiate the Black community and death threats against Rev. Rogers and other TCAC leaders increase.

To protect the Black community and Movement activists from Klan violence, Black military veterans form a semi-secret, armed self-defense unit led by labor organizer Joseph Mallisham, a Korean War veteran. The unit is tightly organized and under strict discipline. Members of the unnamed unit must be married men and combat veterans who pledge to defend the Black community and civil rights activists — with their lives if necessary. They guard the homes of Movement leaders around the clock, Black teachers and others who cannot participate in protests for fear of being fired supply sandwiches and coffee to the guards.

The unit also guards white allies of the Movement. When attorney Alberta Murphy travels the rural roads of Tuscallosa County to teach voter-registration classes to rural Blacks, she is surreptiously followed by Black military veterans who make sure that she returns alive. Said Mallisham: "When we saw the way she went all over the country any time of day or night to instruct voters without any regard of danger, we knew that woman needed some kind of protection." [6]

A Federal judge orders the "White Only" signs removed from the courthouse on the grounds that they violate the 14th Amendment right to be free of "discrimination of any kind in the use and enjoyment of publicly-owned facilities." While Movement activists welcome the ruling, they wonder why for generations Federal Courts across the South had refused to enforce the 14th Amendment against segregation in public buildings. And they wonder why it has taken four long years of protests, beatings, and arrests across the South before the Federal courts are now — finally, at long last — willing to enforce an amendment that has been part of the Constitution for 96 years.

With passage of the Civil Rights Act in early July, Black students begin testing compliance. At some locations they are served, but at others rebuffed. Angry whites attack Blacks attempting to use segregated facilities. On July 8, a mob of 200 whites assault a group of Black teenagers with rocks and bottles as they leave the Druid theater. Two cars driven by the self-defense unit rescue the children. Klan snipers shoot at the cars, but they retreat when the Black men return fire. The next evening, the white Hollywood actor Jack Palance takes his family to the Druid for a movie. Expecting another attempt to integrate the theater, a white mob waits in ambush. Palance is heavily tanned, and the mob assumes he's a Black man with a white woman. The police have to use tear gas and water hoses to hold them back as they help the actor and his family escape.

Led by SCLC, nonviolent direct-action to test the Act and sustain the boycott continues. Mallisham's self-defense unit strikes a careful balance between security and provocation, guarding protesters against lethal Klan attack but not intervening unless lives are threatened. "Our membership was a membership of peace... violence would be a last resort, and that was stressed," Mallisham recalled later. He and other self-defense leaders consult regularly on mutual tactics with Rev. Rogers and nonviolent protest leaders. Members of the unit sit on the TCAC executive board. By the end of July, the Freedom Movement is strong and united in Tuscaloosa — courageous young people carry the protests, middle-class adults contribute funds and their political clout, and working-class combat veterans provide security.

Under legal threat, Tuscaloosa had officialy ended segregated seating on the city busses back in 1962, but the white drivers continued to enforce it by harassing and threatening Black riders who failed to sit at the back of the bus. On August 10, TCAC launches a bus boycott to demand courtesy from white drivers, an effective end to segregated seating, and the hiring of Black drivers. Among Blacks, who are the great majority of riders, the boycott is almost 100% effective. The private Druid City Transit Corporation is forced out of business. Finally, on April 12, 1965, the eight-month boycott is victorious, a new bus company with integrated seating and both Black and white drivers begins operation.

On March 12, 1965, some 1,200 men, women, and children — mostly Black, some white — gather at First African Baptist Church and then march downtown to protest the violence of "Bloody Sunday" in Selma a week earlier. In stark contrast to the brutal repression of June 9, Tuscaloosa police chief Marable allows them to march down the center of the street. His officers hold traffic until they pass, and a peaceful rally is held downtown. (Rev. Rogers goes on to become SCLC's Director of Affiliates, and in 1985 Joseph Mallisham is the first Black elected to the Tuscaloosa County Commission.)

For more information:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web:
     God, Gandhi, and Guns: The African American Freedom Struggle in Tuscaloosa
     First African Baptist Church

 

Civil Rights Bill — Battle in the Senate (March-June)

See Civil Rights Bill Passes in the House for preceding events.

The House version of the civil rights bill is delivered to the Senate in February. Everyone knows the real fight will be in the Senate. The arithmetic is daunting. The bill itself only needs 51 votes to pass, but under Senate rules, Senators can "filibuster" to prevent a vote being taken on a bill by talking it to death — if the bill can't be voted on, it can't be passed. The only way to stop a filibuster is with a "cloture" vote. But in 1964 it takes a two-thirds majority (67 votes) to pass a cloture motion — this means that if a minority of 34 Senators vote against cloture, the filibuster cannot be halted. The 11 states of the old Confederacy where segregation is deeply entrenched have 22 Senators (21 Democrats and 1 Republican) all of whom will vote against cloture and against any legislation that improves the status of Blacks. That leaves 78 Senators. If just 12 of those 78 vote against cloture the bill cannot pass — and among those 78, are 12 from border states where segregation is still common, and also many Republicans with a deep-seated aversion to government regulating business or interfering in "states rights."

[In the terminology of the 1960s, "states rights" has a well understood specific meaning. It refers to the "right" of states to maintain their "Southern way of life" of bigotry, segregation, and racial-oppression. A meaning that goes all the way back before the Civil War when southern plantation owners defended their "right" to enslave Blacks, and their "right" to secede from the union should anyone dare challenge or question slavery.]

To convince 67 Senators to vote for cloture, the Freedom Movement mounts a massive publicity and lobbying campaign — petitions, community meetings, constituent visits, and a wave of religious leaders of all faiths and colors calling on Congress. President Johnson also lobbies hard, using all of his considerable powers of persuasion and arm-twisting.

Where civil rights are concerned, there are three distinct voting blocs in the Senate: northern Democrats who support civil rights, Republicans who favor civil rights in the abstract but dislike government regulation as a matter of principle, and the "southern bloc" which is fiercely opposed to civil rights. Senators Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) head the northern Democrats. Mansfield is Senate Majority Leader and Humphrey is the bill's floor manager. On this issue, Everett Dirksen (R-IL) leads the Republicans. Richard Russell (D-GA) commands the "southern bloc" in opposing not only this particular civil rights bill, but any legislation that would improve the condition of Blacks. Russell makes their position clear: "We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states."

Normally, the bill would be sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee where the committee chair James Eastland (D-MS) would surely kill it. But Mansfield uses a parlimentary maneuver to avoid Senate committees altogether. After 16 days of procedural motions and political sparring, the Senate begins debating the bill on March 30. The Southern Bloc launches its filibuster. They form three platoons of Senators — while one platoon holds the floor with endless talk the other two rest and prepare. Humphrey and Senate Minority Whip Thomas Kuchel (R-CA) organize counter teams to stand on-call so that if the Southern Bloc tries to scuttle the bill with a quorum call they have the strength on hand to stop them.

Day after day, week after week, political battle rages in the Senate while men, women, and children in St. Augustine face racist mobs, police clubs, Klan terror, and packed jail cells. In St. Augustine, white mobs and club-wielding cops attack young Blacks who wade in the water of a "white" beach, and a sick racist throws acid on Black children in a motel swimming pool. In DC, Senator Russell proposes amending the civil rights bill to include a "Racial Relocation Commission" that will forcibly evict Blacks from the South and resettle them in northern states so that the proportion of races in each state is the same. He sets up a chart on the Senate floor showing that under his plan Alabama would round up and remove 637,263 Blacks while California would receive 776,445 and Alaska 16,976. "I favor inflicting on New York City, the city of Chicago, and other cities the same condition proposed to be inflicted by this bill on the people of the community of Winder, Georgia, where I live."

Neither side gives an inch. A small number of Republicans remain uncommitted, they are the crucial swing votes. Across the nation and around the world, people compare the courage and dignity of nonviolent Black and white protesters to segregationist violence in Florida and Southern Bloc bigotry in Washington. Public pressure in favor of the bill increases. And the parents of the northern students about to go down into Mississippi for Freedom Summer call and write their Senators, some of them wavering Republicans, to demand that something be done — Now!

In early May, Dirksen begins negotiating a compromise bill. It is a delicate task. He needs to weaken federal enforcement against job discrimination and segregation by private business enough to win the support of Republicans opposed to government regulation, yet not soften the bill so much that pro-civil rights forces can get the House to re-debate, and re-strengthen the compromise bill once the Senate finishes. On May 13 (the 52nd day of the filibuster) Dirksen, Humphrey, and Robert Kennedy agree on a substitute for the House draft. The main change is to give higher priority to voluntary compliance and greater private legal initiatives (as opposed to Federal intervention). Republican Senators Dirksen and Kuchel, and Democratic Senators Mansfield and Humphrey, co-sponsor the new bill. This agreement lays the foundation for eventually gaining enough votes for cloture.

Finally, on June 9th (the 72nd day of the filibuster), floor manager Humphrey believes (hopes) that he now has the votes. He files the cloture motion. But pro-segregation Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has the floor which he holds through the night in a desperate attempt to give the Southern Bloc time to convince wavering Senators to vote against cloture. After 14 hours — the longest speech of the longest filibuster in U.S. history (534 hours of debate, 63,000 pages on the Congressional Record) — he can stall no more.

[Note: Robert Byrd is not related to the equally pro-segregation Senator Harry Byrd of neighboring Virginia. Robert Byrd goes on to become the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history before dying in office in 2010. In later years he recants his segregationist views and his membership in the Ku Klux Klan, saying in 2005: "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened."]

The show-down vote is called on June 10th. In addition to descriptions of the upcoming vote, the morning papers carry stories of vicious Klan attacks on nonviolent protesters at St. Augustine's Old Slave Market and police repression in Tuscaloosa. There has never been a successful cloture motion on a civil rights bill. Only once in the past 37 years has the Senate agreed to cloture on any subject at all. The gallery is packed, and both sides have every man (and one lone woman) on the floor.

The clerk calls the roll. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) — soon to be the Republican Presidential nominee — calls the bill a "threat to the very essence of our basic system," (meaning "states rights"). He votes with the segregationists against cloture. Clair Engle (D-CA), dying of an inoperable brain tumor is carried into the Well of Senate. Unable to speak, he touches his eye, signaling his affirmative vote for cloture. The "aye" votes mount one by one. Finally they reach 67, and four wavering Senators, who had been waiting to determine the winning side, jump on board to make the total 71 to 29 for cloture. The filibuster is broken.

[Today, Libertarians and others who admire Goldwater claim that his opposition to the Act was a defense of individual liberty — the right of a business owner to choose which customers to serve or reject. But this ignores the fact that southern states and cities mandated segregation by law. If it's a violation of individual freedom for the Federal government to prohibit a business from practicing racial discrimination, then it must also be a violation of individual liberty for a state government to require race discrimination. But Goldwater never made any effort at all to amend the Act to repeal segregation laws. Instead, he vigorously supported "states rights" — the right of each state to set its own racial policies through law — as his guiding principle and justification for opposing the Act. While politicians are adept at blurring reality, the plain fact is that support for a state's right to mandate segregation by law directly contradicts an individual-liberty stand.]

Under Senate rules, each Senator can still speak for one more hour after cloture is invoked. Finally, on June 19, after 83 days of debate and maneuver, the Senate votes 73-27 to pass the Dirksen-Mansfield substitute bill. The "Yes" votes are 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans — the "No" votes are 6 Republicans and 21 Democrats. The Senate compromise bill is quickly passed by the House, and is signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964 — a year and 22 days after Kennedy's Civil Rights Speech calling for a new civil rights bill.

A story is told that when Johnson finishes signing the bill he tells an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation." Meaning that racist whites in the South will abandon the Democratic Party and join the Republicans. In the years and decades that follow, the Republican Party adopts a "Southern Strategy" to largely achieve what LBJ forsaw.

See The Civil Rights Act of 1964 for analysis of the Act and its effects.

For more information:
Books: Civil Rights Legislation
Web: Civil Rights Act — 1964 for web links

 


1964 (Jan-June) Quotation Sources:

1. SNCC The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn
2. Piller of Fire, America in the King Years 1963-1965, Taylor Branch
3. Sing for Freedom, Guy and Candie Carawan
4. Pat Watters, New South
5. Bob Herbert, New York Times, October 6, 2005
6. "God, Gandhi, and Guns: The African American Freedom Struggle in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1964." Simon Wendt. Journal of African American History, Winter, 2004.


 1963 (July-Dec)

Freedom Summer 

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