CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLES OF THE POSTWAR PERIOD
Many black veterans who had gone overseas to fight for democracy were appalled to find that conditions for blacks had remained largely unchanged during the war years. After speaking to many leaders from NAACP and CORE in early 1948, Truman outlawed discrimination in the hiring of federal employees and ordered the end to segregation in the armed forces. Change in both the federal government and the armed forces was slow.
Black athletes had often been heroes for large segments of the black population, in the 1930s and early 1940s, it had been Joe Louis; starting in 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball, wearing the uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson had to endure threats and racial slurs throughout his first season. Nevertheless, Robinson maintained his dignity and was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1947.
Black leaders had long wanted to strike down the 1896 Plessy v. Feguson case, which stated that as long as black and white schools or facilities were “equal,” it was not unconstitutional that they were separate. In reality, schools in many districts were separate, but they were in no way equal; white schools would get 80 or 85 percent of the financial allocations in some Southern cities and towns. The case that challenged the 1896 law came from Oliver Brown from Topeka, Kansas, who sued the Topeka school district because his daughter had to walk by an all- white school to get to the bus that took her to an all-black school on the other side of town.
The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court and was argued there by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall (later a U.S. Supreme Court justice). The case was heard by a court presided over by Earl Warren, former governor of California and appointed Chief Justice by Eisenhower in 1953. By a unanimous decision, the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision stated that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, and that local districts should desegregate with “all deliberate speed.” Parents, government officials, and students in many districts in the South responded: “2, 4, 6, 8. We don’t want to integrate!” Earl Warren was Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969, during which the Court practiced “judicial activism,” making important decisions on topics such as the rights of the accused and prayer in schools.
The main battlefield for civil rights in 1955 was in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks, a secretary for the Montgomery NAACP, refused to give up her seat for a white man to sit in, and was arrested. Civil rights leaders in Montgomery began the Montgomery bus boycott, during which blacks in the city refused to ride the city buses; instead, they car- pooled or walked. The bus company refused to change its policies; finally the Supreme Court again stepped in and stated that segregation on city buses (like in schools) was unconstitutional. A 27-year-old minister by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. became the main spokesperson for the blacks of the city.
Another major battle for civil rights took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. A small number of black students were set to enroll in Central High School in Little Rock in the fall of 1957. The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, sent the National Guard to Central High School to keep the black students out. President Eisenhower had personally been opposed to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, but saw this as a direct challenge to a Supreme Court decision and to the authority of the federal government. Eisenhower sent in federal troops and federalized the National Guard; under armed guard, the black students attended Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, that year. Decisions by the federal courts outlawing various forms of segregation and federal troops in Southern states enforcing these federal court orders would become an increasingly common sight in the early 1960s.