“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” [footnoteRef:1]. Over many years, the fight for equality and freedom for African Americans has evolved. If it were not for those who paved the way and fought for justice, to protect the civil rights and liberties of African American citizens, this country would have faltered.
Americans who chose to speak up and take action without the reward of recognition, such as Charles Alexander in my Primary Source, held more power than they may have believed. Although individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, the impact left by the unsung heroes elongated the strides towards the integration of Blacks in the United States of America.
[1: “U.S. Constitution – Fourteenth Amendment: Resources: Constitution Annotated: Congress.gov: Library of Congress.” Constitution Annotated. Accessed May 8, 2020. https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-14/.]
To begin, The Civil Rights Movement, encapsulated a variation of activism that pursued to secure complete political, social, and economic rights for African Americans between the 1950s and 1960s. It was a fight for human rights, which involved a multiplicity of methodologies from brining lawsuits to court, to petitioning the federal government, to supporting direct action for African Americans to achieve equal rights under the law in the United States.
The Civil War had formally eradicated slavery, but it did not stop discrimination against African Americans. African Americans never ceased to bear the destructive ramifications of racism, especially in the South. By the mid-20th century, African Americans had experienced an abundance of prejudice and violence against them. That, coupled with scores of whites, assembled, and began a colossal fight for equality that endured over two decades. [footnoteRef:2] [2: History.com Editors. “Civil Rights Movement.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 27, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement.]
The Civil Rights Movement achieved tremendous power when the United States Supreme Court carried out the task of making segregation unlawful in public academic institutions in the case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The Court’s ruling, that “separate was not equal”, that “segregation was unconstitutional,” would marshal in a new generation in its battle for equality. Brown vs. Board of Education was one of the vital elements of the Civil Rights Movement, and aided in the creation of the criterion that “separate-but-equal” education and additional formalities were not, veritably, equal at all and that segregation breached the alleged “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment, which asserts that no federation can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” [footnoteRef:3]. The Supreme Court’s resolution in Brown vs. Board of Education did not gain school integration on its own; the directive (and the dedicated opposition to it across the South) nourished the inchoate Civil Rights Movement in the United States. [footnoteRef:4] [3: History.com Editors. “Civil Rights Movement.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 27, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement.] [4: History.com Editors. “Brown v. Board of Education.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 27, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka.]
In support of desegregation of schools was Charles Alexander, who wrote a letter to President Dwight D Eisenhower in support of African American equality. Alexander notes that he serves in the armed forces as an active duty member of the US Navy and writes that he is “Willing to lay down my life in the defense of a country where my people are not even wanted”[footnoteRef:5]. Alexander also mentions American goals in the Declaration of Independence as a justification to end segregation. The case agreed that public school desegregation had a “detrimental effect upon colored children” and contributed to “a sense of inferiority” but still upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine.[footnoteRef:6] [5: Alexander, Charles. “Eisenhower Library.” Eisenhower Library. https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/research/online-documents/civil-rights-citizens-letters/no-date-alexander.pdf, n.d. Accessed April 20, 2020.] [6: Alexander, Charles. “Eisenhower Library.” Eisenhower Library. https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/research/online-documents/civil-rights-citizens-letters/no-date-alexander.pdf, n.d. Accessed April 20, 2020.]
The Supreme Court judgment to desegregate public schools, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), did not end segregation instantly. The warfare in Arkansas between federal courts commanding desegregation and state government’s confutation to allow it became national and international news in 1957. Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, blocked nine African American High School students from enrolling at Little Rock Central High School on September 5, 1957 alluding to a menace to public safety. Charles Alexander’s letter and the state of military racial equality influenced Eisenhower to be active with Little Rock 9 integration.
In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the 101st Airborne Division to supply protection and ensure that the court order was upheld. As a result, in 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas asked for volunteers from African American High Schools to enroll in the previously segregated school. Then, on September 3, 1957, nine African American students, now recognized as the Little Rock Nine, were enrolled at Central High School to begin classes but were instead met by the Arkansas National Guard and a shouting, dangerous crowd. The Little Rock Nine tried to reenter a few weeks later and succeeded, nevertheless were expunged for their own protection when violence developed.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower interceded and commanded federal soldiers to go with the Little Rock Nine back and forth and between classes at Central High School. Nevertheless, the students experienced perpetual persecution and prejudice. Their labor, however, brought overdue awareness to the issue of desegregation and fueled protests on both sides of the issue.[footnoteRef:7] [7: History.com Editors. “Civil Rights Movement.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 27, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-movement.]
Dispatching U.S. troops to implement a federal court decree on school desegregation was an extraordinary act. The clash in Little Rock depicted a constitutional emergency that split the country as together; the state and federal government demanded the authority to determine if schools could desegregate. President Eisenhower came up against a difficult decision, to take popular opinion into consideration while ensuing what he perceived as proper under legislation. Multitudes of letters were written to President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Little Rock Crisis supporting both side of the controversy. Eisenhower recognized that he understood as his constitutional duties as well as standing for the assumptions and views of the people of the
United States.[footnoteRef:8] [8: Alexander, Charles. “Eisenhower Library.” Eisenhower Library. https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/sites/default/files/research/online-documents/civil-rights-citizens-letters/no-date-alexander.pdf, n.d. Accessed April 20, 2020. ]
Another one of the main contributors to the fight for equality was Claudette Colvin. Claudette Colvin was the first to get arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. “In March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, who was a secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), defied segregation laws by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Claudette Colvin did exactly the same thing”. [footnoteRef:9] Overshadowed by Parks, her execution of rebellion was chiefly brushed off for many years. Colvin was the first person to be arrested for disputing Montgomery’s bus segregation procedures, so her account made few provincial papers. Nine months later, the same act of rebellion by Rosa Parks was rumored worldwide. This began a fight that would lead to victory for the African American people in this country. [9: Rumble, Taylor-Dior. “Claudette Colvin: The 15-Year-Old Who Came before Rosa Parks.” BBC News. BBC, March 10, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-43171799.]
Mamie Till Mobley was another advocate during this Civil Rights Movement who made a remarkable statement in how African Americans were being treated. She created the largest civil rights demonstration in American history with the viewing of her son, Emmitt Till’s body after he had been brutally beaten. In 1955, Emmitt Till was killed for expressing flirtatious comments to a white woman. Mobley’s life was completely transformed when her son’s limp body was removed from the Tallahatchie River, where he was discovered unrecognizable with the edge of his forehead crushed in, a bullet in his skull, and an eye forcefully gouged out as a result of the annihilation he received from white men “punishing” him for his comments. Instead of allowing the activists and those against desegregation to go without blame, Mobley decided to face the evil by holding a public funeral for her son, allowing over fifty thousand attendees to view his dead body. Her decision to allow an open casket made the public speechless.
The two men accused and acquitted of killing Emmitt Till were set free. Mamie Till Mobley was not going to let her son’s death be forgotten or dismissed. Support for the African American and the federal government would not support their right to equality. Mobley would ask for the help of the President and the FBI Director to take the fight to the people. Speeches were being made all over the United States, protestor’s letters were flooding into the White House, like those of Charles Alexander in my primary source, and the hearts of the people were slowly moving. [footnoteRef:10] [10:“Mamie Till-Mobley.” 20th Century Civil Rights in the USA Heroines. Accessed May 8, 2020. https://history8crgirls.weebly.com/mamie-till-mobley1.html.]
The fight for equality and freedom among African Americans in this country has been an ongoing battle. Despite the efforts of those who have held prestigious roles in our government, it has been citizens like Charles Alexander, Claudette Colvin, and Mamie Till-Mobley who have held more power in their words than those who have stood at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. The impact left by these unsung heroes helped forge a path for those who come after them to win the fight against desegregation in this country. African Americans are still not afforded the same rights as whites in the United States and recent stories like Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Travon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice proves that African American lives are still considered worthless. Charles Alexander’s letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as others fighting for the rights of African Americans, was an eye-opening view of how they are perceived in this country–as disposable and inferior. Equality and freedom are basic human rights all human beings deserve regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or creed.