13 Civil Rights Movement

SEGREGATION


In the late 1800s, Alabama law required separate schools and public accommodations for whites and blacks and prohibited interracial marriage. Custom, backed by the threat or use of violence, including lynching, required black people to defer to whites in social interactions.


By the early twentieth century, segregation was further written into the state constitution and law. Courts typically upheld discriminatory business practices. Together, laws and social norms created a system of second-class citizenship for blacks known as “Jim Crow.”


African Americans built their own businesses, churches, and fraternal organizations. But in aspects of life that depended on government services, such as education, voting, and the judicial system, discrimination was a daily reality.


“It shall be unlawful for a Negro and a white person to play together…in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, softball, football, basketball or similar games.” Birmingham City Ordinance, 1950

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CIVIL RIGHTS


African Americans and their white allies dismantled segregation with a multipronged strategy that included nonviolent demonstrations, litigation, economic boycotts, and media exposure. College students and children marched in Alabama streets. Attorneys devised lawsuits for relief through the federal courts. Churches fed demonstrators, provided space for mass meetings, and reinforced the spiritual backbone of the movement.


Activists confronted massive resistance by state and local government, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Citizens’ Council, a mainstream organization with white businessmen and politicians in its ranks. Violence was rampant and sometimes deadly, but it brought national attention and sped federal action to guarantee civil and voting rights.


On March 7, 1965, a coalition of local and national groups began a march from Selma to Montgomery to protest police violence against voting-rights activists. At the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local law enforcement brutally attacked the unarmed marchers. Bloody Sunday shocked the nation and drew thousands more activists to Alabama.

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