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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Negro Civil Rights and the 1940s 

We're all familiar with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s. (Well, most of us are - how many of today's baseball players have heard of Jackie Robinson?) However, it's fascinating to see what was happening in the 1940s, when the March on Washington was cancelled and the NAACP considered CORE the radical organization:

George Houser, the son of a Methodist minister, became a pacifist while studying at the Theological Seminary in Chicago. Houser was influenced by Henry David Thoreau and his theories on how to use nonviolent resistance to achieve social change. Houser joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the War Resisters League and in November, 1940, he was arrested for resisting the draft. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a year imprisonment in Danbury, Connecticut.

On his release from prison Houser became youth secretary of Fellowship of Reconciliation. Houser worked closely with Abraham Muste, the leader of the organisation. Houser also helped Muste and Philip Randolph to organize the planned March on Washington in June, 1941 against racial discrimination in the armed forces. The demonstration was called off when Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 on 25th June, 1941, barring discrimination in defence industries and federal bureaus (the Fair Employment Act).

In 1942 Houser, and two other members of FOR, James Farmer and Bayard Rustin, established theCongress on Racial Equality(CORE). Members of CORE had been deeply influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign that he used successfully against British rule in India. The students became convinced that the same methods could be employed by African Americans to obtain civil rights in America.

In early 1947, the Congress on Racial Equality announced plans to send eight white and eight black men into the Deep South to test the Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. organized by Houser and Bayard Rustin, the Journey of Reconciliation was to be a two week pilgrimage through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Although Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was against this kind of direct action, he volunteered the service of its southern attorneys during the campaign. Thurgood Marshall, head of the NAACP's legal department, was strongly against the Journey of Reconciliation and warned that a "disobedience movement on the part of Negroes and their white allies, if employed in the South, would result in wholesale slaughter with no good achieved."...

In North Carolina, two of the African Americans, Bayard Rustin and Andrew Johnson, were found guilty of violating the state's Jim Crow bus statute and were sentenced to thirty days on a chain gang. However, Judge Henry Whitfield made it clear he found that behaviour of the white men even more objectionable. He told Igal Roodenko and Joseph Felmet: "It's about time you Jews from New York learned that you can't come down her bringing your niggers with you to upset the customs of the South. Just to teach you a lesson, I gave your black boys thirty days, and I give you ninety."

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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