In the 1960s, America was witness to an
explosion that had been looming since the Reconstruction: violent
race riots, Freedom Rides, billy clubs, boycotts, tear gas,
sit-ins, assassinations, peaceful demonstrations, astounding
examples of courage and stomach-churning malevolence, and the most
significant advances in civil rights since the Emancipation
freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our
freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more
importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except
for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except
Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no
master race except with respect to Negroes? Now the time has come
for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham
and elsewhere have so increased the cries for
equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently
choose to ignore them.
(John F. Kennedy June 19, 1963, after the brutal response, led
by the infamous Eugene "Bull" Connor, to the efforts to desegregate
Birmingham, Alabama. Television viewers witnessed fire hoses and
police dogs, authorized by Connor,
turned on students who had skipped school to participate in
President Johnson's Great Society, a
landmark set of programs to tackle social concerns, chief among
which were poverty and racial injustice, was led off in 1964 with
the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed segregation at public
accommodations as well as job discrimination.
suppose God is black?
What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the
Negro as an inferior,
and God is there, and we look up and He is not white?
What then is our response?
to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the
starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of
peace and brotherhood can never become a reality ...
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)
If any man
claims the Negro should be content ... let him say he would
willingly change the color of his skin
and go to live in the Negro section of a large city.
Then and only then has he a right to such a claim.
day I was in my car driving along the freeway when at a red light
another car pulled alongside. A white woman was driving and on the
passenger's side, next to me, was a white man. "Malcolm X!" he
called out-and when I looked, he stuck his hand out of his car,
across at me, grinning. "Do you mind shaking hands with a white
man?" Imagine that! Just as the traffic light turned green,
I told him, "I don't mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you
In 1965 President Johnson introduced
the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed minorities the right to vote
and eliminated voter-qualification tests. After watching television coverage of what would become known as
"Bloody Sunday," a March 7, 1965, voting rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama, in which protestors were beaten with nightsticks and fired upon with tear gas, Johnson remarked:
if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in
Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every
section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes
to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too.
Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who
must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.