Race relations in the United States had been tense for decades before the 1950s. The tension was especially obvious in the political, economic, and social realm where African-Americans were unable to vote in many states, had previously been considered property by white Americans, and were frequently segregated in restaurants, libraries, movie theatres, or almost any place where African-Americans might interact with whites.
Prior to the Tallahassee student sit-ins of 1960, the Tallahassee Bus Boycott took place in 1956, patterned after the Montgomery Bus Boycott that started with the refusal of Rosa Parks to surrender her bus seat to a white person. Tallahassee was sometimes called the “little Mississippi” where segregation was prominent.
On May 27, 1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, two female students at all-black Florida A+M University in Tallahassee, Florida, paid their ten-cent fares and boarded a segregated city bus. They sat in seats normally occupied by white people, because the back of the bus, where black patrons were expected to sit, was very crowded. When the driver asked them to move, they refused, citing the standing-room only conditions of the back of the bus, and their own fatigue. They offered to leave if their fares were refunded.
In 1960, Orangeburg, South Carolina was a town of 13,852 people. Although the African-American population numbered only around 5,000 and declining, racial tension in the town was high due to a series of protests and boycotts in 1955-56. Two all-black colleges, South Carolina State College (SCSC) and Claflin College, were home to plenty of potential activists. When students in Greensboro sat-in for racial integration on February 1, students in Orangeburg eagerly followed suit. They formed the Orangeburg Student Movement Association (OSMA) to coordinate actions between
Similar to action taken on college and university campuses throughout the 1960s in the United States, students at the College of the Holy Cross also took a stand against the Vietnam War. Students first organized to protest the presence of recruiters for Dow Chemical Company (a manufacturer of napalm) in O’Kane Hall on campus in January 1968.
In 1966, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the Southern and Eastern parts of the United States, but it was just beginning to reach Seattle, Washington. De facto segregation in housing meant that the public schools were effectively segregated as well, with North End schools serving predominantly white students, and South End schools serving predominantly African-American and Asian-American students.
In 1968, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the Southern and Eastern parts of the United States, but it was just beginning to reach Seattle, Washington. Buoyed by a series of speeches given by Stokely Carmichael, a group of black students from the University of Washington founded a Black Student Union (BSU), to advocate for the rights of black students at the university and area high schools.
The 1960s was a time of national turmoil for the civil rights of African-Americans, and Seattle was no exception. However, up until 1968, Seattle’s civil rights movement was subdued, compared to the fervor and tension of campaigns in other cities.
Stephen Girard (1750 – 1831), the well known Philadelphia merchant and banker, bequeathed a large sum of money to be used in the founding of Girard College, a boarding school for orphaned youth between the ages of six and ten. The school was established in 1848 on forty acres of farmland north of Philadelphia. Stephen Girard stipulated in his will that the school would only be open to “fatherless” white boys.
Cecil B. Moore, the prominent African American civil rights activist and criminal defense attorney, ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 1967. As part of his campaign, Moore supported the demands of Philadelphia's African American students and parents who called for changes to school district policy. These changes included new courses in African American history and the allowance of African American students to wear traditional African clothing in school.
In 1962, in response to growing recognition of de facto segregation of public schools and housing availability, the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO) was founded in Chicago. This council included the Chicago Urban League, the Chicago NAACP, and the Woodlawn Organization. CCCO elected Albert (Al) Raby, a local teacher, to organize and convene the group. In 1965, Mr. Raby invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to tour Chicago and witness the spatial segregation of this northern city.
By the late 1950s, civil rights activists were becoming frustrated with the slow pace of desegregation and integration in southern towns and businesses. Youth especially were impatient with white resistance and black adult leadership and urged organizations to adopt more active and militant strategies. In the spring of 1960, these students took matters into their own hands and started a movement that spread through not only North Carolina, but throughout the entire Jim Crow South as well.
African American residents of Chester, PA, demonstrate to end de facto segregation in public schools, 1963-1966
In November 1963, African American parents in the small city of Chester, PA organized and demanded better conditions at their local elementary school, Franklin School. They picketed the school and blocked its doors, successfully shutting it down for several days. The protesters also staged sit-ins in the City Hall, municipal building, and the Board of Education's offices. After several weeks of protest, the campaign grew to encompass desegregation efforts of 10 of Chester's public elementary and middle schools.
On April 3, 1963, several black integrationists belonging to the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) entered the Briling Cafeteria in Birmingham and sat at the white’s only lunch counter to request service. When they were refused service, these members staged a sit-in. The ACMHR had struggled to desegregate the lunch counter and bring about equal employment opportunities in all sectors for black citizens in Birmingham for seven long years.
St. Paul’s College is a historically African American college in Lawrenceville, a town in rural Virginia. Although Lawrenceville was a predominantly African American town, segregation laws persisted. In 1960 only 750 of the 17,000 African Americans in the town paid their poll tax and registered to vote. The town lacked a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a black lawyer, or a black bondsman.
The mass demonstrations of 1963 in Durham were the culmination of a local black freedom movement that had slowly gained momentum over the preceding years. Durham had been the site of a thwarted sit-in at the Royal Ice Cream Parlor in 1957, limited desegregation of schools, and the long-standing lunch-counter sit-ins in 1960 (see “Durham students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). Throughout the next few years, civil rights activists continued to attack segregation in theaters, schools, motels, and restaurants as well as demand increased employment opportunities for blacks.
Starting in February of 1960, students began sit-ins in various stores in Nashville, Tennessee, with the goal of desegregation at lunch counters. Students from Fisk University, Baptist Theological Seminary, and Tennessee State University, mainly led by Diane Nash and John Lewis, began the campaign that became a successful component of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and was influential in later campaigns.
In the mid 1950’s, segregation was widespread and legally enforced throughout the American south. Birmingham, Alabama was a hotspot of black activism in opposition to segregationist policies. Between December 26, 1956 and November 1958, Birmingham blacks, led by Fred Shuttlesworth and other black ministers, initiated a campaign against the legal segregation of Birmingham buses.
The students of Virginia Union University, a black university, wanted to do something to contribute to the growing sit-in movement that had begun on February 1, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”). Led by students Frank Pinkston and Charles Sherrod, who had been counseled on nonviolent protest methods by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 200 Virginia Union students and faculty marched from their campus to Richmond’s downtown shopping district on February 20, 1960.
In Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960, Jim Crow laws were in widespread effect. Though the African-American Civil Rights Movement had led to some successful desegregation (notably within the school system thanks to Brown v. Board and Swann v. Charlotte), “separate but equal” was still the norm with respect to the vast majority of businesses in Greensboro, and the rest of the South.
Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most African Americans in the southern United States were still unable to vote because of registration requirements such as literacy tests and slow registration processes. In Selma, Alabama the registration office was open only two days a month and could only process 15 registrations for each of these days. This was not nearly enough to register the 15,000 black citizens of voting age in the county.
Cambridge, a small city in Eastern Shore Maryland, was racially divided in 1960 between African Americans and European Americans. Unemployment rates for African Americans were quadruple those of white people and segregation was pervasive in public and private spaces alike.
Swarthmore Afro-American Student Society fights for greater representation and support services, 1968-1969
The first attempt by an African American to enroll in Swarthmore College was 1905 when the admissions committee mistakenly admitted a light-skinned black student thinking he was white. Upon discovering his race the college withdrew its acceptance. The next attempt was not made until 1932 when a black student from Philadelphia High School applied to Swarthmore College. The admission’s committee decision was that, as a co-educational institution, Swarthmore College was not yet prepared to admit African American students.
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States gained momentum in the 1960’s with campaigns and demonstrations taking place throughout the country. Following the success of the 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, and the strong leadership of that struggle by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), ministers and other activists in Danville, Virginia, decided to start their own campaign. They formed the Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA).
In the early 1960’s, student-led sit-ins were a prominent scene in the United States Civil Rights Movement. The success of a sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina (see “Greensboro, NC, students sit-in for U.S. Civil Rights, 1960”) began a wave of action in college campuses throughout the South. One of the many areas inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins was Atlanta, Georgia.