Part 9

by Robin McMeeking

The Eisenhower Years

The following are segments taken from multiple essays at answers.com

Dwight David Eisenhower was born to David and Ida Stover Eisenhower in Denison, Texas, 14 October 1890. The following year, he, his parents, and two brothers moved to Abilene, Kansas, his father’s childhood home. After graduating from high school, Eisenhower received appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and in 1915, he was commissioned second lieutenant. Following U.S. entry into World War I, he commanded the U.S. army tank corps training center at Camp Colt near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In the postwar years, Eisenhower held staff positions under the most accomplished and influential officers in the U.S. Army, including Generals John J. Pershing, Fox Conner, and Douglas MacArthur. In the process, he became a military strategist, rising slowly through the ranks from major to brigadier general. In World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall, army chief of staff, appointed Eisenhower to command of the War Plans Division (later the Operations Division) of the Army General Staff; then to supreme command sequentially of the Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and of Normandy, France, as well as being Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Eisenhower accepted the German unconditional surrender for the Western Allies on 8 May 1945. Returning to the United States as a five‐star general (general of the army), he accepted appointment as army chief of staff. After overseeing the demobilization of the army and writing a best‐selling war memoir, Crusade in Europe, in 1948, Eisenhower retired from the army and became president of Columbia University.

Not long after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, President Harry S. Truman called him back to active duty as the first supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a position Eisenhower retained until May 1952, when he announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. He was elected thirty‐fourth president of the United States and served two terms.

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Eisenhower’s strength as a political leader rested almost entirely upon his disinterestedness and his integrity. He had little taste for political maneuvers and was never a strong partisan. His party, which attained a majority in both houses of Congress in 1952, lost control in 1954, and for 6 of 8 years in office the President was compelled to rely upon both Democrats and Republicans. His personal qualities, however, made this easier than it might have been.

Eisenhower did not conceive of the presidency as a positive executiveship, as has been the view of most of the great U.S. presidents. His personal philosophy was never very clearly defined. He was not a dynamic leader; he took a position in the center and drew his strength from that. In domestic affairs he was influenced by his strong and able secretary of the Treasury, George Humphrey. In foreign affairs he leaned heavily upon his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. He delegated wide powers to those he trusted; in domestic affairs his personal assistant, Sherman Adams, exercised great influence. In a sense, Eisenhower’s stance above the “battle” no doubt made him stronger.

Domestic Policies

To attempt to classify Eisenhower as liberal or conservative is difficult. He was undoubtedly sympathetic to business interests and had widespread support from them. He had austere views as to fiscal matters and was not generally in favor of enlarging the role of government in economic affairs. Yet he favored measures such as a far-reaching extension of social security, he signed a law fixing a minimum wage, and he recommended the formation of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. After an initial error, he appointed to this post Marion B. Folsom, an outstanding administrator who had been a pioneer in the movement for social security in the 1930s.

Civil Rights

But the most significant development in domestic policy came through the Supreme Court. The President appointed Earl Warren to the post of chief justice. In 1954 the Warren Court handed down a unanimous decision declaring segregation in the schools unconstitutional, giving a new impetus to the civil rights movement.

Eisenhower was extremely cautious in implementing this decision. He saw that it was enforced in the District of Columbia, but in his heart he did not believe in it and thought that it was for the states rather than the Federal government to take appropriate action. Nonetheless, he was compelled to move in 1957 when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus attempted to defy the desegregation decision by using national guardsmen to bar African Americans from entering the schools of Little Rock. The President’s stand was unequivocal; he made it clear that he would enforce the law. When Faubus proved obdurate, the President enjoined him and forced the removal of the national guard. When the African Americans admitted were forced by an armed mob to withdraw, the President sent Federal troops to Little Rock and federalized the national guard. A month later the Federal troops were withdrawn. But it was a long time before the situation was completely stabilized.

The President’s second term saw further progress in civil rights. In 1957 he signed a measure providing further personnel for the attorney general’s office for enforcing the law and barring interference with voting rights. In 1960 he signed legislation strengthening the measure and making resistance to desegregation a Federal offense.

Foreign Policies

In foreign affairs Eisenhower encouraged the strengthening of NATO, at the same time seeking an understanding with the Soviet Union. In 1955 the U.S.S.R. agreed to evacuate Austria, then under four-power occupation, but a Geneva meeting of the powers (Britain, France, the U.S.S.R., and the United States) made little progress on the problem of divided Germany. A new effort at understanding came in 1959, when the Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States. In friendly discussions it was agreed to hold a new international conference in Paris. When that time arrived, however, the Russians had just captured an American plane engaged in spying operations over the Soviet Union (the Gary Powers incident). Khrushchev flew into a tantrum and broke up the conference. When Eisenhower’s term ended, relations with the Kremlin were still unhappy.

In the Orient the President negotiated an armistice with the North Koreans to terminate the Korean War begun in 1950. It appears that Eisenhower brought the North Koreans and their Chinese Communist allies to terms by threatening to enlarge the war. He supported the Chinese Nationalists. Dulles negotiated the treaty that created SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) and pledged the United States to consult with the other signatories and to meet any threat of peace in that region “in accordance with their constitutional practices….” This treaty was of special significance with regard to Vietnam, where the French had been battling against a movement for independence. In 1954 Vietnam was divided, the North coming under Communist control, the South (anti-Communist) increasingly supported by the United States.

In the Near East, Eisenhower faced a very difficult situation. In 1956 the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The government of Israel, probably encouraged by France and Great Britain, launched a preventive war, soon joined by the two great powers. The President and the secretary of state condemned this breach of the peace within the deliberations framework of the United Nations, and the three powers were obliged to sign an armistice. These events occurred at a particularly inauspicious time for the United States, since a popular revolt against the Soviet Union had broken out in Hungary. The hands of the American government were tied, though perhaps in no case could the United States have acted effectively in preventing Soviet suppression of the revolt.

In the Latin American sphere the President was confronted with events of great importance in Cuba. Cuba was ruled by an increasingly brutal and tyrannical president, Fulgencio Batista. In 1958, to mark its displeasure, the American government withdrew military support from the Batista regime. There followed a collapse of the government, and the Cuban leftist leader, Fidel Castro, installed himself in power. Almost from the beginning Castro began a flirtation with the Soviet Union, and relations between Havana and Washington were severed in January 1960.

In the meantime the United States had embarked upon a course which was to cause great embarrassment to Eisenhower’s successor. It had encouraged and assisted anti-Castro Cubans to prepare to invade the island and overthrow the Castro regime. Though these plans had not crystallized when Eisenhower left office in 1961, it proved difficult to reverse them, and the result for the John F. Kennedy administration was the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs.

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The Eisenhower presidency, in retrospect one of the most successful of the modern era, also involved controversy, reflected by the fact that not long after he left office, historians ranked him only twenty‐second in polls of presidential effectiveness. Many contemporary critics focus on his frequent relaxations, golf and trout fishing. And after his heart attack in 1955 and a slight stroke in 1957, pundits doubted his stamina. They condemned his failure publicly to repudiate the anti‐Communist demagogue, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. Civil rights advocates criticized the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 for not going far enough. Other critics incorrectly said Eisenhower turned over U.S. foreign policy to John Foster Dulles, his secretary of state. The Soviet launching of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, testing of intercontinental missiles, and shooting down of an American U‐2 reconnaissance airplane (1960) brought charges that Eisenhower had weakened American defenses, allowing an alleged “missile gap” to develop with the Soviet Union. The president, they also charged, used the Central Intelligence Agency to put the United States on the side of right‐wing dictators in Third World nations such as Iran and Guatemala.

A few words about Eisenhower’s economic policies are in order. He deviated considerably from politically motivated policies, although what motivated these deviations is unexplained. Adlai Stevenson once described the “liberal hour” as that time before presidential elections when even staunch conservatives loosen the purse strings for political purposes.

For the most fiscally conservative president of the postwar period the “liberal hour” never arrived. In the 1956 and 1960 presidential elections President Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to engage in expansionary policies to enhance his or his party’s chances for re-election.

Eisenhower’s refusal to stimulate the economy before either presidential election raises serious questions about the validity of the political business cycle hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, presidents will engage in contractionary policies in the early years of their terms to reduce inflation, then use expansionary policies before the presidential election to reduce unemployment and reap the electoral rewards of an expanding economy.

The economic policies of the Eisenhower administration provide a particularly intriguing case in the study of political business cycles because Eisenhower’s policies were inconsistent with the general political business cycle pattern. Whereas real disposable income per capita increased in eight of eleven presidential and congressional election years during the administrations of Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, it declined in every election year during the Eisenhower administration.

While Eisenhower had little need to stimulate the economy in 1956 with a solid lead in the polls over the Democratic front runner Adlai Stevenson, Vice President Richard Nixon could certainly have benefited from at least a momentary lapse in Eisenhower’s fiscal frugality in 1960. Not only was the unemployment rate higher in 1960 than 1956, but the economy appeared to be sliding into another recession. Moreover, voter surveys from August 1959 through August 1960 showed Kennedy and Nixon virtually tied in the polls.

Other Issues

In considering legislative achievements during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson years it is important to keep in mind that southern Democrats tended to be more conservative than northern Democrats. It was not unusual for them to vote with Republicans on economic issues.

Two civil rights issues gained significant national attention during Eisenhower’s presidency. First was a bus segregation situation in Alabama.

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955–1956

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (the “mother of the Civil Rights Movement”) refused to give up her seat on a public bus to make room for a white passenger. She was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and had recently returned from a meeting at the Highlander Center in Tennessee where nonviolent civil disobedience as a strategy had been discussed. Parks was arrested, tried, and convicted for disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. After word of this incident reached the black community, 50 African-American leaders gathered and organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott to demand a more humane bus transportation system. However, after any reforms were rejected the NAACP, led by E.D. Nixon, pushed for full desegregation of public buses. With the support of most of Montgomery’s 50,000 African Americans, the boycott lasted for 381 days until the local ordinance segregating African-Americans and whites on public buses was lifted. Ninety percent of African Americans in Montgomery took part in the boycotts, which reduced bus revenue by 80%. A federal court ordered Montgomery’s buses desegregated in November 1956, and the boycott ended.

A young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr., was president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the organization that directed the boycott. The protest made King a national figure. His eloquent appeals to Christian brotherhood and American idealism created a positive impression on people both inside and outside the South.

Next was the school integration situation in Little Rock. “Separate but equal” was the rule for many things, including schools. The Supreme Court overturned that in “Brown v Board of Education” in 1954. However it wasn’t until 1957 that there was a real test of that decision. Events in Little Rock dominated the news for several days.

…imagine that you are a black student in 1957 preparing to go to Little Rock Central High School to attempt what seemed impossible — the integration of public schools. These students were aware of what the public thought of their entering into a “white” high school. They didn’t worry about fitting in. Most whites, including the governor at the time, Orval Faubus, stood against them. Most troubling to the students was the fact that many blacks thought that the integration of Central would cause more trouble for their race than good.

The night before Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Ernest Green, Minniejean Brown, Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts and Gloria Ray, or the “Little Rock Nine” as history remembers them, were to enter into high school was not a peaceful night of sleep. It was a night filled with hate. Faubus declared that integration was an impossibility in a televised statement and instructed the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High and keep all blacks out of the school. They did keep them out for that first day of class.

Daisy Bates instructed the students to wait for her on Wednesday, the second day of school, and planned for all nine students and herself to enter the school together. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine, did not have a phone. She never received the message and attempted to enter the school alone through the front entrance. An angry mob met her, threatening to lynch her, as the Arkansas National Guard looked on. Fortunately, two whites stepped forward to aid her and she escaped without injury. The other eight were also denied admittance by the National Guard who were under orders from Governor Faubus.

Soon after this, On September 20, Judge Ronald N. Davies granted NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton an injunction that prevented Governor Faubus from using the National Guard to deny the nine black students admittance to Central High. Faubus announced that he would comply with the court order but suggested that the nine stay away for their own safety. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the nine students. Each student had their own guard. The students did enter Central High and were protected somewhat, but they were the subject of persecution. Students spat at them, beat them, and yelled insults. White mothers pulled their children out of school, and even blacks told the nine to give up. Why did they stay under such hostile situations? Ernest Green says “We kids did it mainly because we didn’t know any better, but our parents were willing to put their careers, and their homes on the line.”

One of the girls, Minniejean Brown, was suspended for dumping a bowl of chili on the head of one her persecutors and didn’t finish out the school year. The other 8 did finish out the year. Ernest Green graduated that year. He was the first black to ever graduate from Central High.

That was not the end of hostility surrounding the nine. Faubus was set on preventing his schools from integration. The Little Rock School Board was granted an injunction delaying integration until 1961. However, the ruling was overturned by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and integration was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1958. Faubus ignored the ruling and used his power to shut down Little Rock’s public schools. During the shutdown, white students attended private schools in the area but black students had no choice but to wait.

Three of the Little Rock Nine students moved away. The remaining five took correspondence courses from the University of Arkansas. When Faubus’ actions were declared unconstitutional and the schools reopened in 1959, only two black students were assigned to Central–Jefferson Thompson and Carlotta Walls. They graduated in 1959.

These 9 students, although they didn’t realize it then, made huge waves in the civil rights movement. Not only did they show that blacks COULD fight for their rights and WIN, they also brought the idea of segregation to the forefront of people’s minds. They showed the nation what extreme and horrible measures some whites would take to protect segregation. No doubt, the events at Central High inspired many lunch counter sit ins and Freedom Rides and inspired blacks to take up the cause of Civil Rights. If these nine children could take on the huge task, they could too.

Briefly mentioned above in the assessment of Eisenhower was the term “missile gap”. When the Soviet Union successfully launched the first orbiting satellite (Sputnik) in 1957, it instantly caused concern that the U.S.SR had achieved superiority in long range missiles that could carry nuclear weapons. This became a major issue during the 1960 presidential campaign. From Time magazine: During the campaign Candidate Kennedy had played heavily on the possibility of a dangerous missile gap. “We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival,” he said on the Senate floor a year ago. Lyndon Johnson had clucked that “the missile gap cannot be eliminated by the stroke of a pen.” Missouri’s Senator Stuart Symington, the Democrats’ chief defense specialist had charged: “A very substantial missile gap does exist and the Eisenhower Administration apparently is going to permit this gap to increase.”

Vice President Nixon, campaigning against Kennedy, vehemently denied that there was a gap, as did Eisenhower. A few days after taking office, Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, gave a press briefing on the current state of U.S. nuclear forces. Then, casually, he added that today the Russians probably have no more intercontinental ballistic missiles than the U.S. The remark did not go unnoticed by the press!

The Kennedy Years

Kennedy was born in 1917 into a wealthy, Catholic, Massachusetts family. His father had served as ambassador to Britain prior to WW II in the Roosevelt administration. After graduating from Harvard in 1940 he joined the Navy. During WW II he commanded a Patrol Torpedo boat, PT109. He suffered a back injury when his boat was struck by a Japanese destroyer. Back problems plagued him for the rest of his life. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 and to the Senate in 1952. His election to the Presidency in 1960 made him the second youngest U.S. president in history. The popular vote gave him 34,226,925 votes to 34,108,662 for Nixon. The following is from spartacus.schoolnet.

At his inaugural address on 20th January, 1961, Kennedy challenged the people of the United States with the statement: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.” Kennedy also wanted the young people of the country to help the undeveloped world. He announced the establishment of the Peace Corps, a scheme that intended to send 10,000 young people to serve in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Kennedy argued that this “practical, inexpensive, person-to-person program will plant trust, good will and a capacity for self-help” in the underdeveloped world.

In the first speech he made to the American public as their President, Kennedy made it clear that he intended to continue Eisenhower’s policy of supporting the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem. He argued that if South Vietnam became a communist state, the whole of the non-communist world would be at risk. If South Vietnam fell, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia would follow. If communism was not halted in Vietnam it would gradually spread throughout the world. This view became known as the Domino Theory. Kennedy went on to argue: “No other challenge is more deserving of our effort and energy… Our security may be lost piece by piece, country by country.” Under his leadership, America would be willing to: “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Almost immediately (April 14, 1961) he executed the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba which we addressed earlier. Planning for this invasion had begun under Eisenhower. It was a disaster and was at least partially responsible for the military build-up leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have to throw in here somewhere that Kennedy was probably our most charismatic President. Even his political critics had to admire his poise, easy sophistication, and excellent speaking abilities. The following summary of his time in office is from wikepedia.

Domestic Policy

Kennedy called his domestic program the “New Frontier”. It ambitiously promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural regions, and government intervention to halt the recession. Kennedy also promised an end to racial discrimination. In 1963, he proposed a tax reform which included income tax cuts, but this was not passed by Congress until 1964, after his death. Few of Kennedy’s major programs passed Congress during his lifetime, although, under his successor Johnson, Congress did vote them through in 1964–65.

Economy

Kennedy ended a period of tight fiscal policies, loosening monetary policy to keep interest rates down and encourage growth of the economy. Kennedy presided over the first government budget to top the $100 billion mark, in 1962, and his first budget in 1961 led to the country’s first non-war, non-recession deficit. The economy, which had been through two recessions in three years and was in one when Kennedy took office, accelerated notably during his brief presidency. Despite low inflation and interest rates, GDP had grown by an average of only 2.2% during the Eisenhower presidency (scarcely more than population growth at the time), and had declined by 1% during Eisenhower’s last twelve months in office. Stagnation had taken a toll on the nation’s labor market, as well: unemployment had risen steadily from under 3% in 1953 to 7%, by early 1961.

The economy turned around and prospered during the Kennedy administration. GDP expanded by an average of 5.5% from early 1961 to late 1963, while inflation remained steady at around 1% and unemployment began to ease; industrial production rose by 15% and motor vehicle sales leapt by 40%. This rate of growth in GDP and industry continued until around 1966…

Civil rights

The turbulent end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing domestic issues of Kennedy’s era. The United States Supreme Court had ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. However, many schools, especially in southern states, did not obey the Supreme Court’s judgment. Segregation on buses, in restaurants, movie theaters, bathrooms, and other public places remained. Kennedy supported racial integration and civil rights, and during the 1960 campaign he telephoned Coretta Scott King, wife of the jailed Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., which perhaps drew some additional black support to his candidacy. John and Robert Kennedy’s intervention secured the early release of King from jail.

In September 1962, James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of Mississippi, but he was prevented from doing so by white students and other Mississippians. Robert Kennedy, then Attorney General, responded by sending some 400 U.S. Marshals, while President Kennedy reluctantly sent about 3,000 federal troops after the situation on campus turned violent. Riots at the campus left two dead and dozens injured. Meredith finally enrolled in his first class. Kennedy also assigned federal marshals to protect Freedom Riders.

As President, Kennedy initially believed the grass roots movement for civil rights would only anger many Southern whites and make it even more difficult to pass civil rights laws through Congress, which was dominated by conservative Southern Democrats, and he distanced himself from it. As a result, many civil rights leaders viewed Kennedy as unsupportive of their efforts.

On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy intervened when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama to stop two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling. George Wallace moved aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard. That evening Kennedy gave his famous civil rights address on national television and radio. Kennedy proposed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women in 1961. Commission statistics revealed that women were also experiencing discrimination. Their final report documenting legal and cultural barriers was issued in October 1963, a month before Kennedy’s assassination.

Civil liberties

In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who hated civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and viewed him as an upstart troublemaker, presented the Kennedy Administration with allegations that some of King’s close confidants and advisers were communists. Concerned that the allegations, if made public, would derail the Administration’s civil rights initiatives, Robert Kennedy warned King to discontinue the suspect associations, and later felt compelled to issue a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s civil rights organization. Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King’s phones “on a trial basis, for a month or so”, Hoover extended the clearance so his men were “unshackled” to look for evidence in any areas of King’s life they deemed worthy. The wire tapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968.

Due to a recession, Kennedy used the power of federal agencies to influence U.S. Steel not to institute a price increase. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the administration had set prices of steel “by naked power, by threats, by agents of the state security police.” Yale law professor Charles Reich wrote in The New Republic that the administration had violated civil liberties by calling a grand jury to indict U.S. Steel so quickly.

Immigration

John F. Kennedy initially proposed an overhaul of American immigration policy that later was to become the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, sponsored by Kennedy’s brother Senator Edward Kennedy. It dramatically shifted the source of immigration from Northern and Western European countries towards immigration from Latin America and Asia and shifted the emphasis of selection of immigrants towards facilitating family reunification. Kennedy wanted to dismantle the selection of immigrants based on country of origin and saw this as an extension of his civil rights policies.

Space program

Kennedy was eager for the United States to lead the way in the space race. Sergei Khrushchev says Kennedy approached his father, Nikita, twice about a “joint venture” in space exploration—in June 1961 and autumn 1963. On the first occasion, the Soviet Union was far ahead of America in terms of space technology. Kennedy first announced the goal for landing a man on the Moon in speaking to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, saying

“First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in which he said

“No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.”

and

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

On the second approach to Khrushchev, the Ukrainian was persuaded that cost-sharing was beneficial and American space technology was forging ahead. The U.S. had launched a geostationary satellite and Kennedy had asked Congress to approve more than $25 billion for the Apollo Project.

Activist demonstrations were to become a theme for the 60s and into the 70s. Initially these were civil rights based. Later they focused on Vietnam. In addition to those already mentioned were the following.

Sit-ins

The Civil Rights Movement received an infusion of energy with a student sit-in at a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina. On February 1, 1960, four students… from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College, an all-black college, sat down at the segregated lunch counter to protest Woolworth’s policy of excluding African Americans. These protesters were encouraged to dress professionally, to sit quietly, and to occupy every other stool so that potential white sympathizers could join in. The sit-in soon inspired other sit-ins in Richmond, Virginia; Nashville, Tennessee; and Atlanta, Georgia.

As students across the south began to “sit-in” at the lunch counters of a few of their local stores, local authority figures sometimes used brute force to physically escort the demonstrators from the lunch facilities.

The “sit-in” technique was not new—as far back as 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia library. In 1960 the technique succeeded in bringing national attention to the movement. The success of the Greensboro sit-in led to a rash of student campaigns throughout the South. Probably the best organized, most highly disciplined, the most immediately effective of these was in Nashville, Tennessee.

On March 9th, 1960 an Atlanta University Center group of students released An Appeal for Human Rights as a full page advertisement in newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta Journal, and Atlanta Daily World. This student group, known as the Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), initiated the Atlanta Student Movement and began to lead in Atlanta with Sit-ins starting on March 15th, 1960.

By the end of 1960, the sit-ins had spread to every southern and border state and even to Nevada, Illinois, and Ohio.

Demonstrators focused not only on lunch counters but also on parks, beaches, libraries, theaters, museums, and other public places. Upon being arrested, student demonstrators made “jail-no-bail” pledges, to call attention to their cause and to reverse the cost of protest, thereby saddling their jailers with the financial burden of prison space and food.

In April, 1960 activists who had led these sit-ins held a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC took these tactics of nonviolent confrontation further, to the freedom rides.

Freedom Rides, 1961

Freedom Rides were journeys by Civil Rights activists on interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to test the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia, (1960) 364 U.S. that ended segregation for passengers engaged in inter-state travel. Organized by CORE, the first Freedom Ride of the 1960s left Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.

During the first and subsequent Freedom Rides, activists traveled through the Deep South to integrate seating patterns and desegregate bus terminals, including restrooms and water fountains. That proved to be a dangerous mission. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed, forcing its passengers to flee for their lives. In Birmingham, Alabama, an FBI informant reported that Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor gave Ku Klux Klan members fifteen minutes to attack an incoming group of freedom riders before having police “protect” them. The riders were severely beaten “until it looked like a bulldog had got a hold of them.” James Peck, a white activist, was beaten so hard he required fifty stitches to his head.

Mob violence in Anniston and Birmingham temporarily halted the rides, but SNCC activists from Nashville brought in new riders to continue the journey from Birmingham. In Montgomery, Alabama, at the Greyhound Bus Station, a mob charged another bus load of riders, knocking John Lewis unconscious with a crate and smashing Life photographer Don Urbrock in the face with his own camera. A dozen men surrounded Jim Zwerg, a white student from Fisk University, and beat him in the face with a suitcase, knocking out his teeth.

The freedom riders continued their rides into Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested for “breaching the peace” by using “white only” facilities. New freedom rides were organized by many different organizations. As riders arrived in Jackson, they were arrested. By the end of summer, more than 300 had been jailed in Mississippi.

The jailed freedom riders were treated harshly, crammed into tiny, filthy cells and sporadically beaten. In Jackson, Mississippi, some male prisoners were forced to do hard labor in 100-degree heat. Others were transferred to Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where their food was deliberately oversalted and their mattresses were removed. Sometimes the men were suspended by “wrist breakers” from the walls. Typically, the windows of their cells were shut tight on hot days, making it hard for them to breathe.

Public sympathy and support for the freedom riders led the Kennedy administration to order the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue a new desegregation order. When the new ICC rule took effect on November 1, passengers were permitted to sit wherever they chose on the bus; “white” and “colored” signs came down in the terminals; separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated; and lunch counters began serving people regardless of skin color.

Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 while traveling in a motorcade. The assassin used a high powered rifle and shot from a sixth floor window of the School Book Depository Building. There were aspects of the shooting that many people found difficult to accept. There were reports of shots from other directions; there were two quick shots, and the rifle was not an automatic; Kennedy was hit twice and Governor Connaly, seated in front of Kennedy, was hit once. Forensic experts determined a path for one bullet that hit both men, but it seemed rather complicated. The assasin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself killed on November 24 while being taken out of the jail. He had not provided any information about the shooting. People are still making money with books and TV documentaries about conspiracy theories.