People: American Civil Rights Movement

Hugo Black was appointed Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. He is noted for his “strict constructionist” reading of the Constitution. Strict constructionism confines the interpretation of law to the words and phrases it contains, without drawing upon other sources or inferences. Black took the position (which has never been adopted by the Supreme Court as a whole) that the Fourteenth Amendment required the incorporation of all the Bill of Rights protections to state governments. This theory is known as “total incorporation.”

Black wrote many well-known majority opinions, as well as famous dissents. His reading of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech led him to argue that the government cannot ban “obscene” speech. He also held in New York Times v. United States (1971) that national security did not allow the government to prevent the publication of sensitive information. He upheld strict separation of church and state in Engel v. Vitale (1962) referencing Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists.

His strict constructionist reading of the Constitution also informed his dissent in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) where he asserted that wearing armbands was “conduct” and not “speech.” He also dissented in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) rejecting the idea that the Constitution protected a right to privacy.

Cesar Chavez was born in 1927 in Yuma, Arizona. His parents lost their farm in the Great Depression, and the family moved from place to place, working the fields. His father had been injured in a car accident, so after eighth grade, young Chavez took responsibility for his family and became a farm worker.

In 1962, Chavez exercised his First Amendment freedom of assembly and founded the National Farm Workers Association, later called the United Farm Workers. This union fought for contracts, safe conditions, higher wages, and job security for union members. He led a nationwide boycott of grapes to increase support for the United Farm Workers.

Though his critics point out that unionized farm labor resulted in great numbers of willing workers being turned away from jobs, Cesar Chavez’s perseverance brought the experiences of migrant workers to national attention.

Orval Faubus, born in 1910, served as the Democratic Governor of Arkansas from 1955 to 1967, longer than any other governor in Arkansas history. He gained national attention in 1957 when he ordered the Arkansas National Guard to stop nine young African Americans from integrating Little Rock Central High School. He defended his actions by saying that he was seeking to maintain order and the status quo. Some believe that he supported segregation for political reasons. Segregationists were making a strong showing in the polls, indicating that moderates would not be successful in winning office. President Eisenhower eventually sent U. S. Army troops to Little Rock to enforce court directed integration and to protect the nine African American students. Faubus died in 1994.
Betty Friedan, a writer and activist born in 1921, was instrumental in creating the National Organization for Women and is given credit for the modern women’s movement. In 1963 her book The Feminine Mystique was published. It detailed the plight of women and their lack of personal fulfillment. She attributed this to the fact that women were judged on the successes of their husbands and children and not on their own merits. Later, she was a key leader in the struggle for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and after it failed she lobbied the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to support laws that prohibited sex discrimination in the workplace.
Hector P. Garcia moved to Texas as a young man when his family fled the Mexican Revolution. He attended the University of Texas and earned his medical degree in Galveston, Texas. He served in the Medical Corps during World War II where he was stationed in the European theater. The discrimination against Mexican Americans that he witnessed during the war led him to found the American GI Forum. It’s original focus was to increase veterans’ benefits for Mexican Americans but later broadened its focus to include education, public housing, and other policy areas. For this community service and activism, Mr. Garcia was awarded the American Medal of Freedom in 1984. He was the first Mexican American to receive this honor.
Barry Goldwater, born in 1909, served as a U.S. Senator from Arizona from 1953-1965 and 1969-1987. He was the Republican candidate for President in 1964 who was defeated by Lyndon B. Johnson in one of the biggest landslides in U. S. history. He was seen by some as an extremist candidate when he appeared to advocate nuclear warfare and ending social welfare. Many consider him to be the founder of the modern conservative movement within the Republican Party. Senator Goldwater felt that government was not the way to solve societal problems. Over time, he changed what some thought were his extremist positions, and in the 1980’s he broke from the New Right within the party when they wanted to pass legislation that would have curtailed the power of the courts following controversial rulings on prayer in school and flag burning. He felt that this would have been a violation of the constitutional separation of powers. Mr. Goldwater died in 1998.
Dolores Huerta, born in 1930, left her job as a teacher to become a leading civil rights activist. She had witnessed the poverty and hunger of youngsters and felt that she could do more by organizing movements that would help provide more rights for immigrant workers. She cofounded the United Farm Workers of America in 1962 along with César Chavez. Three years later she directed the national grape boycott that resulted in the California grape industry agreeing to the collective bargaining rights of workers. In 1972 she chaired the Democratic National Convention.
Lyndon Johnson was born in Texas where he worked as a teacher. He won a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1937 after campaigning on the New Deal Programs of President Franklin Roosevelt. During World War II, while serving as a US Congressman, LBJ was called to active duty and served in the military as a Navy lieutenant commander. He eventually served six terms in the House before being elected to the Senate.

In 1960 Johnson was elected Vice President under President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Johnson assumed the presidency. He urged Congress to adopt the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After being reelected in 1964, Johnson urged the nation to “build a great society.” Congress approved Johnson’s unprecedented series of social programs, which became known as the “Great Society.” The Social Security Act was amended to include Medicare for the elderly. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in voting. Welfare programs were implemented to combat poverty and crime. Despite these programs, however, crime and poverty persisted, and race riots plagued the nation.

Johnson also exercised his power as Commander in Chief of the military during the Vietnam War. In 1964 he asked Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving him expanded war power to fight communism in Vietnam. In 1968, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection due to the growing unrest in the country over the Vietnam War. In response to questions about the president’s role as Commander in Chief, and the separation of powers under the Constitution during the administrations of Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973.

In 1971, the printing of classified documents pertaining in part to Johnson’s conduct during the Vietnam War were at the center of the Supreme Court case New York Times v. United States (1971).

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Georgia. He became a minister in 1947 and became pastor of an Alabama Baptist church in 1954. He believed segregation to be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and led a boycott of segregated bus lines in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, which led to their integration the next year. Calling for non-violent resistance, he organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight for civil rights.

In 1963 King spoke at the March on Washington. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King electrified the crowd of 250,000 with his “I Have a Dream” speech. He referred to the Declaration of Independence and its promise of equality.

While imprisoned for marching in April 1963, King wrote “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” which is regarded as a manifesto of the civil rights movement. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King also led civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Television cameras captured police brutality on peaceful marchers exercising their rights to assemble freely.

Throughout his life, King spoke to crowds who had assembled freely, in order to promote and expand freedom for Americans.

Lester Maddox, born in Georgia in 1915, grew up in a working class family. Experiencing poverty during his childhood, he quit high school and went into the domestic workforce during World War II. He became upset about what he saw as inefficiency and waste in the workforce. He opened his own restaurant, the Pickrick Cafeteria. As the owner of the Pickrick Cafeteria in Georgia, Maddox challenged the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing to desegregate. When he lost his challenge in court, he chose to close his restaurant rather than desegregate. Media coverage of his defiance of the act provided him with publicity. Always interested in politics, Mr. Maddox ran as the Democratic candidate for governor in 1966. Once elected, many feared that his segregationist ideas might negatively influence the state. As it turned out, some of the policies of his administration benefited many African Americans. One of the most controversial events of his term was his decision not to lower the flags to half staff following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. His rationale for this was that he feared riots in his state.
Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of working-class parents and the great-grandson of a slave. Denied entry to his home state’s university school of law because he was black, Marshall instead went to Howard University Law School. He graduated first in his class, and soon after became a lawyer for the NAACP, working on a litigation campaign to end segregation and racial discrimination. His first civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson (1935), successfully challenged the University of Maryland segregation policy. He said that segregation cases transcended individual rights, but rather were about “the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.” In his most famous case, he argued and won the Supreme Court case that ended segregation in public schools, Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The University of Maryland later named its law library after Marshall.

In 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court. Through his career on the bench of the highest Court, Marshall expressed his commitment to the Constitution and principles of equality, individual rights and liberty, authoring opinions in cases including Regents of California v. Bakke (1978). Sometimes known as the “Great Dissenter,” he often broke from majority opinions. He believed capital punishment to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment in all circumstances, and dissented from all rulings that applied the death penalty.

Rosa Parks is best known as the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Rosa was born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. As a child, she and her family lived on her grandparents’ farm. Rosa grew up in a time when African Americans were treated with disrespect just because of their race. She entered the first grade in a segregated school with over 50 children in her class and one teacher. The school went up to sixth grade and was open for only five months of the year rather than nine. In 1955 it was a law in Alabama that African Americans had to sit at the back of the bus if there were Anglo passengers needing seats. Encouraged by the NAACP, Rosa Parks agreed to make a stand against the law. One day Rosa was taking the bus home from work. She was sitting in the middle section of the bus when a white man boarded the bus. The driver told Rosa to move to the back, but she refused and was arrested. Angry African Americans began a boycott and refused to use public transportation, forcing the bus company out of business. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of the civil rights movement which led to the landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960’s.
George Wallace, born in 1919, served as Governor of Alabama during the civil rights movement of the 60's and 70's. When he was elected Governor in 1962 as a Democrat, he ran on a pro-segregation, states’ rights platform. In his inaugural speech, he proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” In June, 1963, he stood in the door of the University of Alabama to block the admission of two African American students. By the time he ran for his last term as governor in 1982, he had undergone a political turnaround – from segregationist to winning support among African Americans. During his last term, he appointed a record number of African Americans to government positions. Wallace ran unsuccessfully for President of the U. S. four times. In 1968, as a candidate of the American Independent Party, he won 46 electoral votes from five southern states and 13.5% of the nationwide popular vote. This performance by a third party candidate had an impact on Hubert H. Humphrey’s defeat. Wallace remains the only third party presidential candidate since 1948 to have won electoral votes. In 1972, while campaigning in Maryland, a would-be assassin shot Wallace. He survived but was permanently paralyzed. Wallace died in 1998.
The Black Panthers (originally named the Black Panther Party for Self Defense) was a radical group in the 1960’s that advocated armed self-defense and a revolutionary agenda to immediately end black oppression. The more radical approach of the Black Panthers was dramatically different from the nonviolent approach of Martin Luther King, Jr. The founder, Huey Newton, chose the panther as part of the group’s name because of its powerful image. While the Black Panthers did advocate a more militant approach than did Dr. King, they also advocated self-sufficiency for African Americans including employment and decent housing. Some of their activities were designed to better their communities by providing daycare centers, medical clinics, and other services.