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William Allen White established the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) in May, 1940. Members of the CDAAA argued that by advocating American military materiel support of Britain was the best way to keep the United States out of the war in Europe. The CDAAA disagreed strongly with the America First Committee, the main pressure group supporting complete neutrality and non-intervention in the war.
The main concern of the CDAAA was to “Aid the Allies.” However, they also adopted several concrete goals: the sale of destroyers to Great Britain; the release by the U.S. government of Flying Fortresses, pursuit planes, and mosquito boats to Great Britain; the use of convoys to safely escort Allied supplies; and the revision of the 1935 Neutrality Actto arm U.S. ships for defense against Axis attacks. The CDAAA played an important role in the passing of the Lend-Lease Act on 11th March, 1941. The legislation gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers. A sum of $50 billion was appropriated by Congress for Lend-Lease. The money went to 38 different countries with Britain receiving over $31 billion.
However, the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies refused to support military intervention in the war. William Stephenson as the head of the British Security Coordination (BSC), found this frustrating and he encouraged William Donovan and Allen W. Dulles, with the support of BSC agent, Sydney Morrell, to establish the pro-intervention Fight for Freedom (FFF) group in April 1941.
Members included Ulric Bell, (Executive Chairman), Peter Cusick (Executive Secretary), Allen W. Dulles, Joseph Alsop, Henry Luce, Dean G. Acheson, Rex Stout, James P. Warburg, Marshall Field III, Fiorello LaGuardia, Lewis William Douglas, Carter Glass, Harold K. Guinzburg, Conyers Read, Spyros Skouras and Henry P. Van Dusen. The group also contained several journalists such as Herbert Agar (Louisville Courier-Journal), Geoffrey Parsons (New York Herald Tribune), Ralph Ingersoll (Picture Magazine) and Elmer Davis (CBS). At its peak, the FFF headquarters at 1270 Sixth Avenue in New York City had an office staff of twenty-five.
A leading figure in the FFF was the Reverend Henry Wise Hobson of Cincinnati, Ohio. In a radio address on 18th April, 1941 Hobson, outlined the basic beliefs of the organization stating, “We believe that the present world conflict is an irreconcilable struggle between dictatorship and freedom, and that if dictatorship wins in the present area of conflict, there will be little hope for freedom. We therefore represent all citizens who share our convictions that this is our fight for freedom in which we must play our part.”
Fight for Freedom group monitored the activities of the leading isolationist organization, the America First Committee. Leading isolationists were also targeted and harassed. When Gerald Nye spoke in Boston in September 1941, thousands of handbills were handed out attacking him as an appeaser and Nazi lover. Following a speech by Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish, a member of a group set-up by the BSC, the Fight for Freedom, delivered him a card which said, "Der Fuhrer thanks you for your loyalty" and photographs were taken.
In October 1941, the British Security Coordination attempted to disrupt a rally at Madison Square Garden by issuing counterfeit tickets. H. Montgomery Hyde has argued that the plan backfired as the AFC got a lot of publicity from the meeting with 20,000 people inside and the same number supporting the cause outside. The only opposition was an obvious agent provocateur shouting "Hang Roosevelt".
Another BSC agent, Sanford Griffith, established a company Market Analysts Incorporated and was initially commissioned to carry out polls for the anti-isolationist Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies and Fight for Freedom group. Griffith's assistant, Francis Adams Henson, a long time activist against the Nazi Germany government, later recalled: "My job was to use the results of our polls, taken among their constituents, to convince on-the-fence Congressmen and Senators that they should favor more aid to Britain."
As Richard W. Steele has pointed out: "public opinion polls had become a political weapon that could be used to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters." William Stephenson later admitted: "Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions were to steer opinion toward the support of Britain and the war... Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll."
Michael Wheeler, the author of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007): "Proving that a given poll is rigged is difficult because there are so many subtle ways to fake data... a clever pollster can just as easily favor one candidate or the other by making less conspicuous adjustments, such as allocating the undecided voters as suits his needs, throwing out certain interviews on the grounds that they were non-voters, or manipulating the sequence and context within which the questions are asked... Polls can even be rigged without the pollster knowing it.... Most major polling organizations keep their sampling lists under lock and key."
The main target of these polls concerned the political views of leading politicians opposed to Lend-Lease. This included Hamilton Stuyvesan Fish. In February 1941, a poll of Fish's constituents said that 70 percent of them favored the passage of Lend-Lease. James H. Causey, president of the Foundation for the Advancement of Social Sciences, was highly suspicious of this poll and called for a congressional investigation.
We believe that the present world conflict is an irreconcilable struggle between dictatorship and freedom, and that if dictatorship wins in the present area of conflict, there will be little hope for freedom. We therefore represent all citizens who share our convictions that this is our fight for freedom in which we must play our part.
There was a curious and revelatory episode in which I happened to he involved on the Sunday when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. I was scheduled to attend a Fight for Freedom rally in the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem. It was an insufferably hot day and there was no pretense at air conditioning in the ballroom. When we went in there was a picket line outside (obviously a Communist one) with placards condemning Fight for Freedom warmongers as tools of British and Wall Street Imperialism. Pamphlets were being handed out urging a Negro March on Washington to demand Equality and Peace! The
Communists were very active among the Negro population in these days and since. We went through the picket line and conducted the meeting, the principal speakers being Herbert Agar and Dorothy Parker, and when we left the Golden Gate Ballroom, an hour and a half later, we found that the picket line had disappeared and the March on Washington had been canceled. Within that short space of time, the Communist party line had reached all the way from Moscow to Harlem and had completely reversed itself (or rather, had been completely reversed by Hitler). The next day, the Daily Worker was pro-British, pro-Lend Lease, pro-interventionist and, for the first time in two years, pro-Roosevelt.
World War One: A Fight for Freedom?
The National War Memorial, also known as “The Response,” is a cenotaph symbolizing the sacrifice of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel who have served Canada in time of war in the cause of peace and freedom–past, present and future. The memorial is the site of the national Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11.
This National War Memorial began life in the interwar years as a tribute to the fallen of World War One. His Majesty King George V, the website informs us, unveiled it on 21 May 1939, with the words, “One sees at a glance the answer made by Canada when the world’s peace was broken and freedom threatened in the fateful years of the Great War.”
That Canada stood in defense of freedom is thus central both to George V’s 1939 message, and to that offered by Veterans Affairs in 2015. Further, the assertion that the cenotaph symbolizes all Canadians who have sacrificed “in the cause of peace and freedom—past, present, and future,” serves to legitimate not just Canadian participation in World War One, but all Canadian military actions since then. Accordingly, it behooves us to think critically about the notion that the over 66,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who died in the Great War sacrificed themselves for the cause of freedom.
First, who were Canadians and Newfoundlanders fighting alongside? It’s true that the two great European democracies – Britain and France – were our allies, as, eventually, were Italy, another democracy, and the United States. However, Russia, the most autocratic and authoritarian regime in Europe, was also a key partner. Furthermore, the “free” democracies, Britain and France, maintained massive overseas Empires collectively subjugating hundreds of millions of people who lived without freedom and oftentimes in very dire circumstances. Clearly, to argue we were fighting for “freedom”, therefore, you have to ignore the unfree status of the subjects of the Russian, French, British, Italian, and American Empires. Indeed, many conscripts from the European empires literally fought alongside Canadian soldiers in northern France. When Canadians were among the first soldiers in the world to be gassed by the Germans at Ypres in 1915, for example, in the trenches beside them were troops from French Algeria and Morocco. Ignoring the unfree peoples of the empires is deeply Eurocentric and perpetuates a historical injustice.
One can even question the degree to which the people of Canada, Newfoundland, and their allies were themselves “free” in the 1910s. Certainly, if freedom entailed the right to a say in politics then many citizens’ freedom was not fully realized. First, in none of these states did women have the right to vote, meaning that over 50% of the population of the age of majority lacked the franchise. Second, while France following the founding of the Third Republic in 1870, had truly universal manhood suffrage, this was not the case among the other allies. Canada disenfranchised men who had “Indian” status (with some exceptions), as the state used the franchise as an incentive to assimilation. Across the country – the situation varied from province to province – property and residency requirements further restricted the right to vote meaning, effectively, that many working-class and immigrant men were denied the ballot as well. In Great Britain, the situation was similar: all male property owners and rent-payers could vote, but this still excluded, by some estimates, up to 1/3 of men of the age of majority. The same restrictions, moreover, operated in Newfoundland. Likewise, Italy used property restrictions to limit male suffrage, and in the United States, following the Reconstruction period in the former states of the southern confederacy, millions of African American males were denied their democratic rights through the Jim Crow laws and violent intimidation. Russia, of course, lacked responsible government and only a precious few were eligible to vote for representatives of its parliament (the “Duma”), which had, at any rate, been effectively neutralized by Czar Nicholas II in the years following the Revolution of 1905.
Whether Canada, Newfoundland, and their allies represented the cause of freedom becomes yet more muddled when one examines the situation in Germany, their principle enemy. It is true of course, that Germany, like Russia, lacked responsible government, meaning that the German parliament (Reichstag) could vote no-confidence in the government and that this would not trigger an election so long as the cabinet retained the support of the Emperor (Kaiser). But the Reichstag did have the critical power to approve budgets and, importantly, German men, like their French counterparts, had truly universal manhood suffrage: all men the age of majority could vote. Could men in Britain, Canada and their allies thus claim to be more “free” than their German counterparts? Certainly, Russian men could not as for the others, the answer is at best unclear.
But perhaps we were fighting for freedom in a different sense? Maybe we were fighting for the freedom of nations rather than individuals, for example. After all, Austria-Hungary was trying to end Serbia’s independence, and the Germans invaded France via neutral Belgium, so one could argue that we were fighting to preserve the freedom of Belgium, France, and Serbia to exist as sovereign nation states.
This is only slightly more credible. Once again, you have to ignore the fact that western states, including Canada, did not give a fig about the freedom of nations in many other parts of the world. The British Empire alone, with which most Canadians still strongly identified and of which Newfoundland remained a colony, included many dozens if not hundreds of nations under its yolk. The Russian Empire was constructed without regard for the national aspirations of Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Chechens, Georgians, Chukchis and more. Canada itself, for that matter, was a European nation state occupying the historical territory of Canada’s First Peoples/Nations. Newfoundland, as a colony, was similarly built upon the ancestral territories of the Beothuk and Mi’kmaq peoples. If we were fighting for the freedom of nations, then we were certainly not applying our commitment to that freedom very evenly.
In truth, although Britain entered the war in defense of Belgian neutrality, it did not do so out of any concern for “freedom” but to preserve the balance of power in Europe – its strategic goal on the continent since at least 1815. France entered the war because of its alliance with Russia, which it had formed to preserve its dreams of avenging its loss of territory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. French leaders feared that should Russia be defeated by the Germans and Austrians, France’s position as a continental power would be finished. Russia entered the war to protect the Serbs, whom the Russian elite perceived to be fellow Slavs, as well as to keep Austro-Hungarian power out of the Balkans, an area the Russians hoped to dominate themselves. Italy entered the war in 1915 for what were even crasser reasons – the promise of territory from their new allies. Why did Canada enter the war? Canada largely joined in because Britain did sadly, the debate never really got much beyond that in government circles. And Newfoundland, as a colony, really had no say in the matter at all.
So we didn’t fight the war for freedom, which begs a host of questions. These include (but are certainly not limited to) the following three.
- If 66,000 plus Canadians and Newfoundlanders did not die for freedom from 1914 to 1918, what did they die for?
- Who was responsible for those deaths?
- How should we remember the sacrifice of those 66,000 victims of WW1 on Remembrance Day if Canadians and Newfoundlanders were indeed fighting on the battlefields of Europe from 1914-1918 for morally ambiguous reasons?
None of this is meant to disrespect the memory of the more than 66,000 who gave their lives. Many no doubt believed the propaganda they were being fed: that they were fighting for some higher purpose such as freedom. Many others may have enlisted for more banal reasons like a desire for adventure some were fighting because, in fact, they felt a strong allegiance to the British Empire. Regardless, we shouldn’t allow the propaganda messages of the WW1 era to be perpetuated ad infinitum. The memory of the Great War should not be reduced to simplistic sloganeering about freedom, as in the words of George V or the text of the Veterans Affairs website. Recognizing the ambiguity and complexity of the Great War requires us to acknowledge that our more than 66,000 honoured dead were sacrificed by our leaders for very poor reasons indeed. It should also prompt us to think critically about the deployment of our military in other conflicts, past and present.
Geoff Read is an associate professor of history at Huron University College.
Meet Elizabeth Freeman, the First Enslaved Woman to Sue for Her Freedom—and Win
A portrait of Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, on display by the Massachusetts legislature in observance of Black History Month. She was the first enslaved woman set free under the state constitution after she sued for her freedom in 1781.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
In 1780, the proclamation 𠇊ll men are born free and equal,” rang out from the central square in the small town of Sheffield in western Massachusetts. The line was from the state’s newly ratified constitution, read aloud for a proud public to hear. America’s war for independence was raging and, like the rest of the burgeoning country, the town was gripped by revolutionary fever.
But one woman who heard it wasn’t inspired—she was enraged. Elizabeth Freeman, then known only as tt,” was an enslaved woman who understood the irony in the declaration right away. As she watched the men around her declare freedom from oppressive rule, it only stood to reason that she should do the same.
Freeman marched, by some accounts immediately, to the house of Theodore Sedgwick, a prominent local lawyer, and demanded a dramatic accounting for the hypocrisy: she wanted to sue the state of Massachusetts for her freedom.
“I heard that paper read yesterday, that says all men are born equal and that every man has a right to freedom,” she said, “I am not a dumb critter won’t the law give me my freedom?”
Perhaps surprisingly, Sedgwick agreed to represent her. Her trial the following year became what has been called “the trial of the century,” rocking not only Massachusetts but the entire institution of slavery.
“She was kind of the Rosa Parks of her time,” says David Levinson, author along with Emilie Piper of One Minute a Free Woman, a book about Freeman.
Massachusetts occupied an odd place in the history of slavery. It was the first colony to legalize the practice and its residents were active in the slave trade.
What made it different, however, was that state law recognized enslaved people as both property and as persons— which meant they could prosecute the men who owned them, requiring they prove lawful ownership.y 1780, nearly 30 enslaved people had sued for their freedom on the basis of a variety of technicalities, such as a reneged promise of freedom or an illegal purchase.
Freeman’s case, however, was different. She didn’t seek her freedom through a loophole but instead called into account the existence of slavery, which affected an estimated 2.2 percent of Massachusetts’ population.
“If we can imagine this woman, this slave woman, reading a constitution and saying, ‘Well, if everybody is created equal, then that includes me, too,’ and challenging the state government on this issue—it was acts like that, that forced the Massachusetts legislature to look long and hard at the whole contagion of liberty,” Margaret Washington, Associate Professor of History at Cornell University, told PBS.
The series of legal challenges to slave owners is evidence that a battle was brewing and that Freeman may not have been acting in isolation. Some historians believe she was deliberately selected as a sympathetic test case for ending slavery in Massachusetts. According to Levinson, Freeman was a nurse and a midwife who was well-known and respected throughout the area. Because of her work, Freeman traveled widely and came into regular contact with white people, unusual for an enslaved woman at the time.
Details about Freeman, who could not read or write, are hard to come by. “We’re writing the life of a woman who left no written word. Her only writing was an ‘X’ mark on her deed,” says Levinson. But the documentation that does exists, he adds, shows she was spoken of in glowing terms by the people she worked for or interacted with, who described her as trustworthy, honest, hardworking, and loyal.
“She was the perfect person to be the plaintiff,” says Levinson. “If anyone should be free it should be her.”
Levinson adds that Sedgwick didn’t oppose slavery because he thought it was wrong—in fact, Sedgwick himself owned enslaved workers. He opposed it because he worried it could affect the colonies&apos fight for independence from Britain. While Massachusetts was a center of the early slave trade, Boston was a hub of abolitionist organizing𠅊 source of tension at a time when Sedgwick feared any lack of cohesion could disrupt independence.
“Slavery was a very contentious issue in Massachusetts and he felt it was it causing political problems—it was a divisive force and he wanted unity,” says Levinson.
The grassroots front-line work of FTS expands to include countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Working in formal partnerships with established community-based organizations, FTS provides technical skill-building training and financial support to front-line activists in trafficking hot spots.
FTS releases the film Freedom and Beyond, exposing child slavery in India’s rug industry and showcasing efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and return children to their homes. The film is distributed to every U.S. embassy worldwide as a training tool.
Fighting for Freedom: African American Troops in the Civil War, Part 2
USCT regiments fought in battles throughout the Eastern and Western Theatres of the war. Around 40,000 Black soldiers lost their lives. In June 1863, Harriett Tubman and 150 USCT soldiers made a daring raid on the Combahee River in South Carolina, liberating over 700 enslaved people and setting fire to Confederate supplies of cotton and rice. In July of that year, the 54 th Massachusetts attacked Fort Wagner outside of Charleston, South Carolina, briefly mounting the parapet before being forced back.
Out west, outnumbered USCT soldiers at Milliken’s Bend successfully defended a key supply depot for Ulysses S. Grant’s army besieging Vicksburg. In Virginia, USCT soldiers successfully stormed the fortifications at New Market Heights, defended Fort Pocahontas from Confederate cavalry, and helped surround the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. USCT soldiers also won victories in their fight for equal treatment. In 1864, Congress mandated that they receive the same wages as white soldiers and back pay for their previous service.
USCT soldiers hold off Confederate forces at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend. Source: NPS/ Harpers Weekly
For USCT soldiers whose families remained enslaved, the war took on additional urgency. Victory meant reunification defeat meant leaving their loved ones enslaved. Spotswood Rice, a Union private serving in Missouri, sent a letter to the woman who enslaved his two children, warning her: “the longer you keep my child from me the longer you will have to burn in hell and the quicker you’ll get there.” He continued by noting that he was in a regiment of over 1,000 men, each one eager to strike a blow against slavery. The enslaver remained defiant, but Rice eventually reunited with his wife and children.
In the closing days of the war, as Garland White and his fellow soldiers entered the Richmond, they were greeted by hundreds of formerly enslaved men, women, and children, some of whom were searching for family members. As the troops marched, soldiers in White’s regiment urged his to give a speech to the cheering onlookers. After he addressed the crowd a woman approached White. After asking him a few questions, she informed him, “[t]his is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.” Two decades after enslavers separated them, White and his mother had finally reunited.
When the war concluded, many African American veterans became involved in the postwar government and advocated for civil rights for African Americans. Robert Smalls won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Medal of Honor winner Powhatan Beatty became an actor and playwright. Spotswood Rice established churches in New Mexico and Colorado. George Washington Williams became a historian and wrote histories of African Americans in the United States and the USCT during the Civil War. Other soldiers remained in the Army.
“My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country. It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”
Representative Robert Smalls of South Carolina, U.S. Navy veteran
Postwar civil rights gains, however, came in the face of a rising white supremacist backlash. Organizations like the Red Shirts and the Ku Klux Klan waged a campaign of terror and murder on Black veterans, their families, and others. Despite efforts by President Ulysses S. Grant’s administration, the onslaught of violence and terrorism ultimately doomed Reconstruction—the effort to ensure civil rights and equal protections for African Americans after the Civil War. In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled the remaining US soldiers out of the South, and a slow tide of civil rights rollbacks robbed African Americans of many of the rights they’d won, culminating with the establishment of Jim Crow laws. Black veterans in the North also encountered racism, segregation, and in some cases, violence, as their contributions to the preservation of the United States were forgotten or ignored.
Many USCT soldiers are buried in Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery. Source: US Military/Arlington National Cemetery
In concurrence with the backlash against Reconstruction came the rise of the “Lost Cause” ideology, which sought to glorify the Confederacy and portrays the antebellum South as idyllic and content, where enslaved people were happy and treated well. The bravery of countless Black soldiers and sailors, the thousands of enslaved people who risked their lives to reach Union lines, and the political achievements of Reconstruction threatened that narrative. Groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy waged a campaign to establish the Lost Cause as the “true” story of “the War between the States” and sought to ban textbooks that didn’t support their views. Despite the efforts of many former USCT soldiers as well as certain units of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s organization, to push back against this false narrative, the Lost Cause soon became a feature of textbooks, scholarly articles, and popular culture.
USCT reenactors commemorate the 150th anniversary of the liberation of Richmond in 2015. Source: Ron Cogswell
Despite these defeats, the memory of the Black soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War remained alive. African American historians like George Washington Williams and W.E.B. DuBois continued to write about the USCT. During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, interest in the USCT began to grow. The 1989 feature film Glory, which provided a fictional account of the 34 th Massachusetts, inspired further study and the establishment of several USCT reenactment and living history organizations. Today, scholars and historians continue to research and write about the role African American soldiers and sailors played in crushing the Confederate rebellion and the work that many veterans did to expand civil rights during Reconstruction. More museums and historic sites are also sharing this story with the general public. A few of them are listed below.
The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (left), dedicated in 1897, and the African American Civil War Memorial (right), dedicated in 1998, are some of the few monuments that commemorate the service of African American soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. Source: Rhododendrites, NPS
Museums and Historic Sites Relating to the USCT
A commitment to honoring Black history and combating racism today involves consistent work on individual and systemic levels. Please consider this non-exhaustive list of action items and resources:
America’s Soldiers Did Not Fight or Die for Freedom
One of the sacred myths promulgated on Veteran’s Day by U.S. officials, especially those in the deep state (i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA), is that American soldiers have fought and died for freedom. It’s all false propaganda, however, as an examination of each foreign war in which U.S. soldiers have fought and died will easily show.
Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.
The Spanish-American War. That war had nothing to do with protecting the freedom of the American people. It was all about converting the United States into an empire, one with colonies, just like the Spanish Empire and British Empire. Thus, U.S soldiers who fought and died in the Philippines were simply trying to suppress the Philippine independence movement, which never threatened the freedom of the American people.
World War I. Germany never attacked the United States. The U.S. government intervened in a European war with the aim of “making the world safe for democracy” and in the hope that U.S. intervention would make this the world’s final war, both of which were extremely foolhardy goals. In any event, American freedom was never at stake.
World War II. Neither Germany nor Japan wanted war with the United States. President Roosevelt maneuvered and cornered Japan into attacking the United States in order to give him a “back door” to entering the European conflict. The sole aim of the Japanese was to knock out the U.S. fleet at Hawaii, in the hope of preventing U.S. interference with its seizure of oil fields in the Dutch East Indies to fuel its war machine in Korea. Japan was never going to try to invade and conquer the United States. Meanwhile, Germany could not even cross the English Channel to invade England. American freedom was never at stake.
Korean War. This was nothing more than a civil war, one in which North Korea used force in an attempt to unify the country. American freedom was never at stake.
Vietnam War. This too was nothing more than a civil war, one in which North Vietnam used force in an attempt to unify the country. American freedom was never at stake.
Iraq War I and Iraq War II. Iraq never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. American freedom was never at stake. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” didn’t even bring freedom to the Iraqi people, as demonstrated by the current dictatorial regime’s killing of Iraqi people for demonstrating against its corruption.
Afghanistan War. Afghanistan never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. At worst, the Taliban regime had permitted accused terrorist Osama bin Laden to live there. American freedom was never at stake.
Syria. Syria has never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. American freedom is not at stake.
Yemen. Yemen has never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. American freedom is not at stake.
Fight for Freedom - History
We live in a moment that is as critical for freedom as the American Revolution, the American Civil War, or the days following Pearl Harbor. In each of those moments, America moved the cause of freedom forward. In the Revolution, we declared our independence from the greatest empire of the day, fought for and won that independence, and then went on to establish a constitution that still gives us liberty under law more than two hundred years later. In the Civil War, we removed the great moral wrong of slavery. After Pearl Harbor, we shouldered the burden of World War II and the subsequent Cold War.
Sept. 11 represents a time just as critical in the history of the freedom. As we judge the generations of the American Revolution, the Civil War, or Pearl Harbor by their heroic response, so we shall be judged. We are engaged in what I believe is a noble crusade to bring freedom to the world. But that crusade is faltering now, in part because we have failed to ask some very fundamental questions.
This essay is intended to ask the most fundamental of those questions: Is freedom a universal human value, which all people in all times and places desire?
History of Freedom
Our foreign policy since the time of Woodrow Wilson has been based in the belief that freedom is a universal value, one that is wanted by all people in all times. But why, if freedom is a universal value, has the history of the world been one of tyranny, misery, and oppression?
Socrates taught that our first task in any discussion is to define our terms. Thus, the starting point here is identifying what we mean by freedom. We never disagree, Socrates tells us, about empirical questions it is about values that we disagree. No value is more charged with meaning than that of freedom.
If we carefully examine the ideal and reality of freedom throughout the ages, we come to the conclusion that what we call “freedom” is, in fact, an ideal that consists of three component ideals: (1) national freedom (2) political freedom and (3) individual freedom.
National freedom is freedom from foreign control. This is the most basic concept of freedom. It is the desire of a nation, ethnic group, or a tribe to rule itself. It is national self-determination.
Political freedom is the freedom to vote, hold office, and pass laws. It is the ideal of “consent of the governed.”
Individual freedom is a complex of values. In its most basic form individual freedom is the freedom to live as you choose as long as you harm no one else, Each nation, each epoch in history, perhaps each individual, may define this ideal of individual freedom in different terms. In its noblest of expressions, individual freedom is enshrined in our Bill of Rights. It is freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, economic freedom, and freedom to choose your life style.
In the United States, we tend to assume that these three ideals of freedom always go together. That is wrong. History proves that these three component ideals of freedom in no way must be mutually inclusive.
You can have national freedom without political or individual freedom Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea are examples. In fact, this national freedom, this desire for independence, is the most basic of all human freedoms. It has frequently been the justification for some of the most terrible tyrannies in history: Nazi Germany had national freedom but denied individual and political freedom in the name of this national freedom.
It is quite possible to have political and national freedom but not individual freedom. Ancient Sparta had national and political freedom, but none of the individual freedoms we expect today.
The Roman Empire represents two centuries that brought peace and prosperity to the world by extinguishing national and political freedom, but in which individual freedom flourished as it never had.
From the Declaration of Independence to the First World War, the history of our own country provides a dramatic example of the separation of these three component ideals of freedom. After 1776, the United States had national freedom. Adult white males also had political and individual freedom. White women had a considerable degree of individual freedom but no political liberty until 1920 and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Until after the Civil War, African-Americans possessed neither political nor individual freedom. In 1857 the Supreme Court formally ruled that African-Americans did not have the right to individual or political freedom. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought valiantly for their political, individual, and national freedom while defending their right to deny individual and political liberty to a considerable proportion of their population.
Thus, clearly, throughout history, these three components ideals of freedom have not been mutually inclusive.
Had we learned this lesson of history, Americans might have avoided crucial mistakes in our recent foreign policy in the Middle East.
History demonstrates that one of the most basic human feelings is the desire for national freedom. You may hate your government, but if someone invades you, you may very well fight in defense of your country. Napoleon learned this in Spain. History should have taught us to be skeptical of the claim that we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq.
A second lesson of history we should have pondered is that freedom is not a universal value. Great civilizations have risen and fallen without any clear concept of freedom. Egypt—the civilization that built the pyramids, that created astronomy and medicine, did not even have a word for freedom. Everything was under the power of the pharaoh, who was god on earth. Ancient Mesopotamia had a word for freedom, but that word had the connotation of liberties. It was something that the all-powerful king gave to you, like exemption from taxes, and that he could also capriciously take away from you.
In fact, it can be argued that the Middle East, from the time of the pyramids down until today, has had no real concept of freedom.
Russia from the time of Rurik, the first Viking chieftain of Russia in the ninth century, down to Vladimir Putin, has never developed clear ideas of political and individual freedom. Thus we should not have been surprised when the Russian Revolution led not to freedom but to Stalin and one of the bloodiest despotisms in history.
China has no tradition of political or individual freedom. The noble teachings of Confucius are all about order, not freedom.
In fact, the very beginning of civilizations in the Middle East around 3000 BCE and in China around 1700 BCE represented the choice of security over freedom. Civilization began with the decision to give up any freedom in order to have the security of a well regulated economy under a king. Time and again throughout history people have chosen the perceived benefits of security over the awesome responsibilities of freedom.
History thus teaches that freedom is not a universal value. Our Founders knew and acted upon the lessons of history. The Founders, unlike us, thought historically. They used the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present and to plan for the future. They understood that tyranny and the lust for power, not freedom, is the great motivating force of human action and of history. But the Founders also believed that the United States could chart a unique course in history
Our country does have a unique legacy of freedom. That is both a cause for hope and a caution as to whether our unique ideals of freedom can be transplanted to the rest of the world. For in the U.S. we have achieved a unique balance of national, political, and individual freedom.
We have never been conquered we simply cannot imagine what it would be to be under the rule of a foreigner. Our experience is very different from that of France, for example, or Germany.
We take political freedom for granted. We have regular elections no matter what the circumstances. In 1864, in the midst of the greatest war in our history, we held elections. The Europeans wondered after 9/11 what would happen to America we went ahead with another election. In a way it is a good thing we are so secure in this freedom that we take it for granted. With that comes our deep love of the Constitution. Of course, Americans may not know what is in the Constitution, but they know it is good and resent any effort to tamper with it.
As to individual freedom, where could one have so much of it, including the basic freedom to create a better life for yourself and your children? People clamor to get into America, because individual freedom opens up a whole new world.
So how did we come to this unique legacy of freedom? Again, history is our guide. Our American legacy of freedom is the product of a unique confluence of five historical currents.
First, there is the legacy of the Old Testament, the idea that we are a nation chosen by God to bear the ark of the liberties to the world. Our Founders believed that deeply. Abraham Lincoln believed it deeply. Franklin Roosevelt believed it.
The second current comes from classical Greece and Rome. The legacy of Greece and Rome is the very basic one of self-government, consent of the governed. The kings of Babylon were chosen by God, Saul was chosen by God. The pharaoh was God on earth. But in Greece and Rome, men said “We are free to govern ourselves under laws that we give ourselves.”
Thirdly, Christianity took the idea of Natural Law from Greece and Rome and turned it into the belief that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom that for the Greeks and Romans had been limited to the citizens of Athens or Rome now became a universal proclamation under Christianity.
Fourthly, England gave us the notion that government is under the law, no matter how powerful that government is. In the Watergate hearings, Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-Ga.) quoted the old saying that “the wind and rain might enter the cottage of a poor Englishman, but the king in all his majesty may not.” The law governs the king himself, and our Congress, senators, and president. As Harry Truman said, any time an American president gets too big for his britches, the people put him back in his place.
Fifthly, there is the contribution of the frontier. From the very beginning, America has been about the frontier. It is what led men and women to Jamestown and Plymouth. The frontier was the vast, seemingly endless land stretching before us. The frontier meant equality of opportunity. Even the best ideals of Greece or Rome or England could never flourish, because they were always cramped. But here there was land and the ability to start over again. This mattered more than all the ancient hatreds and class frictions that had existed under the old world. We cannot understand why Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats speak the same language but kill each other. Their hatreds have been festering for centuries, but here they pass away. That has been the unique gift of the frontier.
The existence of these elements in other nations and civilizations only underscores the uniqueness of the American experience of freedom. Russia has the tradition of Greece and Rome, Christianity, the tradition of the Old Testament and it has a frontier. But it lacks that English sense of government under the law. So the frontier in Russia becomes the home of the gulag. Latin America has the tradition of Christianity and the Old Testament, and of Greece and Rome, and of the frontier. But Spain lacked the powerful English concept that government is under the law. Thus Latin America, despite its industrious and intelligent population and its natural resources, has never developed a stable basis for political and individual freedom.
Our heritage of freedom has been forged in war and hardship as well as in prosperity. Our national independence was proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Name another nation in history founded on principles. An Italian or German will say you are an Italian or German because you speak Italian or German. Traditionally, you were born an Englishman you were geographical accident. But in America we have said from the start that everyone can come here from wherever they wish. They can speak whatever language is their mother tongue and practice whatever religion they want. They become an American by adopting our principles.
The principles proclaimed in 1776 are the noblest of all principles: we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The proclamation of these ideals in the Declaration of Independence is based on the belief in absolute right and absolute wrong. You can deny that today. We seem to have a society that believes there is no such thing as truth. Ethics is all a matter of circumstances. But the Founders believed in eternal truths, valid in all places and all times. And they believed that governments are instituted among men to achieve those goals. That is the purpose of government. And if a government does not fulfill those goals, you have not only the right but the duty to overthrow it.
The absolute truths of the Declaration of Independence are founded on a belief in God. God appears four times in the Declaration of Independence: “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the world,” “Divine Providence.”
Thus our national freedom is founded on absolute truth and upon a belief in God.
As the Declaration of Independence is the charter of our national freedom, so the Constitution is our charter of political freedom.
When that constitution was brought forth in Philadelphia, we were thirteen straggling republics along the eastern seaboard. If Benjamin Franklin or George Washington wanted to go somewhere, they went in the same way Cicero or Caesar did: they walked, rode, or sailed. If they wanted to communicate, they did it the same way Caesar or Cicero did. George Washington received inferior medical care to what a Roman gladiator got in the first century CE. And yet that same constitution gives us liberty under law and prosperity in a world of technology that Benjamin Franklin could not even have imagined and when we are superpower of the world. We should never take this extraordinary achievement for granted.
The American people in their wisdom would not ratify this constitution without the promise of a bill of rights. It seems to us extraordinary today that the first Congress kept its promise and in short order set down and produced the Bill of Rights, which still guarantees these fundamental freedoms of individual liberty.
But there was still slavery, written into the Constitution. God is not mentioned once in the Constitution, but slavery was made the law of the land. To remove that wrong of slavery we fought the bloodiest war in our history, in which 623,026 Americans died. It produced men of great honor and integrity on both sides. It was finally resolved at Gettysburg.
When Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg to redefine our mission, he started with the Declaration of Independence. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” It was unique because it was dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. In one sentence he told Americans why they were fighting the war, to see whether any nation so conceived and dedicated could long endure. In all the rhetoric we had about Vietnam and all that we have heard about Iraq, we have not been told so simply why we were at war.
Lincoln then went on to state that this civil war was a challenge laid upon this nation by God. The more Lincoln grappled with why this terrible war had come, the more convinced he had become that it was sent by God to punish us for the fundamental wrong of slavery. He told Americans that we must resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain and that this nation under God should have a new birth of freedom. And that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
So this war that had cost so many lives was resolved in a way that no other nation would have. The Confederates simply pledged their word not to take up arms and to go home. The reconciliation began. I think that too is unique in history.
With the Civil War we see the growth of democracy, the move towards extending the franchise to women, 18 year olds. They all become part of this political freedom.
This nation has continued in a unique course of freedom. In World War II we fought and won the war in the name of democratic freedom. We could have withdrawn the way we did after World War I. But we recognized that isolationism had been a mistake. So we shouldered the burden of the Cold War.
Now we have been called again, and the question is, will we find the leadership to tell us why this great challenge is there? Will we find the will to resolve this struggle? Will we find the understanding among ourselves to see the great task that, as Lincoln said, is still before us?
I speak to you not only the legacy of America, but of destiny. I believe that no people in history have ever been more magnanimous, generous, courageous, willing to forgive and forget, and willing to help the world than have the Americans. So after World War II, we raised Germany and Japan up. This remains our greatest foreign policy triumph. We took those two nations that had no long tradition of freedom and made them into viable, prosperous democracies.
Today, because of the United States, more people throughout the world live in freedom than any time in history. If we are willing to accept the challenge, it may yet be our destiny to change the course of history and to establish freedom as a universal value.
Inadequate facilities, mistreatment
Lt. Col. Alexander T. Augusta, medical doctor and the highest ranking black soldier in the Civil War Howard Medical School faculty.
Camp William Penn near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Camp Casey near Alexandria, Virginia and Camp Birney in Baltimore Maryland, were some of the many U.S.C.T. draft and training centers set up for eager new recruits. Once enlisted, black soldiers received basic, sometimes inadequate preparation for field service. Inferior firearms and equipment poor camp conditions and hospital facilities, and a shortage of doctors were not uncommon. Only eight black surgeons served in the Union Army, one of whom was Lt. Col. Alexander T. Augusta, a physician trained in Canada. After the war, Dr. Augusta settled in Washington, D.C. and served on the Howard University Medical School faculty. Black chaplains, 14 in all, provided spiritual guidance and educational instruction to black soldiers.
Random public assaults on men of color in uniform, violence towards blacks in Northern cities, and mistreatment by white comrades and the enemy afflicted the black troops. The fact that black soldiers were paid less was a particularly offensive issue black enlisted men and officers received only $7 per month whereas white privates earned $13. Due to the intervention and protests of Frederick Douglass, the Governor of Massachusetts and commanding officers such as Col. Higginson and Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the unequal pay issue was amended by mid-1864. In spite of the injustices, the Colored Troops demonstrated their determination and bravery in a number of engagements in the final two years of the war.
British D-Day Regiments
The regimental system was deeply ingrained in the British WW2 armies, with some units tracing their lineage back three hundred years. For instance, the King’s Own Scottish Borders in the Third Division had been established in 1689. However, owing to varying overseas service and the inevitable need to mix and match for specific operations, few British regiments fought as such. The situation was further complicated by the fact that many regiments possessed only one or two battalions. Consequently, a British brigade usually was of regimental strength, with unrelated battalions serving together. In 1940 a full-strength British infantry brigade consisted of seventy-five officers and 2,400 men.
The following British and Canadian regiments landed on Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches:
Third Division: Eighth Brigade (First Battalion, Suffolk Regiment First Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment Second Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment) Ninth Brigade (First Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers Second Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment Second Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles) 185th Brigade (First Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment Second Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment Second Battalion, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry).
Fiftieth Division: Sixty-ninth Brigade (Fifth Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment Sixth and Seventh Battalions, Green Howards) 151st Brigade (Sixth, Eighth, Ninth Battalions, Durham Light Infantry) 231st Brigade (First Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment First Battalion, Hampshire Regiment Second Battalion, Devonshire Regiment).
Third Canadian Division: Seventh Brigade (Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifle Regiment, First Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment) Eighth Brigade (Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada North Shore, New Brunswick, Regiment Le Regiment de la Chaudière) Ninth Brigade (Highland Light Infantry North Nova Scotia Highlanders Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders).
Sixth Airborne Division: Third Parachute Brigade (Eighth and Ninth Battalions, Parachute Regiment First Canadian Parachute Battalion) Fifth Parachute Brigade (Seventh Light Infantry Battalion Twelfth Yorkshire Battalion Thirteenth Lancashire Battalion) Sixth Air Landing Brigade (Twelfth Battalion, Devonshire Regiment Second Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry First Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles).
NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom The Civil Rights Era
The NAACP’s long battle against de jure segregation culminated in the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine. Former NAACP Branch Secretary Rosa Parks’ refusal to yield her seat to a white man sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the modern civil rights movement. In response to the Brown decision, Southern states launched a variety of tactics to evade school desegregation, while the NAACP countered aggressively in the courts for enforcement. The resistance to Brown peaked in 1957–58 during the crisis at Little Rock Arkansas’s Central High School. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups targeted NAACP officials for assassination and tried to ban the NAACP from operating in the South. However, NAACP membership grew, particularly in the South. NAACP Youth Council chapters staged sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters to protest segregation. The NAACP was instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, the largest mass protest for civil rights. The following year, the NAACP joined the Council of Federated Organizations to launch Mississippi Freedom Summer, a massive project that assembled hundreds of volunteers to participate in voter registration and education. The NAACP-led Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of civil rights organizations, spearheaded the drive to win passage of the major civil rights legislation of the era: the Civil Rights Act of 1957 the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., “101st U.S. Senator.”
Baltimore native Clarence Mitchell (1911–1984) attended Lincoln University and the University of Maryland Law School. He began his career as a reporter. During World War II he served on the War Manpower Commission and the Fair Employment Practices Committee. In 1946 Mitchell joined the NAACP as its first labor secretary. He served concurrently as director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, the NAACP’s chief lobbyist, and legislative chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights from 1950 to 1978. Mitchell waged a tireless campaign on Capitol Hill to secure the passage of a comprehensive series of civil rights laws: the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. His invincible determination won him the accolade of “101st U.S. Senator.”
Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., Director NAACP Washington Bureau, February 28, 1957. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (100.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.23839]
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Herbert Hill, Authority on Race and Labor
Born in Brooklyn, Herbert Hill (1924–2004) studied at New York University and the New School for Social Research. He then worked as an organizer for the United Steelworkers before joining the NAACP staff in 1948. He was named labor secretary in 1951. In this capacity, he filed hundreds of lawsuits against labor unions and industries that refused integration or fair employment practices. He also used picket lines and mass demonstrations as weapons. Recognized as a major authority on race and labor, Hill testified frequently on Capitol Hill and served as a consultant for the United Nations and the State of Israel. He left the NAACP in 1977 to accept a joint professorship in Afro-American studies and industrial relations at the University of Wisconsin, from which he retired in 1997.
Herbert Hill, between 1950 and 1960. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (101.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c26947]
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Harry Tyson Moore, Florida Leader
Harry T. Moore (1905–1951) began his career as a teacher in Brevard County, Florida, where he founded the local NAACP. With NAACP support, he filed a pay equalization lawsuit in 1937. He became the president of the NAACP’s statewide branches in 1941, and in 1945 formed the Florida Progressive Voters League, which registered more than 100,000 black voters. When these activities cost Moore his job in 1946, the NAACP hired him as Florida’s executive director. In 1951 Moore helped win appeals for two black teenagers convicted of raping a white woman in Groveland. When a white sheriff shot the defendants en route to a new trial, he called for his indictment. On Christmas night in 1951, Moore and his wife, Harriette, were killed by a bomb placed under their house by the Ku Klux Klan.
Harry Tyson Moore, ca. 1950. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (102.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c28702]
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“Fight for Freedom” Campaign
In 1953 the NAACP initiated the “Fight for Freedom” campaign with the goal of abolishing segregation and discrimination by 1963, the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The NAACP vowed to raise one million dollars annually through1963 to fund the campaign. The concept recalls the Lincoln Day “Call” that began the NAACP. The NAACP has affirmed this connection to Abraham Lincoln throughout its history with annual Lincoln Day celebrations, related events, and programs which evoke Lincoln’s basic ideas of freedom and human brotherhood. The NAACP adopted “Fight For Freedom” as a motto.
Minutes of Committee Meeting to Implement the Annual Conference Resolution on the Fighting Fund for Freedom, October 8, 1953. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (103.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0103p1
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NAACP Fundraiser, Marguerite Belafonte
Marguerite Byrd met entertainer Harry Belafonte in 1944 while she was a student at Hampton Institute and he was stationed at a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia. They married in 1948 and had two daughters. During the 1950s Belafonte worked as women’s editor of the New York Amsterdam News, an educational director in early childhood training, and a radio commentator. From 1958 to1960, she cochaired the NAACP’s Fight for Freedom Fund campaign with Duke Ellington and Jackie Robinson. To meet the annual one million dollar fundraising goal, she traveled nationwide presenting her benefit fashion show, “Fashions for Freedom.” In September 1960 she joined the NAACP staff as special projects director.
Marguerite Belafonte and little boy holding NAACP Freedom Fund balloons, between 1950 and 1960. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (118.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.23841]
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Robert L. Carter, Legal Expert
Thurgood Marshall hired Robert L. Carter (b. 1917) as a legal assistant at the Inc. Fund in 1944 and promoted him to assistant counsel in 1945. Carter graduated from Lincoln University and Howard Law School, and earned a Master of Law degree from Columbia University. He helped prepare briefs in the McLaurin and Sweatt cases, and argued McLaurin in Oklahoma and before the Supreme Court. Carter later became Marshall’s key aide in the Brown v. Board of Education case. He recommended using social science research to prove the negative effects of racial segregation, which became a crucial factor in the Brown decision. He also wrote the brief for the Brown case and delivered the argument before the Supreme Court. He served as the NAACP’s General Counsel from 1956 to 1968. In 1972 President Nixon appointed Carter to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he still presides as judge.
Robert L. Carter, between 1940 and 1955. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (105.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c26948]
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Earl Warren’s Reading Copy of the Brown Opinion
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s reading copy of Brown is annotated in his hand. Warren announced the opinion in the names of each justice, an unprecedented occurrence. The drama was heightened by the widespread prediction that the Court would be divided on the issue. Warren reminded himself to emphasize the decision’s unanimity with a marginal notation, “unanimously,” which departed from the printed reading copy to declare, “Therefore, we unanimously hold. . . .” In his memoirs, Warren recalled the moment with genuine warmth: “When the word ‘unanimously’ was spoken, a wave of emotion swept the room no words or intentional movement, yet a distinct emotional manifestation that defies description.”
“Unanimously” was not incorporated into the published version of the opinion, and thus exists only in this manuscript.
Earl Warren’s reading copy of the Brown v. Board opinion, May 17, 1954. Printed document with autograph annotations. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (106.00.00)
Digital ID # na0106
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Attorneys for Brown v. Board of Education
The Supreme Court bundled Brown v. Board of Education with four related cases and scheduled a hearing for December 9, 1952. A rehearing was convened on December 7, 1953 and a decision rendered on May 17, 1954. Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit (right), attorneys for the Bolling case, are shown standing on the steps of the Supreme Court congratulating each other after the Court’s decision declaring segregation unconstitutional.
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Roy Wilkins, Longest-Serving NAACP Leader
Roy Wilkins (1901–1981) was born in St. Louis, the son of a minister. While attending the University of Minnesota, he served as secretary of the local NAACP. After graduation he began work as the editor of the Kansas City Call, a black weekly. The headline coverage Wilkins gave the NAACP in the Call attracted the attention of Walter White, who hired him as NAACP assistant secretary in 1931. From 1934 to 1949, Wilkins served concurrently as editor of The Crisis. In 1950 he became NAACP administrator and cofounded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He succeeded Walter White as NAACP executive secretary in 1955. Under his leadership the NAACP achieved school desegregation and major civil rights legislation, and reached its peak membership. Wilkins retired in 1977 as the longest-serving NAACP leader.
Warren K. Leffler. Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the NAACP, April 5, 1963. Photograph. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (100.01.00)
[Digital ID # ppmsc.01273]
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The Lynching of Emmett Till
On August 20, 1955, Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago, boarded a southbound train to visit his uncle in Leflore County, Mississippi, near the town of Money. For purportedly whistling at a white woman in a grocery store, he was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and shot to death. His mangled corpse, with a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan tied to the neck, was pulled from the bottom of Tallahatchie River on August 31. NAACP Southeast Regional Director Ruby Hurley, Mississippi Field Secretary Medgar Evers, and Amzie Moore, president of the Bolivar County branch in Mississippi, initiated the homicide investigation and secured witnesses. Hurley sent her reports to the FBI and The Crisis. The NAACP issued this press release the day after Till’s body was found.
Press release concerning the lynching of Emmett Till, September 1, 1955. Typescript. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (107.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0107_01]
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Justice for Emmett Till Flyer
On September 23, 1955, an all-white jury acquitted Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, the two white men accused of Emmett Till’s lynching. The verdict aroused international protest. The NAACP organized mass demonstrations nationwide under the auspices of local branches with Mamie Bradley, Emmett Till’s mother, as the featured speaker. Mrs. Bradley was sometimes accompanied by Ruby Hurley. Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, and Congressman Charles Diggs (D-Michigan), an observer at the trial, also served as speakers. In the aftermath of the trial, growing public demand for federal protection of civil rights led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Mass Meeting Protesting Emmett Till Lynching and Trial [in Mississippi] 8:00 P.M., Friday, October 21, 1955 at Community A.M.E. Church. . . , . Flyer. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (107.02.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0107_02]
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Rosa Parks’s Arrest
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, age forty-three, was arrested for disorderly conduct in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her arrest and fourteen dollar fine for violating a city ordinance led African American bus riders and others to boycott the Montgomery city buses. It also helped to establish the Montgomery Improvement Association led by a then-unknown young minister from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted for one year and brought the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King worldwide attention.
Mrs. Rosa Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (109.00.00)
Digital ID # cph-3c09643
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Rosa Parks’s Arrest Record
Rosa Parks was a leader in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which demonstrated that segregation would be contested in many social settings. A federal district court decided that segregation on publicly operated buses was unconstitutional and concluded that, “in the Brown case, Plessy v. Ferguson has been impliedly, though not explicitly, overruled.” The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court without opinion, a common procedure it followed in the interim between 1954 and 1958.
Rosa Parks’s arrest record, December 5, 1955. Typed document. Page 2. Frank Johnson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (108.00.00)
Digital ID # na0108p1
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Efforts to Ban the NAACP
After the Brown decision, several Southern states initiated lawsuits to ban the NAACP statewide as a strategy to evade desegregation. On June 1, 1956, Alabama attorney general John M. Patterson sued the NAACP for violation of a state law requiring out-of-state corporations to register. A state judge ordered the NAACP to suspend operations and submit branch records, including membership lists, or incur a $100,000 fine. In NAACP v. Alabama (1958) a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the NAACP had the right, by freedom of association, not to disclose its membership lists. The case was remanded to the Alabama court, which refused to try it on its merits. After three additional appeals to the Supreme Court, the NAACP was finally able to resume operations in Alabama in 1964.
J.L. Leflore to Thurgood Marshall concerning the Alabama State Attorney General’s efforts to ban the NAACP in Alabama, June 4, 1956. Typed letter. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (110.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0110]
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Ruby Hurley, Southeast Region Director
Ruby Hurley (1909–1980) was born in Washington, D.C., where she attended Miner Teachers College and Robert H. Terrell Law School. She began her NAACP work in 1939 by organizing a youth council in Washington, D.C. In 1943 she was named national youth secretary. During her tenure the number of youth units grew from 86 to 280. In 1951 Hurley was sent to Birmingham, Alabama, to coordinate membership drives in the Deep South. As a result, she organized the Southeast Regional Office, becoming its first director. Under her leadership the Southeast Region became the NAACP’s largest region with more than 500 branches. When Alabama banned the NAACP in 1956, Hurley moved to Atlanta. There she defended the NAACP in disputes with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She retired as regional director in 1978.
Ruby Hurley, Youth Secretary of NAACP, between 1943 and 1950. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # ppmsca.23840]
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Civil Rights Act of 1957
In 1957 Clarence Mitchell marshaled bipartisan support in Congress for a civil rights bill, the first passed since Reconstruction. Part III, a provision authorizing the Attorney General to sue in civil rights cases, was stripped from the bill before it passed. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created a new Commission on Civil Rights to investigate civil rights violations and established a Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice headed by an assistant attorney general. It also prohibited action to prevent citizens from voting and authorized the attorney general to seek injunctions to protect the right to vote. Although the act did not provide for adequate enforcement, it did pave the way for more far-reaching legislation.
U.S. Congress. Public Law 85-315, 85th Congress, H.R. 6127 (Civil Rights Act of 1957), September 9, 1957. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (111.00.00)
[Digital ID # na0111p1]
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Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine
Daisy Bates, publisher of The Arkansas State Press and president of the Arkansas State Conference of NAACP Branches, led the NAACP’s campaign to desegregate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thurgood Marshall served as chief counsel. The school board agreed to begin the process with Central High School, approving the admission of nine black teenagers. The decision outraged many white citizens, including Arkansas governor Orval Faubus, who ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School. When the black students tried repeatedly to enter, they were turned away by the guardsmen and an angry white mob. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to force Governor Faubus to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling and ensure the protection of black students. On September 25, 1957, federal troops safely escorted the students into Central High School. In the midst of the crisis, Daisy Bates wrote this letter to Roy Wilkins to report on the students’ progress.
Daisy Bates to NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins on the treatment of the Little Rock Nine, December 17, 1957. Typed letter. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (112.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
Digital ID # na0112p1
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Ella Baker, Director of Branches
Ella Baker (1903–1986) grew up in Littleton, North Carolina, and was educated at Shaw University in Raleigh. During the 1930s she worked as a community organizer in New York. She joined the NAACP staff in 1940 as a field secretary and served as director of branches from 1943 to 1946. Baker traveled throughout the South, recruiting new members and registering voters. In 1957 she cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference after advising the Montgomery Improvement Association, which organized the bus boycott. As SCLC executive director, she organized the 1960 conference that created the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She remained a key advisor, helping SNCC organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Ella Baker, between 1943 and 1946. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c18852]
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“50 Years: Freedom, Civil Rights, Progress”
The NAACP marked its Golden Anniversary with this issue of The Crisis magazine and commemorative services at the Community Church of New York on February 12, 1959. The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Lloyd K. Garrison, Chairman of the Legal Committee and great grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Roy Wilkins and Channing H. Tobias, Chairman of the Board of Directors, also delivered remarks. Anna Strunsky, the widow of NAACP founder William English Walling, read the Lincoln Day Call. Other relatives of founders were presented to the audience of more than 500 by Robert C. Weaver, Vice Chairman of the Board.
The Crisis. “50 Years: Freedom, Civil Rights, Progress,” June-July 1959. New York: NAACP, 1959. General Collections, Library of Congress (115.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0115]
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Beginning of the Student Sit-in Movement
On February 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina Central Agriculture and Technical College sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. All were members of NAACP youth councils. Within weeks, similar demonstrations spread across the South, and many students were arrested. The NAACP provided attorneys and raised money for fines or bail bonds. At a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in April 1960, the students formed their own organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This pamphlet recounts the beginning of the student sit-in movement organized by NAACP youth councils.
The Day They Changed Their Minds. New York: NAACP, March, 1960. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (117.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0117p1]
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Federal Government Protection for James Meredith
In September 1962, a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to accept James Meredith, a twenty-eight-year-old Air Force Veteran, after a sixteen-month legal battle. Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett disobeyed the decree and had Meredith physically barred from enrolling. President Kennedy responded by federalizing the National Guard and sending Army troops to protect Meredith. After days of violence and rioting by whites, Meredith, escorted by federal marshals, enrolled on October 1, 1962. Two men were killed in the turmoil and more than 300 injured. Because he had earned credits in the military and at Jackson State College, Meredith graduated the following August without incident.
John A. Morsell, Assistant to NAACP Executive Secretary, to President John F. Kennedy requesting the assistance of the Federal government in the case of James Meredith, September 21, 1962. Typed letter. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (123.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0123p1]
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Medgar W. Evers, Field Secretary
Medgar W. Evers (1925–1963), the son of a farmer, was born in Decatur, Mississippi. After graduating from Alcorn Agriculture and Mechanical College in 1952, he went to work for a black insurance company in the Mississippi Delta. At the same time he began organizing for the NAACP. In 1954 he became the NAACP’s first field secretary in the state. His main duties were recruiting new members and investigating incidents of racial violence. He also led voter registration drives and mass protests, organized boycotts, fought segregation, and helped James Meredith enter the University of Mississippi. In May 1963 Evers’s home was bombed. On June 11, he was assassinated. His killer, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, was tried twice in 1964, resulting in hung juries. He was convicted at a third trial in 1994.
Medgar W. Evers, between 1950 and 1963. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (120.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3c19120]
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CoChairs for the March on Washington, August 28, 1963
This photograph shows civil rights attorney Joseph Rauh, founder of the Americans for Democratic Action and general counsel to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, with cochairs of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march program called for the ten cochairs to lead the procession from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial for a mass rally. Each of the cochairs delivered a speech as part of a formal presentation that included appearances by other dignitaries and entertainers.
Roy Wilkins with a few of the ca. 250,000 participants on the Mall heading for the Lincoln Memorial in the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. (2nd row, left to right). Civil rights attorney Joseph Rauh, National Urban League Executive Director Whitney Young, Jr., NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters President and AFL-CIO Vice President A. Philip Randolph, and United Automobile Workers President Walter Reuther. Photograph. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (119.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # cph.3b24324]
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March on Washington, 1963
In 1962 A. Philip Randolph proposed a mass march on Washington during the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Randolph and his colleague Bayard Rustin invited civil rights, religious, and labor leaders to participate. Roy Wilkins and UAW President Walter Reuther provided the principal funding and member support. On August 28, 1963, a diverse crowd of more than 250,000 people assembled at the Lincoln Memorial in a peaceful demonstration to draw attention to employment discrimination and a pending civil rights bill. During the rally, Roy Wilkins announced the death of W.E.B. Du Bois and urged the passage of the bill. As a climax, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Afterward the march leaders met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—Lincoln Memorial Program, August 28, 1963. Program. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (122.00.00)
[Digital ID # na0122p1]
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A Civil Rights Act of 1964 Pamphlet
In June 1963, President John Kennedy asked Congress for a comprehensive civil rights bill, induced by massive resistance to desegregation and the murder of Medgar Evers. After Kennedy’s assassination in November, President Lyndon Johnson pressed hard, with the support of Roy Wilkins and Clarence Mitchell, to secure the bill’s passage the following year. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs. It banned discrimination in employment and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce compliance. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and the desegregation of schools.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964. What’s in it: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 1964. Pamphlet. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (125.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP [Digital ID # na0125p1]
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Washington Attorney J. Francis Pohlhaus
Baltimore native J. Francis Pohlhaus (1918–1981) studied at Western Maryland College and Georgetown University Law School. He began a private law practice in 1949 and served as an advisor for the Baltimore Urban League. In 1951 he moved to Washington and joined the Department of Justice as an attorney in the Civil Rights Section. He joined the NAACP Washington Bureau in 1954. Pohlhaus served as the Bureau’s only counsel and Clarence Mitchell’s key legislative assistant. He shared lobbying duties and worked with congressional staff in drafting civil rights bills. Mitchell considered his legislative contributions invaluable. Pohlhaus died shortly after his retirement in 1981.
NAACP Counsel J. Francis Pohlhaus with President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964. Photograph. (125.01.00) Courtesy of Christopher J. Pohlhaus
[Digital ID # na0125_01]
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Mississippi Freedom Summer
The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of civil rights groups, was formed in 1962 to coordinate civil rights activities in Mississippi. Robert Moses of SNCC served as director and Aaron Henry of the NAACP as president. In 1964 Moses led COFO’s Freedom Summer project, a major voter registration campaign that recruited hundreds of white college students to work with black activists. Freedom volunteers registered black voters and set up schools. Violence pervaded the summer. Three civil rights workers were murdered, and scores were beaten and arrested. Churches and homes were bombed or burned. The project focused national attention on the plight of Mississippi’s blacks and led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Robert Moses, Program Director, Council of Federated Organizations to NAACP Executive Secretary Roy regarding the Mississippi Freedom Summer project, March 1, 1964. Typed letter. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (124.00.00) Courtesy of Robert Moses
[Digital ID # na0124p1]
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After the Civil War, many states enacted literary tests as a voting requirement. The purpose was to exclude persons with minimal literacy, in particular poor African Americans in the South, from voting. This was achieved by asking these prospective voters to interpret abstract provisions of the Constitution or rejecting their applications for errors. This sample voter registration application, featuring a literacy test, was used by W.C. Patton, head of the NAACP voter registration program, to educate black voters in Alabama.
Sample Application for Registration, Questionnaire and Oaths, Alabama Board of Registrars, 1964. Typescript. Page 2 - Page 3. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (124.01.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0124_01]
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Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided direct federal enforcement to remove literacy tests and other devices that had been used to disenfranchise African Americans. It authorized the appointment of federal registrars to register voters and observe elections. It also prevented states from changing voter requirements and gerrymandering districts for a period of five years without federal review. The poll tax, a point of dispute, was fully banned in 1966. The sweeping provisions of the act were greatly due to the persistent diplomacy of Clarence M. Mitchell, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, and his associates.
Senator Walter Mondale to NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins acknowledging the NAACP’s appreciation of his support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, August 17, 1965. Typed letter. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (126.00.00) Courtesy of Walter F. Mondale
Digital ID # na0126
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NAACP’s position on “Black Power”
In June 1966 James Meredith was wounded by a sniper during a solitary voter registration march from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. In the aftermath SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael popularized the slogan “Black Power,” urging self-defense and racial separatism. Some blacks and whites perceived hints of violence and reverse racism in the call for Black Power. At the NAACP annual convention in July, Roy Wilkins denounced Carmichael’s advocacy, saying Black Power “can mean in the end only black death.” He summarized the NAACP’s position on Black Power in this open letter to supporters.
Roy Wilkins to NAACP supporters concerning the NAACP’s position on “Black Power,” October 17, 1966. Typed letter. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (127.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0127]
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The Civil Rights Act of 1968
In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson failed to persuade Congress to pass a civil rights bill with a fair housing provision. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., generated the support needed to pass the bill two years later. The 1968 Fair Housing Act banned discrimination in the sale and rental of 80 percent of housing. It also contained anti-riot provisions and protected persons exercising specific rights--such as attending school or serving on a jury—as well as civil rights workers urging others to exercise these rights. It included the Indian Bill of Rights to extend constitutional protections to Native Americans not covered by the Bill of Rights. For his pivotal role in the bill’s passage, Clarence Mitchell received the Spingarn Medal.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Chairman Roy Wilkins to United States Senators concerning the Civil Rights Act of 1968, January 15, 1968. Typed letter. Page 2. Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (128.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0128p1]
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NAACP: Here Today, Here Tomorrow
In 1969 the NAACP reached another milestone: its 60th anniversary. The NAACP held the 60th annual convention in Jackson, Mississippi, a first for Mississippi—a battleground of the civil rights movement. The convention preceded the inauguration of NAACP Mississippi Field Director Charles Evers as Mayor of Fayette, the first black to be elected Mayor of a biracial town in the State since Reconstruction. The NAACP noted this progress, as well as the problems posed by the Nixon Administration’s policy on civil rights and a dispirited black community. NAACP delegates left the historic session with renewed determination to fight on. This poster reflects that resolve.
NAACP. NAACP: Here Today, Here Tomorrow, 1969. Poster. Yanker Poster Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (116.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # yan.1a38612]
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Businessman Kivie Kaplan
Kivie Kaplan (1904–1975), a Boston businessman and philanthropist of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, joined the NAACP in 1932 and was elected to the National Board in 1954. As Chairman of the Life Membership Committee he increased life memberships from 221 in 1953 to 53,000 in 1975. In 1966 he was elected to succeed Arthur Spingarn as NAACP president. Kaplan visited Abraham Lincoln’s tomb with a NAACP delegation in 1969 to mark the NAACP’s 60th anniversary. He expressed his personal admiration for Lincoln by constructing a study hall at Brandeis University in memoriam, the Emily R. and Kivie Kaplan Lincoln Hall.
NAACP President Kivie Kaplan (center) with NAACP members at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb for a memorial service, Springfield, Illinois . Photograph. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (104.00.00) Courtesy of the NAACP
[Digital ID # na0104]
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The Nomination of Judge Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr.
In August 1969 President Richard Nixon nominated Judge Clement F. Haynsworth, Jr., of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. The NAACP and labor groups opposed the nomination because of the judge’s negative record on civil rights and labor unions. Further probing revealed that Haynsworth had ruled in several cases in which he had a financial interest. The fight against the confirmation was similar to the one waged against Judge John Parker in 1930. In November the Senate rejected the South Carolinian’s nomination 55 to 45. President Nixon promptly nominated another anti-black, anti-labor judge to the Supreme Court, G. Harrold Carswell of Florida. The NAACP launched another campaign, and in April 1970 the Senate rejected Carswell’s nomination 51 to 45.