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Brown v. Board of Education

63rd Anniversary Of The Montgomery Bus Boycott: Honoring The Unsung HE-roes and SHE-roes

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

rosa parks

December 5, 2018 marks the 63rd anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  On May 21, 1954, just a few days after the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision (declaring segregated schools unconstitutional) Jo Ann Robinson penned a letter to the mayor of Montgomery, AL on behalf of the Women’s Political Council (WPC).  The WPC was a civic organization for black women.  It was originally started because the local chapter of the League of Women Voters refused to accept black women as members.  Robinson’s letter demanded better conditions and treatment for African American riders on city buses.  She threatened a boycott if conditions did not improve.

On December 1, 1955, just a year and a half later, Rosa Parks, a then 42 year old seamstress and NAACP field secretary refused to give up her seat on a city bus in Montgomery.  Her courageous effort was an act of planned and deliberate resistance.  Of her efforts, activist, Eldridge Cleaver said, “somewhere in the universe a gear in the machinery shifted.”   Parks was arrested and fined $10.  Though Parks is historically recognized as the face of the boycott, there were many other unsung individuals who were critical to the success of the boycott.

Jo Ann Robinson and the Women’s Political Council had long been civil rights advocates; even before the Montgomery Bus Boycott galvanized leaders such as Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.  The role that women played in the Montgomery Bus Boycott deserves more recognition.  Many women, at that time were employed as domestic workers and used the bus for transportation; more so than men in the community.  This often made them targets of mistreatment.  The WPC began taking action even before the “Montgomery Improvement Association” had selected Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr as its leader.  On the night of Rosa Parks’ arrest they began distributing flyers calling for a boycott.  Their efforts were an essential catalyst for the boycott.  The majority of the 50,000 African Americans living in Montgomery refused to ride the buses during the 54 week long bus boycott.  Instead they walked, bicycled and carpooled.

WPC flyer
Women’s Political Council Flyer

The revenue lost by the City of Montgomery due to the boycott was significant.  While the boycott was under-way, the constitutionality of segregating public transportation was was being litigated in U.S. District Court (Browder vs. Gayle).  On June 5, 1956, a panel of judges ruled 2 to 1 that segregation was unconstitutional citing the president set by the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was the President of the Montgomery Improvement Association at the time.  It was the organization that was coordinating the efforts of the boycott.  Dr. King refused to end the boycott until the ruling was fully implemented.  This occurred on November November 13, 1956.  The City of Montgomery appealed the decision.  Their appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Today we salute not only the heroic efforts of Rosa Parks, and also the unsung efforts of Jo Ann Robinson, The Women’s Political Council (WPC), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the thousands of men, women, and children participated in the boycott.

 

Sources:

https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/browder-v-gayle-352-us-903

https://timeline.com/this-unheralded-woman-actually-organized-the-montgomery-bus-boycott-db57a7aa50db

https://www.biography.com/people/jo-ann-robinson-21443551

 

Before Brown vs. Board of Education: Roberts v. City of Boston 1849

 Black History: Special Delivery!!

 Roberts v. The City of Boston was a court action litigated by attorney Charles Sumner, a white abolitionist lawyer, and Robert Morris, an African American lawyer and abolitionist in 1849. Morris was one of the country’s first African American attorneys.  Slavery had been abolished in the 1700’s in the state of Massachusetts.  So schools were not segregated.  However, African American children faced much discrimination and mistreatment in the desegregated schools they attended.  African American parents sought to improve treatment of their children in public schools.  When this did not happen, they petitioned to have their own separate schools established in 1798.  The initial request was denied by the state.  However white philanthropic donors decided to fund the school.  Two schools for blacks were established, one in 1820 and a second in 1831. New schools for white children continued to open and by the 1850’s there were only 150 and only 2 for black children. All of these schools were controlled by the State who appointed the General School Committee to provide oversight.  The schools for blacks were not maintained well and were in poor condition compared to the other school for whites. Continue reading “Before Brown vs. Board of Education: Roberts v. City of Boston 1849”

Background of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)

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Cheyney University
1905 Physics Class at Cheyney Unversity (Founded as Institute For Colored Youth, Cheyney was the first institution of higher learning for blacks in the U.S.)

 

 Before the U.S. Civil War, there was no higher education system established for African American students. In fact, many states had laws in place which prohibited the education of blacks. The first school to provide higher education for African American students was the Institute For Colored Youth founded in 1837 which would later become Cheney University. Lincoln University located in Pennsylvania (1854) and Wilberforce University located in Ohio (1856) soon open their doors as well.

These new schools were often called, “colleges”, “universities”, or “institutes”. However, their major focus in their early years was to provide elementary and high school level education for students of various ages that had not had any formal education. With the Emancipation Proclamation, and subsequent freedom of slaves; many African Americans could now pursue educational opportunities that they had been denied while enslaved. It would not be until the early 1900’s that HBCU’s would offer college level courses. Continue reading “Background of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)”

Integration Ruled Illegal: Berea College v. Kentucky Supreme Court Case

Black History:  Special Delivery!!

Berea

Some may be familiar with the Plessey v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that made “segregation” of races legal under the assertion of providing “separate but equal” accommodation of the races. Some may also know about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision making segregation illegal in public schools. Between these two cases was another important but lesser known Supreme Court case: “Berea College v. Kentucky”.

Berea College was originally founded in the state of Kentucky in1855 by abolitionist, Reverend John G. Fee, as a private Christian college who accepted both black and white students. Fee envisioned having an anti-slavery and interracial community which would include, a church, and school. His dream was for the school to be an advocate of equality and excellence in education for men and women of all races.

firstbcbuilding

johnfee
Rev. John Fee

Fee was gifted a 10-acre homestead on which he established the church with 13 members and the school on a ridge they named “Berea” after the biblical town whose populace was open-minded and receptive to the gospel (Acts 17:10). They school had an interracial faculty and the community around it was interracial. John Fee, intentionally distributed plots of land in ways that insured that there was mix of both black and white families living in close proximity to each other. Berea was the only college in the state of Kentucky at the time that educated both races together. In 1859, due to “pro-slavery” opposition and the start of the Civil War, work on the college was abandoned and its workers were forced out of the state. Fee spent the Civil War years raising funds for the school. After the war ended, in 1865, he and his followers returned and resumed work on building the interracial college and community. Many of Berea’s students and settlers were escaped slaves, former slaves and freedmen who migrated there after the Civil War. For several decades following the Civil War, Berea’s student body continued to be divided equally between white and black students.

Berea College Students
Berea College Students

Things would change dramatically, when in 1904, the Kentucky legislature passed the “Day Law”, which made it illegal for African American and White students to be educated at the same school or in schools that were located less than 25 miles apart. Proponents of the law sited concerns regarding violence and inter-racial marriage as reasons for separation of the races.  With Berea College being the only integrated educational institution in Kentucky, it was obviously the target of the Day Law. Berea appealed its case to the United States Supreme Court but lost. The Court upheld the law requiring segregation of the school as constitutional and it remained in effect until it was amended by the legislature in 1950.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against them in 1904, Berea set aside funds to assist in the establishment of Lincoln Institute, a school located near Louisville, for black students. When the Day Law was amended in 1950 to again allow integration, Berea was the first college in Kentucky to reopen its doors to black students. Almost 50 years after it resolved Berea, The Supreme Court made segregation of public school illegal with Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Berea College is still educating students today. It provides free tuition to all students.

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