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The 50s and 60s in Alabama


Alabama sharecroppers
Alabama sharecroppers

After Reconstruction, Alabama maintained separate schools and other public facilities for whites and blacks. During the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activities in the state focused on integration of these facilities and equal political rights for blacks. The federal government encouraged these efforts, but most white Alabamians supported the state’s segregation policies and state officials continued to enforce them. The intransigence of Alabama officials encouraged civil rights groups to challenge state authority, and Alabama witnessed a number of major events of the period.

In 1955 a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white passenger as the law of segregation required. She was arrested and, as a result, blacks boycotted buses in Montgomery in 1955 and 1956. Civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., led the successful boycott; his efforts brought the technique of passive resistance to national prominence. The boycott ended in 1956 with a mandate from the Supreme Court of the United States outlawing all segregated public transportation in the city.

The Montgomery boycott was a clear victory for passive resistance, and King emerged as a highly respected leader. Mindful of this, black clergymen from across the South organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), with King as its president. The organization was devoted to King’s principle, adopted from the nationalist movement in India, that no violence was to be done to opponents of civil rights, even in retaliation or self-defense.

In 1963 King led a massive civil rights campaign in Birmingham and organized drives for black voter registration, desegregation, and better education and housing throughout the South. He was arrested during demonstrations in Birmingham and put in solitary confinement for nine days, during which he wrote one of his most famous essays, “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The next month, Birmingham City Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor ordered fire hoses and police dogs used against civil rights demonstrators, many of them children. A few months later, Ku Klux Klan members planted dynamite in a black Birmingham church, the 16th Street Baptist Church. The explosion killed four young girls. Desegregation of restaurants, one of the goals of the Birmingham demonstrations, was accomplished by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed discrimination in public accommodations.

In 1965 King led the Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery to protest restrictions on black voters. This demonstration furthered the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Widespread registration of black voters under that act led to the election of blacks to a number of local offices and their appointment to many boards and commissions. In 1979 Richard Arrington was elected the first black mayor of Birmingham.

Integrated schooling came late to Alabama. Although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that mandatory segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, Governor George Wallace tried twice in 1963 to prevent integration, first in June at the University of Alabama and then in September at several elementary and secondary schools. Both times, President John F. Kennedy activated the National Guard to facilitate integration. Following the admission of two blacks to the University of Alabama and another to Florence State College in 1963, there was a rapid increase in the number of black students attending formerly all-white Alabama colleges and universities. The increase accelerated after Auburn University and the University of Alabama began recruiting black athletes, first for football and then for basketball scholarships. In 1969 less than 15 percent of the state’s black students attended integrated schools. However, by 1970 this had surged to 80 percent. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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