Looking Back - Jan. 13, 2013

Looking Back column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

Although not celebrated this year until Jan. 21, it was on the 15th of this month in 1929 that famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was born. Here is a look back at just some of the civil rights events that shaped America during the 20th century.


President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which stated, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.”


In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously against school segregation, overturning its 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal).


Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person, triggering a successful, year-long boycott of the bus system. The next year, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of Montgomery buses was unconstitutional.


The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to work without violence for full equality for African Americans.

For the first time since Reconstruction, the federal government used the military to uphold African Americans’ civil rights, as soldiers escorted nine African-American students to a school in Little Rock, Ark.


Four African-American college students held a sit-in to integrate a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. The students were not served, but were allowed to stay at the counter.


The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began organizing Freedom Rides (participants became known as the Freedom Riders) throughout the South to try to desegregate interstate public bus travel.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began working with students at Albany State College, Monroe High and Carver Junior High. They conducted voter registration classes for the adults and the strategies and tactics of nonviolent resistance to the young.


In July, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy were sentenced to $178 or 45 days in jail for leading an Albany march back in December. They refused to pay the fine. Marches, demonstrations, and arrests increased. Again the glare of national publicity focused on Albany. The pair was released when an “unidentified person” anonymously paid their fine.

James Meredith became the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Violence and riots surrounding the incident caused President John F. Kennedy to send 5,000 federal troops to the state.


More than 200,000 people marched on Washington, D.C., in the largest civil rights demonstration ever; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

During civil rights protests in Birmingham, Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor used fire hoses and police dogs on black demonstrators. These images of brutality, televised and published widely, were instrumental in gaining sympathy for the civil rights movement around the world.


The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax, which originally had been instituted in 11 Southern states after Reconstruction to make it difficult for poor blacks to vote.

Civil-rights groups organized a massive African-American voter registration drive in Mississippi known as “Freedom Summer.” In the five years following Freedom Summer, black voter registration in Mississippi rose from 7 percent to 67 percent.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which gave the federal government far-reaching powers to prosecute discrimination in employment, voting, and education.

Reader poll

In the summer of 1962, blacks trying to use the “white-only” city library in Albany were arrested and the facility closed down. What defiant action did the library take after it was re-opened by court order?

  • a) Blacks were allowed in the library but denied library cards. 0%
  • b) Blacks were asked to place all handled material on designated tables. 0%
  • c) The water was shut off to avoid segregated use of toilets and water fountains. 75%
  • d) The chairs were removed to keep blacks and whites from sitting together. 25%

4 total votes.


King organized a protest march from Selma to Montgomery for African-American voting rights. A shocked nation watched on television as police clubbed and used tear-gas on protesters.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for blacks to register to vote. Literacy tests and other such requirements that were used to restrict black voting were made illegal.

Asserting that civil rights laws alone were not enough to remedy discrimination, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which enforced affirmative action for the first time.


In Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prohibiting interracial marriage was unconstitutional. Sixteen states that still banned interracial marriage at the time were forced to revise their laws.


Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, at age 39, was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tenn. Escaped convict and committed racist James Earl Ray was convicted of the crime.

President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.


The U.S. Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upheld busing as a legitimate means for achieving integration of public schools. Although largely unwelcome (and sometimes violently opposed) in local school districts, court-ordered busing plans in cities such as Charlotte, Boston and Denver continued until the late 1990s.


After two years of debates, vetoes, and threatened vetoes, President George Bush reversed himself and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening existing civil rights laws and providing for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.