The Progress Of American Blacks

During the 1960s the country made progress toward eliminating racial discrimination. Between 1954 and 1960, 765 out of the 6,676 school districts in the South had been desegregated. Between 1961 and 1964, some 365 additional school districts admitted black students to formerly all-white schools, increasing by almost 50 percent the number desegregated during the previous seven years. Peaceful sit-ins by black and white college students, starting in February 1960, sped the end of segregation in restaurants and at lunch counters in more than 500-southern communities.

In 1961 came the freedom rides--orderly, nonviolent protests against segregation in bus transportation and terminal facilities. In November 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in all interstate travel. The following year the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously endorsed this ban, stating: We have settled beyond question that no state shall require racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.

What came to be called the Civil Rights revolution reached a dramatic climax in 1963. After massive black demonstrations in the segregated deep-south city of Birmingham, Alabama, President Kennedy told the nation in a televised speech that it had a moral obligation to secure full equality for black Americans. televised speech that it had a moral obligation to secure full equality for black Americans. Martin Luther KingHe then proposed to Congress the most sweeping legislation in this century to eliminate discrimination in voting, education, employment, and public accommodations. On August 28, more than 200,000 blacks and whites, led by the black southern minister Martin Luther King Jr., marched to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in an impressive demonstration that drew heightened national attention to the demand for equal rights. In 1964, Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his decade-long leadership in Christian, non-violent protest against discrimination.

The Kennedy administration further advanced racial equality by appointing many eminent blacks to high government posts. Some of the more notable appointments were Robert C. Weaver as head of the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency, and Thurgood Marshall, formerly chief counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as a federal judge. Dozens of other black Americans gained appointment to positions ranging from presidential assistant to ambassador. With more than 240,000 black students attending institutions of higher learning in 1964, there was reason to believe that the trend toward better jobs and more influential roles in government for blacks would be hastened.