This Day in Civil Rights History - DECEMBER

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December 31, 1963

LBJ Shocks Texas Segregation Establishment by Arriving at All-White Faculty Club With Geraldine Whittington, First White House Black Secretary

President Johnson, dances with Geraldine Whittington at the previously all-white Faculty Club. As posted at:
Excerpted from LBJ Integrates University of Texas Faculty Club, This Day in Civil Liberties History

President Lyndon Johnson escorted Gerri Wittington, an African-American and one of his personal secretaries in the White House, to the New Year’s Eve Ball at the University of Texas Faculty Club (known as the Forty Acres Club) in Austin, Texas, thereby racially integrating the club.

The Faculty Club had been racially segregated until that moment. Everyone in the crowded room was reportedly stunned. One person leaned over the Bill Moyers, one of Johnson’s top aides,” and whispered, “Does he know what he is doing?” Moyers replied, “he always knows what he is doing.”

Escorting Wittington to the previously segregated club was only one of several gestures Johnson made in the first weeks of his presidency to make the point that he was committed to racial equality. In his first days in office he personally called all the leading civil rights leaders to tell them he needed their help in getting the pending civil rights bill passed. (It passed, and Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964.) He then promoted Wittington from the White House secretarial pool, making her the first African-American to serve as a secretary to the president.

Image of President Lyndon Johnson and Geraldine Whittington, extracted from PBS documentary, JFK & LBJ: A Time for Greatness .
President Lyndon Johnson and Geraldine Whittington, the first African American secretary to a United States President, in the Oval Office. LBJ PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY

December 30, 1965

"Tent City" Erected by SNCC in Lowndes County, Alabama as the Origins of the Black Panther Party Took Root as the Organized Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO)

Excerpt with edits from From Selma to Montgomery: Remembering Alabama's Civil Rights Movement Through Museums,,Holly Jansen, pps 109-112, Florida State University Libraries

As to be expected in the seemingly endless cycle of black defiance and white resistance, violence hit an all time high in December 1965. White assailants fired shots at several Jackson (local Movement activists) family members’ homes in a series of attacks during one night. Many residents stood guard all night to ensure the safety of family and friends. Along with the physical retaliation, white also inflicted economic reprisals on blacks. Many African Americans lost their jobs, and dozens of families were evicted from their homes. Several families moved away from Lowndes County, while other families had split up to stay with friends and family.

In order to keep families together, and in the county, SNCC and the LCM (Lowndes County Movemement) built a makeshift tent city just off Highway 80 near Mt. Gilliard Church. Mathew Jackson offered some of his land for the campsite, but SNCC wanted a more visible location. Jonathan Jackson remembered Stokely Carmichael saying that, “no we don’t wanna put ‘em back off the highway. We wanna put ‘em on Highway 80 where the world can see what’s going on.” They ended up using just under seven acres of land that Viola Smith, a longtime black landowner, had recently sold to a cooperative established by LCM leaders. SNCC purchased the tents, cots, stove heaters, and other supplies.

Report on Lowndes County Tent City by Fay Bellamy, December 30, 1965, Bellamy was the self-described “the manager, the secretary, receptionist, and typist, as well as the media specialist” in SNCC's Selma office. From Fay Bellamy (Powell),

Unconfirmed photo of Tent City from 1966.

On December 30, 1965, LCM and SNCC members, along with volunteers from Institute, including Sammy Younge who would be murdered by a white man in less than a week later in Tuskegee, pitched four tents for eight families.

Over the next few months, at least ten tents were erected for dozens of families. Life in Tent City was hard, with no electricity or running water, but residents were not that much worse off than their lives on the tenant farms. Despite the dire conditions, many enjoyed their time in the tents. As blacks in Lowndes County had done for a century before, they took comfort in their community by forming bonds of trust with their neighbors.

Living off Highway 80 made the blacks much more susceptible to white violence. SNCC’s C. J. Jones later recalled that “Tent City was like a shooting gallery for the local folks in Lowndes County,” with whites shooting at the tents at least three or four times a week. But the violence only strengthened their resolve, vowing that they “were not going to run. We [were] going to fight,” according to Annie Bell Scott. She explained that they “had a lot of peoples around [Tent City] that started shooting back. So that took care of that.”

Residents were happy to be off the tenant farms and be free “to make a start for [themselves],” Josephine Mays later recalled. They had lost almost all of their worldly possessions, but were enthusiastic by the possibilities for the future. Annie Bell Scott remembered that “it felt [like] we owned the world even though we didn’t have a dime.” Tent City inhabitants viewed the situation as the first step in freeing themselves of white control. Now that they were unemployed, many took the opportunity to devote themselves full time to educating others on the LCCMHR’s mission. Mays explained:

There were so many things that blacks didn't know about, especially when we become registered voters. We got involved with lots of activities to help black peoples to get jobs and learn how to do things for themselves like we bought land and then after we got the land, we'd able to have something that we had never had before, our own house was something that you wouldn't have to worry about the white man telling you to move or you have to leave.

December 29, 1966

Protesters Rip Controversial Painting Off City Hall Wall in St. Petersburg, Florida

Joe Waller (black shirt) and a group of men in 1966, just before they were arrested for ripping down the mural which hung in St. Petersburg City Hall. Jesse Moore,| Times, 1966, from A racially offensive painting, yanked from St. Petersburg City Hall decades ago, simply disappeared, Tampa Bay Times.
Excerpt in part from Waller vs. Florida, Wikipedia

Joseph Waller, Jr., also known as Omali Yeshitela, was a former member and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During the 1950s and 1960s, he actively participated in the American Civil Rights Movement. Today, he is chairman of the Uhuru Movement and has started branches in the Uhuru House Centers of St. Petersburg, FL and Oakland, FL. This case was significant in propelling Yeshitela's path toward advocacy and activism.

Waller was one of many who led a protest in St. Petersburg, Florida on December 29, 1966. During this protest, they marched to the St. Petersburg City Hall, where they removed a racially controversial mural from the wall. The mural exhibited a group of Negroes musically entertaining a group of whites. The protestors then continued to march through St. Petersburg until they were stopped and subsequently arrested by law enforcement. The police eventually obtained the mural from the protestors, but only after a scuffle resulting in the mural's damaged condition. The City of St. Petersburg charged Waller and five others with the violation of destruction of city property and disorderly breach of the peace. He was found guilty for both counts in the municipal court and was sentenced to 180 days in the county jail.

Above: Photo of Joseph Waller from December 28, 1966, extracted from Man who tore down racist mural 50 years ago wants say in replacement, Tampa news broadcast, WFLA, January 19, 2016. Below: Then known as Joseph Waller, Omali Yeshitela tore down a racist mural from the walls of St. Petersburg, Florida’s City Hall in 1966. African Socialist International
Detail of the controversial painting, “Picnicking at Pass-a-Grille” (from a black and white photo), from VINTAGE ST. PETE: The ‘racist mural controversy’ of 1966, St. Petersburg Catalyst.

During the municipal court process, Waller made the statement that “What happened Dec. 29, 1966, occurred as a result of a program I initiated to bring the plight of my people to the attention of the people of St. Petersburg…” Waller was subsequently charged by the State of Florida for grand larceny, which was based on the same acts with which he was charged against by the City of St. Petersburg.

In July 1998, St. Petersburg City Council members approved a plan that outlined a replacement mural to hang where the former one once hung.

When Yeshitela (formally Waller, Jr.) learned of the new mural plans, he felt that an apology on behalf of the city was necessary. According to him, "It seems to me that this City Council, which is talking about putting a mural in that spot, should be obligated to make an apology to the African community for that monstrosity that hung there until 1966," said Yeshitela, chairman of the African People's Socialist Party. When I tore that mural down, I was castigated in a lot of quarters as a criminal and I in fact served time in prison for it." Other African-Americans in the community shared in Yeshitela's resentment of the St. Petersburg City Council's new decisions regarding the mural.

St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 30, 1966

December 28, 1956

Rosa Jordan, 22-Year-Old Pregnant Woman, Shot While Riding Integrated Bus in Montgomery, Alabama

Excerpt in full from After Boycott Ends, Pregnant Black Woman Shot on Montgomery Bus, Equal Justice Initiative

On December 28, 1956, barely one week after the Montgomery Bus Boycott had ended and the busing system in Montgomery was finally integrated, white snipers shot Rosa Jordan, a 22-year-old Black woman, who was 8 months pregnant, on an integrated bus as it traveled through a Black neighborhood.

From December 1, 1955, until December 20, 1956, Black residents of Montgomery, Alabama, boycotted the city bus system to protest their poor treatment on the racially segregated buses. Participants faced threats, violence, and harassment, but were ultimately victorious in December 1956 when the United States Supreme Court ruled bus segregation unconstitutional in Browder v. Gayle.

After the ruling and official repeal of the city's bus segregation policies, the Black community returned to integrated buses. But Black riders now faced the threat of violence from white residents who resented the boycott and its results. In a terrifying development, snipers began to target the buses soon after integrated riding commenced.

On the evening of December 28, shots were fired into a desegregated bus traveling through a Black neighborhood, and Ms. Jordan was shot in both legs. Ms. Jordan was transported to Oak Street General Hospital, but doctors were hesitant to remove a bullet lodged in her leg for fear that it could spark premature labor. Instead, Ms. Jordan was told she would have to remain in the hospital for the duration of her pregnancy.

After the bus driver and passengers were questioned at police headquarters, the bus resumed service. Less than an hour later, near the same neighborhood, the same bus was again targeted by snipers. This time, no one was hit.

These shootings followed two earlier sniper attacks on Montgomery buses that occurred the week before but targeted buses carrying no passengers and resulted in no injuries. On the night of Ms. Jordan’s shooting, Montgomery Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers ordered all buses to end service for the night. The following day, three city commissioners met with a bus company official and decided to suspend all night bus service after 5:00 p.m. until after the New Year’s holiday. The curfew policy did not end until January 22, 1957.

December 27, 1956

Tallahassee Bus Demonstration Called Off After Threats from Whites, Segregated Seating Repealed 10 Days Later

Excerpt from Morris Thomas defying segregated bus seating - Tallahassee, Florida. Florida Memory, State Library and Archives of Florida

For nearly seven months in 1956, Tallahassee African Americans would not ride the city buses in protest of the segregated seating. As a result of the boycott, 21 members of the Inter Civic Council were convicted on charges of operating an illegal tranportation system set up as a car pool without a franchise. They were fined $11,000. On December 24th, Reverend C.K. Steele, Reverend A.C. Redd and Reverend H. McNeal Harris rode several buses sitting close to the front. Reverend J. Meta Rollins and Reverend Dan B. Speed also defied the seating convention on several buses that day.

On December 27, 1956 a planned front riding bus demonstration was called off when a group of about 200 whites gathered near the Park Avenue/Monroe Street bus transfer point.

Governor Collins suspended bus service in Tallahassee on January 1, 1957. On January 7, Tallahassee repealed the segregated seating ordinance. Through nonviolent protest, the Tallahassee bus boycott succeeded. It set a precedent for the state as, city by city, public transportation was desegregated in Florida.

Morris Thomas refused this Tallahassee bus driver's request to move to the back of the bus, December 27, 1956. Thomas lived in Midway, Florida, but was home on leave from the Navy. He heard about a possible demonstration, but did not know it had been called off.. Tallahassee, Florida, December 27, 1956

December 26, 1956

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth Leads Birmingham Bus Integration Challenge the Day After His House Was Bombed in Murder Attempt

Excerpt from Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), Encyclopedia of Alabama

The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) was the most important civil rights organization in Birmingham during the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. It was formed in 1956 by minister Fred Lee Shuttlesworth after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was prohibited from operating in Alabama. The organization engaged in bus boycotts, sit-ins, and other forms of protest and is especially noted for organizing the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. The group was also known for its greater willingness to confront local authorities than civil rights groups in Montgomery. A key strategy was to protest a segregation ordinance and challenge the ordinance in court.

Hoping to model the successful Montgomery bus boycott, Shuttlesworth led a similar ACMHR effort to integrate the buses in Birmingham. When the transit company refused to alter its segregated seating policy and city officials provided no assistance, ACMHR members prepared to ignore seating restrictions on December 26, 1956.

On Christmas night, segregationists dynamited Shuttlesworth's parsonage, hoping to kill or at least scare him out of town, but he emerged from the blast unharmed, emboldening him and ACMHR.

The next day as planned, Shuttlesworth, other ACMHR members, and individual black riders sat in the front seats on Birmingham buses. For their efforts, 21 individuals were arrested, but as many as 200 blacks had ridden in white sections without incident. Shuttlesworth was also arrested that day for driving without a license and improper vehicle documentation.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and several other civil rights leaders attended a Birmingham city council meeting on December 26, 1956, to discuss the issue of segregated public transportation. Robert Adams, The Birmingham News.
On December 26, 1956, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and other civil rights protesters boarded a bus in Birmingham challenging the city's segregation policies. The Birmingham News.
Below, letter to Fred Shuttlesworth from Martin Luther King, December 26, 1956, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

You are deeply in my prayers and thoughts as you confront arrests, threats, bombings and all types of humiliating experiences. Your wise restraint, calm dignity and unfliching courage will be an inspiration to generations yet unborn. History records nothing more majestic and sublime than the determined courage of a people willing to suffer and sacrifice for the cause of freedom. The days ahead may be difficult, but do not despair. Those of use who stand amid the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man must gain consolation from the fact that there is emerging a bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. In closing I must say to you, keep moving toward the goal of justice. Keep riding the buses on a non-segregated basis. Keep living by the principle of non-violence. If necessary, fill up the jails of Birmingham.

December 25, 1956

Christmas Day Bombing of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth's Home in Birmingham, Alabama

On December 25, 1956, Ku Klux Klan members in Alabama bombed the home of civil rights activist Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Rev. Shuttlesworth was home at the time of the bombing with his family and two members of Bethel Baptist Church, where he served as pastor. The 16-stick dynamite blast destroyed the home and caused damage to Rev. Shuttlesworth’s church next door but no one inside the home suffered serious injury. White supremacists would attempt to murder Rev. Shuttlesworth four more times in the next seven years. In an attack in 1957, a white mob brutally beat Rev. Shuttlesworth with chains and bats and stabbed his wife after the couple attempted to enroll their daughters in an all-white high school.

Rev. Shuttlesworth became a popular target of white supremacists in the early 1950s after assuming leadership of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama. As founder and president of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, Rev. Shuttlesworth organized and participated in numerous protests and boycotts challenging Jim Crow customs and policies in Birmingham and across the South. The day before the Christmas bombing, Rev. Shuttlesworth had called upon local African Americans to desegregate the city buses starting on December 26. Undeterred by the Klan’s assassination attempt, Rev. Shuttlesworth proceeded as planned with the December 26 protest rides.

Rev. Shuttlesworth was involved in nearly every pivotal civil rights event of the 1960s, including the 1961 Freedom Rides and the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in May 1963. His tireless activism in the face of violent opposition led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to describe him as “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South.”

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth outside his bombed home, December 25, 1962.
View short video, Voices of the Civil Rights Movement. On Christmas Day in 1956, Ku Klux Klan members bombed the home of civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Angered by Shuttlesworth's plans to desegregate Alabama buses through "protest rides," this was the KKK's last-ditch attempt to intervene. In this edition of Moments in Civil Rights History, a collaboration of Comcast and the Equal Justice Initiative, a death trap of 16 sticks of dynamite proved no match for Shuttlesworth's determination. One day after the bombing, he pressed forward with the protest rides.

December 24, 1956

Tallahassee Bus Boycott Ends With Direct Challenge to Segregated Transport After Months of Protest Sparked by University Student Women

Excerpt below from May 26, 1956: Tallahassee Bus Boycott Sparked by Students’ Protest, Zinn Education Project

On May 26, 1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, both students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), sat down in the whites-only section of a segregated bus in Tallahassee. When they refused to move, the bus driver pulled into a local service station and called the police. The Tallahassee police arrested both students, charging them with “placing themselves in a position to incite a riot.”

In response, students at FAMU organized a campus-wide boycott of the city buses that attracted the support of local community members. One local community leader, Reverend C. K. Steele, helped establish the Inter-Civic Council (ICC) to coordinate the boycott.

Like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the organization created a carpool system to provide alternative transportation for local residents and students. Even with much harassment from local police, students and the local community sustained the boycott through December 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in a case that originated from the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Shortly thereafter, on December 24, 1956, Steele and other local leaders boarded the segregated buses and sat in seats reserved for whites without being ordered to leave. A month later, the city repealed the segregated seating ordinance.

See more complete story of The Tallahassee Bus Boycott via the Florida Memory, State Library and Arhives of Florida.
Watch Footsteps to Freedom, documentary that chronicles the experiences of several foot soldiers as they, or their descendants, recall very personal and emotional memories. Rev. Henry Steele, Vince Larkins, Priscilla Stephens Kruize and the late Morris Thomas are a few of the individuals who share their stories.
Reverend C. K. Steele, Reverend H. McNeal Harris, and Reverend A. C. Redd protested segregated seating on Tallahassee city buses by sitting in the middle instead of at the back of the bus. This action ended a boycott of nearly seven months, brought on by the arrest of two FAMU women students for sitting beside a white woman. As a result of the boycott, 21 members of the Inter Civic Council were convicted on charges of operating an illegal transportation system set up as a car pool without a franchise. Florida Memory
Carrie Patterson and Wilhelmina Jakes (dates unknown). Credit: The Tallahassee Democrat.
Watch short video marking the 60th anniversary of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott at The ride to equality started 60 years ago​, Tallahassee Democrat.

December 23, 1963

FBI Meets to Plan Ways to "Neutralize" Martin Luther King

Excerpt below from FBI’S Notorious Plan to “Neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King, Today In Civil Liberties History

In one of the most notorious events in the history of the FBI, Bureau officials met on this day and formalized a plan to “neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King.

The vendetta against King included wiretapping, bugging, planting spies in his organizations, sabotaging speaking appearances, and sending both him and his wife Coretta a notorious “blackmail” tape purporting to record him in extramarital activities (November 21, 1964). The letter to King strongly suggested that he commit suicide as a solution to his “problems.”

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was deeply racist and had opposed civil rights activity throughout his career. Not all of his actions were unauthorized, however. Attorney General Robert Kennedy authorized wiretaps on King on October 10, 1963. However, different listening devices, called “bugs,” were first installed on King’s hotel rooms on January 5, 1964, and were not officially authorized by any attorney general. By their very nature, “bugs” are far more intrusive than wiretaps since they collect information from living rooms and bedrooms and record non-telephone conversations.

On November 18, 1964, Hoover publicly called King the “most notorious liar” in the country. At a hastily called meeting between the two on December 1, 1964, Hoover provided information that King immediately recognized as that which could only have come from covert intelligence gathering. King left the meeting deeply shaken.

Church Committee report on the FBI’s vendetta against King (pp. 79-184), and the plan to “neutralize” him (pp. 133–34):

December 22, 1963

John Lewis and 20 Others Arrested in Atlanta Sit-In at Coffee Counter

Front page of the Student Voice, December 23, 1963 - click to access full pdf.
Excerpt below from the Student Voice, December 23, 1963 - click to access full pdf.

Atlanta, Georgia – 21 people – including the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) — were arrested here at a Toddle House restaurant. The arrests here Saturday night and Sunday morning followed the visit to Atlanta of Kenyon minister of Home Affairs Oginga Odinga.

The Saturday night arrests at the Toddle House occurred after the SNCC workers met with Minister Odinga at his hotel, the Peachtree Manner, one of the few integrated hotels here. James Foreman, SNCC Executive Secretary said the group gave Odinga gifts, sang Freedom Songs, and chanted “Ohuru” with the Kenya Minister.

During the Saturday night arrests several of the SNCC workers went limp and had to be dragged to the paddy wagon. Two suffered bruises when policemen dragged them feet first from paddy wagons to the city jail. Most also refused to give their names when booked and told policeman their names were “Freedom Now."

SNCC Chairman John Lewis — arrested himself on Sunday morning — and Foreman sent a telegram of protest to the Undersecretary of State for African Affairs, G. Mennen Williams, asking him to "remove Atlanta from the itineraries a future African visitors to the United States. Atlanta is the most segregated city in the South for its size.”

Mr. Odinga is the Vice President of KANU, The Kenya African National Union, the party of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta’s government. He was invited to tour the United States by the State Department after accepting his country’s seat in the United Nations. Atlanta was the last stop on his tour.

Mugshot of Congressman John Lewis, December 22,1963. Lewis would later feature this photo during his 2012 relection campaign for Congress.
John Lewis appears in this photograph, in conversation behind central figure Judy Richardson, another prominent member of SNCC. The photograph was taken at a whites-only restaurant in Atlanta called the Toddle House during an SNCC sit-in protesting the segregation of lunch counters. Richardson recalls these demonstrations taking a specific course: demonstrators were denied service, the police were called to arrest them, they went limp and were taken into custody. Danny Lyon, 1963. Description from the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory Univerisity.

The students, all charged with violation of the state’s anti-trespass law – passed here in March, 1960 after the nationwide sit-in demonstrations began – are being held under $100 bond. They will be tried Monday afternoon, December 23.

Those arrested Saturday night are: Blanton Hall, 25, Athens, Georgia; Judy Richardson, 19, Tarrytown, New York; Ed Nakawasee, Camden, New Jersey; Charles Neblett, 23, Carbondale, Illinois; William Porter, 22, Albany, Georgia; Phyllis Martin, 20, New York, New York; Matthew Jones, 27, Knoxville, Tennessee; Ivanhoe Donaldson, 23, East Lansing, Michigan; Charles Cobb, 20, Springfield, Massachussettsl James Peacock,, 28, Greenwood, Mississippi,; George Bess, 19, Talahassen, Floridal Cordell Reagon, 20, Nashville, Tennessee; Annie Pearl Avery, 20, Birmingham, Alabama; Worth W. Long, 27, Little Rock, Arkansas; Mary King, 23, Atlanta, Georgie; Nancy Stearns, 23, Berkeley, California. Miss Stearns and Miss King are white; the others Negroes. Reagon, Peacock, Neblett and Miss Martin are members of SNCC’s Freedom Singers.

Arrested with SNCC Chairman John Lewis this morning were Shelia Kessler, 22, New York city; Sanford Leigh, 27, Bridgeport, Conn.; and Sam Shirah, 22, Atlanta. Shirah and Miss Kessler are white; Lewis and Leigh are Negroes.

Sunday's arrest marked Lewis' 27th arrest in the civil rights movement.

December 21, 1956

381 Days Later, the Mongomery Bus Boycott Ends After Court Upholds Desegregation Orders

After Rosa Parks was arrested in December 1955 for refusing a city bus driver’s instruction to relinquish her seat to white passengers, Montgomery, Alabama, activists organized a boycott of city buses to protest the poor treatment of Black passengers. Originally, the bus boycott was to last for a single day, coinciding with Ms. Parks’s civil court appearance. But the boycott turned out to be much more successful than organizers anticipated, with an estimated 17,000 African Americans refusing to ride the buses. Inspired by the community’s enthusiastic response, organizers decided to extend the boycott, and a young Montgomery minister named Martin Luther King Jr. was appointed as spokesman.

Initially, those participating in the bus boycott met only mild resistance; many white citizens offered to drive their Black employees to work to ensure the demonstration would not interfere with their job attendance. However, as the boycott continued and the protesters’ power to leverage their aggregate economic strength became apparent, the response grew violent. The homes of prominent figures associated with the boycott were bombed, including those of Reverend King, NAACP President E.D. Nixon, and Pastor Robert Graetz. Legal harassment also was prevalent, as police jailed more than eighty-nine boycott leaders in an effort to intimidate protestors.

Shortly after the boycott began, organizers filed Browder v. Gayle, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Montgomery’s segregated buses. The suit worked its way through the courts as the boycott continued, and on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that public bus segregation was unconstitutional and ordered Montgomery buses to integrate. On December 21, 1956, one day after the court’s order was served on the Montgomery bus system, the boycott ended and the city’s Black citizens resumed riding the now-integrated buses.

Leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott stand at a bus stop and wait for a bus following the end of the year-long protest, Montgomery, Alabama, December 26, 1956. Among them are American Civil Rights Leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) (fourth from left), his wife, fellow Civil Rights activist Coretta Scott King (fifth from left), and Reverend Ralph Abernathy (1926 - 1990) (visible over the shoulder of the tall man in the center). Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images Insider, December 5, 2015.
Montgomery Bus Boycotts: Rosa Parks (R) riding on newly integrated bus following Supreme Court ruling ending successful 381 day boycott of segregated buses. Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

December 20, 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer Declares "I'm Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired" in Harlem Speech

On December 20, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer and Malcolm X spoke at the Williams Institutional Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem, New York, for a political rally in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s (MFDP) upcoming congressional challenge. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers also performed during the rally.

This chapter reproduces Hamer’s speech, in which she recounts her personal experiences with oppression and challenged her black Harlem audience to recognize their own oppression. Hamer sought not only to garner support for the MFDP’s impending congressional challenge but also to direct national attention to the endemic racism in America. She argued that African Americans with relatively more rights and with more influence were not using their power to help African Americans with less.

Short segment from speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer in the spring of 1964 when she was campaigning for Congress in Mississippi. A clip from Dream Deferred by Harvey Richards, (1964)
From Civil Rights Movement Veterans,

December 19, 1958

Sparked by Teacher, Glydys Twine, the Kansas City Community Committee for Social Action (CCSA) Launches Pickets to Desegregate Store Lunch Counters

In late 1957 the apparent inaction and lack of change in eating facilities' segregation provoked Gladys Twine, an elementary school teacher and member of the Twin Citians social club, to bring up the issue at a regular meeting. NAACP member Velma Woodson shared feelings similar to Twine: “You couldn't go any place and be accepted. You couldn't go into the stores to buy clothing. You could not sit down to eat. So I think at some point, everybody became disgusted.”

Gladys Twine suggested that the Twin Citians, a group of black female professionals, do something to protest the discriminatory practices of department store eateries, but the group as a whole decided her project was too ambitious. Twine continued to push this issue until, aided by new club president Ruth Kerford, she formed a committee to focus on department store food service policy in September 1958. With the guidance of Lucile Bluford, editor at the KC Call, Twine began to reach out to other black organizations in Kansas City and soon gained the endorsement and financial support of the local NAACP chapter (who were initially hesitant because of their commitment to a campaign for a city-wide civil rights ordinance).

The committee's first tactic was to approach each department store's management individually, but they came across similar excuses regarding adherence to the policy of the Kansas City Merchants' Association. Spurred by a history of failed negotiations with the Association in the past, the group decided to officially form the Community Committee for Social Action (CCSA) and initiate a public campaign targeting five major department stores: Macy's, Jones Store, Kline's, Peck's, and Emery, Bird, Thayer.

The CCSA began its campaign by collecting letters of protest from store customers coupled with stickers that criticized diner segregation. After these initial actions were ignored by the management of the stores, the CCSA began planning direct action tactics, launched a major public advertising campaign, and canvassed to gain support of the black community at large.

The CCSA launched pickets on December 19, 1958, at all five stores. The picketing came at the perfect moment, interfering with the holiday shopping rush and reducing sales. Community leaders, white pastors, and the United Church Women supported and participated in the boycott, increasing numbers of activists and supporters.

Undated photo, presumably of the Twin Citians of Kansas City. Caption from Gladys Twine & Ruth Kerford, The Great Civil Rights Activists Of Kansas City.
Mrs. Ruth Kerford: president of the all-female, black social club, the Twin Citians. Gladys Twine: long-time member and spitfire. The Twin Citians were a group of successful working women who enjoyed their shopping at, for example, Kansas City’s Emery, Bird & Thayer department store. The problem? After spending hard-earned money in the store, these women were continually refused service at the Tea Room in the store – and any other in-shop eatery in town. So they could shop, but not eat in the presence of white people? The Twin Citians formed the Community Committee for Social Action (CCSA) and Kerford appointed Twine as its leader. The CCSA confronted department stores (including Macy’s and others) on this issue.

Even after the Christmas shopping rush picketing continued to affect sales of the targeted stores, until on February 9, 1959, CCSA suspended its picketing campaign on the condition that negotiations with store managers continue. In case the talks failed, the CCSA was beginning to organize a mass parade through downtown Kansas. With the threat of a public march, for the first time the store managers and Chamber of Commerce engaged in substantial negotiations or, in the words of the CCSA, “honest and good faith discussions.”

On February 27, 1959, a large gathering of CCSA members witnessed the management of Macy's, Kline's, and Peck's announce that they would immediately desegregate their dining areas after an orientation program for black customers. Female CCSA members subsequently organized these “diner tutorials” in addition to a schedule to ensure the facilities were not “overrun by Negroes.” Two months later, the remaining targeted department stores opened their doors to black diners after no problems arose from the other dining facilities' desegregation.

December 18, 1961

Truce Called in the Albany Movement, Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy Agree to Leave City, But Albany Leaders Fail to Uphold Agreements

Excerpted from the Civil Rights Digital Library

On Friday, December 16, police arrested Dr. William G. Anderson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and over 250 demonstrators for marching without a parade permit. Abernathy was bailed out of jail on December 16 so that he could arrange outside support while King and Anderson remained in prison. Negotiations between Albany Movement activists and city officials began on Monday, December 18, and lasted all day; prominent Albany officials, such as mayor Asa D. Kelley and police chief Laurie Pritchett, were included in these discussions. On the table were demands to release jailed activists. Finally, the two groups agreed to release jailed demonstrators on bond and to appoint a biracial committee to further negotiate the demands of the Albany Movement on the condition that King and Abernathy leave the city and that demonstrations stop.

In segments of the clip, Marion Page (Albany Movement Executive Secretary) delivers negotiation results in a prepared public statement to reporters and to attendees of the mass meeting. Page explains that the city police agreed to comply with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ruling that desegregated bus and train stations, and to facilitate bond release for demonstrators. Page clarifies that the Albany Movement will not lead demonstrations or attempt further negotiations until after the new city commission takes office in January. Finally, Page reveals that Chief Pritchett has agreed to accompany him to the year's first city commission meeting and to recommend that the commission give Movement requests full consideration.

While these arrangements were made by the Albany Movement in good faith with city leaders, Albany officials quickly reneged, and announced to the press that no concessions had been made; in response, Albany Movement-led demonstrations resumed in January 1962.

In this WSB newsfilm clip from a mass meeting held at Shiloh Baptist Church on Monday, December 18, 1961, Dr. William G. Anderson, Albany Movement president, comments on his experience being jailed for a just cause; and Marion Page, Albany Movement executive secretary, outlines the day's results of negotiations with city officials.
On Dec. 16, 1961, Martin Luther King Jr. led demonstrators through Albany, Ga., a town that became a civil rights battleground. King and many of the protesters were later arrested. Corbis/From “There Goes My Everything”
Clipping from New York Times, December 19, 1961 - reformatted to fit this layout.

December 17, 1962

Atlanta Leaders Erect Barricade, Dubbed "Atlanta's Berlin Wall," to Separate White & Black Neighborhoods After D-Day Vet Black Doctor Purchases Home

Excerpted in part from Atlanta's Berlin Wall, Atlanta
A segment of the Atlanta Wall, Atlanta History Center

In December 1962, Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. ordered barricades to be built across two Atlanta streets to discourage black citizens from purchasing homes in an adjacent all-white neighborhood. What seemed to him like a judicious compromise backfired, creating an embarrassment for the city as national media questioned its otherwise glowing reputation for racial harmony.

The controversy started in Peyton Forest, a prosperous, white subdivision of Cascade Heights in southwest Atlanta. The surrounding area was undergoing a racial transition that made white residents uneasy. When Dr. Clinton Warner, a Morehouse graduate, bought a house there, white homeowners asked the mayor to erect barriers on Peyton Road and nearby Harlan Road to prevent further “intrusion.” The Board of Aldermen approved the legislation on December 17, and Mayor Allen quickly signed it. Early the next morning, city maintenance crews, consisting mostly of black workers, erected wooden barriers saying “Road Closed.”

The reaction from the black community was immediate and furious. Petitions were filed in Atlanta’s courts, protesters picketed City Hall with signs referring to Atlanta’s “Berlin Wall,” civil rights organizations called for boycotts of white businesses around Cascade Heights, and black leaders publicly lambasted the mayor. Allen, who had been elected the previous year with overwhelming black support, must have been stung by the comparison to the repressive East German barrier. In fact, in his inaugural address, Allen had said, “It was in Berlin that the tragic and dramatic lesson of what happens to a divided city came home to me.”

The criticism surprised Allen, who’d believed his actions would put the focus on hundreds of acres of unused land north of Cascade Heights. The symbolism, however, was overpowering. Peyton Road remained blocked until March 1, 1963, when a judge ruled the barriers unconstitutional. The mayor had them removed within minutes of the decision. Despite this misstep, Ivan Allen Jr.’s legacy was shaped by his strong leadership in civil rights.

See video tribute to Dr. Clinton Warner, from Moorehouse School of Medicine YouTube Channel. Dr. Warner was a D-Day veteran, civil rights activist, and founding member of the Morehouse School of Medicine. He helped care for civil rights activists hurt in local demonstrations.
Excerpted from Atlanta's Berlin Wall, Wikipedia.

African Americans lead a boycott in West End, Atlanta against the barricade. The Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Atlanta's Committee for Cooperative Action (ACCA) formed a committee to coordinate efforts to protest the barricade. A statement signed by Martin Luther King Sr. and the president of the Atlanta chapter of the NCAA called the barricade "one of Atlanta's gravest mistakes and a slap at our national creed of democracy and justice."

In a December 22 letter sent by the COAHR to Allen, they describe the opposition to the wall by Atlanta University students and how they will continue to protest the "Atlanta Wall," urging Allen to remove it. In a telegram sent the next day, Allen stated that he had assembled a committee to look into the matter. The student protests at the wall were covered in a January 1963 issue of Jet. Many other publications and journalists from across the United States covered the incident as well, with Time discussing the event in an article called "Divided City."

From “Barricade was Turning Point for Allen,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 4, 2003,

December 16, 1961

Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Hundreds More Continue to be Arrested in Albany, Georgia

Excerpted in part from Chapter 16: The Albany Movement, The Autobiography of Marting Luther King,, Jr., from the The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

Written by Martin Luther King, Jr.

On December 16, 1961, the Negro community of that city made its stride toward freedom. Citizens from every quarter of the community made their moral witness against the system of segregation. They willingly went to jail to create an effective protest.

I too was jailed on charges of parading without a permit, disturbing the peace, and obstructing the sidewalk. I refused to pay the fine and had expected to spend Christmas in jail. I hoped thousands would join me. I didn't come to be arrested. I had planned to stay a day or so and return home after giving counsel. But after seeing negotiations break down, I knew I had to stay. My personal reason for being in Albany was to express a personal witness of a situation I felt was very important to me. As I, accompanied by over one hundred spirited Negroes, voluntarily chose jail to bail, the city officials appeared so hardened to all appeals to conscience that the confidence of some of our supporters was shaken. They nervously counted heads and concluded too hastily that the movement was losing momentum.

I shall never forget the experience of seeing women over seventy, teenagers, and middle-aged adults-some with professional degrees in medicine, law, and education, some simple housekeepers and laborers-crowding the cells. This development was an indication that the Negro would not rest until all the barriers of segregation were broken down. The South had to decide whether it would comply with the law of the land or drift into chaos and social stagnation.

One must search for words in an attempt to describe the spirit of enthusiasm and majesty engendered in the next mass meeting, on that night when seven hundred Negro citizens were finally released from prison. Out from the jails came those men and womendoctors, ministers, housewives-all of whom had joined ranks with a gallant student leadership in an exemplary demonstration of nonviolent resistance to segregation.

Before long the merchants were urging a settlement upon the city officials and an agreement was finally wrung from their unwilling hands. That agreement was dishonored and violated by the city. It was inevitable that the sweep of events would see a resumption of the nonviolent movement, and when cases against the seven hundred odd prisoners were not dropped and when the city council refused to negotiate to end discrimination in public places, actions began again.

Police Chief Laurie Prichett tells Martin Luther King (L) and Dr. W. G. Anderson that they are under arrest after they could not produce a permit to parade. 12/16/1961-Albany, Georgia.
Following their 16 December 1961 arrest in Albany, Georgia, King, Ralph Abernathy, and William G. Anderson are transferred to Sumter County Jail in Americus. On this jail ledger, King is listed as number forty-five and is referred to as a “[Niger? ] male.”
Excerpt about the Albany Movement from Eyes On The Prize, Episode 4, "No Easy Walk (1961–1963)," first aired on PBS, February 11, 1987.

December 15, 1961

Martin Luther King, Jr. Arrives in Albany, Delivers Speech at Shiloh Baptist Church, Energizes the Albany Movement

Excerpted in whole below from The Albany Movement (1961–1962), BlackPast

The Albany Movement was a desegregation campaign formed on November 17, 1961, in Albany, Georgia. Local activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Ministerial Alliance, the ederation of Woman’s Clubs, and the Negro Voters League joined together to create the movement. The Albany Movement challenged all forms of racial segregation and discrimination in the city. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined the movement in December 1961.

SNCC members Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon traveled to Albany in October 1961 to help organize the local black community. Although earlier protests had occurred, black residents were frustrated with the city commission’s failure to address their grievances. Sherrod and Reagon organized workshops around nonviolent tactics for Albany’s African American residents in anticipation of a showdown with the local police. On November 1, 1961, when the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ban on racial segregation in interstate bus terminals went into effect, Sherrod and Reagon saw it as an opportunity to test segregation polices. They sent nine students from Albany State College to conduct a sit-in at the bus terminal. None of the students was arrested, but their actions inspired local black leaders to join the movement.

The Albany Movement intended to end all forms of racial segregation in the city, but it initially focused on desegregating travel facilities. It also formed a biracial committee to discuss further desegregation and called for the release of those jailed in earlier segregation protests. Movement protestors used mass demonstrations, jail-ins, sit-ins, boycotts, and litigation. Although the first protestors were mostly students, the campaign eventually involved large numbers of black adults of varied class backgrounds.

Laurie Pritchett, who was the Albany police chief, responded to the protest demonstrations with mass arrests of the protesters. By December 1961, when more than five hundred protesters were jailed, William G. Anderson, the first president of the Albany Movement, called on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help reinvigorate the stalled campaign. Some SNCC members were concerned about King’s involvement, worrying publicly that his style of leadership would cause local blacks to abandon their own efforts against racism and exploitation, thinking that only a prominent outside leader could save them.

Undated photos above from The Albany Movement, African American Civil Rights Movemement.

King arrived in Albany on December 15, 1961, and spoke at a mass meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church. The following day, King, Anderson, and Ralph Abernathy—the SCLC’s second-in-command—joined hundreds of black citizens behind bars on charges of parading without a permit and obstructing the sidewalk. Despite SNCC’s fears, King’s involvement in the movement did attract national media attention, and it inspired more members of the black community to join the protests. Soon after King was arrested, city officials and Albany Movement leaders agreed that if King left Albany, the city would comply the ICC ruling and release jailed protesters on bail. After King left Albany, the city failed to uphold its agreement and protests continued into 1962.

On July 10, 1962, King and Abernathy were found guilty of having paraded without a permit in December 1961 and were ordered to pay $178 or serve forty-five days in jail. They chose to stay in jail, hoping their imprisonment would again draw attention to the Albany Movement. On July 12, however, Chief Pritchett notified King and Abernathy that their bail had been paid by an unidentified black man, and they were immediately released. On July 27, 1962, King was arrested for a third time, but on August 10, 1962, he agreed to leave Albany, ending his involvement in the Albany Movement. Although SNCC continued its efforts in Albany, almost all of Albany’s public facilities remained segregated after King’s departure.

December 14, 1964

Supreme Court Upholds Challenge to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States

Excerpted in whole below from Today In Civil Liberties History

Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds 1964 Civil Rights Act

The case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, decided on this day, was a challenge to the constitutionality of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the law was constitutional under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Title II of the law outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, such as lunch counters and hotels, and Title VII outlawed discrimination in employment.

The Court acted with unusual speed in the case, rendering its decision a little more than five months after President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.

The Court: “We therefore conclude that the action of the Congress in the adoption of the Act as applied here to a motel which concededly serves interstate travelers is within the power granted it by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, as interpreted by this Court for 140 years.”

On December 14th, 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision forcing businesses to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of The Heart of Atlanta motel, sued the government to bar enforcement of its provisions. The justices upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the motel was ordered to stop refusing service to African Americans. Upholds Law Prohibiting Discrimination in Hotels, Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.
In an unsual action, The New York Times published the full text of the Court opinion on December 15, 1964. Click image for original story.

December 13, 1961

Hundreds Arrested in Albany, Georgia Including Over 200 Children as Protesters Gather in Support of Arrested Freedom Riders

The two New York Times articles below cover two days of protests and hundreds of arrests on December 12 and 13, 1961. Albany Police Chief, Laurie Pritchett exercised a policy of mass arrests, transporting prisoners to neighboring communities to avoid filling the jails.

Activist Bernice Johnson’s Arrest Statement (click image for 2-page statement)
Bernice Johnson Reagon joined SNCC in 1961, while a student at Albany State University. On December 10, 1961, a group of SNCC Freedom Riders and SNCC Executive Secretary James Forman were arrested for integrating the train station in Albany, Georgia. On December 12, the day of the SNCC trial, 267 students marching in peaceful protest were arrested. The following day, Bernice Johnson participated in a prayer protest led by Albany leader Slater King and a march at City Hall. She and 300 others were arrested and sent out to the Lee County Stockade. Johnson recounts her experience in this statement. Excerpted from The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom, Library of Congress.
Over 200 blacks are shown as they were arrested in Albany, Ga. after staging a demonstration in front of City Hall protesting against the trial of Freedom Riders arrested here earlier, Dec. 13, 1961. Nearly 500 have been arrested this week. (AP Photo/Horace Cort)
Above story re-formatted from the original to fit this space. See original at the New York Times, 202 MORE NEGROES SEIZED IN GEORGIA; Albany Jails Demonstrators on 2d Day of Protests, published December 14, 1961

December 12, 1962

Jackson Boycott Movement Begins with Picket at Woolworth's by 4 Black Tougaloo Students, Professor & Wife

Excerpted from Hunter Gray (John R. Salter) Papers, 1955-2000, Wisconsin Historical Society

On December 12, 1962, Tougaloo College sociology Professor, John R. Salter Jr, his wife Eldri, and four Tougaloo students helped organize a boycott of white businesses in downtown Jackson, demanding an end to discrimination against black workers and consumers. The boycott continued through early June, 1963 led by the Jackson chapter of the NAACP, and backed by the national NAACP, Congress of Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), and the Gandhi Society for Human Rights. Although Salter and the other picketers were beaten and arrested, the long-term boycott proved successful, especially as a means of organizing the Jackson black community.

However, the withdrawal of NAACP support of direct action, coupled with the June 12, 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers, and the injuries boycott leaders Salter and Rev. Edwin King suffered in a car accident on June 18 (an accident that Salter believed was “rigged”), led to the end of the mass demonstrations.

Salter, who later changed his name to Hunter Gray in honor of his Wabanaki Indian (Micmac/Penobscot) background, was born February 14, 1934, and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona.

News clipping of Eldi Salter as she is arrested on December, 12, 1962 in Jackson, Mississppi. The caption reads: "PICKETS ARRESTED – Jaskson, Miss. – Capt. Cecil Hateaway of the Jackson Police Department places a white woman, Mrs. John R. Salter, under arrest for picketing. Her husband, a Tougalo Negro College professor, is partly hidden by Captain Hateaway. At left is an unidentified Negro picket. The NAACP has called for a boycott of the stores in downdown Jackson. –(AP Wirephototo)
The Jackson Boycott continued until early June, 1963, In this May 28, 1963 file photo, a group of whites pour sugar, ketchup and mustard over the heads of Tougaloo College student demonstrators at a sit-in demonstration at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi. Seated at the counter, from left, are Tougaloo College professor John Hunter Gray (John R. Salter, Jr.) and students Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody. (Fred Blackwell/The Clarion-Ledger)
The words of Hunter Gray, (alias John Salter) who also went by the name of Hunter Bear, in his eulogy of Cleveland Donald, Jr. recounting the December Jackson Boycott Movement.

We launched the Jackson Boycott on December 12, 1962, when Eldri [my spouse] and I and four Black students picketed the Woolworth store on downtown Capitol Street. It was the first civil rights picket in the city's history. We were immediately arrested by between 75 and 100 of Jackson's huge all-White police force. The hysterical reaction by the power structure and news media gave us the publicity we needed. Concurrently, North Jackson and Tougaloo students began what became months of heavy sub-rosa boycott leafleting in the Black neighborhoods, and speaking appearances at Black churches began in earnest. The Youth Council flowered out with hundreds of youthful supporters and there was great activism from Tougaloo — where Eldri emerged as the Adult Advisor to the Tougaloo NAACP Chapter. In the meantime, we all welcomed support from those — not really that many in Jackson itself at that time — involved with other civil rights organizational perspectives.

The saga of the Jackson Boycott Movement and its emergence into the massively non-violent Jackson Movement — in the face of the most brutal and often bloody repression by hordes of "lawmen" and vigilante Klan types is covered in great detail, along with many collateral matters, in my own book, Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism.

John R. Salter, (later known as Hunter Gray) in an un-dated photo, with his book, originally published in 1979, reprinted in 2011.

December 11, 1961

U.S. Supreme Court Rules In Favor of Peaceful Sit-in Protests in Garner v. Louisiana

Excerpted from Garner v. Louisiana, Wikipedia. and from Daughter of John Burrell Garner

Garner v. Louisiana was a landmark case argued by then NAACP attorney, Jack Greenburg before the Supreme Court. On December 11, 1961, the court unanimously ruled that Louisiana could not convict peaceful sit-in protesters who refused to leave dining establishments under the state's "disturbing the peace" laws. (Note: corrected from Wikipedia article which incorrectly lists Thurgood Marshall as lead attorney; Marshall was a supporting attorney on the case)

John Burrell Garner was a law student that participated in a sit-in at Sitman’s Drug Store in March of 1960 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Baton Rouge protesters were arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “merely sitting peacefully in places where custom decreed that petitioners should not sit was not evidence of any crime, and it cannot be so considered either by the police or the courts.”

In a 9-0 decision, the court ruled that Louisiana violated the due clause of the 14th amendment and finding there was no evidence the students' behavior could have foreseeably disturbed the peace. In his written opinion, Justice John Marshall Harlan likened sit-in demonstrations to verbal expression as a form of free speech. Justice William O. Douglas in his concurring opinion said, “For the police are supposed to be on the side of the Constitution, not on the side of discrimination. Yet if all constitutional questions are to be put aside and the problem treated merely in terms of disturbing the peace, I would have difficulty in reversing these judgments. I think, however, the constitutional questions must be reached and that they make reversal necessary.”

Garner v. Louisiana was an important case for the Civil Rights Movement, and one of many civil rights cases argued before the Warren Court (1953–69). Eventually, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 "outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce."

Posthumous commendation in memory of John Burell Garner, May 15, 2019
John B. Garner, undated, photograph provided by his daughter, Joan Garner.
Below, xcerpt from the obituary of John Burrell Thirkield Garner

John Burrell Thirkield Garner, 77, a former native of Baton Rouge, and former resident of New Roads and New Orleans, entered into eternal rest on Friday, April 20, 2012. A veteran of the U.S. Army, former New Orleans police officer in the K-9 Div. with his trusted dog, Scout, and owner of the El Falso Rio of New Roads.

John participated in the Civil Rights Movement resulting in the case Garner v. Louisiana, a pivotal case that was heard at the U.S. Supreme Court with a unanimous ruling in favor of integration.

Audio of oral arguments, October 18, 1961.
Oral arguments continued the next day, October, 19, 1961.
View full audio and full-text of the oral arguments.

December 10, 1964

Martin Luther King, Jr. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for His Nonviolent Leadership in the Civil Rights Struggle

The Nobel committee awarded King because he was “the first person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence. He is the first to make the message of brotherly love a reality in the course of his struggle, and has brought this message to all men, to all nations and races.”

Excerpted from 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, National Park Service.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shakes hand of King Olav of Norway at prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Decemb er 10, 1964

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Prize for Peace during an awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964. Since 1964 all of the documents related to this award, such as the notes, nominations, and reports have been classified as secret and kept under lock and key in the Norwegian Nobel Committee's extensive archive. This prestigious award propelled the modern American Civil Rights Movement into global and renowned recognition.

Although the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr. for his exceptional leadership skills in the principles of peace, nonviolence and direct action, Dr. King stated:

This Nobel Prize was won by a movement of great people, whose discipline, wise restraint, and majestic courage has led them down a nonviolent course in seeking to establish a reign of justice and a rule of love across this nation of ours: Herbert Lee, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, and the thousands of children in Birmingham, Albany, St. Augustine, and Savannah who had accepted physical blows and jail and had discovered that the power of the soul is greater than the might of violence. These unknown thousands had given this movement the international acclaim, which we received from the Norwegian Parliament.

Watch King's 12-minute acceptance speech delivered on December 11, 1964 in Oslo, Norway. Below, the next day, King delivered a 1 hour Nobel Lecture.
Read full text of King's Acceptance Speech
Audio recording of the full Nobel Lecture, delivered December 11, 1964, one day after Martin Luther King received his Nobel Peace Prize. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, 55 mins
Full text, The Quest for Peace and Justice , Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964

December 9, 1952

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Brown v Board of Education, First of 5 NAACP Legal Defense Fund School Desegregation Cases

Excerpted in part from Civil Rights Digital Library

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed event in the history of the United States. The landmark ruling had it roots in Topeka, Kansas, in 1951 when, Oliver Brown, an African American minister and welder, called upon the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for legal assistance after the city's school board refused to enroll his daughter in an all-white school. The class action lawsuit, filed by Brown and nearly twenty others, ended in the U.S. District Court's ruling in favor of the Board of Education. Undaunted, Thurgood Marshall, chief council for the NAACP, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Brown v. Board of Education, as well as four similar cases challenging the segregation of public schools in Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Proceedings for the cases began on December 9, 1952. After several delays and a rehearing in December of 1953, the Supreme Court finally reached a unanimous decision on May 17, 1954, when it ruled that the segregation of public school systems was unconstitutional. The decision, however, failed to address any means for enforcement or provide timetables for states to integrate their schools. In 1955, the Supreme Court issued an additional edict, which instructed states to begin the process of desegregation "with all deliberate speed.

Thurgood Marshall, right, chief legal counsel of the NAACP, and attorney John W. Davis, left, representing the state of South Carolina, talk before a public hearing in Washington, December 9, 1952. The two advocates are opposing counsels in the battle for racial integration in public schools. (AP Photo)
Read reflection from NAACP Legal Defence Fund President and Director-Counsel, Sherrilyn Ifill from the 60th anniversary in 2014.
People line up at the Supreme Court building to hear the arguments before the justices, December 9, 1952. Library of Congress)
The Legal Defense Fund team of the NAACP (left to right): Louis Redding, Robert Carter, Oliver Hill, Thurgood Marshall, and Spottswood W. Robinson. Associated Press, NAACP
Excerpted below from Brown v. Board: Five Communities That Changed America (Teaching with Historic Places), National Park Service. Access link for more complete summaries of each of the 5 cases as well as further lesson plan ideas.

School Segregation

The five school desegregation cases that the Supreme Court agreed to hear in the fall of 1952 included: Brown v. Board of Education (Kansas), Briggs v. Elliot (South Carolina), Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board (Virginia), Belton v. Gebhart (Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia). The Court heard the cases under Oliver Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka and convened to hear arguments on December 9, 1952. Thurgood Marshall and the other National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attorneys argued that segregated schools violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to “equal protection of the laws.” Lawyers in the case from the District of Columbia charged that segregation violated students’ Fifth Amendment rights to not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The defendants in the cases claimed that operating segregated schools was consistent with custom and law and should be maintained. While the plaintiffs insisted on immediate integration, the defendants held that ensuring that black and white schools were equal was an acceptable compromise.

December 8, 1955

Montgomery Bus Boycott Leaders Advocate for "Courteous Treatment," & Taxis Fined For Under-Charging Black Riders

Excerpted in part from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

King and the MIA leaders—including Abernathy, Jo Ann Robinson, and attorney Fred D. Gray—wired this December 8, 1955 letter to National City Lines in Chicago, owner of the Montgomery bus franchise, after an unsuccessful meeting with city commissioners and local bus company officials. The officials had refused to change bus segregation policies, insisting they were required by law; King countered that they could be modified within the existing segregation laws.

Note that King and the MIA were NOT advocating for desegregregating buses in Montgomery at this time, they were only asking for flexibile front for whites and back for blacks. The city and bus lines rejected this proposal.

That night the MIA’s second mass meeting, held at St. John AME Church, approves the establishment of a car pool system as a temporary alternative to the buses.

To The National City Lines, Inc.

616 South Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill.

Over a period of years the Negro passengers on the Montgomery City Lines, Inc. have been subjected to humiliation, threats, intimidation, and death through bus driver action.

The Negro has been inconvenienced in the use of the city bus lines by the operators in all instances in which the bus has been crowded. He has been forced to give up his seat if a white person has been standing.

Repeated conferences with the bus officials have met with failure. Today a meeting was held with Mr. J. H. Bagley and Attorney Jack Crenshaw as representatives of the bus company, and Mayor W. A. Gayle and Associate Commissioners Frank Parks and Clyde Sellers.2 At which time as an attempt to end the Monday through Thursday protest, the following three proposals were made:

  1. Courteous treatment by bus drivers.

  2. Seating of Negro passengers from rear to front of bus, and white passengers from front to rear on “first-come-first-serve basis with no seats reserved for any race.

  3. Employment of Negro bus operators in predominantly Negro residential sections.

The above proposals, and the resolutions which will follow, were drafted and adopted in a mass meeting of more than 5,000 regular bus riders.3 These proposals were denied in the meeting with the city officials and representatives of the bus company.

Since 44% of the city’s population is Negro, and since 75% of the bus riders are Negro, we urge you to send a representative to Montgomery to arbitrate.

The Montgomery Improvement Association

The Rev. M. L. King, Pres.
The Rev. U. J. Fields, Sec’y.

An interior view of a Montgomery City transit bus is seen here. It's completely empty as it stops in the middle of town during the middle of the day. Signs separating it into "White" and "Negro" sections have been removed. Getty
Excerpted from Montgomery Bus Boycott, Wikipedia

Taxis and Carpools Support Boycott

Instead of riding buses, boycotters organized a system of carpools, with car owners volunteering their vehicles or themselves driving people to various destinations. Some white housewives also drove their black domestic servants to work, although it is unclear to what extent this was based on sympathy with the boycott, versus the desire to have their staff present and working. When the city pressured local insurance companies to stop insuring cars used in the carpools, the boycott leaders arranged policies with Lloyd's of London.

Black taxi drivers charged ten cents per ride, a fare equal to the cost to ride the bus, in support of the boycott. When word of this reached city officials on December 8, 1955, the order went out to fine any cab driver who charged a rider less than 45 cents. In addition to using private motor vehicles, some people used non-motorized means to get around, such as cycling, walking, or even riding mules or driving horse-drawn buggies. Some people also hitchhiked. During rush hours, sidewalks were often crowded. As the buses received extremely few, if any, passengers, their officials asked the City Commission to allow stopping service to black communities. Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery's black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow laws.

In response, opposing whites swelled the ranks of the White Citizens' Council, the membership of which doubled during the course of the boycott. The councils sometimes resorted to violence: Martin Luther King's and Ralph Abernathy's houses were firebombed, as were four black Baptist churches. Boycotters were often physically attacked.

December 7, 1957

200 Klansmen Form a Human Cross and March In Downtown Columbia, South Carolina After White Women, Claudia Thomas Sanders, Advocates School Desegregation

Ecerpted in whole from Ku Klux Klan Ralley, websiteof Claudia Smith Brinson's book, Stories of Struggle: The Clash Over Civil Rights in South Carolina


The Ku Klux Klan used violence – kidnapping, beating, mutilating, and lynching – to enforce subjugation and segregation. Klansmen counted on terrorism to intimidate, silence, or run out of town any black person considered successful or outspoken, anyone who didn’t know his or her “place,” anyone accused of an affront to white people, no matter how minor or false the charge.

Photos of Ku Klux Klan ralley, December 7, 1957 in Columbia, South Caroloina. Richard Taylor, The State Newspaper Photograph Archive at Richland Library, Columbus, SC

These photos were taken on December 7, 1957, when 200 Klansmen formed a human cross on the State House steps then marched up and down Main Street in Columbia, South Carolina. In an interview afterward, Imperial Wizard E. L. Edwards denied knowledge of the November 20 bombing of Dr. James and Claudia Thomas Sanders’ home in Gaffney, Cherokee County. No one was injured when three sticks of dynamite exploded, damaging the home. That same day in the same county, another dynamite explosion damaged the home of Lewis Ford, a black tenant farmer.

Claudia Thomas Sanders became a target when she supported gradual desegregation of public schools in an essay included in “South Carolina Speaks,” a booklet about race relations intended to introduce “words of moderation.” State law enforcement, aided by the FBI, arrested five KKK members. Evidence revealed the dynamiting was a third attempt on Claudia Thomas Sanders’ life. However, charges against two of the men were dropped, one died mysteriously at home when his car crushed him, and an all-white jury acquitted the remaining two.

Excerpts from Claudia Thomas Sanders from South Carolinians Speaks: A Modern Approach to Race Relations, as published in These Few Also Paid a Price: Southern Whites who Fought for Civil Rights

We must move surely because our social conscience and Christian ethics leave us no alternative.

Gradual desegregation in the schools accomplished by staring with the first grades would seem logical to me.

No longer is is popular to propose one law for men and another for women, or even one for white and another for black….I want for my child and for every child of God the right to lift hi eyes and to say within himself, “There is a place for me in America, in South Shoreline if I choose. This is work for my hands and brain. There is happinesss and achievement waiting for me if I am true to the best that is within me.” I do not want the color of his skin to kill that dream or a lack of educational opportunity to place chains upon his spirit more terrible than the iron chains that shackled the limbs of his forebears.

First, the idea of desegregation must be accepted, then practical steps taken that will leas us to the desired results.

December 6, 1958

Klyde Kennard, Army Vet, Writes Public Letter As He Continues Failed Efforts to Enroll in Segregated Mississippi Southern College

Excerpted in whole from Clyde Kennard (1927-1963), Black Past, by A. Samms, 2018, July 08,

Clyde Kennard was an African American activist who pioneered the desegregation of higher education in Mississippi. After applying multiple times to Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi), he was framed and incarcerated in 1960 until his death in 1963.

Born on June 21, 1927 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Kennard moved to Chicago, Illinois at age 12 to attend school. In 1945 Kennard joined the military and served for 7 years until 1952 when he received an honorable discharge after serving in Germany and Korea.

In 1955, Kennard left the University of Chicago where he was studying political science and moved to Eatonville, Mississippi to be with his mother on the 20-acre farm he had made the down payment on for her after returning from the military. While living in Mississippi, Kennard decided to further his education. There were no black colleges nearby so Kennard decided to attempt to enroll in Mississippi Southern College in 1955, despite it being an all-white college.

The admissions department denied his application in 1955 because of state segregation laws but they cited the fact that he had not included recommendations from five Mississippi Southern alumni. Kennard continued to attempt to enroll at the college to the point where in 1959 Mississippi Governor James P. Coleman met personally with him to convince him to desist from applying to Mississippi Southern.

Kennard did not give up and reapplied in August of 1959, threatening to take up the derailment of his application in federal court. He was again rejected on a technicality and soon after he was arrested for “driving with excessive speed” and “illegal possession of whiskey” by police. These claims were false and were meant to keep Kennard from continuing to apply to the university.

Kennard appealed these convictions all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court to no avail and the convictions were upheld.

Further framed for stealing $25 worth of chicken feed, he was sentenced after a 10-minute trail by an all-white jury to seven years at Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary. Kennard underwent brutal treatment on Parchman Farm until he was diagnosed with critical colon cancer and he was let out on medical leave before he died on July 4, 1963.

Kennard, who never married or had children, never saw justice while he lived. In 1991, however, his case was reopened after evidence surfaced that he had been framed. The legal campaign to overturn his convictions lasted until 2006, when Johnny Lee Roberts, the man who had actually stolen the $25 of chicken feed, admitted that the arrest of Kennard had nothing to do with the theft and everything to do with Kennard’s attempts to enroll in Mississippi Southern College.

Clyde Kennard was finally recognized for his bravery in 2006 when Haley Barbour, then governor of Mississippi, exonerated him for his crimes.

Image from the Hattiesburg American, December 6, 1958. Read full text via the Zinn Education Project.
Excerpts from Kennard's letter in the Hattiesburg American, Dec. 6, 1958, entitled Mixing.


Editor, The American,

It is interesting to me that subjects which are most widely discussed are those which seem to be least understood by the public whom these discussions are designed to inform.

In our state the officials spend much of their time and perhaps much of our money trying to convince the integrationists, and reassure the segregationists, that the policy of perpetual segregation is the wisest course for us to pursue, in spite of the tremendous cost of duplication.

Somehow I feel a great sympathy for the people who truly believe that the interest of both the White and Negro people would be served best by a system of complete or partial segregation. Although I am integrationist by choice, I am a segregationist by nature, and I think most Negroes are. We prefer to be alone, but experience has taught us that if we are ever to attain the goal of first class citizenship, we must do it through a closer association with the dominant (White) group.

As the public schools are the essential organs for general intellectual discipline, and the preparation for private life and public life service, let us superimpose the plan of separate but equal on the public school system.

It is my understanding that separate but equal means that in matters where public funds are involved every time a dollar is spent for the development of Negro students, a dollar will be spent for the development of White students, and vice versa.

Portrait by Robert Shetterly from Americans Who Tell the Truth.

After our paralleled graduate schools, where do our parallels of separate but equal go? Are we to assume that paralleled hospitals are to be built for the two groups of doctors? Are we to build two bridges across the same stream in order to give equal opportunities to both groups of engineers? Are we to have two courts of law so as to give both groups of lawyers the same chance to demonstrate their skills; two legislatures for our politically inclined, and of course two governors?

The folly of such a conclusion is perfectly obvious.

Segregationists whose convictions are based on reason rather than passion might agree that the most honorable and actually the only path to our goal, would be to allow integration at some level, if not on the school level, then surely on the “job” level.

What we request is only that in all things competitive, merit be used as a measuring stick rather than race.

We believe that for men to work together best, they must be trained together in their youth. We believe that there is more to going to school than listening to the teacher and reciting lessons. In school one learns to appreciate and respect the abilities of the other.

We say that if a man is a good doctor though his face be white as light or black as darkness let him practice his art. We believe that the best engineer should build the bridge or run the train. We believe that the most efficient secretary should get the best paying job and the greatest scholar the professorship. We believe in the dignity and brotherhood of man and the divinity and fatherhood of God, and as such men should work for the upbuilding of each other, in mutual love and respect. We believe when merit replaces race as a factor in character evaluation, the most heckling social problem of modern times will have been solved.

Thus we believe in integration on all levels from kindergarten to graduate schools; in every area of education; in government, federal, state, local; in industry from the floor sweeper to the superintendent’s office; in science from the laboratory to the testing ground.

December 5, 1955

13-Month Montgomery Bus Boycott Begins As Rosa Parks is Convicted For Violating Alabama’s Segregation Law

During the boycott, volunteer drivers gave rides to would-be bus passengers. Photo by Dan Weiner, 1956
Excerpted in part from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

Sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott was a 13-month mass protest that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional.

The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) coordinated the boycott, and its president, Martin Luther King, Jr., became a prominent civil rights leader as international attention focused on Montgomery. The bus boycott demonstrated the potential for nonviolent mass protest to successfully challenge racial segregation and served as an example for other southern campaigns that followed. King declared the real meaning of the Montgomery bus boycott to be the power of a growing self-respect to animate the struggle for civil rights.

December 5, 1960

The Supreme Court Outlaws Segregation of Interstate Travel - Sparks Freedom Ride Tests in '61

Bruce Boynton practiced civil rights law in Tennessee, Alabama and Washington, DC. Read his 2020 obituary in the New York Times. Photo from 2018, Jay Reeves, AP
Adapted from The Newseum

Bruce Boynton, an African-American law student at historically black Howard University, was arrested and fined $10 for sitting in the "whites-only" area of the lunchroom at the Richmond, Va., bus station during a trip home to Alabama in 1958. He sues the state of Virginia (petition), and the case eventually ends up at the Supreme Court as Boynton vs. Virginia.

Boynton argued the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Interstate Commerce Act, forbids "unjust discrimination." The Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate travel, including bus stations, violates the Interstate Commerce Act but does not address the 14th Amendment leaving open the possibility of segregation at establishments not directly linked to interstate commerce. Hundreds of Freedom Riders challenge interstate bus transportation throughout 1961.

December 5, 1966

Supreme Court Orders Georgia Legislature to Seat Julian Bond Banned for Civil Rights Activities

Julian Bond with John Lewis in 1973. Read his 2015 obituary in the New York Times. Photo, Larry Morris, NYT
Excerpted in whole below from Today In Civil Liberties History

In Bond v. Floyd, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered Julian Bond to be seated in the Georgia legislature. He was on January 9, 1967.

Civil rights leader Julian Bond had been elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, but the legislature refused to seat him in January 1966, because of his civil rights activities and political views.

Bond had been one of the leaders of the sit-ins in Atlanta, George, in 1960, and was also a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

The Court: “Just as erroneous statements must be protected to give freedom of expression the breathing space it needs to survive, so statements criticizing public policy and the implementation of it must be similarly protected.”

December 4, 1969

Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton Gunned Down by Chicago Police, Aided by FBI Efforts to Destroy the Growing Organization

On the morning of December 4, 1969, lawyer Jeffrey Haas received a call from his partner at the People’s Law Office, informing him that early that morning Chicago police had raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago.

Tragically, Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark had both been shot dead, and four other Panthers in the apartment had critical gunshot wounds. Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. In sharp contrast, the Panthers had shot once, from the shotgun held by Mark Clark, which had most likely been fired after Clark had been fatally shot in the heart and was falling to the ground.

Haas went straight to the police station to speak with Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson, who was then eight months pregnant with Hampton’s son. She had been sleeping in bed next to Hampton when the police attacked and began shooting into the apartment and towards the bedroom where they were sleeping. Miraculously, Johnson had not been shot, but her account given to Haas was chilling. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious (strong evidence emerged later that a paid FBI informant had given Hampton a sedative that prevented him from waking up) and after police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, “Is he still alive?” After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, “He’s good and dead now.”

Jeffrey Haas’ account of this conversation with Johnson jumps right out from the inside cover of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. In this excellent book, Haas gives his personal account of defending the Panther survivors of the December 4 police assault against the criminal charges that were later dropped, and of filing a civil rights lawsuit, Hampton v. Hanrahan, on behalf of the survivors and the families of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. [Description from full review by Hans Bennett on]

Interview with author Jeffrey Haas on Democracy Now!, includes video of Fred Hampton and overview of the Black Panther Party, December 4, 2009.

Chicago police remove the body of Black Panther Party leader, Fred Hampton, gunned down by Chicago Police on Dec. 4, 1969. (AP). From Washington Post article, The police raid that killed two Black Panthers, shook Chicago and changed the nation.

December 3, 1965

All-White Federal Jury in Alabama Convicts 3 Ku Klux Klan Members On Conspiracy Charges for Murder of Viola Liuzzo, After Local Jury Declared All Innocent

Excerpted in whole below from The Murder of Viola Liuzzo: A Turning Point in Ku Klux Klan History, Roosevelt Institute of American Studies

On December 3, 1965, an all-white federal jury from Alabama convicted three Ku Klux Klan members on conspiracy charges based on the murder of civil rights activist Viola Gregg Liuzzo. This was one of the first convictions following a civil rights killing.

On March 25, 1965, the white worker for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Viola Liuzzo was murdered after having taken part in a Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. She was working as a transport driver to take the civil rights activists back home. At the end of the day, she had dropped off several civil rights activists and only the African American Leroy Moten was left to bring home. While driving towards Leroy’s home, Viola was shot from another car filled with alleged Ku Klux Klan members.

The next day, President Johnson stated on national television that the FBI had arrested four men. One of them would turn out to be an undercover FBI agent, but the other three were charged with conspiracy to violate Liuzzo’s civil rights. In his statement, President Johnson defined the Klan as a “hooded society of bigots” and expressed his resolute eagerness to fight them.

The three Klansmen were charged with conspiracy and not murder due to the fact that only state courts were, and still are, permitted to indict for murder. President Johnson recognized this problem and, in order to solve it, his administration tried to develop legislation that would “strengthen the tools with which the Federal Government may deal with organized acts of violence of this kind.”

As a result of Liuzzo’s murder, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) started an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan. An internal HUAC memorandum referring to a similar case, the murder of two African Americans by Klansmen in Mississippi, showed that the race of the victim mattered for whether or not perpetrators were convicted.

Court artist rendering of the original murder trial, Jury, Hayneville, Alabama, 1965. Howard Brodie, Library of Congress. Original caption below.
All White Jury Frees Klan Members. Civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo was shot and killed on March 25, 1965, as she drove African American civil rights marcher Leroy Moton in her car from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. Four Ku Klux Klan members, Eugene Thomas, William Eaton, Collie Leroy Wilkins, Jr., and Thomas Rowe, Jr., were arrested and tried. Artist Howard Brodie drew the all-white, all-male jury that served at one of the multiple trials. While Rowe, an FBI informant, received immunity for his testimony, Thomas, Eaton and Wilkins, were acquitted in state trials.
Viola Liuzzo was was shot to death by the Klan on March 26, 1965 while she was helping to shuttle black demonstrators between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. Jack Thornell/AP. From Washington Post article, A white mother went to Alabama to fight for civil rights. The Klan killed her for it.

Nevertheless, the Liuzzo case was the very first time in which an official investigation implied that the Klan was “Un-American,” a true turning point in the Klan’s history.

The Roosevelt Study Center sources clearly show that the Liuzzo case was an important watershed in the Civil Rights era. This was not only because it was one of the first times that Ku Klux Klan members were convicted, but also because it initiated an entirely new way of thinking about the Klan, and, perhaps more importantly, it induced President Johnson to investigate the possibilities for federal legislation to suppress violence against civil rights activists. At the same time, however, Liuzzo’s death also shows that in 1965, in spite of the adoption of the Civil Rights Act, the civil rights movement still had not fully achieved its goals, and its activists continued to be in danger of their lives.

Clip above and description below from Home of the Brave, documentary film that examines the case of Viola Liuzzo, the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement.
Home of the Brave is about the only white woman murdered in the civil rights movement and why we hear so little about her. Told through the eyes of her children, the film follows the on-going struggle of an American family to survive the consequences of their mother's heroism and the mystery behind her killing.
Viola Liuzzo was a 39-year-old Detroit teamster's wife and mother of five, who joined thousands of people converging in Selma, Alabama for the march on Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King in 1965. But shortly after the historic Voting Rights March had ended, she was shot in the head and killed by a car full of Klansmen, while driving on a deserted highway.
Liuzzo's death came at a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, when President Johnson had been fighting an uphill battle to push the Voting Rights Act through Congress. Her murder is attributed by historians of the era as providing the final piece of leverage that won Johnson approval of the Act in Congress, which forever changed our political landscape.
Why do we not know the story of Viola Luizzo, while nearly everyone has heard of Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney -- the three rights workers killed the year before in Mississippi? The reasons are complex, and won't be found in history books. Immediately following her murder, Liuzzo became the target of a smear campaign, mounted by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, as a means of diverting attention from the fact that a key FBI informant was in the car with Liuzzo's killers. This discrediting of her name -- mostly based on her gender and wholly unfounded -- succeeded in erasing Viola Liuzzo from our cultural memory. After delving through thousands of pages of government documents and filming interviews with leaders in the fields of politics, history and forensics psychology, the filmmakers shed a new light on this complicated, buried story.

December 2, 1961

Freedom Riders Arrive in McComb, Mississippi for 3rd Day Including 3 Students Expelled from Burglund High School Earlier in October

Three Freedom Rides targeted the Greyhound bus station in McComb, Mississippi on November 29, December 1, and December 2, 1961. A white mob of locals attacked the Riders on November 29, sparking the follow-up Rides later that week. The December 2nd Riders included 3 local McComb High school activists, Jerome Byrd, James Burnham, and Joe Lewis.

Excerpted below from Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond Arsenault describing the December 2, 1961 actiions.

The Freedom Riders were all local activists: Jerome Byrd, James Burnham, and Joe Lewis – three of the expelled Burglund students who had enrolled at Campbell Junior Colledge in Jackson. Arriving on Saturday morning "with no advance notice," they managed to enter the white waiting room and remain there for several minutes.

With the police almost outnumbering the small number of whites at the scene, the three Riders exited the station to report their success to CORE field secretary Tom Gaither and his assistant, Tougaloo student MacAurthur Cotton, who were sitting nearby in a car after driving down from Jackson. Following a brief conversation, Cotton left the car and walked over to the ticket window, where he tried to buy a ticket to Jackson.

Joe Lewis, one of the December 2, 1961 Freedom Riders, was interviewed by students on March 26, 2011 about his participation in the Burglund HIgh School walkout and eventual explulsion in October, 1961.

At this point a group of whites who had been playing pool at a billiard parlor across the street noticed what was happeng and rushed over to the station. Moments later a white man punched Cotton twice in the jaw, and several others began beating and kicking the windows of the car.

The police pulled the attackers away before the car or its occupants suffered any serious harm, and there were no arrests, but the incident deepened the sense of crisis. After consulting with Farmer, Gaither reluctantly agreed to grant the city a "breathing spell," before additional Rides were undertaken.

  • November 29, 1961, New Orleans to McComb: George Raymond Jr., Doratha Smith, Jerome H. Smith, Alice Thompson, and Thomas Valentine.
  • December 1, 1961, Gaton Rouge to McComb: Willie Bradford, Thomas Peete, George Raymond Jr., Claude Reese, Patricia Tate and Jean Thompson.
  • December 2, 1961, Jackson to McComb: James Burnham, Jerome Byrd, MacArthur Cotton, Thomas Gaither and Joe Lewis.
George Raymond, Jr. was an eighteen-year-old CORE activist living in New Orleans, Louisiana when he was arrested for his participation in the Freedom Rides at the Trailways bus terminal in Jackson, Mississippi on August 14, 1961, in photo above. He was also arrested in McComb on November 21, 1961. Raymond worked to promote voter registration during Freedom Summer in 1964, and later that year, was severely beaten in Canton, Mississippi. Raymond died in 1973 from a heart attack, at the age of thirty. Adapted from the Civil Rights Digital Library.
Twenty-two year old CORE activist, Jerome H. Smith, rode a Greyhound from New Orleans, Louisiana to McComb, Mississippi on November 29, 1961. Smith ealier rode by Greyhound from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi on May 24, 1961 where he was arrested the following day in Jackson. Adapted from the Civil Rights Digital Library.

December 1, 1955

Rosa Parks Arrested for Violating Bus Segregation Laws in Alabama

Excerpted in whole from The Equal Justice Initiative

On December 1, 1955, Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress and activist Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated city bus. Her stand helped to spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which remains one of the most well-known campaigns of the civil rights movement. Less well known, Mrs. Parks's work for racial justice long preceded this courageous act. She was very active in the local chapter of the NAACP ever since joining as the chapter’s only woman member in 1943, and had served as both the youth leader and secretary. Mrs. Parks frequently traveled throughout Alabama to interview Black people who had suffered racial terror, violence, or other injustice. In 1944, she investigated the Abbeville, Alabama, gang-rape of a young Black woman named Recy Taylor, and joined with other civil rights activists to organize a national campaign demanding prosecution of the white men responsible.

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks began her bus ride home from work sitting in the “colored section.” Montgomery’s segregated bus service designated separate seating areas for Black and white passengers; during peak operating hours, if the white seating area became full, the bus driver could expand its boundaries and request that African Americans stand to relinquish their seats to white people. While Black riders were not legally obligated to comply, city bus drivers were notorious for their hostile treatment of Black riders and their requests were rarely refused.

As more white passengers boarded, the bus driver asked Mrs. Parks and three other seated African Americans to give up their seats to white riders. When Mrs. Parks was the only one to refuse, the driver summoned police and she was arrested. Mrs. Parks later recalled that she had refused to stand, not because she was physically tired, but because she was tired of giving in. That same night, Jo Ann Robinson and other local activists began organizing what would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

A statue of Mrs. Parks was dedicated in Montgomery on December 1, 2019, near the location where she boarded the bus on the day of her arrest.

Watch this combination of interview and public speech by Rosa Parks in 1995.
Civil Rights Movement Veteran, Bruce Hartford, recounts meeting Rosa Parks during the march from Selma to Montgomery, March 25, 1965, as they marched past the spot where she had been arrested for refusing to give her seat on the bus 10-years earlier. (advance to the 2-min mark).
But one of the things that was really interesting for me is that I was one of the monitors on the march so I had a monitor thing on, I think we had armbands or something or a vest or something. And I'm walking along and, this little black woman with white hair, big white hair, marching beside me and she turns to me with a big smile and she says, “You know, they say I'm the mother of this.” And that's how I met Rosa Parks. So we got to talking – I met her at meetings a few times after, I really liked her, she was great. One of the things about the march – anyway, we got separated, but the march marched past the spot where she had been arrested for refusing to give her seat on the bus. Now, that occurred late 1954 and she was alone. And I knew somewhere in the march, either ahead of me or behind me, she was walking past that spot 10 years later with 25,000, 35,000 supporters. That was very emotional.
Short segment from a series of interviews with Bruce Hartford, onducted by students in the Oral History Production of the Civil Rights Movement class in April and May, 2020.

Resources Used – common sources used to find daily posts


On June 1, 2020, in part as a response prompted by the George Floyd murder and subsequent re-awakening of the general public to the history of racist struggles, I started a daily practice of finding a relevant moment in Freedom Rights Movement anniversary history. I've found this both personally cathartic – engaging in daily consciousness of the ongoing struggle over the past 400 years – as well as potentially useful for future students.

~Howard Levin

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