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International Socialist Review Issue 45,
January–February 2006

The fire last time
Roots of the Civil Rights Movement


This is a chapter from Ahmed Shawki's new book, Socialism and Black Liberation, available from Haymarket books.

The roots of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s lie in the transformed conditions and experience of Blacks during the Second World War. Large numbers of jobs previously closed to Black workers were suddenly available. Black migration to the North reached an unprecedented scale. Until the eve of the First World War, 90 percent of Blacks lived in the South. As late as 1940, 77 percent of all Blacks resided in the former slave states—compared to 27 percent of whites.1

By 1950, the figure had declined to 68 percent, a trend that would continue into the 1960s.2 In 1910, 57 percent of all Black male workers and 52 percent of all Black female workers were farmers. Eight percent of men and 42 percent of women were employed as domestics or personal servants. Only one-sixth of the Black population worked in manufacturing or industry. By 1940, 28 percent of Black workers were service workers, and farm employment had dropped to 32 percent. By 1960, 38 percent of Blacks were industrial workers, 32 percent service workers, and only 8 percent of all Blacks employed worked on farms.3 The urbanization of the Black population transformed its character—and as we will explore in this chapter, heightened the confidence of Blacks in both the North and the South to challenge racism.

By 1946, Black employment in manufacturing had increased 135 percent over its 1940 proportion, and under the auspices of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Black workers joined industrial unions by the tens of thousands. One hundred thousand Black workers joined the aircraft industry organized by the United Auto Workers (UAW), 5,000 Blacks joined the National Maritime Union, and in one Baltimore local of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, Black employment went from 5 percent of the workforce in 1941 to 20 percent by 1943, and even elected a Black shop steward.4

The role played by Blacks during the war proved to be decisive. Thousands of Blacks were drafted into the army. More than three million Black men registered for the service, of whom 500,000 were stationed abroad.5 Having fought for “democracy” abroad, Blacks returning from the war believed they ought to have some rights at home—and they intended to fight for those rights.

It was against this backdrop that several legal challenges to segregation, largely initiated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), were to prove successful. The most famous of these was the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which ordered the desegregation of public schools and struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that was at the core of segregation in the South. Many civil rights historians assert that Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and similar court decisions raised the confidence and combativity of Blacks. While this is undoubtedly the case, the focus on the 1954 Supreme Court ruling tends to overlook how several factors retarded the emergence of the civil rights movement for almost a decade. The Brown decision, in fact, only confirmed the basic thrust of the Court’s rulings since the 1940s. A May 1946 Supreme Court decision, for example, ruled that laws requiring segregation on interstate buses were unconstitutional. In April 1944 the Court ended, by an eight to one majority, the use of all-white primary elections.6 As Manning Marable points out:

By the spring of 1946, there were 75,000 Black registered voters in Texas and 100,000 Black voters in Georgia. Yet the sit-ins, the non-violent street demonstrations, did not yet occur; the facade of white supremacy was crumbling, yet for almost ten years there was no overt and mass movement which challenged racism in the streets.7

This ten-year delay can be attributed to two factors: the decimation of the Left (most crucially the Communist Party) in the McCarthyite witch-hunts that accompanied the Cold War and the complicity of the trade-union leadership and liberal Black politicians in the witch-hunts. Arguably the most prominent Black leader and trade unionist of the period, A. Philip Randolph, fully supported the anti-communist purge of the unions—even though it “was the principal reason for the decline in the AFL-CIO’s commitment to the struggle against racial segregation.”8

The NAACP and other middle-class Black organizations likewise joined in the witch-hunt, eager to prove their patriotism. The NAACP refused to assist Black Communist Party members who were subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The NAACP even abandoned one of its founding members, W.E.B. Du Bois, when he was indicted as “an agent of a foreign principal” in 1951.9 Du Bois was not a Communist Party member or a Marxist, but he understood that the Black middle classes had a stake in the system:

The reaction of Negroes [to the case] revealed a distinct cleavage not hitherto clear in American Negro opinion. The intelligentsia, the successful business and professional men, were...either silent or actually antagonistic. The reasons were clear; many believed that the government had actual proof of subversive activities on our part; until the very end they awaited their disclosure. [These Blacks] had become American in their acceptance of exploitation as defensible, and in their imitation of American “conspicuous expenditure.”... They proposed to make money and spend it as it pleased them. They had beautiful homes, large and expensive cars and fur coats. They hated “communism” and “socialism” as much as any white American.10

The lynching of Emmett Till

These factors delayed the emergence of the civil rights movement, but there could be no return to old ways. When war production was ended and Black workers lost their new jobs, estimates are that they were “affected two and one-half times as severely as white workers.”11 Jobs that had become available to Black workers because of the labor shortage were once again subject to a color bar. Nevertheless, Blacks had become a permanent, and growing, segment of the workforce.

In the South, segregation still reigned unchallenged, and Blacks were still stripped of the most basic rights. Writes a biographer of Martin Luther King, Jr., “This was a violent time in Alabama—an era when a judge and jury sentenced a Negro man to death for stealing $1.95 from a white woman (commuted later by Governor Folsom) and when police officers often meted out harsher justice informally, beyond the meager restraints of a court.”12

In response to the signs of a challenge to Jim Crow, white supremacists began organizing a renewed campaign of terror. Yet, rather than deflating the “new mood” among Blacks, resistance to change only deepened the resolve of thousands to fight back. “Toward the end of 1955,” wrote one observer, “the spirit of rebellion and resistance was spreading among Black people in every corner of the South.”13

In Mississippi the lynching of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Black boy from Chicago, was also a catalyst that helped to turn a mood of anger into a mood of action. The following editorial, from a small-circulation journal, the American Socialist, captured the significance of the Till case:

Much violence has calloused our sensibilities in this day and age. Yet there is something about the murder of Emmett Louis Till to touch even the coldest heart. The thought that in this America, full-grown and brawny men would abduct a grade-school child, and beat in his helplessness until all his teeth were out, his head caved in, his body mutilated with horrible wounds, put a bullet into his brain and drop him into a river—truly, even the most emotionally impervious cannot fail to be aroused.

In a decaying social order, man’s inhumanity to man includes man’s inhumanity to children. And the children, even in their years of hope and light-heartedness, are forced to taste the bitter fruits of knowledge. During the Second World War, one of those public school essay contests in which children are asked to write answers to usually fatuous questions was held, the question being: “How would you punish Hitler for his crimes?” On one paper written by a little Black girl, the answer was startling: “I would put him in a Black skin and force him to spend the rest of this life in the United States.” Here was a pathetic early wisdom. And Emmett Louis Till also, in his final hour, knew more about our Southland and the desperate forces at work in it than any college of sociologists. May we be granted the power to build a world in which our children will be spared such lessons!14

But “the coldest hearts,” it turned out, were not “touched.” The brutal murder of Emmett Till was compounded by the impunity with which his accused murderers behaved, and by the complete disinterest and inaction of local, state, and federal authorities.

In 1955, those accused of Till’s murder were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury in sixty-seven minutes. One of the jurors said the deliberation was actually extended to make it look better: he later explained to the press: “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”15

In 1955, the response of the federal government was to simply ignore the case. But Till’s mother sought to get her government to bring the truth to light. On September 2, 1956, she sent a telegram to President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

The President
The White House
I the mother of Emmett Louis Till am pleading that you personally see that justice is meted out to all persons involved in the beastly lynching of my son in Money, Miss. Awaiting a direct reply from you.
Mamie E. Bradley16
In spite of FBI records and news reports at the time citing specific individuals directly involved in Till’s murder, President Eisenhower didn’t take any action. Responding to advice from the Justice Department and FBI, he did not even bother to reply to Bradley’s telegram. In a memo dated October 23, 1956, Max Rabb, Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Cabinet, explained to James C. Hagerty, White House Press Secretary:

While it cannot be said openly, the FBI had definite knowledge that Mrs. Bradley permitted herself to be the instrument of the Communist Party, which seized upon the case as a cause celebre and upon her as the means of making the race question a burning issue. Mrs. Bradley was taken around the United States by Communists as a prize exhibit and they pulled all the stops in their exploitation. While the facts in the case reflected discredit upon those who perpetrated the crime, Lou Nichols [Assistant Director of the FBI] labeled Mrs. Bradley herself as a “phoney.” Any recognition of her would have been used to further Communist causes in this country. Subsequently, Mrs. Bradley was discredited for using her son’s death as a means of making a living. The boy’s father, incidentally, was executed by the Army in Italy on a sex charge.

For these reasons, it was felt inadvisable to make a courteous reply. Such a response would have been distorted to build up the Communist claim that this was another Willie McGee or Rosenberg case.17

At the time, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote a memo declaring that there was no legal basis for federal involvement in Till’s case: “There has been no allegation made that the victim [Emmett Till] has been subjected to the deprivation of any right or privilege which is secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”18 Like Rabb, Hoover’s main concern was that the Communist Party would use the case to further its aims.

Mississippi’s Jackson Daily News published an editorial on September 25, 1955, that read, “Practically all the evidence against the defendants was circumstantial evidence. It is best for all concerned that the Bryant-Milam [the defendants’] case be forgotten as quickly as possible. It has received far more publicity than it should have been given.”19

It was in these conditions that the civil rights movement exploded onto the scene, a harbinger of which was the 50,000 people who turned out to Till’s funeral in Chicago.

The Montgomery bus boycott

The growth of militancy among Southern Blacks produced its own leadership and organization, since virtually no political organization existed that stood for the interests of the mass of Southern Blacks. The two main political parties in the United States maintained segregation. The existing Black organizations—the NAACP and the Urban League—were organizations of middle-class professionals, aiming to end segregation through legal means and not through a mass struggle. The politics and leadership that would come to dominate this upsurge first emerged in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

The bus boycott was sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, on December 1, 1955. Parks was a seamstress and secretary of the local NAACP chapter. The driver called the police, who promptly arrested Mrs. Parks. She was charged with violating the city’s segregation ordinance. The very next day, a meeting at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church called for a one-day boycott of all Montgomery’s buses on Monday, December 5. On that day the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) elected its first president, Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted 381 days, elevating the struggle—and King—to national prominence.

The initial demands of the Montgomery movement were quite moderate, and did not aim to challenge the system of segregation as such. The MIA asked for courteous treatment for Black passengers, seating on a first-come, first-served basis, with Blacks seated in the rear, and employment of Black drivers on the predominantly Black routes. The local chapter of the NAACP had discussed a boycott for the last year, but had failed to act. Resistance by Montgomery officials and the virtually unanimous support for the boycott by Montgomery’s Black population changed the character of the struggle. King said later:

Feeling that our demands were moderate, I had assumed that they would be granted with little question; I had believed that the privileged would give up their privileges on request. This experience, however, taught me a lesson. I came to see that no one gives up his privileges without strong resistance. I saw further that the underlying purpose of segregation was to oppress and exploit the segregated, not simply to keep them apart.20

The new leaders, like King, were not radicals. But King was not only an expression of the “new mood.” He was also influenced by it. The civil rights leaders believed that theirs was a moral struggle and that the “nation” suffered from the blight of racism. “It is...a moral issue...which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism,” argued King.

King and other leaders of the movement played down any suggestion that the bus boycott was designed to challenge the existing order of things. As King put it in 1955: “We are not asking for an end to segregation,” King said in 1955. Instead, Blacks sought the right to sit, not stand, in seats that were not occupied by whites, because, King said, “we don’t like the idea of Negroes having to stand up when there are vacant seats.”21

Their basic strategy would revolve around nonviolent mass action to pressure the authorities into negotiations, leading, it was hoped, to concessions. As such, it was not a struggle of Black against white: “We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.”22 King was well aware that the movement’s demands would be met with concerted resistance, but this only elevated the moral character of struggle itself:

We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.... We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer.23

Rivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.24

The non-violent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of these committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had.25

SCLC, SNCC, and CORE: The movement radicalizes

After the success of the Montgomery boycott a number of the leading participants—many of them, like King, preachers—saw the need to form a new organization to give the movement direction. In 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was established. It aimed to use nonviolent direct action to press for its demands, and fight for the right to vote. It is easy to see the limitation of such tactics today, but it is important to stress that the commitment to mass action was real, even if the aim of such action was to pressure Southern or federal authorities. The movement thus developed a momentum and vitality that began to go beyond the intentions of its founders.

The SCLC also found itself in conflict with established Black organizations like the NAACP that saw a mass movement as a threat to their lobbying and legal efforts. Within a few years, however, the movement had begun to enter a new phase, beyond the control of the traditional organizations and even of King himself.

After the civil rights movement’s initial successes in 1956 and 1957, Southern racists counter-attacked. White Citizens’ Councils were organized around the South. Once again terror was unleashed in an effort to defeat the movement.

C. Vann Woodward describes this period as a time when “all over the South the lights of reason and tolerance and moderation began to go out.” He writes:

A fever of rebellion and malaise and fear spread over the region. Books were banned, libraries were purged, newspapers were slanted, magazines disappeared from stands, television programs were withheld, films were excluded. Teachers, preachers, and college professors were questioned, and many were driven out of the South.... Words began to shift their significance and lose their common meaning. A “moderate” became a man who dared open his mouth, an “extremist” one who favored eventual compliance with the law, and “compliance” took on the connotations of treason. Politicians who had once spoken for moderation began to vie with each other in defiance of the government.26

King and his associates looked to the federal government for assistance, but none was forthcoming. In a 1958 meeting between SCLC leaders and Eisenhower, the president would not commit himself to doing anything, concluding the meeting by informing King: “Reverend, there are so many problems...Lebanon...Algeria.”27 Many of the liberal establishment who had supported the Montgomery boycott began to distance themselves from the movement, arguing that the demands were excessive and that Blacks couldn’t expect change to come overnight. The earlier victories began to look increasingly empty. The much-heralded 1954 Brown desegregation decision, for example, had left Southern education virtually unchanged. The Supreme Court’s decision left implementation of the desegregation order to each state, to be carried out “with all deliberate speed.”28 But the judges and school boards were committed to segregation. As late as 1962 not a single Black student attended white schools or colleges in Mississippi, Alabama, or South Carolina.29 By 1964, ten years after the original Brown ruling, only 2.3 percent of Southern Blacks were enrolled in desegregated schools. Justice Black, a member of the Court, was forced to admit in 1964, “There has been entirely too much deliberation and not enough speed” in complying with the ruling.30

But the South could not turn back the clock as it had done after Reconstruction. On February 1, 1960, four Black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat in the “whites only” section of a drugstore lunch counter and asked for some coffee. They were not served, but they refused to move until the store was closed. The next day thirty students joined the protest, which became known as the sit-in. On February 3, over fifty Black students and three white students joined in the protest. News of the protest spread like wildfire, as did the tactic employed. “By April 1960,” writes historian Harvard Sitkoff,

the tactic had spread to seventy-eight Southern and border communities; some two thousand students had been arrested. By August 1961, according to the Southern Regional Council, more than 70,000 Blacks and whites had participated in sit-ins and three thousand had been jailed. It was a watershed.31

In April 1960, a new student organization was formed to coordinate future actions. The founding conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was called by Ella Baker, executive director of SCLC, and addressed by King. The conference was attended by 120 student activists representing fifty-six colleges and high schools in twelve Southern states and the District of Columbia.32 The students largely accepted King’s strategy and overall politics, “were afflicted with an anti-leftist political bias,”33 and therefore had little interest in working-class struggles. An early SNCC member describes SNCC’s members as motivated “by a determination to secure the means for their own economic and social mobility, which in the circumstances clearly necessitated a direct assault on the tradition and law which limited them absolutely.”34

SNCC, however, was not to become a mere appendage or youth organization of SCLC. Like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—which sent observers to SNCC’s founding meeting—the organization radicalized very quickly, became the left wing of the civil rights movement, and gave birth to the Black Power movement. Inexperienced, loosely organized, and without clear direction, SNCC floundered for several months after its founding convention. But it began to attract national attention [along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)] in 1961 with its “Freedom Rides” campaign. As Lee Sustar put it:

The fledgling organization sent two representatives to the first “Freedom Ride,” in early 1961 to protest against segregated facilities on Greyhound and Trailways’ Southern bus line. When a racist mob forced the initial thirteen riders to give up, SNCC mobilized dozens more Black students for “jail-ins” in Jackson and other cities.

The Freedom Rides brought SNCC and other civil rights groups into their first major conflict with the Kennedy administration. Robert F. Kennedy, then attorney general, faced a dilemma. If he provided protection to the Freedom Riders, he risked alienating the “Dixiecrats” [Southern Democrats] who held the balance of power in the Democratic Party.

But if Kennedy allowed the rides to continue unprotected, the racist beatings and possible lynchings would become an international embarrassment and give the lie to the “progressive” image the new administration was presenting to the newly independent countries of Africa and Asia.35

Kennedy offered SNCC and other civil rights activists a deal: stop the Freedom Rides and instead concentrate on voter registration in Mississippi with a guarantee that organizers would be protected by the federal government. Kennedy minced no words in explaining his proposed Voter Education Project. “If you cut out this freedom rider and sitting-in stuff and concentrate on voter registration,” he told representatives of the student organizations, “I’ll get you a tax exemption.”36

Kennedy’s proposal was greeted with skepticism by some SNCC activists, but the majority saw it as an opportunity to build the movement and enhance SNCC’s reputation. SNCC accepted Kennedy’s offer, received foundation grants to finance the campaign, and established its headquarters in McComb, Mississippi. It soon became clear, however, that SNCC’s faith in the Kennedy administration was misplaced. They were met with harassment, violence, and arrests—and received no protection from the federal government. “Before year’s end, the McComb police had jailed virtually the entire SNCC staff. The events in McComb were only the beginning of the pattern that would force SNCC to re-examine and eventually reject its liberalism and reliance on the Democrats.”37

Fed up with the Kennedy administration’s foot-dragging, SNCC activists redoubled their efforts. Martin Luther King’s decision to try to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, and a planned march on Washington galvanized the civil rights movement. Birmingham—described as “America’s Johannesburg”—was the perfect white supremacist Southern city. Its chief of police, Eugene “Bull” Connor, was intransigent in his defense of Jim Crow. Alabama’s newly elected governor, George Wallace, was to become the symbol of racist reaction in the 1960s. He declared, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”38

The sit-ins and marches begun in April 1963 were met with ferocious violence, as Bull Connor unleashed police dogs, and used firehoses and clubs to disperse demonstrators, arresting hundreds in the process. Televised footage of the struggle in Birmingham sparked protests around the country and led thousands more to join the civil rights struggle. Under mounting pressure the Kennedy administration intervened and negotiated an agreement with Birmingham’s corporate bosses and elected officials. The agreement, as historians Meier and Rudwick argue, brought not “freedom now” but token concessions that later were not carried out.”39 But it forced Kennedy to announce his intention to introduce civil rights legislation. Birmingham also forced Kennedy to identify himself more strongly with the civil rights movement—and to attempt to co-opt and control its activities. The 1963 March on Washington provided the perfect opportunity.

Modeled after the 1941 March on Washington movement launched by A. Philip Randolph, the 1963 March on Washington was seen by SNCC and CORE militants as a mass protest that would paralyze Washington to express a growing militancy and impatience among Blacks. Under the control of more conservative elements in the civil rights movement—among them King and Randolph—it was to be a celebration and endorsement of Kennedy’s civil rights bill. In the end the march drew 250,000 to Washington and was seen by organizers and the Kennedy administration as a great success. But the march only convinced militants that King’s strategy had to be rejected, and many shared Malcolm X’s description of the event as “the farce on Washington.”

Even SNCC activist John Lewis, by no means a left-winger, had planned to criticize the Kennedy administration. “In good conscience we cannot support the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little, too late,” he had planned to say.

There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality.... What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving people of this nation? What is there in this bill to ensure the equality of a maid who earns $5.00 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?40

He never made those remarks, agreeing to remove them when pressured by march organizers. But even his censored speech raised thorny questions: “Where is our party? Where is the party that will make it unnecessary for us to march on Washington? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march in the streets of Birmingham?”41

By the end of 1964 many SNCC members would answer Lewis’s question by eliminating the Democratic Party from consideration. The strains between SNCC and civil rights leaders like King reached a breaking point, as SNCC consciously identified itself with more radical ideas. “By 1965 SNCC had become, in the eyes of supporters and critics, not simply a civil rights organization but a part of the New Left.”42 White violence, the government’s refusal to act, the moderation of civil rights leaders, and the slow speed of change had led SNCC militants to reject the politics they accepted in 1960. The 1964 voter registration campaign SNCC undertook in Mississippi pushed it even more to the left.

The Mississippi summer project

Mississippi was, even by Southern standards, largely rural, poor, and very resistant to change. Fully two-thirds of the state’s Black population lived in rural areas, compared with 39 percent for the rest of the South.43 Only 6.7 percent of Mississippi’s eligible Black voters were registered. SNCC activists knew they would be met with violent resistance and couldn’t count on the government for protection. But they knew the involvement of large numbers of whites would get media attention and even force federal intervention. SNCC’s call for volunteers was taken up—1,000 volunteers headed for Mississippi. Hardly was the campaign underway when on June 21 three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared. They had been murdered. Their bodies were only found two months later after a massive manhunt. Activists were met with violence at every turn during the six-week campaign. By the end, six Blacks had been murdered, one thousand arrested, thirty buildings bombed, and three dozen Black churches gutted by fire.44 SNCC activists previously committed to nonviolence now argued for armed self-defense. As SNCC member James Forman explained: “The Mississippi Summer Project...confirmed the absolute necessity for armed self-defense—a necessity that existed before the project but which became overwhelmingly clear to SNCC people during and after it.”45

To counter Mississippi’s racist Democratic Party, SNCC formed a nonsegregated party, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The MFDP signed up 80,000 voters and elected a delegation to the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Arguing that it was the only party in Mississippi in which all could vote, the MFDP planned a fight to be seated instead of the segregationist Mississippi delegation. But the Democrats, liberals and conservatives alike, would have none of it. Lyndon Johnson turned to Democratic liberals like Hubert Humphrey, UAW President Walter Reuther, and MFDP lawyer Joseph Rauh to urge the MFDP to give up its demands.46 Leaders of the civil rights movement, including King, also put pressure on the MFDP to abandon their demands, urging them to accept Johnson’s compromise offer to seat two MFDP delegates. The MFDP refused to give in, calling the compromise “a back of the bus” agreement. Instead, they staged a protest in the hall—taking the Mississippi delegation’s seats—until party officials called on the police to remove them from the hall. The Democratic Party’s treatment of the MFDP was the last straw for many activists. “Things would never be the same,” wrote SNCC’s Cleveland Sellers, “Never again would we be lulled into believing that our task was exposing injustices so that the ‘good’ people of America would eliminate them.”47

SNCC began to look to the ideas of Malcolm X, Black nationalism, and the African liberation movements for guidance. On a trip to several newly independent African states, SNCC leaders met and established a relationship with Malcolm X. The organization started to develop links with the organized Left and called for the abolition of HUAC. By July 1965, SNCC had adopted an anti-Vietnam War resolution that argued that Blacks should not “fight in Vietnam for the white man’s freedom, until all the Negro people are free in Mississippi.”48 Stokely Carmichael’s election to head SNCC in 1966 and his advocacy of “Black Power” symbolized the change in SNCC’s politics. The growing challenge to King’s leadership was not limited to SNCC or the South. The mood had definitely shifted from the politics of reform to those of militancy. The ideas of Malcolm X began to exert considerable influence within the movement.

1 Manning Marable, “The crisis of the Black working class: An economic and historical analysis,” Science and Society XLVI, no. 2, (Summer 1982): 130–161, 135.

2 Philip S. Foner, Organized Labor and the Black Worker 1619–1973 (New York, Prager, 1974), 272.

3 Marable, “Crisis,” 136.

4 Cedric Robinson, Black Movements in America (London: Routledge, 1990), 129; Foner, Organized Labor, 259 and 264.

5 Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), 14.

6 Ibid., 17–18.

7 Ibid., 18.

8 Ibid., 31.

9 Ibid., 28–29.

10 Ibid., 29–30.

11 Philip Foner, Organized Labor, 269.

12 Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954–63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), 22.

13 Jack M. Bloom, Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1987), 137.

14 Editorial, “Civil rights after the Till murder,” American Socialist 2, no. 11 (November 1955): 3.

15 “Trial by Jury,” Time, October 3, 1955, 19.

16 Telegraph from Mamie Bradley to President Eisenhower, September 2, 1955, Eisenhower Archives, available online, http://www.

17 Letter from Max Rabb to James C. Hagerty, October 23, 1956, Eisenhower Archives online



18 Letter from J. Edgar Hoover to Herbert G. Brownwell, September 6, 1955, available from PBS Web site for The Murder of Emmett Till,

19 Jackson Daily News [Mississippi], September 25, 1955. Available online at


20 Bloom, Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, 140.

21 Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., (New York: Free Press, 2000), 107.

22 Bloom, Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, 141.

23 Ibid., 142.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), rev. ed., 165–66.

27 Bloom, Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, 152.

28 J. Harvie Wilkenson III, From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1979), 63.

29 Ibid., 65.

30 Ibid.

31 Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, rev. ed. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 64.

32 Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 20.

33 Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 68.

34 Ibid., 68–69.

35 Lee Sustar, “How the fight for rights was radicalized,” Socialist Worker (U.S.), May 1987.

36 Ronald Steel, In Love with the Night: The American Romance with Robert Kennedy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), 159.

37 Sustar, “Fight for Rights.”

38 Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 76.

39 August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, From Plantation to Ghetto, 3rd ed. (New York, Hill and Wang: 1976), 288.

40 Quoted in Clayborne Carson et al., eds., The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954–1990 (New York: Penguin, 1991) 163–65.

41 Quoted in Marable, Black American Politics, 95.

42 Carson, In Struggle, 175. Carson describes the New Left as “an amorphous body of young activists seeking new ideological alternatives to conventional liberalism.”

43 Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 25.

44 Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 91.

45 Quoted in Lance Selfa, “The Mississippi Freedom Summer,” Socialist Worker (U.S.), June 1989.

46 Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism (Chicago: International Socialist Orgnization, 2004), http://www.

47 Selfa, “Freedom Summer.”

48 Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 93.

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