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Exhibit Sections:
Slavery | Free Blacks | Abolition | Civil War | Reconstruction
Booker T. Washington Era
| WWI-Post War | The Depression-WWII | Civil Rights Era |

The Civil Rights Era

Part 1
Part 2: Sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and Demonstrations

Sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and Demonstrations

Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-in

In 1960 four freshmen from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro strolled into the F. W. Woolworth store and quietly sat down at the lunch counter. They were not served, but they stayed until closing time. The next morning they came with twenty-five more students. Two weeks later similar demonstrations had spread to several cities, within a year similar peaceful demonstrations took place in over a hundred cities North and South. At Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, the students formed their own organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced "Snick"). The students' bravery in the face of verbal and physical abuse led to integration in many stores even before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Image: Caption follows

Ronald Martin, Robert Patterson, and Mark Martin stage sit-down strike after being refused service at an F.W. Woolworth luncheon counter, Greensboro, N.C. 1960.
Copyprint.
New York World-Telegram & Sun Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-114749 (9-9)
Courtesy of CORBIS


Freedom Riders Seek to Integrate Southern Transportation
Background Map: 1961 Freedom Rides.
[New York]: Associated Press Newsfeature, [1962].
Printed map and text.
Geography and Map Division. (9-4)

The Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), rode through the South seeking integration of the bus, rail, and airport terminals. This Associated Press release, authored by Sid Moody, includes a map and an exceptionally descriptive text that illustrates the routes taken and the history behind the freedom rides. Together, the map and text record the individual cities visited, when and where violence occurred, and how many Freedom Riders were arrested. The text also describes some disturbances resulting from the staged sit-ins and forced recognition of CORE's causes and issues. Looking at the map and reading the text, one can perceive the struggles that these Freedom Riders endured in their quest for full citizenship in 1961.


Movement Strategist Bayard Rustin

Although the chairperson of the 1963 March on Washington was the venerable labor leader A. Philip Randolph, the man who coordinated the staff, finances, travel arrangements, accommodations, publicity, and logistics was Randolph's close associate, Bayard Taylor Rustin. Rustin had served as a key strategist of the non-violent protest movement since the 1940s. In 1963, he wrote in his socialist magazine, Liberation:

What counted most at the Lincoln Memorial was not the speeches, eloquent as they were, but the pledge of a quarter million Americans, black and white, to carry the civil rights revolution into the streets. Our task is now to fulfill this pledge through nonviolent uprisings in hundreds of cities.

Image: Caption follows

Warren K. Leffler.
Bayard Rustin, n.d.
Copyprint.
U.S. News and World Report Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-U9-10332-9 (9-5)


1963 March On Washington

The August 28, 1963, March on Washington riveted the nation's attention. Rather than the anticipated hundred thousand marchers, more than twice that number appeared, astonishing even its organizers.

Image: caption follows

March on Washington, August 28, 1963.
Copyprint.
U.S. News and World Report Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-U9-10360-23 (9-13)
 

Blacks and whites, side by side, called on President John F. Kennedy and the Congress to provide equal access to public facilities, quality education, adequate employment, and decent housing for African Americans. During the assembly at the Lincoln Memorial, the young preacher who had led the successful Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a stirring message with the refrain, "I Have a Dream."


The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Image: caption follows

Voters at the Voting Booths, ca. 1945.
Copyprint.
NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division. (9-17)
Courtesy of the NAACP

The 1965 Voting Rights Act created a significant change in the status of African Americans throughout the South. The Voting Rights Act prohibited the states from using literacy tests, interpreting the Constitution, and other methods of excluding Afric an Americans from voting. Prior to this, only an estimated twenty-three percent of voting-age blacks were registered nationally, but by 1969 the number had jumped to sixty-one percent.

Image: Caption follows
"Signing the Voting Rights Act," August 6, 1965.
U.S. News and World Report, August 16, 1965.
Humanities and Social Sciences Division, General Collections. (9-20)
Copyright, August 16, 1965, U.S. News and World Report (www.usnews.com).

In the Southern states, the numbers were more dramatic. During this same period in Mississippi, for example, African American registration jumped from 6.7 to 66.5 percent. This increase in registration led to the election of African Americans to federal, state, and local offices.


Enforcing Civil Rights for All Americans

Dating from just after the Civil War, a series of constitutional amendments were passed to protect African Americans. Without enforcement by the federal government, however, African Americans, especially those in the South, were gradually denied almost every right of citizenship. The twentieth century brought passage of the weak Civil Rights Act of 1957, the more forceful Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This photograph shows President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title VIII, also known as the Fair Housing Act. Together these acts reinstated and reinvigorated the African Americans' right to full citizenship.

Image: Caption follows

Warren K. Leffler.
Signing of the Civil Rights Act, April 11, 1968.
Copyprint.
U.S. News and World Report Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-95480 (9-12)


We Shall Overcome

"We Shall Overcome" seems to have first been sung by striking tobacco workers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1945. In the 1960s the song became the all-but-official anthem of the civil rights movement.

Image: caption follows
Silphia Horton, Frank Hamilton, Guy Carawan, and Pete Seeger. "We Shall Overcome."
New York: Ludlow Music, Inc., 1963.
Music Division. (9-19)
Courtesy of Ludlow Music, Inc., 11 West 19th Street New York, NY 10011

Its first separate publication, on exhibit here, gives credit of authorship to, among others, Silphia Horton of the Highlander Folk School, who learned the song from the tobacco workers, and Pete Seeger, who helped to popularize the song and gentrified its title from "We Will Overcome."

Image: Caption follows
Brumsic Brandon.
"The Weary Picket," 1977.
Ink and tonal film overlay over pencil on paper.
Gift of Brumsic Brandon, Jr. Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6172 (9-22)
Courtesy of Mr. Brumsic Brandon, Jr.

President Lyndon Johnson stunned many of his listeners when during a speech urging the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, he closed with the words, "And we shall overcome."

The Civil Rights Era:   Part 1 | Part 2

Exhibit Sections:
Slavery | Free Blacks | Abolition | Civil War | Reconstruction
Booker T. Washington Era | WWI-Post War | The Depression-WWII
| Civil Rights Era |

African American Odyssey Introduction | Overview | Object List