K Hancock, Four Studies o f War and Peace in T'his Century (Cambridge: University Press, 1961), p 82.

In document Political movements : three case studies of protest (Page 126-139)

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many

63 courts cases which it had earlier agreed to hear.

W. K Hancock, Four Studies o f War and Peace in T'his Century (Cambridge: University Press, 1961), p 82.

SYT, May 13, 1963, p. 1. For an interchange of remarks between

President Kennedy and Governor Wallace, see VIII KRLR 442-43 (1963); for Supreme Court decision on troop dispatch, see State o f Alabama v . United States, 373 U.S. 545 (1963).

Department's previous investigations of voting discrimination in the city and its support, in the Supreme Court, of an attack by Negro plaintiffs on the city's segregation ordinance, adding that "through mediation and persuasion, and, when that effort has failed, through lawsuits and court actions, we have attempted to meet our responsibi­ lities in this most difficult field where Federal Court orders have been circumvented, ignored, or violated.

But recognizing how damaging Birmingham had become to the country's reputation abroad, how significant to the Negro voting bloc at home, and how important to previously uncommitted, as well as committed,


sections of the public and Congress, Kennedy argued the case for legal outlets for pent-up Negro frustrations and emotions.

In May, Congress already had before it an Administration proposal for civil rights legislation designed to speed up legal attacks upon voting discrimination and to provide federal funds for school districts which had desegregated. After the crisis in Birmingham, Senators 67



In Congress, support for the Negroes came from liberal members of both parties; many Congressmen deplored the use of repressive measures by the city, while others hoped that Birmingham would prompt action on civil rights legislation. See, e.g., Sen Morse,


109; 7330-31 (May 6, 1963); Rep. Reid,


109: 7385 (May 9, 1963); Rep. Vanik,


109: 7649 (May 9, 1963); Sen. Gruening,


109: 9351 (May 23, 1963); Rep. Lindsay,


109: 10156 (June 4, 1963); Sen. Hart,


109: 9781 (June 6, 1963).

^ See message from Kennedy,


109: 3080-81 (Feb. 28, 1963). In this message, Kennedy attacked racial discrimination because it: (1) hampered economic growth; (2) hampered America's world leadership;

(3) marred "the atmosphere of a united and classless society in which this Nation rose to greatness


p. 3081]"; (4) increased the cost of public welfare; (5) increased crime, delinquency and disorder; (6) was wrong.

122 -

Cooper and Dodd opened a bipartisan drive for legislation designed to wipe out segregation in virtually every facet of daily business Birmingham became a rallying point for effective civil rights legis­ lation which the Administration chose not to ignore.

In asking for broad legislation, Kennedy appealed to the conscience of the nation to help stem the tide of discontent which was a threat to public safety and appealed to the legislative branch to listen carefully to the cries for equality being made in Birmingham and elsewhere in the nation:

The growing and understandable dissatisfaction of Negro citizens with the present pace of desegregation, and their increased determination to secure for them­ selves the equality of opportunity and treatment to which they are rightfully entitled, have underscored what should already have been clear: the necessity

of the Congress enacting ...legislation providing legal remedies for the denial of certain individual

rights. 71

Organized direct action, "with all its potentially explosive 72

consequences” , would continue if there was federal inaction, "causing the leadership on both sides to pass from the hands of the reasonable


and responsible men to the purveyors of hate and violence," to the detriment of the country.

His proposals included: a guarantee of equal access to all public facilities; authority for the Attorney-General to sue against school segregation when those affected made written complaint and could not



109: 9336 (May 23, 1963).

^ Message to the Congress,


109: 11175 (June 19, 1963). 72



afford the expenses of suing or feared reprisals; a broad attack on job discrimination, including $400,000,000 in new money for vocational and literacy training and intensified efforts to eliminate discrimination by federal contractors« These, If passed, would make demonstrations unnecessary. Kennedy said, "by providing peaceful remedies for the grievances which set them off." While the demonstrations had brought the race problem to the nation's attention, they might soon so inflame passions as to endanger life and property. With the race problem now before the Congress, "unruly tactics or pressures will not help and may


hinder the effective consideration of these measures". Therefore he suggested that Negro leaders "do their utmost to lessen tensions and... exercise self-restraint [so that] ... Congress should have an opportunity to freely work Its w i l l . " ^

When plans of the March were announced, Kennedy told Negro leaders, In tones reminiscent of Roosevelt and Truman, that he thought it best to postpone the March while debate on civil rights legislation was in progress. Once it was certain that the March would not be postponed, Kennedy gave it his most enthusiastic support and pronounced it an event consistent with the American tradition. On the day of the March, he held talks with civil rights leaders at the White House and expressed support for the March's


primary objectives, whatever he might have considered those to be.

74 Ibid., p. 11X76.

75 Ibid., p. 11179.

76 Ibid.

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It Is difficult to assess with precision the effect of the March on pending civil rights legislation. Although only seventy-five members of Congress accepted invitations to attend the ceremonies, none of the others, who tried to go about their routine business as if nothing unusual was happening, could escape the message of the marchers. Before the

March, Congressmen were divided into those who wholeheartedly welcomed 78

the marchers, those who cautioned against excess and the possibility 79

of violence, and those who condemned the March outright as a form of 80

mob violence. ^ After the March, although its peaceful demeanour could not be ignored, there were still some Congressmen who contended that they were being made to operate under pressure and threats.


Both Birmingham and the March on Washington had broadened the objectives of the civil rights movement. The March suggested what the demonstrations in the North, to be discussed in the next chapter, made clear - that the movement was beginning to consider issues of economic equality based on class as well as issues of political segregation based on race. In approaching its objectives, the movement in Birmingham was assisted by the outbreaks of violence by unorganized Negro bystanders, while the March was assisted by the authorities' fear of the outbreak

of violence. 78

See, e.g., Rep. Nix,


109j 14775-77 (Aug. 22, 1963); Sen. Humphrey,


109: 15266 (Aug. 28, 1963).

79 See, e.g., Sen. Ribicoff,


109: 11231 (June 27, 1963); Sen. Mansfield,


109: 11302 (June 28, 1963).


See, e.g., Rep. Andrews,


109; 12019 (July 16, 1963);

SCLC's formal demonstrations in Birmingham and the movement's one-day demonstration in Washington were marked by their high degree of organization and their commitment to non-violence. But their effectiveness was attributable in part to the force of violence which they had behind them.

Birmingham• On the level of specific results, the Birmingham demonstra­

tions did achieve a negotiated agreement. This included pledges to desegregate facilities in large downtown department and variety stores within ninety days, a promise to promote qualified Negro employees, and

a promise to set up a bi-racial committee to examine other aspects of desegregation. The white negotiators also promised to recommend to the City Commission that charges be dropped against the more than

twenty-four hundred Negroes who had been arrested. Although this agree­ ment meant a scaling down of SCLC's original demands, neither the old

nor the new city officials were prepared to give even tacit public approval of it. But one month later, initial steps had been taken to implement the agreement an^in July the city appointed a bi-racial committee to examine possible implementation of the agreement's conditions. One year later, King could report the desegregation of lunch counters, libraries and schools on a token basis, for him a "small break in the enormous fortress of injustice, but considering the strength of the fortress, it was a towering achievement.


126 -

Birmingham highlighted old as well as new trends in the civil rights struggle. On the local level, the authorities were faced with novel problems - the use of children, the filling up of the jails, white violence setting off Negro violence. The success of organized non-violence, when used by the unarmed Negro against the armed power of the state, was supplemented by the violence of unorganized supporters of civil rights. Had the hoses and dogs not been used, moderates and the silenced majority, both inside and outside of Birmingham, that had avoided taking a stand so far on the question of civil rights might still have remained silent. Human compassion and conscience, and the economic effects of racial tension, now brought them to the side of the underdog.

There were the dollars and cents considerations of mass jail-ins and school absences: the city lost $30,000 a day in state and federal funds for education; extra police had to be added to the force; retail stores added up losses of thirty per cent over previous selling figures; new industry was deterred from locating in the city and surrounding areas


while they remained spots of tension. Such debits on the balance sheet indicated why at least some business interests were prepared to rethink

83 their position on segregation. 82

"Integration Leaders Examine Lessons of Birmingham", Liberation,VIII (June, 1963,) 4.


When US Steel was attacked for not having exerted pressure for

settlement in Birmingham, Roger M. Blough, the president, said:"[F]or a corporation to attempt to exert any kind of economic compulsion to achieve a particular end in the social area seems to be quite beyond what a corporation should do, and


will also say, beyond what a cor­ poration can do." Quoted in Warren, opcit*, p. 311. Blough's attitude assumes that a corporation is silent on racial tension in an area, or that it does not support segregation, in effect, by doing business with banks, etc., which practise segregation.

After Birmingham, demonstrations continued, reaching a peak during the summer months of 1963. The pattern set by the sit-ins and the Freedom Rides of non-violent direct action was repeated in its essentials: there were still arrests on technical grounds; there was still the bid on the part of the activists for national publicity; there was still the outside assistance of national civil rights groups to local Negroes in the form of personnel, advice, encouragement, legal counsel, bail funds, and active participation in the demonstrations. The names cf hitherto obscure places where mass arrests were made became front-page headlines. New stalemates such as had occurred in Albany cropped up. More and more, the glimpses of Negro life that

emerged showed not only social Inequities but also economic inequalities. Parallel to this latter point, until 1963 the movement had been primarily middle-class. Birmingham brought to it the urban unemployed and SNCC's voting campaigns, such as the one previewed in Albany, the agrarian lower class.

March on Washington. Whether it was a tactic of intimidation or an appeal

to reason and morality, the March forced most of the Congress and the rest of the nation to face the presence of direct action. But more than this, it seems that a unified, responsible march of a quarter of a million people, even if it lacked the coercive effect which some of its more

militant activists thought it ought to have had, could not fail to dramatize the urgency of civil rights legislation. By taking their struggle into the streets, the civil rights activists made it more difficult for the authorities to remain indifferent to their demands.



What has been examined so far are the conditions under which non-violent direct action evolved in the South. When demonstrations spread to the North, there were changes in the nature of the demands, in the tactics of non-violent direct action, and in the composition of the activists.

Merton's theory of reference groups hypothesizes that "men

frequently orient themselves to groups other than their own in shaping „1

their behavior and evaluations.... By reference groups, Merton understands not only membership and non-membership groups but also


collectivities and social categories. Applying his general comments to the civil rights movement, I would suggest that in the South, the activists, by and large, took the values and standards of the white race as their comparative frame of reference. They demanded rights and privileges which members of that race had, irrespective of their class, by virtue of their being American citizens, but what they as Negro Americans were denied. Thus, they demanded to be served at lunch counters where whites were served, to vote in elections where 1 Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure, rev. ed.

(Glencoe: Free Press, 1957), p. 234. Italics in the original. 2

whites could vote, to be hired for positions that whites with comparable skills could get.

In the North, the activists had two comparative frames of reference. First, in most instances, they took the values and standards of the white race. As was the case in the South, when activists in the North demanded that Negroes be hired for work on construction sites, they were demanding privileges which the white worker had. When they demanded that Negroes be allowed to buy houses where they chose, they were demanding purchasing privileges which white purchasers had. However, in addition the activists occasionally adopted a second frame of reference. When they demanded decent housing conditions or retraining schemes, they were not demanding something which the white race qua race had; they were demanding some­

thing which other classes of both races either had or were able to have. The source of their attitudes in both frames of reference may have been the American Creed; that is, they based their attitudes on what the situation should be in a society where no race and no class were denied equality of opportunity. But, in one case they were making race demands, while in the other, they were making class demands. In one case, they wanted to break away from their inferior ethnic status; in the other,

they wanted to alter their "life chances" - educational opportunities, external living conditions, prospective earning capacity.

Looked at another way, southern activists can be seen as demanding alterations in their legal and de facto race position; northern activists can be seen as demanding alterations in their de facto race and class

- 130 -

demanding rights which they believed to be theirs in the spirit of the American Creed of racial equality, if not in the letter of more than a decade of federal court decisions on the question of segregation. In the Freedom Rides and in instances of voting and school deprivations, the activists were demanding rights which clearly were theirs, either as a result of legislation, administrative regulation, or judicial pronounce­ ment. Birmingham went beyond issues of equal access to public accommodation to issues of job opportunities for Negroes. But SCLC's demands were

still race demands; they wre still demands for the elimination of

explicit racial barriers to opportunities available to white Americans. In the North, where legal rights such as were being demanded in the South already existed, activists were demanding rights and privileges which had not been denied them by law, even if they had been denied them by practice. They were asking for an end to ghettoization, which for them meant alterations in both their race and class positions. The activists said: (1) no one should be denied a job because he is a Negro; (2) no one should be denied a job and decent housing and adequate social services

because he is unskilled and poor. The activists in the North were

concerned with conditions of poverty which affected the one-fourth to one -fifth of Americans who lived below the minimum subsistence level. If we consider the conservative estimate of forty-four million poor in


the United States, then the conditions which affect eleven million

Negro poor (about two-thirds of the Negro population) affected thirty-

three million whites as well. In contrast to this, southern activists

2 a

On poverty, see Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in

were concerned with conditions that affected only the sixty per cent of the Negro population which lived in the South, or about eleven million people (but not the same as the eleven million Negro poor)•

The March on Washington, discussed in the last chapter, previewed both the race and class demands which characterized the movement from mid-1963 on. For in addition to demands for civil rights legislation, it included demands for a massive federal programme to train the unem­ ployed and demands to raise the national minimum wage.

Because of the change in demands once the movement spread north, direct action tactics which had proved useful in integrating lunch counters were sometimes less easy to apply when pressing for more jobs or better housing. Since Negroes in the North already had the right to eat in restaurants of their choice, the movement conducted sit-ins on construction sites which would not hire Negroes. Since they already had the right to swim at public beaches, they conducted sit-ins at beach areas where their colour held them back from being employed as workmen. Since they already had legal rights to equal housing, they withheld their rent in order to press for decent housing conditions. When activists protested against lunch counter discrimination, they were engaging in a direct protest by making known their demands to persons who were able to alter the situation. However, precision was more difficult to apply in the North. When activists protested against slum conditions, it was harder to find the specific agent responsible for the conditions. For these reasons, demonstrations in the North often were more desperate and had less immediately achievable objectives

- 132 -

than did those in the South.

Northern tactics differed from those in the South in three other ways. First, the activists were less dependent upon the established Negro leadership and were more prepared to try out new kinds of direct action tactics. Secondly, the activists were more prepared to disregard the legalism of the NAACP type pressure and, partly as a result of the nature of their specific objectives, used litigation as an accompanying

tactic less often than had been the case in the South, Thirdly, because

In document Political movements : three case studies of protest (Page 126-139)