Rebellion was the only and final option. In order for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be ratified by Congress, the black community needed to rebel against the Jim Crow laws of the South, the violence invoked by hate organizations, as well as (with assistance from white college students) the hypocrisies of the United States government. Jim Crow became a general term used in the South to refer to the segregation and discrimination laws that affected African-American life. The name originated from an 1832 song called Jump Jim Crow by Thomas Rice (Hillstrom 9).
The song may have been named after a slave that Rice knew or from the expression black as a crow. The main purpose of Jim Crow laws was to segregate and disenfranchise the black community. During the Jim Crow era, various states passed laws that banned blacks from hospitals, schools, parks, theaters, and restaurants (Hillstrom 9). In all cases, the facilities marked colored were noticeably inferior to the whites. Many cities and states would ratify their own specific Jim Crow laws.
Some laws such as blacks having to cross the street when a white woman, on the same sidewalk, was walking toward them or maintaining a separate building, on separate ground, for the admission, care, instruction, and support of all blind persons of colored or black race (Bell 4) were absurd. In the summer of 1955, a 14-year-old boy was brutally beaten and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The husband and brother-in-law of the woman were charged with murder but were acquitted of all charges after only sixty minutes of deliberation.
In an interview months later, with protection from the Constitutional clause of double jeopardy, both brothers openly admitted, without remorse, to maiming and killing the boy. The quick deliberation and acquittal outraged the country and helped to energize the Civil Rights Movement. The Jim Crow laws were progressively getting worse for the black community. Lawmakers needed to be black, or abolitionists, in order for the laws to change. Rebellion by way of the ballot box was the answer. In The United States, the democratic process is supposed to allow voters a chance to correct social injustices.
Citizens within the black community should have the ability to vote black candidates into office. Blacks could elect city council members, mayors, judges, and even state representatives. But in Mississippi the people in power, all of whom were white, denied blacks the opportunity to vote. The white community believed that if blacks achieved the right to vote, they would make up the majority. The black majority would force out the racist whites from power and change the social injustices.
Mississippi Senator Eugene Bilbo stated, If you let a few (blacks) register to vote this year, next year there will be twice as many, and the first thing you know, the whole thing will be out of hand (Aretha 20). The black community needed to vote in order to achieve change. Without the right to vote, segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans would cease to change. The southern-white lawmakers created a complicated system to keep African-Americans from voting. White local and state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through formal methods, such as poll taxes and literacy tests (Summer 1964).
The literacy test prevented even educated African-Americans from achieving voter registration. The test required voters to read and interpret a section of the state constitution to the satisfactory of the registrar (Aretha 21). This allowed white registrars to decide whether or not a person passed. Most blacks, even those with doctoral degrees, failed (Cozzens 1). Fear was a constant tactic for the racist south. Black applicants had to give, under oath, information about his or her address, employment, and family members.
This information would then be given to the applicants employer, the KKK, and other organizations (Let Freedom Ring 149). Having the bravery to rebel against society, by registering to vote, caused many blacks to fear retaliation from the KKK and their employer. In the post-Civil War era many white Southerners resented the changes imposed by the Union. In the years during Reconstruction, terrorist groups sprang up all over the south. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the White Citizens Council, the uptown Klan, which was often made up of sheriffs, doctors, lawyers, and even mayors, quickly gain thousands of members across the south.
The KKK had four explicit tactics in their war against blacks, First was cross burning, second would be the burning and dynamiting of houses and buildings, third was flogging, and the Fourth was extermination (Watson 143). In 1964, a single Mississippian county had 37 churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or burned, and the cases often went unsolved (Summer 1964). Hate crimes were becoming increasingly common and extremely brutal throughout the South. The black community needed and sought change.
After many years of brutality and hatred, many blacks believed they were inferior to whites. To combat the inferiority thought, Bob Moses created Freedom Schools and community centers open to the black community. The community centers would offer facilities limited by the Jim Crow system: libraries, arts and crafts, daycare, and literacy classes (Burner 124). Freedom Schools taught students African-American history and current events. Moses saw the Freedom Schools as an opportunity to teach the politics of Mississippi and begin to build a core of educated leadership in the state (Burner 124).
Members of SNCC and CORE believed that rebellion was a necessity, and rebelling with nonviolent methods would allow the nation to see the atrocities inflicted in the south. In order to gain momentum, the black community needed assistance from the federal government and the national media. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to the forefront for reform. In 1961, seven blacks and six whites tested the federal law, which called for the desegregation on interstate travel. Called the Freedom Riders, thirteen people rode buses into the south, daring the federal government to enforce the law.
The Freedom Riders were arrested in North Carolina, beaten by mobs in South Carolina, and saw their buses fire bombed in Alabama (Watson 24). The thirteen men rode into the south with whites sitting in the back of the bus, the blacks in the front, and would use the same facilities at bus stations as stated by federal law. James Farmer, one of the thirteen riders and the director of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) stated, We felt we could count on the racists of the South to create a crisis so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law (Cozzens 1).
The rebellion of the thirteen brave men to ride into the south created the national media attention the activist desperately needed. The national media started to show the country how hypocritical the United States had become. Men of many races fought for their country in a time of war, but came home to a country that was at war within itself. In the early 1960s, the black community rebelling for equal rights began to capture the attention of Americans across the country. 1964, a presidential election year, was a pivotal time to rebel for the African-American right to vote. For generations the south held a dominant Democratic Party.
Rebelling against the injustices set by the whites-only Democratic Party could only be changed by use of the ballot box. Bob Moses, a member of SNCC, decided to send volunteers into Mississippi to register voters. The voter registration drive came to be known as Freedom Summer. Bob Moses outlined the goals of Freedom Summer as to increase black voter registration and to organize a legally constituted Freedom Democratic Party to compete with the whites-only Democratic Party. Moses instructed recruits, Dont come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro.
Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one (Aretha 41). To achieve the attention of the national media, Moses and other members of SNCC decided to recruit white college students from the north. Violence against Northern Whites would at least get Mississippi on the nightly news (Rachall 173). Children of the dominant social class, rebelling against their parents and the accepted society of the south, in fact attracted national attention. Moses stated, These students bring the rest of the country with them. They are from good schools and their parents are influential.
The interest of the country is awakened and when that happens, the government responds (Aretha 30). Rebelling against the hypocrisies of their nation, their parents, and even society, white college students came by the hundreds to volunteer for Freedom Summer. Volunteers went to Oxford, Ohio, currently the campus of Miami University, for a weeklong orientation. Volunteers were not going to be paid and would need to support themselves. They were told to bring money for living expenses, bail, and even medical bills if necessary. The volunteers had to be prepared for death.
James Forman, of SNCC, told the volunteers, I may be killed, you may be killed, the whole staff may be killed (Cozzens 3). The students were told that if arrested, go to jail quietly. The authorities would have cause to react violently if volunteers were to resist. The national media and the south would exploit the aggression and discredit the actions of a nonaggressive rebellion. Rebellious college students used Hitler and Mussolinis ideologies, fascism and the idea of a united master race, as a direct correlation to what was happening to blacks in the South.
World War II was only twenty years prior and the Cold War was just beginning. Many Americans still held hostility towards Germany and the idea of racial class distinctions. The spread of communism and Nuclear War were constant backdrops to every evening newscast. If the United States could announce to the world their Policy of Containment then the world should hear about hypocrisy within the United States. The Blacks and volunteers used the memories of the war to prove how fascist ideas were being entertained. Rebelling and protesting would allow the world to see the deceitful ways America.
In June 1964 rebellion against hate crimes, voter rights, and the segregation of blacks was underway. A Michigan State student said of their arrival in Mississippi, The greyhound bus dropped us off on a residential street, we had no idea where we were. Almost immediately we found ourselves being circled by pickup trucks with rifles and big dogs in the back (Aretha 47). Jane Adams, Southern Illinois University, stated, Mississippi had geared up for war. They saw us as invaders coming in for a complete assault on their way of life. Everybody on both sides expected that there would be a bloodbath. We all expected we could die (Aretha 47).
Two white men and a black man rebelling against southern society were easy targets for police. Two white men, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, as well as a black volunteer James Chaney were last seen going to a bombed out church to offer their condolences to the congregation and to offer their assistance with the investigation. The men disappeared after being singled out by the racist authorities. The next day, staff called police when the three men failed to check in at their headquarters. The police, often members of the KKK, often used their authority to invoke fear into both black and white volunteers.
KKK pamphlets declared, We are now in the midst of the long, hot summer of agitation which was promised to the Innocent People of Mississippi by the savage blacks and their communist masters (Watson 142). After the disappearance of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, President Johnson and the FBI became involved. The story of the missing, as well as the peaceful rebellion, quickly gained national attention. Two of the mens skin color became a key factor for the instant media. Rita Shwerner declared, We all know that the search with hundreds of sailors is because my husband and Goodman are white.
If only Chaney was involved, nothing would have been done (Rachal 168). The media may have not paid much attention if only a black man went missing. The media told the story of the missing men on nationally televised nightly newscasts and public outcry immediately followed. Finally the south received assistance from the federal government. Lyndon Johnson sent hundreds of men from the military to search for the three men. As the search went on, the Mississippi Governor and a member of the White Citizens Council exclaimed, Of course I dont approve of murder, but those kids were asking for trouble (Aretha 50).
The shot and beaten bodies of the missing men were found after a month. It later surfaced that the local police arrested the three men for speeding. After dark, the police released the men to the KKK. Eighteen men were originally arrested but only a few were convicted and served light sentences. Finally in 2005, 41 years after the murders, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three life sentences, without the possibility of parole, to be served in succession. After the deaths of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney was the perfect time for blacks to rebel louder.
To achieve the voting rights for the segregated community, the rebellious blacks and whites created a stronger alliance than ever before. By coming together, the black community showed America that the rebellion would not end until equal rights and the ability to vote was achieved. The summer of 1964 became the high water mark for equal rights in America. Freedom Summer along with nonviolent protests across the south lead to the signing of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color.
Discrimination to voting applies nationwide to any voting standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial of the right of any citizen to vote. Section 2 is permanent and has no expiration date (Section 2). Rebellion was a necessity to end the disenfranchisement of the African-American community. Rebellion for the black community was not to conform to the racist south, but to consciously do the opposite. Without rebellion and bravery the south may have never changed. Volunteer Bruce Hartford professed, We used to say: If you dont like the history theyre teaching you in school, go out and make some of your own (Aretha 35).