Why NAACP Was the Reason for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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The Civil Rights Act [1964] legally ended public segregation and banned racial employment discrimination and the Voting Rights Act [1965] aimed to affront state and local legal barriers preventing African-Americans from exercising their right to vote, and were passed almost simultaneously at the end of an era of perseverance that had lasted over a century and a half. Since the 13th amendment that granted freedom to enslaved African-Americans in 1865, liberation had come in waves of progress and regress. After the unanimous decision of Brown v Board in 1954, whereby the Plessy v Ferguson decision was overturned the movement obtained a new lease of life, were hope was granted for the future of ending segregation. Although the 15th amendment had effectively granted the right for African-Americans to vote, but the majority of states had implemented voter restrictions, such as literacy tests and grandfather clauses meaning that a federal decision was needed to implement explicit change and legally bind equality between the races.

I believe that the NAACP was the instigator of the movement and caused both Acts to come into practise. Active to this day, the NAACP was founded in 1909 by an interracial group, upon the basis that the black community needed unification, not only within itself but also with the white community. It retains its concentration on addressing issues of a legislative nature - gradually chipping away until De Jure segregation becomes De Facto. A plethora of meticulously planned moves one after the other led to the gradual erosion of racist sentiment and certainly de jure inferiority. Martin Luther King was the figurehead of the movement and also needed in the fight for federal protection, serving to put the movement into the spotlight of the media which was vital at the time of the cold war, where Americas reputation needed to maintain stability, but he served more as an associate than an initiator, which was vital in order to implement federal change. Congressional and presidential support was also imperative in order to implement ratifications to the constitution, and the Acts could not have been achieved without President Lyndon Johnson’s push through Congress. However, although his support and fight was necessary, it was only due to the long-term fight for equality that he needed to listen to the black voice and persevere.

The NAACP strived to achieve their goals for equality through litigation techniques. It was founded upon the basis that in order to implement change, communities needed to be unified, whether this be whites and blacks or lower and middle class. Ida B Wells[1] and Du Bois[2] were founders of the movement and had been campaigning since 1884 and 1895 respectively Movement through the possibility of being to override the negative decision of Plessy vs Ferguson with the argument that: “separate but equal” was not being upheld due to the constant separation but rarely equal facilities provided throughout the country. The NAACP relied heavily upon organised movement, with research and coordinated policies that that were sure would produce a step in the right direction. The case of Brown vs Board that effectively initiated the Civil Rights movement began its founding as early as the 1930’s through a study commissioned by the NAACP[3] establishing the lack of equality in public facilities – proven by Thurgood Marshall’s research into the funding of schools; with $37. 87 being spent on white children, compared to $13. 08 on black children[4]. It was the NAACP’s copious research that allowed for the success of the Montgomery bus boycott, as the project had been in the process of coming about for some time, with the only piece missing being a suitable, respectable figurehead of the protest. Rosa Parks was perfect for the role and presented the incident the NAACP needed to organise a boycott. The protest ended with a ruling from the supreme court that segregation of public transport was illegal, meaning that the movement was one step closer to a Civil Rights Bill, as it argued for equality between races.

The debate over whom or what caused the “successful” outcome of the Civil rights movement is still rife to date and many historians debate the importance of various parties. With such copious people, organisations and factors that had an influence on the federal governments decisions – individuals research alters perspectives to defend a certain party. Historians Raphael Cassimere and Charles W McKinney are both specialists in the civil rights movement but disagree over whether individuals or organisations were most important in the outcome of the civil rights movement. Raphael Cassimere argues that the NAACP was an imperative body in the changing of the spectrum of racial equality. He believes that the NAACP put pressure on the federal government to change their non-interfering stance

Cassimere is an African-American professor from Louisiana who became actively involved in the NAACP in the 1960’s, even serving as president of the New Orleans Youth Council[5]. Through his involvement with the organisation he was able to experience the effect that it had directly and how without it, it would have been exceedingly difficulty to implement such litigious changes. In an interview conducted in 2013 recorded by the Loyola University Documentary and Oral History Studio McKinney explains the vital role of the NAACP and the change their tactics brought. He says that “we filed lawsuits, we didn't file lawsuits, we filed complaints. […] And they sent down investigators and that put pressure on them. And they did in fact give. ” These litigious tactics were slow but resulted in change, with the Supreme Court decisions requiring the federal government to amend the constitution to fit with what was legally required. His vested interest in the cause however means that Charles W McKinney’s book “Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina” explores the influence of grassroots movements stating that “the king-centric perspective also overemphasises mass mobilising events such as marches and demonstration and de-emphasizes the importance of grass-roots organising, the slow and hard work of getting ordinary people to act on their deeply held desire to change”.

McKinney is another African-American professor, but chooses to focus on the work of individuals and grassroots movements who made a difference to the movement[6]. He writes on the importance of those that followed rather than led, and their unspoken bravery and resilience that may not be the most obvious choice as the leading factor in the achievements of the Civil Rights movement.
This shows that despite similar backgrounds, the research that each individual has chosen to focus on has influenced their recollections of the time as well as their current opinion. Their relationships with the factor that they have researched have caused them to consider the respective work they put into the civil rights movement, perhaps both being unaware of the true input as they were not directly involved.

Martin Luther King was undoubtedly the figurehead of the movement. His ability as an orator and well as his ability to coordinate with the federal government made him the most suitable to explain and teach the importance of unity that the movement aimed to provide to whites as well as blacks. He negotiated successfully with Kennedy and Johnson and gained respect from many influential members of congress. He pushed time and time again for a bill to be put through congress that would constitutionally outlaw segregation and discrimination. It was his pragmatic approach and ability to strategize effectively that meant that the African American voice became heard by white politicians and influential people that had the power to achieve what the other parties in the movement had been striving for. His founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave power to the black church and meant that the black community could present and protect its own identity. The SCLC was present at many organised marches and protests, one being the Birmingham protests, which resulted in the desegregation of public services in Alabama and the end of employment discrimination - due to Kings personal interest in the cause. King was aware of the necessity of resistants’ reaction and knew that Eugene “Bull” Conner would react forcefully – in way that could stimulate federal intervention. Each act that passed in individual states led to the eventual passing of a Civil Rights Act as discrimination became less and less tolerated.

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His infamous “I Have a Dream” speech was orated at the march on Washington in 1963, which many credit with resulting in federal intervention and a successful outcome. However, the march was organised primarily by A. Philip Randolph and secondly by the respected organisations of the SNCC, CORE, NAACP as well as King’s own organisation – the SCLC. The march on Washington was successful in pressuring J. F. Kennedy into presenting the Civil rights bill to congress. The proportion of whites that attended - 60, 000 out of 250, 000 showed that the lack of equality was indeed becoming an interracial issue and could no longer be contained. Not only that, but it also inspired and focused people 'at a moment when anger and frustration threatened both the sense of hope and the courageous non-violence that had characterized the civil rights movement. '[7]

An extract from British embassy report on the March on Washington, dated 30 August 1963 (Britsh Embassy, 1963), just two days after the march displays the importance of some 200, 000 people (later estimated at 250, 000) who emerged as a unified non-violent body. Martin Luther King is credited as having “the place of honour as the last main speaker”, thus showing his importance in retaining momentum and becoming the speech that is most remembered. However, prior to this “two hours of speeches, relieved by songs from well-known Negro and white artists” had occurred with the crowd remaining just as motived and committed to the non-violence cause. This displays the point of Martin Luther King being an excellent orator who was effective at communicating policies, but policies that were not solely reflective of his views but those of organisation such as the NAACP. This source also conveys the importance of the press and the vast number of people rendering the cause an international issue. The British gained a certain respect for the African-American community who united peacefully to demonstrate their cause and caused them to doubt the sincerity of the southern claims that the African-Americans were barbaric or inhumane.

Martin Luther King was not always entirely successful. In 1957 a 20, 000 people march on Washington demonstrated that the SCLC lacked funds, organisation and mass support as King underestimated the power of southern whites to understand his techniques of manipulation and his protest was met with little white backlash, failing to produce the mass media response he required. This shows that King was dependent upon others for his policies to succeed and reinforced his role as a figurehead rather than an organiser. This point was proven again in 1963 when the SCLC was threatened with suspension in the Voter Education Project as it failed to adequately use funds. The members of his own party – the SCLC questioned the speed at which he was prepared to join the protests in Selma, and at times resented his strict no violence policies when they were abused by whites.

The grassroots movement was indeed important – as without followers and masses to support the movement, there would have been no one to lead. As Charles W McKinney argues, it was the people themselves that brought about change and the movement that thrust its leaders into the spotlight. At the Washington march, it was the 250, 000 people that remained non-violent and gave their support for the movement that caused such positive publicity and federal intervention. The student sit ins of 1960 were effective in their desegregation of lunch counters in Nashville. The opportune timing as well as the backlash from the KKK and other white supremacists resulted in them being more successful than those that the NAACP had previously conducted following WWII. The students that participated united to form the SNCC which became an organisation that worked closely with the NAACP as well as the SCLC.

However, they depended upon organisation and instigation. Without a unification of the community they remained lone and controllable by the federal government. The key in the shift of the civil rights movement to a globalised issue was not only the received publicity, but also the united front presented between African-Americans. As more realised their potential through laws passed in individual states and help received by varying organisations, they realised their power on numbers and how they could achieve change together.

An example of the unity shown between varying organisations with grassroots supporters was the voter education project – launched in 1962 by the NAACP along with the SCLC, SNCC, the National Urban League, and CORE. It that aimed to increase black votes in the South, where they were severely underrepresented and overcome the suppression that voter registration clauses imposed. This resulted in 800, 000 more black citizens being allowed to vote and became especially important in the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, where it became illegal to use discriminatory voting practises. This increase in voters led to a severe violent backlash by the KKK, spurring the federal government to consider the constitutionality of preventing African-Americans from voting and the morality of defending the policies of a “terrorist” group.
A letter to the secretary of the NAACP, Walter White from Philip Randolph, the organiser of the march and a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement displays how influential the NAACP was seen as by members of its own community. In 1941, the idea for a mass based protest emerged and although not realised it achieved two things. One being an executive order banning discrimination in defence industries but secondly, it gave inspiration to the Washington march of 1963. Randolph “[hopes] it may be convenient or you to join with me and a few other persons in the issuance of a call to the negro people for such a march”. This supports the evidence that the NAACP was important in gaining federal recognition, due to its composition of middle class citizens as well as white members. It also shows that its work was recognised as being renowned for its organisation and effectiveness. (Randolph, 1941).

The NAACP produced a magazine “The Crisis” in 1910 and its publications aimed to educate and inform its readers about the intentions of the Civil Rights movement. Primarily written for educate blacks, the magazine attracted a readership of 100, 000 with a stated mission to pursue 'the world-old dream of human brotherhood' by bearing witness to 'the danger of race prejudice'[8]. Presenting an educated view on the intentions of the Civil Rights Movement meant that more (especially Northern) whites started to doubt the untruthful views they were being presented by prejudiced southerners.

Educating whites about the intentions of the civil rights movement was key for the possibility of a bill to pass through the (predominantly white) senate. In December 1956 in an issue of the crisis (The Crisis, 1956) produced a short article as a response to the Atlantic Monthly that expressed a “hysterical fear of race mixing” due to public school desegregation. The article expresses that blacks had no more desire than whites for interracial marriage and discredits the article by calling in “preposterous” and “never support[ed] by facts”. Through the organised presentation of facts, the article educates its readers on the intentions of the civil rights movement and the motives for wanting equality.

Although the movement developed a new strength with key leaders, they acted as figureheads to convey the NAACP’s policies and were mostly selected by them. The NAACP created an impression of spontaneity through their promotion of local figures at times that corresponded with success whilst the movements strength came from its united from and its power in numbers; both of which required the NAACP to provide this. Once cases came before the Supreme Court, due to the checks and balances system both the Presidential and Congregational elements of the system were required to be involved. This legalistic approach although tedious and repetitive gradually gave grounds to fight segregation in the highest court of the land, thus demanding its inclusion into the constitution. This was seen in the landmark case of Brown v Board which, without the NAACP’s fight would not have given the grounds for other segregation cases to go to court. Such a movement required this relentless perseverance as it involved reversing legalisation and viewpoints that had been engraved into society for more than a century. The fearlessness of its members combined with its retaliation to each and every move that aimed to suppress them was what such a large movement required, rather than a short term impactful leader or event that could have spurred on these acts. The unification of the black community was also an essential devise from the NAACP, as once the working, middle and upper class were united along with the support of certain whites the movement took a new force.

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