Disadvantages of Black Americans in 1950's

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Disadvantages of Black Americans in 1950's

Black Americans faced many disadvantages during the 1950's. In short
they were discriminated; from public services, to cafés and
restaurants. After the American Civil War in 1865, black people in the
American south were no longer slaves. But they had never gained
equality with whites. Blacks had remained second classed citizens
throughout their movement to America, with the worst paid unskilled
jobs in farms and factories.

The schools that had been made for black people were extremely poor,
with very books throughout each school and classes ranged from 40 - 50
children per class. This was not the case with white people and their
schools. The white peoples schools flourished with books, equipment
and the classes were kept low with manageable sizes. Good teachers had
been employed to teach each class, but on the other hand with black
schools, teachers who did not have particularly good skills were
taught, and all the teachers would also be black. One of the most
famous cases of segregation that was brought to public attention was
that of the Linda Brown case. The particular issue was whether a black
girl, Linda Brown could attend a local, all-white school. Linda had to
walk over twenty blocks to get to her school in Topeka even though
there was a local school just down the road. Linda's class at her
school in Topekawas big, the classrooms were shabby and their were not
enough books for each child. The all-white school down her road was
much better off, better education with a lot better teaching
materials. The poor quality education and environment at Linda's
school was because the Topeka Board of Education spent much more money
on the white school than on Linda's school for blacks. This frustrated
Linda's father, Oliver Brown so much that he took the Board of
Education to court. He lost his battle. (Possibly a large contributing
factor was he was a black man took the board of education to a court
run by highly paid white judges).

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With the help of the National
Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), Oliver
Brown appealed the decision of the court. In the end, the case reached
the Supreme Court of the United States. On 19th May 1954 Chief Justice
Earl Warren announced to a packed courtroom that the constitution was
"colour blind". The outcome of this lengthy battle led the Supreme
Court ordering the Topeka Board of Education to end segregation in its

[IMAGE][IMAGE]In most southern towns and cities blacks were not
allowed to use the same restaurants, parks, public toilets, transport
and schools as whites, "separate" did not mean equal. White facilities
were nearly always of a much higher standard, more money spent on
making the facilities higher quality. Looking at the two pictures
featured here, it shows a superb example of segregation in the
southern states. To the top of this page, it shows two water
fountains, one for white people, and one for black. As you can see,
the one on the left is ceramic white sink, with quality taps. To the
right of that is the tap for coloured people. This would be a very low
quality often tin or cast iron sink that would be put in place. Going
on to the next picture, this shows a vending machine on a street of a
southern city. You can see it advertising the famous brand coca cola,
but below this, prominently displayed "White Customers Only". Because
of segregation a coloured person could not use a normal vending
machine sitting on the street, but if they did they would most likely
be arrested for it.

The bus system was a major contributing factor for the disadvantages
of black people. It was not the case that black person could not ride
the bus system, but like public services, their seats had been
labelled. Often the four or five rows of seating to the back of the
bus would be labelled coloured people and the remaining number of
seats towards the front of the bus was left for the white people. This
may also be how black people feel at this time; they feel as though
they have been pushed to the back, pushed and kept away from the
wealthier white people who were seen to "run the country". This may
have been the thinking behind segregation in the bus system, to make
the black people feel as though they are second grade, not on an equal
to white people. The case of Rosa Parks later shows this.

Black people also found it hard to elect blacks into public offices
such as town mayors to change things. This was because of the massive
wave of racism covering America. When a black person went up for
election, the white population would vote for anybody else but the
black person up for election. This may have been because they were
racist, but it could have also meant they were scared of what a black
person with power may change in society, and the white people would
not feel in control. Another reason why black people found it hard to
come up for election was the "Jim Crow Laws" which had been passed in
the southern states. The idea of these laws was to make the black
population "separate but equal". This however did not happen. The
first point is any person wanting to vote, had to be registered.
Southern states had found numerous ways of stopping blacks doing this,
for example, there were poll taxes for those who registered. These
alone stopped most blacks from doing so, because they were too poor to
pay the taxes. The voter also had to pass a literacy test (reading &
writing) to register; this was often rigged and stopped black people
from voting. This left the black people in a vicious circle; because
of these laws there social lives had been affected. To register they
needed to pay a poll tax. Black people could not often afford this tax
and could not register; therefore stopping a black person from being
elected. Because they could not be elected, they did not have the
chance to improve the black peoples pay system. Again this applied to
the second point, people had to pass literacy tests, but because they
could not, a black person could not be elected and the schooling
system would not be improved. These vicious circles had been noted by
black people who in turn began the organisations of the civil rights
movement. The pay of black people and white people was not equal, this
was a major disadvantage coloured people suffered. A final point which
was not that of a law was of social peer pressure. A statement from
Janet Harris, a civil rights worker for the National Association for
the Advancement of Colour People issued this:

"A negro in the deep south who tried to register might lose his job or
his credit. He might be beaten, have his house set on fire or be
killed. 'I don't want my job cut off', one man explained. Another man
was more blunt 'I don't want my throat cut' he said."

The laws obviously weren't only the only thing stopping coloured
people from voting, pressure for white groups such as the Ku Klux Klan
(a white group of people who scared black people from their home, town
or city, or went further to lynching them), pressure from employees
and pressure from the white general public all lead to black people
simply being too scared to think about registering for the vote. A
survey was done on the income of the black and white wages, for a
year. In 1950 a black person's income was around $3,828 but a white
person's income was $7,057. By 1956 a black person's income was around
$4,768 and a white's income was $9,060. As you can see from these
figures, because of segregation and the various laws around black and
white people, white people led a much higher standard of living
compared to black people. This was one of the factors that affected
the difference in being able to vote or not. Michael Harrington, an
American academic and political activist, strongly attacked the
unequal distribution of America's wealth and the failure of the
government to make sure that everyone had proper medical care when
they needed it:

"America has the best dressed poverty the world has ever known … it is
much easier in the united states to be decently dressed than it is to
be decently housed, fed or doctored … At precisely that moment in
history, where for the first time a people have the material ability
to end poverty, they lack the will to do so. They cannot see, they
cannot act, and the consciences of the well-off are the victims of
affluence …"

This statement issued by Harrington showed that even though black
people were at a disadvantage, they did not need to feel completely
hopeless, there were both black and white people on their side, people
that protested for equal rights amongst the different races and these
were people who were not scared of the consequences. They would openly
protest for equal rights, some examples such as Martin Luther King
(leader of the peaceful civil rights protests), Malcolm X (leader of
the more violent approach on civil rights) and later much of the black
community (most likely followers of one of the main civil rights

From the above pieces of information I think Black people received a
lot of disadvantages across America, from small things such as not
being able to use the same water fountain, or riding in the same areas
on a bus, to major aspects of the time, such as jobs not being
allocated to both races equally, and black people not having the right
or the opportunity to have a vote in public. Blacks had to put up with
violence and threats, having to leave in fear of their lives and not
being able to bring other black people up in an equal society.

Question 2 - Why did the Civil Rights movements develop in the 1950's?

[IMAGE]I think the civil rights movement began with the case of Rosa
Parks and the bus boycott. On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks
caught a bus home from work in Montgomery, Alabama. Being black she
stays at the bus in the Negro section. The bus became crowded and
there were no seats left, so a white man demanded the Rosa gave him
her seat. Alabama law said that blacks should give up their seats if
there was not enough room for white people to sit down. Rosa refused.
The driver stopped the bus and Rosa was arrested, and then put in jail
(pictured right). She was the secretary of the local NAACP and news of
what had happened quickly spread across Montgomery. One of Rosa's
friends phoned a new young Baptist minister to ask for advice and
help. The minister's name was Martin Luther King (pictured left) and
this is where he is introduced into the civil rights movement. Martin
Luther King called a protest meeting at his Church, called the Dexter
Avenue Baptist Church, the next evening. Martin Luther King was a
believer of non-violent protests, often inspired by those of the likes
of Gandhi. (Gandhi led India to independence from the British by a
peaceful campaign of not co-operating with the government). That
night, thousands of people arrived for the meeting. Because of the
lack of room and the unexpected number of people turning up,
loudspeakers were set up in the surrounding streets. Martin Luther
King was the main speaker. This is the first time a black person was
publicly announcing their views, and I think that is how Martin Luther
King got the support he was looking for. This was his speech on the
idea of a bus boycott:

[IMAGE]"There comes a time that people get tired. We are tired of
being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about. We have
no choice but to protest. We are protesting for the birth of justice.
In our protest there will be no cross burnings. No white person will
be taken from home by a hooded Negro mob and brutally murdered. There
will be no threats and bullying. Love must be our ideal. Love your
enemies, bless them, and pray for them. Let no man pull you so low as
to make you hate him."

This speech in a way was ironic. He talks about "No white person will
be taken from home by a hooded Negro mob and brutally murdered". Here
he is referring to the Black version of the Ku Klux Klan. He mentions
throughout his speech troubles that black people have had to put up
with but he tells them not to return the actions. The meeting decided
to start a boycott of Montgomery's buses, by refusing to ride on them.
This may strange to start off with, but the thinking behind it was to
put the companies out of business. As black people could not afford
there own cars, bus services thrived from black peoples money. But
with no black people riding the buses, the buses were bound to go into
bankruptcy. From then on he devoted his life to the campaign for civil

How the bus boycott evolved- Leaflets were sent out all over
Montgomery explaining what the boycott was, when it was going to start
and how it intended to take place. On Monday 5 December 1955, hardly
any blacks in the whole of Montgomery rode on the buses. The streets
were filled with people walking to and from work and school. The buses
were now either half full or empty. The deciding meeting had concluded
that the boycott would only end when the bus company decided to end
segregation. Churches in Montgomery decided they would run their own
"mini-bus" service. All of these events now attracted the likes of the
TV and newspaper reporters, thus making the world aware of what black
people could do and the power they have. Martin Luther King and his
cause were now famous and started to receive donations which kept the
bus boycott going. Soon the bus companies were in danger of going
bankrupt. On 22 February along with 100 other people, he was arrested
and charged with plotting an illegal boycott and was ordered to pay a
$1000 fine. A minority of white people now turned to violence, bombing
for of the churches and Martin Luther King's own home. On 13th
November 1956 the Supreme Court announced that segregation on buses
was illegal. This was an almighty victory for Martin Luther King and
all of his civil rights followers. The bus boycott was of massive
importance to the black people. They had protested peacefully, and
after time and persistence, what they were aiming for was put through
the courts, to make segregation on the buses illegal. This was not
only a turning point in black people's history, but now gave the black
people a boost in moral, and also another incentive. They had managed
to end segregation on the buses, and now what could they continue
onto? Black people had showed that if they stick together, through
peaceful protests they could achieve goals. And this was what they
continued onto doing. Martin Luther King played an immense role in the
civil rights for black people. He was not afraid to protest the
inequality that black people had to suffer. His historic speeches had
proved themselves to be powerful enough to get a message across to the
black people of the state; they did not have to put up with being
second grade. He brought the black people together and united a
peaceful protest which achieved his dream and many other black
people's dreams across America.

After the Supreme Court ruled against the Topeka Board of Education in
1954 and the Linda Brown case (page one), many towns and cities began
to desegregate their schools. Often the most run-down black schools
were simple closed down and the children were sent to the nearest
white school. Although the desegregation is what black people were
aiming for, it brought along with it several concussions. When
Clinton, Tennessee began to integrate its Central High School in 1956,
massive riots broke out. Hundreds of white people stopped black
students from entering the school. Within a few days this mob,
including members of the KKK had grown to over 3,000 people. They
began an attack on local black people. Some students were so scared
they packed their belongings and left town. Although segregation had
now been abolished in the schools, the intimidation factor had now
become very high from white people, and now black people could legally
attend a white school, the question is would they want to? Conflicts
were another consequence of the desegregation. Supporters of mixed
schools (a lot of them white) felt they had had enough of this mob
rule and decided to fight back using guns. Luckily the National Guard
turned up to keep the peace and the leaders of the mob were arrested.
Racists later blew up Clinton High School. With the new laws passed,
there were white groups who did not agree with the integration of
black and whites, and decided to set up a white citizen's council. It
was put together to fight integration and to encourage white employers
to sack black employees.

[IMAGE]The case of James Meredith showed another downfall of the
desegregation of schools. He was southern black, and was qualified to
go to the University of Mississippi. The university offered him place,
but because he was black, the Governor of Mississippi sad his
officials would 'uphold the segregation laws of the State of
Mississippi whatever the federal courts say'. When James turned up to
register in the university, he found the governor himself barring the
way. Day after day this went on and the Governor refused to let James
Meredith in.

[IMAGE]On 4th September, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford and eight other
African American students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High
School, a school that previously had only accepted white children. The
governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, was determined to ensure that
segregation did not take place and sent the National Guard to stop the
children from entering the school.

On 24th September, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower, went on
television and told the American people: "At a time when we face grave
situations abroad because of the hatred that communism bears towards a
system of government based on human rights, it would be difficult to
exaggerate the harm that is being done to the prestige and influence
and indeed to the safety of our nation and the world. Our enemies are
gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent
our whole nation. We are portrayed as a violator of those standards
which the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of
the United Nations."

After trying for eighteen days to persuade Orval Faubus to obey the
ruling of the Supreme Court, Eisenhower decided to send federal troops
to Arkansas to ensure that black children could go to Little Rock
Central High School. The white population of Little Rock were furious
that they were being forced to integrate their school and Faubus
described the federal troops as an army of occupation. Elizabeth
Eckford and the eight other African American children at the school
suffered physical violence and constant racial abuse. Parents of four
of the children lost their jobs because they had insisted in sending
them to a white school. Eventually Orval Faubus decided to close down
all the schools in Little Rock.

In 1958 Elizabeth Eckford moved to St. Louis, Missouri where she
achieved the necessary qualifications to study for a B.A. in history.
After university she became the first African American in St. Louis to
work in a bank in a non-janitorial position.

From this you can see the white people still had the determination not
to let desegregation occur in its schools. Orval Faubus was hell bent
on keeping the school a white only school and because of this he sent
the National Guard out to the school to stop this students entering.
It took the power of President Dwight Eisenhower, sending in the
Federal Troops to move the National Guards. Because Faubus could not
get his own way, and keep blacks away from whites, he decided in
bitterness to close down all the schools in little rock. Not only did
this become inconvenient for the black people, now getting turned away
permanently, but now white people suffered moving schools and this
could have only raised anger amongst them.

The Civil Rights movement developed because it had too. Racism had
become a major aspect of American life and black people were no longer
prepared to put up with it. It was only time which was a major factor
stopping the development of the movement earlier. Also a strong leader
needed to emerge to back up the Civil Rights, to put a face to a
point. People had to feel as though someone was in charge, much like
Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to a less extent. Black people needed
the confidence to stand up for themselves and to protest peacefully
for a right which they felt they had been owed since America had
evolved. Since the time black people were considered slaves, they had
never been considered equal to the white people, and the Civil Rights
movement proved to put a stop to the power and inequality of the white

Question 3 - How successful had the Civil Rights movement been in the
late 1960's?

In 1961 a group called CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) started a
series of "freedom rides" on buses. Although the buses themselves had
been desegregated (which meant black and white people could sit where
they wanted to), the bus stations, shops and restaurants continued to
have Whites Only signs mounted upon them. Black civil rights
protestors would catch buses to Southern bus stations and then try to
use "whites only" public services. Sometimes the black protesters were
beaten up. Robert Kennedy sent 500 US marshals to protect a group of
freedom riders who set off from Montgomery but they were attacked.
This sparked off a race riot. Finally Kennedy got the Interstate
Commerce Commission to end segregation in bus stations, rail stations
and airports.

With the use of the peaceful protests carried out by the black
community, Kennedy an avid believe of black civil rights announced
that he was asking Congress to pass a Civil Rights Bill that would
make all forms of racial discrimination in public places illegal. This
is what Martin Luther King had been trying to get someone to do, but
no person with enough power took it upon themselves to try and get it
passed. Some politicians such as George Wallace promised they would
fight the Bill for as long as it would take. Wallace believed that
black people should not have equal rights to white people. Although
Kennedy put this Bill forward, civil rights leaders such as Martin
Luther King believed that there was a tremendous danger of it not
actually being passed. Because of this, they organised one of the
biggest demonstrations in American history. On 20th August 1963 nearly
500,000 people marched into Washington and gathered at the Lincoln
Memorial. This is when King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech.

"I have a dream that my four little children one day will live in a
nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin …
When we allowed freedom to ring from every town and every hamlet, from
every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when
all of God's children, black and white, Jews and gentiles, protestants
and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of old
Negro spiritual (a song) 'Free at last! Free at last! Great God
Almighty, we are free at last!'"

The number of people to turn out at this demonstration proved to be an
overwhelming success. It was impossible for people not to notice this
demonstration happening, as King had tipped off the tabloids and
television companies, so that they would come and record the event and
broadcast it to all parts of America. I think it aimed to show white
people that black people did play a large part in the community, and
that they could gather into peaceful protests without having to take
use of violence. Black people felt relived when they had the support
of white Presidents, Kennedy and Johnson, although showing this
support endangered their place in power or even their lives. A year
later in 1964 President Johnson finally got congress to pass the civil
rights act. Discrimination and segregation was officially at an end,
or was it?

The whole protest could be seen very differently from a white person's
point of view. For a white person who supported black civil rights,
this would mean that black people would become equal to white people
and seen as on the same level. White people could then be seen to be
friends with members of the black community. On a different note,
white people who did not support the black civil rights, often
racists, may have angered them, bringing with it outbursts of
violence. They did not believe that black people should be at an equal
level to white people. An example of this would be as a white
employer. Before the Civil Rights bill went through, white employers
could get away from not having to pay the same wage to black people,
as they did to white people. But now the Bill had been passed, black
people's wages would need to go up to become equal, thus costing the
employer or his or her business more money. Some white people thought
it was outrageous that black people could not use the same public
services as them, water fountains marked as white would also be now
used by black people. I think some white people would feel as though
they have lost their power over black people and feel threatened by

In 1965, after further demonstrations which took place in Selma,
Alabama, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. This gave the federal
government power to take over the registration of voters in states
where officials continued to try to bar blacks from voting. This was a
major step in the success of the Civil Rights movement. The black
community had now been empowered and finally had the chance to vote
for a president of their choice, instead of whoever had been dictated
by white people.

But the question is what had to be sacrificed and what did the black
community have to go through to get to this justice in time? The
answer to that is a lot. Between the times the Civil Rights Bill was
proposed in August and when it was passed in 1964, violent attacks on
Black people were taking place. On September 6th 1963, a bomb had been
placed in a Sunday school in a Birmingham Baptist Church. It exploded,
killing four young black girls. This kind of violence encouraged many
blacks to believe that civil rights laws could not end discrimination
against black people. This led to the growth of the "Black Power"
movement. This new movement was strongest in the North. Malcolm X was
the leader of the new "Black Power". He said that blacks should used a
simple letter or number as their surname, because many of their names
originated in the days of slavery, when black slaves were given their
owner's name. At the Olympic Games in 1968, two US black athletes
protested against racism in the USA by giving the black power salute.
This was made up by raising a hand in the air, wearing a black glove.
The two athletes also refused to look at the American flag when the
awards were handed out. The two black athletes also proved another
point, that they too could beat white people in something so simple
such as a race in the Olympics, but this also reflected upon other
aspects such as voting, showing black people were just as able to vote
as the white community. Malcolm X and his supporters' believed in
using violence to get back at white people. He even went as far as
saying he wanted to set up his own black state.

I don't think the use of violence was going to help the black
community in accomplishing anything. I think this because white people
would see the violence as a challenge rather than a threat, and would
always try to go one better than the black people to make a point -
they didn't want them their. In a way, Malcolm X making the use of
violence echoed the motives of the Ku Klux Klan. The "KKK" was a very
large group of white people, extremely racist towards black people who
would use scare tactics to move black people out of the community. If
scaring them did not work, they would even go and lynch the black
person from their home. Their aim was to move black people from the
community by way of violence. The KKK thought them as being better
than the blacks. Malcolm X's strategy of using violence is the
equivalent of the KKK. He thought black people could be better than
whites and wanted white people to realise this by using violence and
scare tactics.

In November of 1963, after the proposal of the civil rights bill,
President Kennedy was assassinated. A lot of speculation went around,
but a theory was brought up that a member of the KKK had killed him as
he was supporting the rights of the black people and the Bill would
lead the black and white people being equal in the community. In 1964
there were major riots in Harlem, followed by riots in other northern
inner-city areas. Things were made even worse when members of a rival
Black Power movement shot Malcolm X dead. In 1968 the police violently
broke up a demonstration of black strikers in Memphis. Later, Black
Power demonstrators (originally brought together by Malcolm X) started
a battle with the police in which a boy died. Martin Luther King
agreed to lead a peaceful march through Memphis, even though he had
received many threats before hand against his life. On the evening of
the 4th April 1968, King was standing on the balcony of a motel room
in Memphis when a killer shot him dead. The killer was later to be
named as James Earl Ray. As news of the murder spread across America,
there were riots in the black areas of many cities. Over 30 people
were killed and thousands injured. Another factor that fuelled the
violence was the amount of white people in the police force. In
Washington DC alone, only 21% of blacks living there were allocated to
a place in the police force. Although the Civil Rights Bill had been
passed, there was still a massive difference on numbers of black and
white people working in the same area.

Looking at all the factors stated above, I think the Civil Rights was
very successful throughout the 1960's. Although several people had
been killed throughout the process, in the end black people had got
what they wanted, they had gained equality in the community and ended
discrimination and segregation against them. Although life would never
return to both communities living in peace, the blacks now had a lot
more going for them; they had more power, and now had more chance of
changing America in the way they wanted to, instead of America being
one large dictatorship. Black people had now been set free from the
social restraints and now had the chance to make a difference in their

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