President Kennedy is Assassinated, Lyndon Johnson Takes Over
Three months after the March on Washington, President Kennedy was assassinated, and his civil rights bill was not much closer to being passed. Kennedy's Vice President, Lyndon Johnson, a former member of Congress from Texas, took over the Presidency. President Kennedy had become a strong supporter of the Movement during the past year, and Johnson was from the south, so integrationists at first were skeptical of how much Johnson would help. But upon becoming President, he was eager to use his political skills to build support for Kennedy's bill. In his first public address, he told Congress and the country that "nothing could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill."
Johnson promised African American leaders that he would push for the measure "with every energy [he] possessed," and he made good on that commitment. Johnson let Congress know that he would accept no compromise on civil rights. After the House of Representatives passed the bill, civil rights opponents in the Senate started a lengthy filibuster, using their right of unlimited debate to delay voting on the bill. (A filibuster is a tactic in which senators prevent a vote on a measure by refusing to stop talking. This usually causes the other side to give in.) But Johnson was able to use his political power, influence, and connections to end the filibuster after several weeks. In June 1964, the bill passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, and President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Act had an impact on many areas, including voting, schools, and jobs. It gives the federal government the authority to act on claims of segregation from minorities. If a city or state is discriminating against a race, the federal government can without funds from that area. The law's major sections (called titles) included these provisions:
-Title II prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, such as motels, restaurants, gas stations, theaters, and sports arenas.
-Title VI allowed the withholding of federal funds from public or private programs that practice discrimination.
-Title VII banned discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin by employers, and also created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate claims of job discrimination.
Fighting for the (Actual) Vote
African Americans were granted the right to vote by the 15th Amendment after the Civil War in 1870. But segregationists believed keeping blacks from voting was the most important thing they could do to protect their way of life, so they found ways around the wording of the 15th Amendment. Southern states used poll taxes and literacy tests to block blacks from voting, claiming it had nothing to do with race. Even with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, change came slowly, because racists in the South would use other means of intimidation to prevent African Americans from registering to vote. Once the Civil Rights Act was passed, civil rights workers began to focus on getting voting rights for those in the south.
In 1964, leaders of the major civil rights groups organized a voter registration drive in Mississippi. About a thousand black and white volunteers, mostly college students, joined in what came to be called Freedom Summer. Many white Mississippians were already angry about the new Civil Rights Act before the volunteers arrived. The Ku Klux Klan held rallies to intimidate the volunteers. Soon, three young civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were reported missing. Later in the summer, FBI agents found their bodies buried in a mud dam a few miles from where their burned-out car had been found. These three murders were only part of the violence reported that summer. Civil rights leaders also reported about 80 mob attacks. Volunteers were beaten up and a few wounded by gunfire. Several hundred were arrested. African American churches and homes were burned and firebombed.
The Selma March
Even after Freedom Summer, many black southerners still had trouble obtaining their voting rights. In Selma, Alabama, police and sheriff's deputies arrested people just for standing in line to register to vote. To call attention to the voting rights issue, King and other leaders decided to organize a protest march. They would walk from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, about 50 miles away. As the marchers set out on a Sunday morning in March 1965, armed state troopers on horseback charged into the crowd with whips, clubs, and tear gas. Video of the attack again shocked many television viewers. In response, President Johnson sent members of the National Guard, along with federal marshals and army helicopters, to protect the march route. When the Selma marchers started out again, supporters from all over the country flocked to join them. By the time the march reached Montgomery, its ranks had swelled to about 25,000 people.
Voting Rights Protected
Reacting to Selma and the violence during Freedom Summer, President Johnson went on national television, promising a strong new law to protect voting rights. That summer, despite another filibuster, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act eliminated literacy tests, and also allowed federal officials to enter counties and help minorities register if there were complaints of intimidation. Another legal landmark was the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1964. This amendment outlawed the poll tax, which was still being used in several southern states to keep poor African Americans from voting. In the two years after the new laws passed, more than 600,000 African Americans registered to vote in Mississippi and Alabama alone. These voters elected politicians who were sympathetic to the cause of equal rights, and in some cases, black politicians.
Section 5: The Movement Splits
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and The Voting Rights Act of 1965 were major victories for the nonviolent movement, and had helped to start a new era in America. But for some African Americans, new laws were not nearly enough. While the laws eliminated de jure segregation, or segregation by law, they did little to remove de facto segregation, or segregation by custom. Impatient with the slow pace of progress, these people were ready to listen to more militant leaders.
The most well known of these leaders was Malcolm X. His father died when Malcolm was a child. Growing up in ghettos in Detroit, Boston, and New York, he turned to crime. At age 20, he was arrested for burglary and served seven years in prison. While in jail he joined the Nation of Islam, a group often called the Black Muslims. Viewing white society as evil, the NOI preached black separation, and opposed the integration that King and his followers were working to accomplish. The NOI believed blacks and whites could never peacefully coexist, so each should have its own separate societies.
According to Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, one of the keys to self-knowledge was knowing one's enemy. For him, the enemy of the Nation of Islam was white society. Members of the Nation of Islam did not seek change through political means or non-violent protest, they instead pushed for a separate “Black Nation.” In the meantime, they tried to lead righteous lives and become economically self-sufficient. After he was released from prison, Malcolm Little changed his name to Malcolm X. (The name Little, he said, had come from slave owners.) He spent the next 12 years as a minister of the Nation of Islam, spreading the ideas of black nationalism, a belief in the separate identity and racial unity of the African American community. His fiery speeches won him many followers, including a large number of young people who were growing impatient with King's message.
Opposition to Integration
As a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X disagreed with both the tactics and the goals of the early civil rights movement. He called the March on Washington the "Farce on Washington," and voiced his irritation at "all of this non-violent, begging-the-white-man kind of dying . . . all of this sitting-in, sliding-in, wading-fn, eating-in, diving-in, and all the rest." Instead of preaching love, he rejected ideas of integration. Asking why anyone would want to join white society, he noted:
"No sane black man really wants integration! No sane white man really wants integration! The American black man should be focusing his effort toward building his own businesses, and decent homes for himself. That's the only way the American black man is ever going to get respect."
In 1964, after a disagreement with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam. He then made a pilgrimage, or religious journey, to Mecca, the holy city of Islam, in Saudi Arabia. Seeing millions of people of all races worshipping and working together peacefully had a profound effect on Malcolm X. It changed his views about separatism and hatred of white people. When he returned to the U.S., he was ready to work with other civil rights leaders and even with white Americans. His change of heart, however, had earned him some enemies. Malcolm X had only nine months to spread his new beliefs. In February 1965, he was shot to death at a rally in New York. Three members of the Nation of Islam were charged with the murder. Malcolm X's message lived on, however. He particularly influenced younger members of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
SNCC Shifts Gears
One SNCC leader who heard Malcolm's message was Stokely Carmichael. At Howard University in Washington, D.C., he and other students became actively involved in SNCC. Carmichael participated in sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, and marches with Dr. King. For this, he had been jailed over twenty times. While King told him to be proud of his arrests, he did not believe the sacrifice he was making was paying off enough. He grew more attracted to Malcolm X’s message of demanding equal rights. As Carmichael rose to SNCC leadership, the group became more radical. He called on SNCC workers to carry guns for self-defense. In 1966, at a protest march in Greenwood, Mississippi, while King's followers were singing "We Shall Overcome," Carmichael's supporters drowned them out with "We Shall Overrun." Then Carmichael, just out of jail, jumped into the back of an open truck to challenge the moderate leaders:
"This is the twenty-seventh time I have been arrested, and l ain't going to jail no more! We been saying freedom for six years-and we ain't got nothin'. What we gonna start saying now is 'black power!'"
-Stokely Carmichael, public address, June 1966
The Black Power Movement
As he repeated "We ... want ... black ... power!" the audience excitedly echoed the new slogan. Carmichael's idea of black power resonated with many African Americans. It was a call "to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community ... to begin to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations and support those organizations." King was still the most popular leader in the Civil Rights Movement, but was losing followers to leaders who followed this new type of thinking.
The Black Panthers
One of these new groups, started in 1966, was the Black Panthers. They were a militant group formed by activists Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland, California. The Panthers wanted African Americans to lead their own communities. They demanded that the federal government rebuild the nation's ghettos to make up for years of neglect. The Panthers also wanted to combat what they saw as police brutality. Often, as a result of their monitoring the police, they became engaged in direct confrontation with white authorities. The Panthers became popular among young blacks in cities, and soon every big city had a chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Riots in the Streets
The early civil rights movement focused on battling de jure segregation, racial separation created by law. Changes in the law, however, did not address the more difficult issue of de facto segregation, the separation caused by social conditions such as poverty. De facto segregation was a fact of life in most American cities, not just in the South. There were no "whites only" signs above water fountains in anymore, yet discrimination continued in education, housing, and employment. African Americans were kept out of well-paying jobs, job training programs, and suburban housing. School districts drew boundary lines to keep black families’ homes out. Inner-city schools were rundown and poorly equipped.
Residents of ghetto neighborhoods viewed police officers as dangerous oppressors, not upholders of justice. Eventually, frustration and anger boiled over into riots and looting. In 1964, riots ravaged a dozen American cities. One of the most violent riots occurred in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Police in Watts pulled over a 21-year-old black man for drunk driving. When the suspect resisted arrest, one police officer panicked and began swinging his riot baton. A gathered crowd was outraged, and the scene touched off six days of rioting. Thousands of people filled the streets, burning cars and stores, and exchanging gunfire with authorities. When the National Guard and local police finally gained control, 34 people were dead and more than a thousand had been injured. Violence spread to other cities in 1966 and 1967. Cries of "Burn, baby, burn" replaced the gentler slogans of the earlier civil rights movement.
The Movement Slows
By 1968, the Civil Rights Movement had accomplished much. However, a series of events slowed I down as the 1960s came to an end. The Vietnam War was raging on halfway around the world, and was taking up much of the government’s time and the media’s attention. At home, young people shifted their anger from racism to the war. Anti-war marches and protests replaced anti-segregation protests. Outside of Vietnam, two political assassinations also slowed the movement.
Martin Luther King Jr., Is Assassinated
In 1968, Dr. King turned his attention to economic issues. Traveling around the United States to mobilize support for poor Americans, he went to Memphis, Tennessee in early April. There he offered his assistance to striking garbage workers who were seeking better working conditions. While in Memphis, as King stood on the balcony of his motel, a bullet fired from a high-powered rifle tore into him. An hour later, King was dead. King's assassination sparked violent reactions across the nation. In an outburst of rage and frustration, some African Americans rioted, setting fires and looting stores in more than 120 cities. The riots, and the police response to them, left 50 people dead. President Johnson ordered flags to be flown at half mast to honor King. For many Americans of all races, King's death eroded faith in the idea of nonviolent change.
Robert F. Kennedy Is Assassinated
Since the assassination of President Kennedy, his brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy had come to support racial equality. In 1968, he decided to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. President Johnson had lost support from many Democrats because of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. Kennedy’s candidacy received a critical boost in March when Johnson stunned the nation by announcing that he would not run for a second term as President. In the years since his brother's death, Robert Kennedy had reached out to many Americans, including Hispanics, Native Americans, African Americans, and poor white families.
Kennedy spent the spring of 1968 battling in the Democratic primary elections. On June 4, he won a key victory in California's primary. It looked like another Kennedy would win the White House. But just after midnight, after giving his victory speech in a Los Angeles hotel, Robert Kennedy was shot by an assassin. He died the next day. When the shooting was reported, several campaign workers who had watched the speech on TV were waiting for Kennedy in his hotel room. One of them, civil rights leader John Lewis, later said, "We all just fell to the floor and started crying. To me that was like the darkest, saddest moment." Kennedy's death ended many people's hopes for an inspirational leader who could heal the nation's wounds.
Legacy of the Movement
Before and during the Movement, both black and white Americans wondered whether real progress in civil rights was possible. Many young activists felt frustrated and discouraged when the movement failed to bring changes quickly. Lyndon Johnson was devastated by the violence that exploded near the end of his presidency. "How is it possible," he asked, "after all we've accomplished?" Still, the measures passed by his administration had brought tremendous change. Segregation was now illegal, and racism was declining. Because of voter registration drives, millions of African Americans could now vote without having hurdles to leap over. The power they wielded changed the nature of American political life. Positive racial changes in business, education, sports, the military, and show business also reflected the powerful impact the Civil Rights Movement had on American society.
Section 1: JFK and the New Frontier p.63
Section 2: LBJ and the Great Society p.66
Section 3: The Women’s Movement p.69
Section 4: The Counterculture p.71
Section 1: John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier
The Election of 1960
John F. Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts, had served in the United States House of Representatives and Senate for 14 years, following distinguished service in the United States Navy in World War II. Yet the senator faced serious obstacles in his quest for the presidency. John Kennedy was only 43 years old, and many questioned whether he had the experience needed for the nation's highest office. He would be the youngest American ever to be elected president. In addition, Kennedy was a Roman Catholic, and no Catholic had ever been elected President. And he was from a very wealthy northern family, and had trouble appealing to poor Southerners.
But he campaigned hard, promising to spur the sluggish economy. While the economy had boomed after World War II, during the last years of the Eisenhower administration in the late 1950s, the economy suffered a recession. A recession occurs when an economy fails to grow, or shrinks. America was also dealing with the Cold War, and racial equality issues. During the campaign, Kennedy proclaimed that it was time to "get America moving again."
Kennedy was running against Republican Nixon, who was Eisenhower’s Vice President. Opinion polls from the summer before the election showed that Nixon and Kennedy were engaged in a very close race. That fall, for the first time, the presidential debates were televised. Kennedy commanded the camera. His good looks, charm, and relaxed manner won over viewers. While Nixon was a fine speaker, he looked uncomfortable on camera. This was made worse by the flu he was suffering from. Radio listeners thought that Nixon won the debate. But many more Americans watched on television than listened on the radio, and TV viewers believed Kennedy had won.
A Narrow Kennedy Victory
Kennedy and his running mate, Lyndon Baines Johnson, won the election by an extraordinarily close margin. Although the electoral vote was 303 to 219 in Kennedy's favor, he won by fewer than 119,000 popular votes out of nearly 69 million cast, a difference of less than one-half of one percent. As a result of this razor-thin victory, Kennedy entered office without a strong mandate, or public endorsement of his proposals. Without a mandate, Kennedy would have difficulty pushing his more ideas to improve America through Congress. Kennedy’s inauguration speech indicated his belief that Americans would have to work together to improve the nation: “My fellow Americans – ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Kennedy's Domestic Programs
President Kennedy had an ambitious domestic agenda (domestic refers to anything happening IN America). He wanted to improve many aspects of American life, including education, equal rights, the military, the space race, and the economy. He created a group of plans to do this, including new laws and programs. This group of plans was called The New Frontier.
The New Frontier - The Economy
Concerned about the continuing recession, Kennedy hoped to work with business leaders to promote economic growth. Often, however, he faced resistance from executives who were suspicious of his plans. Consumer confidence fell, and the stock market suffered its steepest drop since the Great Crash of1929. To help end the economic slump, Kennedy proposed a large tax cut over three years. At first, the measure would reduce government income and create a budget deficit (when the government spends more in a year than it takes in). Kennedy believed, however, that the extra cash in taxpayers' wallets would encourage them to spend more, thereby stimulating the economy and eventually bringing in added taxes. However, as often happened, the President's proposal became stuck in Congress.
The New Frontier - Poverty
Kennedy also was eager to take action against poverty and inequality. In his first two years in office, he hoped that he could help the poor simply by stimulating the economy. In 1962, though, author Michael Harrington described the lives of the growing number of poor Americans in his book, The Other America. Harrington's book revealed that while many Americans were enjoying the prosperity of the 1950s, a shocking one fifth of the population was living below the poverty line. Kennedy became convinced that the poor needed direct government aid. But Kennedy's ambitious plans for federal education aid and medical care for the elderly both failed in Congress. Some measures did make it through Congress, however. For example, Congress passed both an increase in the minimum wage and the Housing Act of 1961, which provided $5 billion to help provide housing for poor Americans in cities.
The New Frontier - The Space Program
Kennedy was also successful in his effort to breathe life into the space program. Following the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had been working to place a manned spacecraft in orbit around Earth. In April 1961, the Soviet Union announced that Yuri Gagarin had circled Earth on board the Soviet spacecraft Vostok, becoming the first human to travel in space. Gagarin's flight rekindled Americans' fears that their technology was falling behind that of the Soviet Union. Less than a year later, on February 20, 1962, American John Glenn successfully completed three orbits around Earth and landed in the Atlantic Ocean. Over the course of the decade, NASA flights and Kennedy’s New Frontier funding to NASA brought the country closer to its goal of landing an American on the moon. Unfortunately, Kennedy would not live to see the fulfillment of the goal he set in motion.
Other New Frontier Plans
Other plans from the New Frontier included orders on providing equal opportunity in housing and establishing an expanded program of food distribution to needy families. The New Frontier also proposed the following:
1. providing food to unemployed Americans;
2. the largest, fastest military buildup in peacetime history, as Kennedy boosted missile programs during the arms race;
3. changes in Social Security extending benefits to 5 million people and allowing Americans to retire and collect benefits at age 62;
4. a law doubling federal resources to combat water pollution;
5. the expansion and increase of the minimum wage;
6. the creation of the first federal program to address juvenile delinquency;
7. signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the first nuclear weapons agreement.