Modern Civil Rights Movement part 1

SS8H11 The student will evaluate the role of Georgia in the modern Civil Rights Movement. After Reconstruction, Georgia, along with all of the southern states, created strict “Jim Crow” laws that took away many civil rights of African-Americans. In turn, these laws created a segregated society where blacks and whites could not sit next to one another on a bus, drink from the same water fountains, or even be buried in the same cemetery. Though African-Americans had been fighting for civil rights before the Civil War, the “modern” Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s-1970s finally achieved many of the goals that African-Americans had been working toward for centuries. These included achieving voting rights and the end to government sponsored segregation. In examining this standard, students should learn about the important people, places, and events of the Civil Rights Movement from 1940-1959. Students will also examine the key figures places, and events of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, students will learn about the impact that one major figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Ambassador Andrew Young, had on the state politically, socially, and economically.

a. Describe major developments in civil rights and Georgia’s role during the 1940s and 1950s; include the roles of Herman Talmadge, Benjamin Mays, the 1946 governor’s race and the end of the white primary, Brown v. Board of Education, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the 1956 state flag.

The Major Developments of the Civil Rights Movement (1940-1959)

The 1940s and 50s saw a major push by African-Americans to fight segregation and reclaim the civil rights that were taken from them during the Jim Crow era. While the Civil Rights Movement began from the moment the southern states passed the Jim Crow laws, the 1940s and 50s were a time of organized, and usually, peaceful resistance that helped to end these laws. African-Americans who were returning home from World War II began to push for civil rights. Based on their role in the war, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Nationally, organizations such as the NACCP went to court to combat unjust segregation laws and won many of the cases. In turn, leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.focused on ending segregation with the use of economic boycotts such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1954. In Georgia, African-Americans successfully ended the white primary in 1944, and for a time, were successful in helping to elect moderate white politicians who were supportive of their cause. However, after the 1946 governor’s race and the election of Herman Talmadge, several segregationist politicians were elected by Georgia voters who worked to continue and strengthen Jim Crow laws in the state. In protest of pro-civil rights court rulings such as Brown v. Board of Education, Georgia’s legislators changed the state flag to incorporate the Confederate battle flag in 1956. Due to this “massive resistance” by many white Georgian’s, African-Americans in the state would not gain full civil rights for almost another decade.

Herman Talmadge

Herman Talmadge (1913-2002) was the son of governor Eugene Talmadge. Before entering politics, Herman earned a law degree from the University of Georgia and practiced law until World War II, when he joined the Navy. After returning from the war in 1946, he served as the campaign manager for his father’s last gubernatorial campaign. Though Eugene won the election, he died before taking office. Though not running for election himself, the General Assembly appointed Herman governor where he served for a short time before the Georgia Supreme Court ruled his appointment unconstitutional. However, in 1948, he easily won in a special election. As governor, Talmadge successfully lobbied for a state sales tax to support Georgia’s public education system. He is also credited for bringing more industry to the state. He was also an unyielding segregationist who fought against the U.S. Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, primarily the desegregation of schools. In 1956, Talmadge was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until 1981. As a senator, Talmadge supported agricultural programs and continued to oppose civil rights legislation. In 1979, he was charged with financial misconduct and was censured by the Senate. He lost the 1980 Senatorial election to Republican Mack Mattingly. After his defeat, Talmadge lived quietly in Henry county until his death at the age of 88.

Benjamin Mays

Though most famous for his role as a mentor for Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Mays (ca.1894-1984) was a leading advocate of civil rights before and after the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Born to former slaves and share croppers in South Carolina, Mays focused on education throughout his life. Through overwhelming odds Mays earned a Bachelor’s degree from Bates College and a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Before completing his Ph.D., Mays served as a teacher and dean. In 1936, Mays traveled to India and met with Mahatma Gandhi where they discussed many of the passive resistance strategies that Gandhi was using against the British. Many of these strategies would be adopted by the civil rights leaders in America. In 1940, Mays became president of Morehouse College. Four years later Martin Luther King Jr. entered Morehouse and the two formed a mentor/mentee relationship that would last until King’s murder in1968. In his time as president Mays strengthened the school’s academic rigor and was a successful fundraiser. Mays retired in 1967, though he continued to be involved with organizations such as the NAACP and the YMCA. Additionally, he was an active writer and speaker until his death in 1984.

1946 Governor's Race

One of the more embarrassing episodes in Georgia’s history was the 1946 governor’s race also known as the “Three Governors’ Controversy.” This episode made Georgia a nationwide laughing stocking and further lowered its already tarnished reputation. More importantly, this election led to a series of segregationist governors who ended some of the progressive reforms made by Governor Ellis Arnall As the name implies, after the 1946 election three men claimed the governor’s office. Initially, Eugene Talmadge was elected for his fourth term. However, he died before taking office. Many of Eugene Talmadge’s supporters believed that due to his poor health that he may die before his election. They discovered that based on past Georgia law that the General Assembly would have the power to select the second or third leading vote-getter if the governor-elect died before taking office. With this in mind, many secretly wrote in Herman Talmadge for governor. However, the new Georgia constitution stated that the lieutenant governor would take office if the governor died. In the 1946, election Melvin Thompson, who was a member of the Anti-Talmadge faction of the Democratic Party, was elected lieutenant governor and claimed the office for himself upon Talmadge’s death. Nonetheless, in January of 1947, the General Assembly selected Herman Talmadge as governor. During the same time, the outgoing governor, Ellis Arnall, refused to abdicate the office until the issue was solved as he believed that the General Assembly did not have the authority to elect a governor. Due to Arnall’s affiliation with the anti-Talmadge democrats, many of his supporters were involved in physical altercations with Talmadge’s men. Talmadge eventually had state troopers escort Arnall out of the capitol and changed the locks of the governor’s office. Arnall, in turn, refused to give up the governors seal and set up a second “governor’s office” in a different location of the capitol. Arnall finally gave up his claim to the governorship and supported Thompson. In the end, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Thomas was the rightful governor and Talmadge left the governor’s office within two hours of the ruling. Later, a special election was called in 1948 and Talmadge closely defeated Thompson.

The End of the White Primary

The white primary was used by southern whites to keep African-Americans from voting in the Democratic primary. Due to the fact that Georgia was a one-party state at the time, the Democratic primary was essentially the election, thus keeping African-Americans from truly voting. In 1944, several African-Americans, led by Dr. Thomas Brewer and Primus E. King, a barber and minister, attempted to vote in the white primary in Columbus, Georgia. King was told that he could not vote and forcefully removed from the court house. In 1945, Brewer, King, and several other African-American sued the state. In the court case King v. Chapman et al., the federal district court ruled in favor of King and said the white primary was unconstitutional. Governor Ellis Arnall, did not fight the ruling and the white primary ended in Georgia.

Note: It should be noted that Eugene Talmadge ran on a platform to reinstate the white primary and was elected for this fourth term.

The Impact of Brown v. Board on Georgia

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional. The Georgia General Assembly was opposed to this ruling and declared the decision null and void. After the decision, the Assembly threatened to stop funding, and in some cases, allow the Governor to close,any school that desegregated. A year later in a case that is often referred to as Brown v. Board II, the court ruled that schools must be desegregated with “all deliberate speed.” This ruling allowed Georgia and many other southern states to “drag their heels” in integrating schools. In 1958, some Atlantans fought against the legislature’s segregationist stance and formed a group called “Help Our Public Education” (HOPE) to demand that the government not shut down any school. In turn, in 1960, the Sibley Commission recommended that Georgia allow counties to decide if they would integrate their schools, or not, without state interference. In 1961, Atlanta was the first system to integrate its schools followed by Savannah, Athens, and Brunswick. However, it was not until 10 years later that all school systems in the state were desegregated. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, many white Georgians even went so far as to set up many private academies to continue segregation in the state.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Arguably, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) is the most well-known Georgian. His work during the Civil Rights Movement earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and led to the national holiday created in his honor. Due to King’s tireless efforts and devotion to non-violent protest, he is often thought of as the “leader” of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Born in Atlanta, King graduated from high school at the age of 15, and began his college studies at Morehouse. As the son and grandson of ministers, King eventually chose the same profession. He earned his Ph.D. in Divinity from Boston University. It was there that he met his wife Coretta Scott. In 1954, King accepted an offer to become the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. A year later he found himself serving as the spokesman for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. After his success with the boycott, King, along with other civil rights groups, attempted a similar action in Albany that was considered to be less successful. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, King’s short career seemed to follow this pattern of brilliant victories such as the March on Washington, his creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and winning the Nobel Peace Prize, followed by unsuccessful campaigns such as his focus on discrimination in Chicago. Nonetheless, King was instrumental in ending segregation and changing America’s views on race and racial equality. Unfortunately, while he did not live to see the fruits of his labor, his efforts and leadership have led to an America where some of the ideals from his I Have A Dream speech have been met.

Note: Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only African-American to have a federal holiday named in his honor. Also, he is the only African-American and non-president to have a memorial created in his honor on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

In 1958 an assassination attempt was made on Dr. King. An African-American woman in New York stabbed him in the chest during a book signing.

Dr. King’s first name was actually Michael until his father took a trip to Europe and changed it in tribute of the protestant reformer Martin Luther.

The 1956 State Flag

The 1956 Georgia State Flag. The Confederate flag was added in protest to desegregation

After the Brown vs. Board,ruling many southern states urged their white citizens to display acts of massive resistance against the federal mandates outlawing segregation. One of the ways the Georgia General Assembly showed their disdain for these federal regulations was by changing the state flag. Though the design of the pre-1956 flag was based on the first flag of the Confederate States of America, the 1956 flag was changed to include the Confederate battle flag, a flag that had been adopted by “hate groups” such as the KKK. To this day there is debate on the reasoning behind the change of the flag. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia some of the legislators favored the change to “mark the upcoming centennial of the Civil War.” However, many people believe the flag was changed to protest civil rights legislation. For example, after the flag was changed, legislator Denmark Groover said the flag would show “that we in Georgia intend to uphold what we stood for, will stand for, and will fight for.” Though denying it for many years Groover admitted toward the end of his life that anger over the Brown v. Board case was a factor in changing the flag. In 2001, Governor Roy Barnes changed the flag based on the request of many of his supporters and civil rights activists. In 2003, the people of Georgia were allowed to vote on either the 2001 or a new 2003 flag. The 2003 flag won with over 70% of the vote. This flag looked very similar to the pre-1956 flag