The state of Civil Rights in 1960. Some six years after Brown v. Board of Education. Six years after the famous Rosa Parks bus protest and the ensuing boycott later. Three years after Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. 1959 and 1960 were years of protest, peaceful protest, for the most part – the sit-ins, the Lunch counter protests, the store boycotts – the protests were peaceful, the resentment towards them was not. It was a period of teargas, billy clubs, buckshot, Police dogs, mass arrests, beatings, lynchings, bombings, widespread intimidation, the emboldened KKK, the belligerent Dixiecrats, the filibusters, the forced blockade of school buildings, the overt and thinly-veiled threats, the cross burnings.
And through all of that the protests continued. They continued and they gained strength. And each time a protestor was teargassed, shot at, spit on, beaten and screamed at, the number increased. The violence took the form of police riots and White Citizens Councils, who countered protest with violence at every turn. Organizations like the NAACP and CORE brought the message and engaged the protestors – safety in numbers and the law on their side. It was a time of massive ordeal and it was a time of rapid change.
During this discussion, via the Sunday program Open Mind, a panel featuring Roy Wilkins of the NAACP discuss how the Civil Rights movement was evolving and what it was accomplishing since the year before. This was a report card for the Civil Rights movement in 1959.
All would agree there was progress – albeit slow progress. Corners were showing every indication of turning, but the protests had to continue. The Federal government was needed to help enforce the anti-discrimination laws that had been enacted over the years – laws which were largely ignore in the Southern States. But how was the North faring in all this? They had their fair share of discrimination and racism – there was talk about “white flight” from the inner cities to the suburbs in order to avoid confrontations. But it was a complex issue that had no easy answers, but in need of immediate ones.
This episode of The Open Mind was originally broadcast on February 21, 1960. Listen for comparisons and differences to the climate of 1960 and the climate of 2017.