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Black History Month

Equal Schools for All
In schools, a great battle for equality was being waged. Ever since the ruling in the case Plessy vs. Ferguson, it had been legal for schools to be segregated. But the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case changed all that. The lawyer Thurgood Marshall was brilliant in arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that separate education facilities for each race were unequal and violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1954 the court agreed to overturn its previous ruling. Chief Justice Earl Warren said in the ruling, “It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education...available to all on equal terms....” The court ordered all district courts to enforce school integration in every state.

It was not easy to integrate the schools because many people still did not want to agree. In 1957, President Eisenhower had to use soldiers to help black students enter the school building in Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The ruling about school integration inspired blacks to work even harder for civil rights. Once school segregation was outlawed, people decided they could successfully fight segregation in other areas. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. Later, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. organized a bus boycott that lasted a year. Some people believe this boycott was the true beginning of what has come to be known as the Civil Rights Movement. He and other black leaders created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. They led others in the non-violent fight for civil rights.

Although school segregation was outlawed it was not easy to get all schools to obey the law. There were many protests against segregation of schools as the fight for civil rights in other areas continued. The Freedom Rides of 1961 protested the segregation of buses and bus terminals by having interracial groups travel on buses heading for the south. All the while, millions of people watched the fight for civil rights on the television news. More and more people joined the cause for civil rights and by August 1963, when Martin Luther King Jr. organized a march on Washington, most Americans supported civil rights. More than two hundred thousand people marched, making it one of the largest demonstrations up to that time in American history.

The demonstrations continued. The violence continued. By the middle of the 1960s a new saying was born— “Black Power.”

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that made discrimination illegal. President Lyndon Johnson launched what was called the “War on Poverty,” which was created mostly to aid blacks. While Martin Luther King Jr. was working with nonviolent protest, Malcolm X, a member of the Nation of Islam, was encouraging blacks to pull together to defend themselves and to create their own financial and political power. Although the two leaders were not in agreement, each had many followers. One area where blacks experienced discrimination was in real estate. Many white people did not want to live with blacks. Crooked real estate agents practiced what was called “block busting.” They would go into white neighborhoods and tell the owners that blacks were about to move in. The owners would sell their homes cheaply to get away from the incoming blacks. The real estate agents would then sell those homes, at much higher prices, to blacks. This way, both whites and blacks would lose and neighborhoods just changed, but did not become integrated.

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