CHAPTER 26. THE FIFTH EXTENSION OF EQUALITY:
THE SECOND CIVIL WAR AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SOUTHERN APARTHEID SYSTEM
During Reconstruction, the South gradually developed an elaborate system of laws and customs that kept blacks in economically subordinate positions and physically segregated from white society. White Southerners maintained this system through threats and intimidation and a good deal of violence. Obviously, the first Civil War had failed to resolve the racial issue. The post-World War II era saw the nation seriously attempt one more time to come to grips with its greatest social problem: racism. This chapter tells the story of this second civil war.
The actual assault on the Southern apartheid system began even while the conservatives, under President Eisenhower, dominated national politics. For the very first time in its history, the Supreme Court (selected by depression Democrats), via its decisions on school desegregation, actually started the next movement towards greater equality. This began the second Civil War in the United States. No one has added up the total casualty figures from that war, but it certainly would be a considerable number. The second Civil War was similar to the first one in that it pitted the South against the nation, while ignoring racism in the rest of the country. As soon as the struggle spread northward, white Americans stopped the war and began the second Reconstruction.
PART I. THE ATTAINMENT OF GREATER EQUALITY
ECONOMIC AND DEMOGRAPHIC FORCES
The 1950s were a good time to be alive. American domination of world industrial production made the nation rich comparatively. In addition, taking care of the many children of the baby boom created great opportunities for upward mobility for the generation born in the Depression. These men virtually sky-rocketed upwards in their professions, making them very happy indeed. It must have seemed to most Americans that God had truly blessed America. In this atmosphere, many voters felt it was not necessary to strengthen the welfare state. They approved of the basic concept, but kept the welfare state restricted.
But an important change had been occurring in the nation. In the post-war period a massive demographic change began to occur. Blacks in large numbers started to move out of the South to other parts of the country. A total of 1.3 million blacks went North during the 1940s, followed by another 1.2 million during the 1950s, and 1.1 million during the 1960s. The Deep South had been almost half black (47.3 percent) in 1900, but by 1970 less than one quarter were black (24.5 percent).
Given the non-interest of the executive and legislative branches in changing the situation for black Americans, there was little hope of passing favorable legislation to dismantle the South's apartheid system. So liberals turned to the Supreme Court to initiate change.
MIDDLE CLASS SQUEEZE
There is a great similarity between the first and second civil wars. As with the first Civil War, the growing regional tensions created a split between the goals of two middle classes: the South and the non-South. The South was remaining agricultural and rural, while the non-South was proceeding with industrialism. The South was extremely poor compared to the rest of the country, with the racial apartheid system keeping not only blacks uneducated and poor, but many whites as well.
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY (LIBERAL VERSION)
The rationale for the attack on the Southern apartheid system, argued by the N.A.A.C.P. lawyer Thurgood Marshall, was that racism destroyed the access of blacks to equality of opportunity. Black social scientist Kenneth Clarke did one of the earliest pieces of research supporting this contention. He found that black children viewed white dolls as "better" than black dolls. This social psychology showed that racism damaged the self-concepts of blacks, thereby providing the rationale for the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision.
The Prophet Vernon Johns
Vernon Johns was born in Darlington, Virginia, not far from Farmville, located between Lynchburg and Petersburg. As a youngster he showed the talent that would make him renown: his ability to cite long passages from memory. As an adult, on long auto rides with friends, he would cite poetry from the start of the trip to its end.
He attended Oberlin College in Ohio. After graduation, he began a life-long pattern of a brief stint of employment as minister and then a period of unemployment, as he was often fired for being outspoken. He probably spent more time on his farm than he did employed as a minister. He just could not accept the injustice of the apartheid system in the South and remain quiet.
Johns became the minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama largely because his wife became employed with the music faculty of the nearby Alabama State College.
The actual start of the second civil war occurred in Montgomery, Alabama. It was not an accident that the war started in the capital city of Montgomery. The Reverend Vernon Johns took the pulpit at the black middle class Dexter Avenue Baptist Church across from the capitol building in Montgomery. He soon started a war on the segregation system in Alabama. He encouraged the black congregation of the church to become active in the fight against segregation. His unorthodox exploits against the Jim Crow system became the basis for many an amusing story. A fellow minister, Ralph Abernathy, became a disciple of Vernon Johns. He also inspired many black women of Montgomery to become politically aware (and several became very active at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott).
Johns's life illustrates how liberals work within the racist system to censor unorthodox views. Southern liberals were just about useless as far as real dissent from the racist system was concerned. Instead of providing an effective voice to the prophet Johns, the liberals ignored Johns. His life shows how liberal racism works and should be studied by those interested in becoming non-racist in philosophy and approach.
Johns' was so militant and uncompromising in his political stance, that the conservative congregation felt it had to let the minister go from his position. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who replaced Vernon Johns. King soon became friends with Abernathy and Abernathy taught King the philosophy and approach of Vernon Johns.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Befitting the differences between South and non-South, two prominent black leaders arose in this period, one representing a Southern and the other a Northern strategy of dealing with racism. In the South Martin Luther King used the philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to embarrass the whites of the non-South into helping destroy the Southern apartheid system. In the North this strategy could not work as there was no exterior region to help northern blacks. Under these less optimistic conditions, Malcolm X became a prominent proponent of the philosophy of the Nation of Islam. White commentators usually concentrate on the Muslim branding of all whites as evil white devils. What they do not stress, however, is how the Muslim message actually was a positive response to the ghettoized living conditions created by white racism. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. endorsed the preachings of Malcolm X, whose philosophy certainly had more appeal than that of King to northern urban blacks. A good question is what other choice did ghettoized northern blacks have than to call for segregation into black self-help societies?
But it was the approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. that won the second civil war. He was the exactly right man for the times. His philosophy of love made him non-threatening to Northern whites, as well as many Southern whites. This approach made King and his movement very sympathetic figures and encouraged the North to intervene forcefully in the affairs of the South to destroy the apartheid system there.
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1925, the seventh child of J. Early Little and M. Louise Norton, a West Indian from Grenada. His father was a Georgia Baptist preacher, but he was a "jackleg" preacher who was never called to a permanent pastorate. His father was a nationalist and a dedicated organizer for Marcus Garvey. Indeed, his father was the president and his mother the reporter for the Omaha branch of Garvey's UNIA. (Cone 1991:41-42) The family was driven out of Omaha by the KKK when Malcolm was a baby.
Malcolm grew up in Lansing, Michigan. A white hate group called the Black Legionnaires burned down their house in 1929 during his childhood, which he reported as "my earliest vivid memory." There was a great deal of violence in his household with the father beating the mother, and both parents beating the children. Malcolm was only six years old when his father was killed and twelve when his mother was committed to a mental institution. Passed among foster homes, In 1941Malcolm finally went to live with his half-sister who lived in Boston. He dropped out of school in the eight grade and gave up on integration at that point and began a real guttural hatred of white people. He hated to even be around whites. (Cone 1991:46)
He hustled in Boston and New York and was sent to Charlestown State Prison in 1946. In prison he converted to the Muslim faith in 1948. He was paroled from prison in 1952.
In the summer of 1953 he was made the assistant minister of Temple Number One in Detroit for his excellent work in recruiting new members. He later was appointed the head minister of the influential Temple Number Seven in New York City in 1954. It was the Hinton Johnson incident in April 1957 in Harlem that brought Malcolm to the attention of the larger black community. Mr. Johnson was a Muslim who had been severely beaten and hauled off to jail by several police. In jail he was being denied medical treatment. Gathering over one hundred Muslims in front of the police precinct which led to a crowd of 800, the police capitulated and guaranteed the Malcolm that Johnson would receive medical treatment and the perpetrators would be punished. (Cone 1991:94-95)
Malcolm had an intense dislike for the black integrationists and used many a nasty epithet to describe them. He wanted blacks to go their own way and earn their economic and political and cultural independence from whites.
Many blacks liked the black nationalism of Malcolm X. Indeed, Malcolm X's ideas and approach won out over the King approach in the struggle for the minds and hearts of the New Left, which eventually became the new ethnic liberals and radical liberals who in turn became today's multiculturalists.
Malcolm's popularity has even inspired a new movement to declare his birthday, May 19, a "National African-American Day of Commemoration." Conferences, seminars, and parades are being held in his honor, and streets, schools, and organizations are being named after him. People are making annual pilgrimages to his birthplace and grave site. (Cone 1991:41)
King's Critique of Black Power and Ultimately of Multiculturalism
The multi-culturalists have turned King into a multiculturalist. But King's 1967 essay on Black Power (in Hord and Lee) King delineates precisely why multiculturalism is not the way to gain equality. "Beneath all the satisfaction of a gratifying slogan, Black Power is a nihilistic philosophy born out of the conviction that the Negro can't win. It is, at bottom, the view that American society is so hopelessly corrupt and enmeshed in evil that there is no possibility of salvation from within. . . .it . . . carries the seeds of its own doom. " (King in Hord 1995: 291)
He compared the Black power movement to the Garvey "Back to Africa" movement of the 1920s which also resulted from a dashing of hope and a conviction of the inability of the black to win. "Today's despair is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrow's justice." "Black Power is an implicit and often explicit belief in black separatism . . ."
"Yet behind Black Power's legitimate and necessary concern for group unity and black identity lies the belief that there can be a separate black road to power and fulfillment. Few ideas are more unrealistic. There is no salvation for the Negro through isolation. "
"effective political power for Negroes cannot come through separatism." "In short, the Negroes' problem cannot be solved unless the whole of American society takes a new turn toward greater economic justice."
"In the final analysis the weakness of Black Power is its failure to see that the black man needs the white man and the white man needs the black man. However much we may try to romanticize the slogan, there is no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white paths, and there is no separate white path to power and fulfillment, short of social disaster, that does not share that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity. We are bound together in a single garment of destiny." (King in Hord and Lee 1995: 294)
What Was Wrong With King's Approach
Harold Cruse (1987:35) talks about the naivete of the NAACP and King supporters. He wonders how could the NAACP ever believe in 1954 that by 1963 segregation in all its forms would be eliminated from the nation with the phrase "Free by ‘63." With hindsight he asks how could the integrationists not know "that the promises and expectations of the Brown decision were both legally and sociologically improbable (Cruse 1987:37)."
What was wrong with King's approach is what is wrong with the American left. They are far too naive because they underestimate the degree of racism in America. Therefore, they set goals are that are way too unrealistic in both what can be achieved and when it can be achieved.
Given the racist nature of the United States, changes have to come and do come in cyclical patterns. There is a limit to what can be achieved because of the resistance of whites to the gains.
Malcolm X Conquers Martin Luther King
The true hero and founding father of multiculturalism is Malcolm X, not Martin Luther King, Jr. The multiculturalists should push for a national holiday for Malcolm X, put of course they are too afraid to reveal to the public their real hero. And I guess if you have to hide your forefather, there is something rotten in multicultural heaven.
One thing we agree with Malcolm X on is his distrust of the American left. Malcolm, like the authors, did not trust liberals. He said that northern white liberals were hypocritical, camouflaged racists who pretended be the friend of blacks while secretly discriminating. .
ROLE OF THE SUPREME COURT
Under the leadership of the N.A.A.C.P., the blacks argued their case against the South's "separate but equal" system of school segregation. In May 1954 the court ruled in Brown vs. the Board of Education that racial segregation was not legal as it was harmful to the self-concepts of black children. Many writers start the civil rights push with this Supreme Court decision. Yet, this ruling was the culmination of a long series of progressive court decisions to alleviate the terrible plight of blacks. In November 1952 the Supreme Court upheld the decision barring segregation on interstate railways, and in June 1953 the court barred Washington, D.C. restaurants from refusing service to blacks.
The push for civil rights can be seen as a consequence of the election of an overwhelming number of Democrats during the Great Depression. The long tenure of FDR in the office of the presidency allowed him to appoint liberal justices to the court. Once the Second World War was over these justices ruled favorably on many civil rights cases. Historically, this progressive stance of the court is unprecedented for the Supreme Court has always been an important conservative force in American life. Sadly, it took a serious economic depression to produce (for the first and only time in American history), something resembling a leftist coalition in the nation, a coalition strong enough to have a considerable effect on the court. The result was that the court was able to start a cycle that brought greater, but still very limited, equality to the United States.
President Eisenhower and Civil Rights
Attempts to desegregate the schools met considerable resistance. In June 1954 twelve Southern white leaders met and agreed not to comply with the Court's integration order. In May 1955 the Court had to reiterate that the states must end racial segregation with "all deliberate speed."
Meanwhile, blacks came up with another weapon to use in the struggle for civil rights, the boycott. In December 1955 Rosa Parks challenged an Alabama state law that blacks had to sit in the back of the bus. This led to the Montgomery bus boycott that brought to the nation's attention a new leader: Martin Luther King, Jr.
In April 1957, after internecine struggle, the House passed a very weakened civil rights bill. President Eisenhower had taken the position that he preferred no bill to one weakened by Senate amendments. But in August the Senate approved the anemic bill. Potter (1972:82) writes that the original bill provided that the attorney general could file civil suits for injunctions against any deprivation of civil rights. The South, however, was able to curtail the role of the attorney general and also make sure that a jury trial would be used to try any civil suits. (All white juries would then ensure the continuance of apartheid.)
The next month Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to force school integration. Nevertheless, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus still worked to bar compliance with the court order. In August 1959 troops again had to be called out to prevent violence as whites in Little Rock once more protested school integration. In response, in September 1959 the Court unanimously banned "evasive schemes" to prevent school integration.
With progress being made, blacks adopted still another protest tactic. In February 1960 four black students staged a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The method quickly spread with sit-ins taking place in Durham and Winston- Salem, North Carolina and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This placed additional pressure on Congress, and in May 1960 Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1960.
At the Democratic National Convention in July, the Democrats adopted strong civil rights planks over Southern protests. But the South made sure that there was no permanent commission on equal job opportunity nor any technical assistance given to schools undergoing desegregation. It also limited the power of voter registrars to act through executive power. Potter (1972:82) adds "The success of the Southerners was in fact so great that it could be argued that they had won a victory which they were too discreet to herald."
ELECTION OF A STRONG PRESIDENT AND A LIBERAL CONGRESS
The Kennedy Presidency
The various civil rights endeavors brought a sympathetic response from liberals, especially in the North. A great boost to the movement came in November 1960 with the election of the Democrat John F. Kennedy to the presidency. Kennedy had narrowly defeated Richard Nixon. The new president's idealism became infectious and many northern students, believing they could change the apartheid system, traveled South to become involved in the civil rights struggle.
In attempting to stop the civil rights movement, the South earned a horrible reputation for viciousness (that still lasts to this day -- witness the scarcity of tourists to the at least physically lovely state of Mississippi). In May 1961 white Alabamians attacked buses of Freedom Riders, who challenged segregation policies on state and interstate buses in Montgomery. Governor John Patterson imposed martial law in an attempt to quell the race riots that resulted. At one time over 1,000 whites attacked a busload of Freedom Riders. At least twenty people were hurt as the mob used their fists and clubs to beat the protesters. And it was the Freedom Riders whom the authorities arrested. (In June 1962 the Supreme Court voided the convictions of six Freedom Riders.)
In Albany, Georgia Dr. King found himself in jail on three different occasions for protesting segregation. The third time occurred in July 1962. King and his assistant, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, spent two weeks in jail for not having a permit to march. They had led twenty-six anti-segregationists to the steps of city hall when promised meetings with officials failed to materialize after a period of eight months.
In September Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett defied a federal court order to integrate the University of Mississippi. He barred black student James Meredith from being admitted. When Meredith did register, rioting erupted at the university. President Kennedy sent federal troops to the area to force compliance with the law. A massive riot erupted as mobs of angry whites stormed onto the campus. At least three people died in the fighting. The seriousness of the situation forced the president to federalize the Mississippi National Guard. He then ordered the state to yield on integration. In October Meredith attended his first classes. Two hundred people were arrested in the riots that followed. Not long after the riots, President Kennedy barred religious and racial discrimination in federally funded housing.
In April 1963 Reverend King launched a new non-violent campaign to end segregation. He and fifty-eight followers found themselves arrested for leading a protest march without a permit. In May authorities arrested 500 protesters at a march in Birmingham, the police dispersing the crowd with fire hoses. A few days later another 1,000 arrests were made. In an effort to reestablish order in Alabama, President Kennedy sent federal troops to Birmingham.
In June 1963 Governor George Wallace of Alabama vowed to defy an injunction to integrate the University of Alabama. Again using troops, Kennedy sent the National Guard to the scene to ensure the registration of students Vivian Malone and James Hood. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to stop the resumption of desegregation in the Alabama education system, but the federal authorities forced him to step aside.
Back in Mississippi an assassin killed NAACP leader Medgar Evers, ambushed at his home. Later that summer at the Washington Monument Dr. King delivered his famous "I have a dream" speech in front of more than 200,000 peaceful demonstrators demanding the passage of civil rights legislation.
Governor Wallace kept up his harassment of the federals. He called on state troopers to prevent integration at Tuskegee High School. The city of Birmingham shut its schools in order to prevent integration. Again Kennedy had to federalize the National Guard in order to enforce integration.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson
While support for civil rights increased, it actually took the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963 to get civil rights legislation through Congress. Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the office of the presidency. In the 1964 state of the union message Johnson pledged a war against poverty and in March submitted a $1 billion War on Poverty program to Congress. (Compare this expenditure to the estimated cost of around $1.5 billion for the total damage and related expenses associated with the 1992 Los Angeles race riot.).
President Johnson was able to pass many of the civil rights bills that President Kennedy had been unable to get through the legislature. One of these, the civil rights act of 1964, prohibited racial discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, publicly owned facilities, union membership, and federally funded programs.
The law was a definite defeat for the old South (Potter, 1972:83-84). One reason for this was that Senator Russell of Georgia mishandled the bill. Usually Southern senators could prevent cloture (i.e., a method of stopping a filibuster). Thinking he could still do the same again, Senator Russell did not push for substantial concessions (which he probably could have gotten). By the time he realized the seriousness of the situation, it was too late to negotiate.
In Mississippi in August 1964 searchers found the bodies of the three civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney, missing since June. Local law enforcement officials and other Mississippi racists had murdered the three young men.
Progress Delayed: The Vietnam War, Student Revolts, and Race Riots
Domestic affairs were going extremely well for President Johnson. But he was about to start a steep decline. This was primarily due to his escalation of an ongoing conflict in a far away Asian country. The nation had been involved in Vietnam since 1954 when the French lost the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This put an end to French colonial power in Indo-China, but the United States decided to take over where the French left off. The fear that communism would spread to all of Indo-China was the primary motive for the decision. President Kennedy escalated the conflict by sending more military advisors to Vietnam, but President Johnson turned the conflict into full-scale war.
Johnson believed his cabinet and military advisors when they told him the United States could defeat the communist forces and began to send large numbers of troops to Vietnam. Looking for a justification to escalate the conflict, the President jumped at the opportunity presented by a reported communist PT boat attack on a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave the President a free hand to escalate the war.
In November 1968 LBJ won reelection, absolutely trouncing Republican Barry Goldwater, whom the Democrats had painted as a radical who would rashly lead the nation into a major war. And yet Goldwater had won a more important victory for the Republicans. Under the leadership of the Arizona senator, the Republicans adopted their infamous "Southern strategy." Goldwater swept every deep South state except Arkansas and Florida (Pierce, 1974:31). For the first time in history, in national elections the Republican party now seemed to be the traditional party of the South.
President Johnson gave no indication of slowing down the War on Poverty simply because a real war was going on. Just before his second inauguration, the president announced eighty-eight anti- poverty projects at a cost of $101 million. In his state of the union message he stressed the importance of the Great Society, emphasizing his war on poverty and denouncing the horrors of racism.
An event that created a great deal of sympathy for the civil rights movement occurred at a march in the spring of 1965 in Selma, Alabama. Civil rights demonstrators embarked on a fifty-mile walk for freedom from Selma to the state Capitol in Montgomery. As the marchers started to cross the bridge into Montgomery, the police viciously attacked them. Using tear gas and clubs, the police dispersed the marchers. A horrified national audience saw it all on television. President Johnson called out 4,000 troops to protect the Selma-Montgomery marchers. Later that month the nation reeled again upon hearing of the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, a northerner working in the South to transport freedom marchers. The FBI arrested four Klan members for the murder. The first prosecution ended in a mistrial. In October 1965 an all-white jury acquitted Collie Leroy Wilkins of the murder, but in December another jury convicted the three other Klansman.
In April Commissioner of Education Francis Keppel ordered all public schools to desegregate by the fall of 1967. In the same month 15,000 protesters picketed the White House demanding the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. The demonstration did not stop Johnson from further escalating the war as he ordered American ground troops to take a combat role. The reaction from civil rights leaders was immediate and very negative. On July 4 Reverend King called for an end to the war. This did little to discourage the president as later that month he sent 50,000 more troops to Vietnam.
The South compromised on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed in August. The bill prohibited states from using poll taxes, literacy tests, or other impediments meant to deny minorities their right to vote. The bill as originally designed had been more liberal. It had included a ban on the poll tax and a provision that federal examiners be allowed to supervise voter registration in those states that had registered less than 50 percent of voting-age residents. Compromises forced the dropping of the poll tax, and Senator Dirksen added an amendment which exempted states as soon as they could prove that 60 percent of their voting age population had been registered.
If President Johnson thought the Voting Rights Bill ought to have helped assuage the bitterness felt by black Americans, he was wrong. In August rioting broke out in the Watts suburb of Los Angeles that resulted in thirty deaths.
THE ROLE OF CONGRESS
It took the death of President Kennedy to push through key civil rights legislation in the early 1960s. Southern congressional leaders neutralized much of the early legislation, but as the nation became more and more disgruntled over Southern resistance, Southerners began to lose more and more power.
Even when the civil rights bills did pass, the South and other conservative forces managed to weaken them. Potter (1972:81-83) writes that the proclamations of jubilee following each civil rights bill has obscured the fact of how much their advocates had to concede in order to get them adopted at all. Everyone of them had elements of a negotiated settlement, and this mostly with Southern congressmen.
Some observers think that the Southern dominance of much of Congress described by Potter (1972) has now given way to a more pluralistic distribution of power (see Dodd and Oppenheimer, 1977). Before the presidency of Ronald Reagan, a relatively large number of non-southern members came to share power as chairs of standing subcommittees. Moreover, moderates and liberals, instead of conservatives, came to dominate Congress. But this apparent loss of Southern power was largely due to Southern Democrats from heavily racially conscious areas switching their party memberships to the Republican party. The shift from Southern Democrats to Southern Republicans has caused a temporary loss of Southern committee chairmanships. The South will reassert much of its influence, and, given the national population shift to the south, will gain more legislative power.
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