Lecture 14. From Sit-Ins to Civil Rights

Lecture 14. From Sit-Ins to Civil Rights


Today’s lecture, if you
look at the online guide, is supposed to be about
Martin Luther King, the establishment of
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,
as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee.  And I’m going to do my absolute
best to get us to that moment.  We should be able to do it. 
But because of the lost lecture due to the midterm,
this is sort of my last attempt to get us back on
schedule.  So I want to canvass a slightly larger
period.  Today I plan on discussing some critical
aspects of the Montgomery bus boycott and the
integration of Central High School in Little
Rock, events from ’54, excuse me, ’55, ’56,’57. By doing so, it allows me to
talk about a very important aspect of the movement that
I’ve made an allusion to already once or
twice in the course, but you’ll certainly see it
coming up again–time and again over the next
few weeks of the course, and that is the issue of
respectability.  Just as we can look at the
late nineteenth century’s–century
and issues of, of being civilized, of
having proper sort of normed middle class behaviors is
very important to at least the black
leadership elite class, being respectable, being
the right kind of person is fundamental to understanding
a lot of the civil rights struggles.  Now let’s
look at the Montgomery bus boycott.  And I’m going to
presume that in the history of the Montgomery
bus boycott and the desegregation of
Central High School, this is now American History
101 that you should have had the gloss of it when you
were in high school.  And I’m sure you didn’t get
much more than the gloss, and I’m sure the gloss was
wrong.  [students laugh]  But what I want to do is
actually give you–you know the mythic
narrative of these things, which is there for a reason,
and I want to give you some background details that are
important to consider.  So as far as the
boycott is concerned, Montgomery bus boycott,
there’s a standard history that has become
mythic.  Rosa Parks, the tired seamstress,
refuses to give up the seat, her seat, on the bus in
Montgomery and she gets arrested.  Martin Luther
King comes swooping in to her rescue and then rises to
the national scene with his leadership of the
yearlong boycott, thirteen-month
boycott, that would, that would ensue shortly
thereafter.  I was looking at the syllabus last night
and realized I dropped a reading for you.  And I want
to encourage you to go back and look at it now.  I’m
referencing it right now.  I believe it’s pages three
fifty-two to three sixty-one in the Manning Marable
anthology.  It just, I just, it just slipped
out of the syllabus by accident.  And
in those pages, you’ll see Jo Ann
Gibson Robinson, a prominent black
woman in Montgomery, explain her version of
the events around the bus boycott.  Just even knowing
about Jo Ann Gibson Robinson changes the story of the bus
boycott.  Robinson was part of a cadre of, of
middle-class African American women, sort of
think of the club women from the early, late-nineteenth
century that I talked about a few weeks ago, who had
already organized into a force, the Women’s Political
Council.  These were women who were well-educated,
college educated, some of them teaching at a
local college.  These were sort of the elite.  Although
they didn’t nece–they weren’t rolling in money,
these were the elite in, in black Montgomery.  The
Women’s Political Council with Jo Ann Gibson
Robinson’s leadership, she’s one of the
key figures in it, has already gone to the
black ministers in town and the city government in town
about their frustration over the way that blacks were
treated on the buses and the way they were treated in
stores downtown.  “Economic boycott” are the words
they’re floating around.  They wanted to try to
develop the courage in the black community to get a
boycott organized.  The Women’s Political Council
keeps running into dead ends in various places. 
They might get a meeting, but the meeting,
frankly, where men were in a leadership position, would
be rather condescending to the women: “That’s very
sweet of you to come in, but, you know, we’ll
take care of things now.”  Nothing would happen. 
Now the Women’s Political Council actually tries to
organize boycotts of the buses around
issues of crisis, and this is when other
people get arrested for refusing to give up their
seat.  Now if you look at the selection in the Marable
reading and Jo Ann Gibson Robinson’s recounting of the
bus boycott and Rosa Parks arrest, you might find
something striking.  When I was actually going back
and looking at it tonight, like, “God, how did I forget
to include this?”  If you scan it, as I
did several times, for Martin
Luther King’s role, you will only see King’s
name mentioned once and, quite literally, in
the second to last line, I believe, of this reading. 
Now this is an excerpt, granted.  Things might have
been dropped out.  But if nothing else,
metaphorically, it’s actually a very
important point.  King was not there, not engaged
in the organizing moment, early organizing
moments of the bus boycott, what would turn into the
bus boycott.  Now why bother telling this story?  Just
because it’s inserting a new cast of characters?  Well,
maybe that’s part of it.  Maybe because it was
pointing to the role that women played in
the movement, had always played in the
movement.  That’s certainly part of it as well. 
But another part of it’s important to know, is
that the bus boycott was, its success was incumbent
upon many different factors.  It wasn’t
just King’s charisma, although we cannot ever
discount King’s charisma.  Part of it was dealing with
an already established and organized,
politically organized, black middle class, as
basically the organizing is done through their
women.  There’s already, then, a network of
activists in place, upon which King’s
charisma could be displayed, or through which. I don’t know what the right
descriptor is.  It basically starts to muddy up the
narrative of the civil rights movement, this,
this amazing moment of the movement.  But
there’s more to the story, always more complicating
factors.  Rosa Parks was arrested, there’s
no doubt about that, but it wasn’t as spontaneous
as history makes it out to be.  Now Parks is
refer–referred to as the mother of the movement,
partly because of her indisputable character.  She
was as proper as one could imagine.  She
was hardworking, she was civil, she
was law-abiding. She’s the perfect
person to become a “victim, of it were, of an insane
system.  If you can’t treat this person
properly, there’s something fundamentally wrong with
your system.  We know that about Rosa Parks.  But what
we don’t know is that she’d been trained at a civil
rights institute the summer before she decides
to get arrested, the Highlander School
in Tennessee.  Parks was reluctant to go, but she
had friends who were already committed to the movement
in very public ways, convinced her to come
along.  And while there, she’s meeting
with white radicals, labor activists,
Communist Party members, other black activists
from around the country, and learning about
nonviolent civil disobedience, learning about
different strategies in which to create a crisis
for the sake of the greater good.  So Rosa Parks, now
she’s not a fire-breathing radical.  She’s
not at the vanguard, but she is trained and she’s
prepared for that moment when it actually happens. That’s dropped out of the
history.  Another thing that’s dropped out
of the history is, she was not the
first woman–or person, but in this case,
woman– to be arrested for, you know, violating
etiquette on the buses, certainly not in Montgomery,
certainly not in other places. In fact, a few weeks
before Parks was arrested, a young woman named
Claudette Colvin was arrested in a similar
situation.  The boycott almost emerged, organized
by the Women’s Political Council, and the boycott
almost emerged revolving around Colvin’s arrest.  She
was a straight-A student; she seemed to be of
impeccable character.  If you’re treating a
child like this, how could you treat any–I
mean how could you claim to be humane?  It
turns out though, that very quickly discovered
that they couldn’t use her, Colvin, as a vehicle
for their boycott, because this straight-A
student of unimpeachable character,
unmarried of course, also happened to be
pregnant.  She was not showing at the moment. 
People in Montgomery, black activists, realized
right away there’s no case.  That they, they cannot make
a case around her because of Southern traditions that
would say that she was immoral for her, quote,
“condition.”  And that would have been the word that
would have been used.  And they knew that they could
not make a convincing case if they have someone
with such failed standards, such immorality
in her system, that she’d be the worst
example for these women activists.  The activists
understood that being respectable in a very narrow
band of what that means was absolutely critical. 
Respectability is so important to the movement,
because anything that transgressed a line of being
respectable could be used to justify a
denial of some sort, whether it’s legal, “You
can’t come to this school, whether it’s
psychological, “I can, I can limit your entire
existence in terms of possibilities,” or
whether it’s physical, “I can kill you.”  Let’s
just go back to Brown v. Board and the reactions
to it.  I already told you about Melba Beals’
experience as she’s about to be raped when she’s
twelve years old, but we can see in reactions
in other places in the South, systemic reactions,
the extent or the ways in which there was a logic that
blacks had to behave just right because the stakes
were so high.  In the wake of Brown v. Board, in July of ’54, the
White Citizens Council is formed.  I’m
simplifying a lot, but think of it as the
upper-crust Ku Klux Klan.  Business
leaders, white males, prominent figures in
these Southern towns that organized, Southern cities,
organized themselves, fund Klan activities, making
sure in a variety of ways that there would not be an
integration or destruction of their social order. 
Economic warfare happens across the South
with, with city leaders, White Coun–White Citizens
Councils battling it out with radicals, the
most proper radicals, like Jo–Jo Ann Gibson
Robinson.  Governments start responding.  This
arcane little caveat in, in–excuse me, loss of words
here–in how governments interact, the Doctrine of
Interposition.  It’s a weird phrase.  The Doctrine of
Interposition is invoked by Southerners, saying that the
federal government had no power to interfere in
states.  This goes back to 1832 or something like
that.  Completely ignored little tidbit attached
on some bill somewhere.  Southern governors and
governments start invoking the Doctrine of
Interposition, saying the federal
government had no power to interfere, interfere in
states.  Federal officials from the South, members of
the House of Representatives and Senate, gather together
and all through the Southern Manifesto, saying that
Brown was a clear abuse of judicial power.  Only
one member from a federal delegation in the South
refused to participate, and that’s Al Gore, Sr.
from Tennessee.  Wait, I might be blanking on
that.  I think–Kefauver. Kefauver, yeah, thank you. and Lyndon
Johnson.  Was it three? It was three. Well, there you go, it was
three.  Well done.  Where’d you learn this history?  
Did you take this class last year? No, I just wrote a
paper on postwar America. Excellent.  Well done. You were trained by
somebody well.  Anyway, but thank you.  There
was–All but three of I think maybe a
hundred people. No, there were
representatives who didn’t do it, including Rayburn. Oh, well hell, apparently I
don’t know the history at all. There were other
representatives. This is why it’s so
dangerous to talk to students at Yale.  The fact
is massive–the Southern Manifesto is a declaration
that Brown doesn’t carry weight.  There’s going to
be a negative response of, of, of resistance, and
the phrase becomes known as “massive resistance”; that
the South is going to refuse to proceed forward with the
logic coming down from the Supreme Court.  People start
becoming targeted.  NAACP as an organization
becomes targeted by Southern legislatures, saying the
NAACP had to reveal its membership list in order
to stay in business as a, as a, an organization, had
to reveal who was in its membership.  This is
basically a death warrant to the organization
in some states, and to people who were, and
to people who were members.  If you were known to be a
member of the NAACP and worked in
Mississippi, well, you know, the boss might decide you
don’t have your job any longer, for some other
trumped up reason.  And it might actually get you
killed.  Violence takes on gothic proportions in
Mississippi more than any other place.  In ’55,
several black leaders urging blacks to vote
were murdered, one on the local
courthouse lawn. The president of a local
NAACP chapter was shot down when he ignored the order
to remove his name from the voting register. And then
of course there was Emmett Till, fourteen-year-old,
fourteen-year-old boy, sent from Chicago to
stay with his family in Mississippi.  There are many
different versions of what happens.  The allegation is
that he whistled one day, hanging out
with his cousins, that he whistled at the–a
white storekeeper’s wife when she walked past. 
Others have countered saying he had a, he had
a stutter, and, you know, he would often
lisp as a result.  What actually happened at
that moment is really inconsequential.  What
happens later is of great consequence.  That
night he’s abducted.  He’s beaten.  One of his eyes is
gouged out.  He’s wrapped in barbed wire and tied to
farm equipment before being thrown over a
bridge.  When they find him, his body is sent
surreptitiously up to Chicago.  His mother insists
on having an open casket at the Chicago funeral and the
images shock the country.  There’s a clip here, that
opens up with Mose Wright, who was Emmett Till’s uncle,
who makes a very famous declaration going into
court.  And he points out the people who came to
get Emmett Till from him, which meant he could no
longer live in Mississippi.  He vacated right away in
order that he might live to see another day. When the sheriff came and
told me they had found a body at [the Tallahatchie
River near Glendora, Mississippi], and wanted me
to go and identify the body, which I did. And we found the body,
which it didn’t have on any clothes at all. The body was so badly
damaged that we couldn’t hardly just tell who he was,
but he happened to have on a ring with his initials,
and that cleared it up. The body was shipped home,
back north to Chicago where Mamie Till Bradley insisted
on an open casket funeral, “So all the world
can see,” she said, “what they did to my boy.” Jet magazine
showed Till’s corpse, beaten, mutilated,
shot through the head. A generation of black people
would remember the horror of that photo. I believe that the whole
United States is mourning with me, and that the death
of my son can mean something to the other unfortunate
people all over the world. Then for him to have died a
hero would mean more to me than for him
just to have died. When you heard the
narrator, Julian Bond, talking about a generation
would never forget this murder and the image that
appeared in Jetmagazine, he wasn’t exaggerating. 
One of my former colleagues, her father’s family
from, was from Louisiana, from a rural
part of Louisiana, and I was–he was visiting. 
We were having lunch together, dinner together,
and Emmett Till came up.  I can’t remember why.  But
he said he was fourteen or fifteen years old when
Emmett Till was murdered, and he knew then that he had
to leave the South as soon as he could, and in fact,
he never went back.  And he said he has never forgotten,
and he knew there was no hope for, as he put it,
“a black man in the Deep South.”  Now there
was a court case. It was an all white,
all male jury.  The jury deliberates for sixty-seven
minutes.  One juror said later, it wouldn’t have
taken so long if they hadn’t stopped to get a soda.  And
the jury defines–finds the defendants not guilty,
although everybody knew who did it.  January ’56, one
month after Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Look magazine
publishes an interview of the Till defendants in which
they state for the record that they had in fact killed
him.  Now this is the most spectacular and perhaps
egregious case of violence gone unpunished, but
there were other episodes, and some of them happened as
a direct result of Brown.  I already again
related to you, the attempted
rape of Melba Beals, but violence is endemic. In fact, this is one of
the great stories of the nonviolent civil
rights movement, is that it was horribly
violent and it’s rather shocking that it did not
become more violent at any given moment. Now thinking of violence
and respectability and narratives of the civil
rights movement leads us to the Little Rock Nine. And I have to gloss over the
history very quickly for the sake of time.  Melba Beals
goes on–the person who was twelve years old when
someone loses his mind and tries to attack her–goes on
to come–become one of nine teenagers who are eventually
selected by NAACP activists to integrate Little Rock
Central High School.  They are focusing on Arkansas
because it seemed to be one of the most progressive
states in the South on these issues.  Other parts–other
school systems in Arkansas had actually
already integrated, but Central was
the most important, most visible high school
in the state.  The nine who were selected were
amazing students, academically gifted, coming
from the right families who comported themselves in the
right way.  Otherwise they would never have been
selected.  Without going over too much of the famous
integration of Central High, I’ll point out a
few things that are, that one needs to remember. 
The students are selected to integrate in ’57.  There’s
fierce local resistance. The governor, Orval Faubus,
calls in the Arkansas National Guard to
prevent integration. President Eisenhower,
very unhappy about the whole scene, sends in the 101st
Airborne to force the issue, and he does it not because
he believed in integration, but because he believed in
the federal government’s right to assert itself. 
This is a states’ rights versus federal rights issue
for Eisenhower.  The troops ushered in the students
after they had already tried to integrate the
school before, but were harassed by mobs
outside of the building.  The students–the, the
troops could go with the students up to the, the
door of the classroom, but in the classroom,
or in the bathroom, or in the cafeteria, all
hell broke loose.  One student had lye
thrown in her face, almost permanently blinded. 
Students would talk like being in the bathroom, and
then going to the bathroom, and then paper towels lit on
fire being thrown overhead when they were helpless. 
They were attacked, books were thrown
down, food poured on them, but they could not respond. 
The one student who did respond got kicked out,
at which point they said, “One nigger down;
eight more to go, trying to get these
students out of the school.  Houses were bombed,
people were shot–shot at, folks lost their jobs.  Now
think about all this.  What is it that’s being
asked of these children? And they are children. 
Going back to Melba Beals, there’s a few items
from her diary entry, New Year’s Day in 1958, that
allow us to ask some pretty important questions. 
Four different items, selected from a
longer list is, one, “to behave in a way
that pleases Mother and Grandma,” two people who
were very central in her life.  “To keep faith
and understand more of how Gandhi behaved when his
life was really hard.” “To pray daily for the
strength not to fight back.”  And the entry that,
the resolution that she, that she put as number one,
was to “do my best to stay alive until May 29th,”
the end of the school year. I mean, think about
it: NAACP activists, grown women and men, are
making sure the children stay–are to stay in school,
despite the violence being vet–being visited upon
them.  And it’s very fair to ask, is it appropriate for
sixteen-year-olds to feel the need to write in
their diaries that the most important New Year’s
resolution is to “do my best to stay alive” until the end
of the school year?   What are the adults asking the
children to do for the sake of the movement?  It’s a
case–it’s a question that would come up quite angrily
in 1963 in the Birmingham crisis.  Now one final note
about the school year and Little Rock.  What we
don’t often hear about, what we basically never hear
about Central High School history, is that
the govern–I mean, because it’s a
triumphant moment, right?  So the governor was
so upset about the public relations disaster that
accompanied the school’s integration, that he decided
to shut down Little Rock public schools
the following year. The integration
of the school, this great moment of civil
rights victory of American exceptionalism,
lasted one year, and the public schools were
shut down.  Why don’t we know this part of the
history?  You know, there’s something really
maybe too tantalizing about these nice narratives of our
past.  We can be ashamed of the shortcomings of
our predecessors, but by keeping the
story clean and simple, we can also be proud that
our predecessors ultimately made the right decision
and did the right things. In short, the civil rights
movement has been sanitized, because it ultimately
casts a great light on the American
character; that, you know, the American character
can take its lumps, learn from its mistakes and
then do great things.  The civil rights movement has
been cast as a great moment of American exceptionalism
when we all summoned the courage to do
the right things, regardless of our
political positions, where we are in the
country, et cetera.  Well, that’s just one big fat
lie.  Only a minority of folks rose to the
challenge, and accepted it, and pursued it.  Martin
Luther–Martin Luther King’s history is a case in
point as far as rising to a challenge, and as far as
what happens when a history is sanitized profoundly. 
King is raised in a tradition of ministers.  His
father and grandfather run the most elite black church
in Atlanta.  King has a rather raucous adolescence
and college years. He and his buddy go around
trying to run competitions about, you know, who could
“deflower the most girls” in the language of the
day.  He does receive a religious–religious
calling, however, goes off to
seminary and then gets a Ph. D. at Boston University, a Ph. D. which scholars discovered,
much to their great disappointment,
about two decades ago, that he had plagiarized
parts of it.  King, though, these things aren’t
widely known at this moment in time, ’55, is seen
as a real future star, and he gets a
job in Montgomery, heading the Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church, which is, much in the
tradition of his father and grandfather, the most elite,
sort of upstanding and politically conservative,
quiescent church, in that particular
city.  He’s relatively newly married.  He and his wife
Coretta have a newborn.  He wants to settle into a nice,
quiet pulpit and do nice, quiet work.  Well, there’s
already things shifting around on the ground,
with the Women’s Political Council agitating for
an economic boycott, trying to find a test case
to boycott the buses.  And the group of black ministers
in town are very important people, and a group called
the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.  A
ton of syllables there.  The Interdenominational
Ministerial Alliance is feeling pressure from
Women’s Political Council to do something.  King as a
minister is automatically in that group.  And then as
things start heating up towards what will
become Rosa Parks’s moment, King is thrust into the
limelight in a way he never wanted.  Parks gets
arrested.  King is sent as an emissary or sacrificial
lamb–really more of the latter.  The Montgomery
Improvement Association is formed.  This is going to
be the group that’s going to organize the boycotts.  King
does not want to lead it.  The other ministers, who are
deeply skeptical this thing will actually work, figure,
“King just got here.  He’s young; he’ll rebound when
this thing blows apart.  We’ll put him out front.” 
King couldn’t say no.  He fought, fought, fought, but
he couldn’t say no.  He’d already resisted the
invitation to head the local NAACP for the sake
of his children’s, his child’s safety. 
Anyway, on December 5th, the night before the
boycott’s set to begin, King is still resisting
the urging of the ministers, and finally relents, and
writes out some notes on a piece of paper.  Goes to
the pulpit with about ten, fifteen minutes to
prepare and says, in part, the following. 
Now the audio is, is not great, and I’ll
tell you what he says, but I want you to hear the
energy of the moment during the closing moments of his,
of his speech.And we are not wrong; we are not wrong
in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme
Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the
Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God
Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus
of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that
never came down to Earth. If we are wrong,
justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here
in Montgomery to work and fight until justice
runs down like water, and righteousness
like a mighty stream. Oops! “If we are
wrong,” he says– “And, and we are not wrong in what
we are doing.  We are not wrong.  If we are wrong, the
Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the
Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God
Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong,
Jesus of Nazareth is, was mer–merely a utopian
dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong,
justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here
in Montgomery to work and fight until justice
runs down like water, and righteousness
like a mighty stream.” You can tell, the
audience is going crazy, energized by this young man
who’s come out of nowhere. But think about what he’s
saying here.  He invokes God and Jesus.  It’s what, what
one would expect of course, but he invokes in the
first part of this quote the Supreme Court and the
Constitution.  He’s evoking law.  King is not
invoking anything radical, as a matter of fact.  He’s
invoking the Supreme Court and the Constitution.  He’s
invoking those very things that made citizens citizens
in the United States after all, and perhaps that is
the thing that made him so radical.  Anyway, the
movement takes off and the boycott holds
together.  It’s a, it’s a remarkable history,
although it wasn’t the first boycott, bus boycott. The movement holds together
for thirteen months before the Supreme Court forces
the integration of the, of the buses.  These are the
same thirteen months when massive resistance is rising
up throughout the South, the same thirteen
months when Emmett Till is murdered, and the same
thirteen months when the strategy for Little Rock
becomes articulated and starts to gain traction. 
A period of astonishing change. Now King
rises to prominence. He’s traveling all around
the country constantly raising money during the
bus boycott.  They need resources and money to pay
for gasoline and cars that are all shipped down to
Montgomery to make this thing work.  But he’s not
doing it by himself.  He’s aided by two people who are
rather important.  One is Bayard Rustin, who I’ve
already mentioned before.  Earlier part in his
life, member of the Young Communist League,
a draft resistor, someone who was arrested
on morals charges for being caught in the back seat
of a car with another man. He’s gay.  Often recognized
as one of the great organizing minds of the
freedom struggles and labor struggles of the
twentieth century, but because of the
politics of the day, hampered by his
sexuality and, and by his Communist past. 
But Bayard Rustin is in King’s corner, you
know, telling him, “Do this, do
that.  You know, follow this particular
path.”  King is also aided by Ella Baker. 
And by the way, Rustin and Baker are finally
getting the attention that they deserve from, from
amazing histories that have been written about five or
six years ago.  Ella Baker, a long-time activist who
worked for Unemployment Councils in the
Great Depression. Certainly was affiliating
with folks who were Communist.  Older woman who
becomes hailed by a younger generation of activists
who are just about to become known for being one of the
most important leaders in the movement.  Baker
starts to work with King and advising him as well. 
I’ll come back to them in a moment.  As the
boycott nears success, we see violence quite
clearly.  King’s house is bombed.  Other people
are being shot at.  It’s a bloody mess.  But Rustin
sees in the success and the violence as a catalytic,
catalytic moment of possibility, and that the
question becomes not so much, “How great
was this moment?” but, “What can we do to
capitalize upon it?  What can we do to sustain this
organizing energy?  There needs to be an
organization.”  And he calls on King
to bring together other leaders, and, and
essentially religious leaders, to gather together
to think of the next steps.  And out of that comes
the Southern Leadership Conference, is what the plan
is at least.  The Southern Leadership Conference,
bringing together, you know, the great
leaders in the South, African American, to become
organized to have sustained change.  Well, King makes
a decision that infuriates Rustin, and they have a
very tense relationship in general, Rustin recognizing
King’s astonishing gifts as a speaker and King
recognizing Rustin’s astonishing gifts as an
organizer and political thinker.  King never likes
the fact that Rustin is gay and talks condescendingly
to Rustin about it.  Rustin always underestimates,
in King’s opinion, the role of religion in this
movement.  So Rustin calls it the Southern
Leadership Conference, and King changes
its name under, with sort of fiat, to
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And the SCLC, the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, becomes one of
the most important civil rights
organizations for the next, really for the next twenty,
thirty years.  King’s popularity skyrockets
with the success of the bus boycott.  He’s increasingly
drawn away from the pulpit as he travels about trying
to raise consciousness and funds.  And by
January of 1960, having barely been in the
pulpit at Dexter over the previous few years,
he leaves.  He’s not ministering to that church. The SCLC, what he now
heads–[student sneezes and he coughs] excuse me,
bless you–the SCLC is now focusing on leadership
training and citizenship education.  Now as the
SC–SCLC emerges out of King’s success,
wrapped up in his charisma, it creates stress in the,
in “the system.”  You see stress often embodied in
intergroup squabbling, something you’ll see a lot
throughout the 1960s.  An established organization
like the NAACP is not too thrilled about the SCLC
arriving on the scene, because they’re competing
for the same people and the same dollars, scant
dollars.  In fact, Medgar Evers, who’s the head
of the Mississippi NAACP, who joins the
SCLC, this new group, was told he had to choose. 
You either pick with SCLC or you pick the NAACP.  He
stays with the NAACP. Now the NAACP is already
under stress.  I talked about the fact that its
rolls are being opened up by Southern legislatures,
but there’s also stress internally through
people like Robert Williams, military vet from
North Carolina, who becomes fed up with
events in his town where he’s the head of the
local NAACP chapter, and calls for retaliatory
violence.  He’s kicked out of the NAACP by the end of
the 1950s.  So the NAACP is struggling with
rising, percolating spots of militancy,
people leaving the, leaving, leaving the
message behind at the NAACP. And now this new group
appears on the scene that might pull away other
supporters.  The important thing to know I
guess from that, I suppose, is that neither
the SCLC nor the NAACP had control over the movement. 
No single organization could claim they were the
group that was running the movement. And while King is the most
electrifying speaker of this great narrative, he hardly
had any control over it.  If you look to the events
of February 1st of 1960, you can see the way in which
there was a sort of wildcat mentality about many things
happening in the movement.  On that day, in
Greensboro, North Carolina, four men, students of
North Carolina A&T, black school, head to
downtown Greensboro, not far away.  They decide
that they’re going to–sick and tired of the treatment
they’re receiving at the Woolworth’s, the
local five and dime, let me think, drugstore,
convenience store.  It’s funny, when I
began this course, I mean when I began
teaching years ago, Woolworth’s were still
around.  Ain’t so much still around anymore, but the, but
the history still is.  So the men go to the lunch
counter and insist on being served.  They could buy
things other places in the store, but they couldn’t
be served at the lunch counter.  The
waitress says, ” I can’t, you know, I
can’t help you out.” And they sit
there, and they sit, and they sit, and they sit,
taking up four seats at the lunch counter. 
It’s a wildcat sit-in. It’s not the first by
any stretch.  The March on Washington Movement had
been organizing them for decades.  Labor movements
have been organizing them for decades.  But
this time it takes off. You have just the
right mix of electricity, of anticipation, of
possibility and frustration certainly. And you see across the
country sit-ins by people your age, all
across the South. Sixty cities become
sites of sit-ins, and all of these sit-ins,
the young men and women are well dressed and impeccably
mannered.  To do anything else would invite potential
death.  Ella Baker, the person who’s essentially
running the SCLC–King’s the head of it, but Ella
Baker’s running it, ministering it–taps into
this energy and organizes a youth conference in
Raleigh, North Carolina, in April.  She’s expecting
sort of a modest turnout.  Overwhelming turnout,
and overwhelming energy. “We, the college age
students of the day, need to do something.  We
are ready.”  And out of that organization grows
the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
otherwise known as SNCC. I said Southern, I’m
sorry.  Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
otherwise known as SNCC. SNCC would never become the
biggest of the great civil rights organizations,
but more than any, any other organization, it
becomes the barometer of an evolution, of the
evolution of 1960s ideology. And SNCC will be part of, of
the narrative that I lay out over the next two and a
half weeks of the course, because through them,
you can actually see the changes, and really
quite radical changes, in movement ideology during
the 1960s.  But at its founding moment
in April in 1960, SNCC is a group of
college-age individuals who espoused
nonviolent ideology, who are
absolutely interracial, and who wanted to be
organized through a non-hierarchical
system.  They are, from the beginning, seen as
a temporary organization, literally given a corner
space in the offices of the SCLC headquarters.  So it
was operating under SCLC’s umbrella, SCLC thinking,
“This is a great way to get more youth involved in our
movement.”  You could even look back to the founding
moment and see there’s already some fissures
in the relationship, if only because SNCC,
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, is committed to a non-hierarchical
organ–organizing logic.  They, like Ella Baker, are
a little bit nervous in the fact that SCLC is
embodied in King, a magnificent man, but
a far from perfect man, but only one man, and they
wanted an organization that had many leaders.  Now
that’s April 1960.  Heading into the fall, in October,
King was arrested in Atlanta for violating,
violating probation, on trumped-up charges, and
he’s sentenced to four–I mean, I think it was
a traffic violation. He’s sentenced to four
months hard labor.  John F. Kennedy, who is campaigning
for the presidency, calls Coretta Scott King and
says that he will protect King.  He actually had no
way of protecting King, but in
orchestrated phone calls, “I will do everything I can
to protect your husband.”  And with that, black support
for Kennedy mushrooms.  Kennedy goes on to win by a
hundred and twenty thousand votes–still debates whether
those votes actually existed or not–but he won by a
hundred and twenty thousand votes, and it’s clear
that it’s African American support, support that swung
the election his direction.  Blacks have in JFK the kind
of leader at a symbolic and cultural level they have not
had since FDR started making these gestures towards
recognizing blacks’ needs some twenty-five, thirty
years earlier.  In 1961–I’m skipping a ton of details. 
I’m trying to get up to a moment of the most
famous crisis–in 1961, CORE, the Congress
of Racial Equality, as I mentioned in
the last lecture, organizes a, a new
round of freedom rides, getting on buses,
integrated riders, and crossing state lines. 
Members of SNCC are on the bus as well. 
Students from Yale, from other places
in Connecticut, jump on these buses and head
on South.  Once they cross into the Deep South, the
buses are attacked by smoke bombs, tires are slashed. 
As people run out of the buses to get away
from the smoke, they’re met by mobs who
beat them with their fists, with metal poles.  The buses
are torched.  Other buses are sent down.  Eventually,
the buses arrive down in Birmingham, Alabama,
where Bull Connor, the Commissioner
of Public Safety, knows they’re coming, knows
there’s a mob waiting for them at the bus station,
and does not offer police protection, and
lets the students, the riders, get beaten
senseless for fifteen minutes before
letting the police come, before releasing the police. And people said, “Well, why
did you do such a thing?”  He goes, “It
was Mother’s Day. You can’t take a man away
from his mother.  You know, they needed to have time
spent with their mother.  You know, they would get
there in time.”  There’s a dawning at this moment, with
this kind of violence and recalcitrance, of a
militancy within SNCC and the beginnings of a move
away from respectability.  You start seeing different
agendas being articulated within different
organizations.  The movement is going in fits and
starts.  Federations form and break apart.  There’s
all kinds of infighting, and things seemed on the
verge of collapse in Albany, Georgia, when they go to
invoke another crisis.  And in Albany, Georgia, where
you have a confederation of different civil rights
organizations coming together, to try to
change that town, they’re outsmarted by
the white police.  As the students try to start
filling up the jails to create a crisis of
overcrowding and, and get national
sympathy, with the jail, no bail strategy “We’ll let
ourselves be in jail.  We won’t accept bail.  They’ll
have to force us out.  We won’t have paid any bail. 
This will be great.”  The police chief says, “We’re
going to keep our heads and start shuttling people out
of jails to other jails.” He doesn’t react,
essentially.  Nothing happens. 
Everything fizzles, and there’s a fear that
this movement that began, quote, “began,” in
quotes, with Brown v. Board and has these violent
reactions as you see it with Rosa Parks, and you
see it with Emmett Till, and you see it in
Central High School, the beginning of a new
sort of vibrant youth organization, it feels like
it’s all going to collapse in Albany, Georgia, because
the white officers realized, “If we don’t react, this
thing will go away.”  Well, thank god for Bull Connor. 
I’ll let the film tell you much of that story, but
suffice it to say that Connor did more,
through his brutality, to help win converts to
the civil rights movement, more than anybody else
could have practically done. I’ll pick up on that
moment, on that fact, at the next
lecture.  Thank you.

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