African-Americans Activism -- Gaining Civil Rights and Pride
"We the understated are students at the Negro college in the city of Greensboro. Time and time again we have gone into Woolworth stories of Greensboro. We have bought thousands of items at hundreds of the counters in your stories. Our money was accepted without rancor or discrimination and with politeness toward us, when at a long counter just three feet away from our money is not acceptable because of the color of our skins. This letter is not being written with resentment toward your company, but with the hope of understanding… We are asking that your company take a firm stand to eliminate discrimination. We firmly believe that God will give courage and guidance in the solving of this problem…" (Blair, et al., 1960) (primary source).
African-Americans have come a long way in terms of justice and fairness. Brought against their will from Africa -- and placed in bondage -- during the formative years of America, it took many years of struggle for African-Americans in order to achieve the right to vote, the right not to be discriminated against in housing, employment and education. This paper delves into the ways in which African-Americans fought for -- and in many cases, won -- their rights in the United States.
Thesis statement: History shows that African-Americans have been creative and unrelenting in their drive to achieve the same rights and legal protections as Caucasian-Americans. The men and women that paved the way for African-Americans to be treated fairly should be held in high esteem by all Americans that believe in justice and in the Bill of Rights.
African-Americans Fight for Justice
In the era that ushered in the historic 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling (which in effect started the ball rolling toward outlawing school segregation), a lot of credit for pushing Jim Crow laws aside and embracing fairness and justice should be given to African-American teachers and administrators, according to Tondra L. Loder-Jackson. Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Urban Review, Loder-Jackson asserts that African-American teachers "…instilled a strong sense of racial pride in their students" (Loder-Jackson, 2011, p. 151).
African-American teachers and administrators also: a) "…led efforts to liberate Blacks through literacy"; b) established "self-improvement" groups that helped respond to the terrible poverty which many Black folks were stuck in; c) helped launch (and were the "backbone" of) the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); d) fought for "equality of educational opportunity through membership in national White and Black educational associations"; and e) were viewed as important leaders in the community, "…especially Black male principals" (Loder-Jackson, 152).
Loder-Jackson also notes that in helping to launch the NAACP, many African-American educational professionals were "…risking their livelihoods and lives" due to their association with the progressive policies of the NAACP (152). This scholarly article was written by a woman (Loder-Jackson) who is a third generation resident of Birmingham, Alabama -- having attended the city schools there -- where many pivotal demonstrations and a great deal of violence against protestors took place. Birmingham indeed is the place where Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested and jailed; it was from that jail cell that King wrote what is now the iconic "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in 1963.
The salient point of Loder-Jackson's article results from a series of interviews she did with 42 former and current teachers and administrators from the Birmingham City Schools (BCS). In one of the interviews with a teacher ("Jerrie") who was present during the Civil Rights Movement, the teacher said she made some rules that were "not legal" but that helped her provide opportunities for Black students. In her "unwritten code" there would be "…no all-White cheerleaders" in Birmingham High school (Loder-Jackson, 166). "There will be no all-White dancers… or bands," Jerrie also remembered instituting as an unofficial rule.
She showed leadership by asking the White teacher in charge of cheerleaders to give her the "…top 20 Whites" on a list, and Jerrie came up with the "top te Black" candidates. "There will be 14 Whites and 20 Blacks," she insisted, and she got her way through her leadership and assertiveness. "By me penciling in equality," Jerrie recalled, "That was the only way that those little Black girls could ever be cheerleaders" (Loder-Jackson, 166).
On the subject of the Civil Rights Movement and Birmingham, Max Krochmal explains that "…beyond the gaze of most historical accounts… countless working-class Black activists quietly engaged in a decades-long battle" for good jobs, the integration of public spaces, and the right to vote (Krochmal, 2010). Social change was also on the agenda of African-American trade unionists; these men and women created "informal networks" of Black workers that formed "critical hubs" outside the mainstream civil rights organizations.
The reason that Blacks formed these networks is because organized labor "turned its back on Black workers" at that time; hence the Black church and Civil Rights Movement activists became powerful forces (along with CORE and the NAACP) for social justice. Sharecroppers like Fannie Lou Hamer used her organizing skills to assist the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in developing "…a statewide voter registration initiative" (Krochmal, 927). Emilye Crosby was another leader in civil rights issues as was Greta de Jong, who researched and wrote about African-American laborers in rural Louisiana (Krochmal, 928).
Another name that is linked to justice for African-Americans is Colonel Stone Johnson, who helped organizing the "all-black local of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks" at the Louisville & Nashville Railroad yard in Birmingham (Krochmal, 931). Johnson's work was important because most labor unions were run by and dominated by Caucasian males.
Meanwhile, an article published by the University of Akron (Ohio) points out that while African-American soldiers served in WWII, fighting for democracy when in fact they did not have all the benefits of a democratic society in the U.S., when they came home after the war they were still not able to enjoy the fruits of the U.S. Constitution. In fact many African-American men and women who had been working in the factories in the industrial north (Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the Midwest and East Coast areas) to support the war effort were "…pressured by society, soldiers, unions, and company executives to relinquish their wartime positions in favor of the white veterans" (http://learn.uakron.edu).
Many African-Americans were outraged at having had a fairly good income one day and the next they were laid off so white soldiers could have that job. These folks joined with other African-Americans (including soldiers coming home) to create the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and used the NAACP to push for changes to existing Jim Crow segregation laws (http://learn.uakron.edu). By CORE cooperating with the NAACP, this became a formidable pressure group to demand the "…desegregation of institutions and facilities, fair housing, equal pay, and job opportunities…" (http://learn.uakron.edu).
Adding to the frustration of the African-Americans that had served the Allies in WWII -- and who were segregated into separate units in the European theater -- was the fact that upon their return home not only were there few jobs and few opportunities for Blacks to learn good skills, there loomed the hated Jim Crow laws in the South which created a sense of repression and rage. Eventually, those emotions were put to work in the Civil Rights Movement.
Meanwhile, of all the organizations that pushed for racial equality, the Black Church has to be considered a very important component of the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, part of the cultural heritage of the Black Church is to "…promote and encourage community activism," and of course great leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King began his journey as a pastor in a Black Church (Swain, 2008, p. 403). Ever since churches offered "…succor to slaves on ante-bellum plantations" and…