Civil Rights Movement

  • May 5, 2011
    BookTalk
    At the Dark End of the Street
    Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power
    By: 
    Danielle L. McGuire

    By Danielle L. McGuire, a writer and assistant professor in the history department at Wayne State University. Watch a trailer here about her new book, At the Dark End of the Street: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.


    On Thursday May 12, 2011, I will help honor Rosa Parks as a champion for human dignity and pay tribute to Mrs. Recy Taylor, a living legend and civil rights heroine that most people have never heard of, at the National Press Club.

    I first met Recy Taylor while doing research for my book, At the Dark End of the Street: A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. For 67 years, Recy Taylor has been patiently waiting for justice. In Abbeville, Ala., in the fall of 1944, seven white men with guns and knives kidnapped and brutally assaulted her and then threatened to kill her if she told. Somehow Taylor, an African American mother and sharecropper, found the courage to tell her husband, her father, and the local sheriff the details of the assault. Taylor’s testimony was part of a longstanding tradition among African American women, who suffered similar abuses from slavery through the better part of the 20th century. A few days after Taylor’s attack, the Montgomery NAACP promised to send their very best investigator.

    Her name was Rosa Parks.

  • October 11, 2010
    As part of a symposium on the 45th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, ACS hosted a memorable lunchtime conversation between Congressman John Lewis and Pulitzer Prize winning author Taylor Branch, during which they reflected on the rare confluence of circumstances that allowed for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

    Lewis discussed how support for the Act's passage grew, including recollections about the introduction of the phrase "One Man, One Vote," the efforts to March from Selma to Montgomery, and President Johnson's leadership on passage of the historic law.

    As Branch told the standing-room-only audience, "Historically ... what's so significant about this is that it brings together an aroused citizenry with a responsive government ... Underneath all of it is the notion that through politics, you can do something positive to change not just everyday conditions, but to change the realities of peoples' lives. That notion is to some degree severely atrophied today, that politics has this kind of noble possibility."

    Highlights of the conversation can be viewed by clicking on the video below.


    The full conversation between Cong. Lewis and Taylor Branch can be viewed here. The ACS symposium also featured two fascinating panel discussions in which a broad range of experts discussed the Voting Rights Act in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions, Bartlett and NAMUDNO, and anticipated election administration challenges during the 2010 midterm elections and beyond.

  • April 29, 2010
    Guest Post

    [Editors' Note: The funeral for civil rights leaders Dr. Dorothy Height takes place today at the Washington National Cathedral. ACS is re-posting this guest contribution honoring Dr. Height's work.]


    By Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office
    The passing of Dr. Dorothy Height was a huge loss to the nation, particularly to American women. She inspired me and so many women leaders because she embraced and nurtured her sisters and daughters in the movement. I lost a role model and a mentor who, whenever we met, always clasped my hand in hers, looked me in the eyes and said, "Carry on."

    She had a determination to stand her ground as a leader for over seventy years throughout the entire modern day civil rights movement which is sadly, to this day, a deeply male-dominated sphere. It is striking how Dr. Height outlasted so many men who were the civil rights leaders of the moment. It was her extraordinary combination of skills and attributes that were hardwired into her being: a tremendous memory for names, dates and events, flawless command of the English language, a unique speaking voice, an elegant style of dressing, her height, her steady temperament and unwavering good manners. Dr. Height was the embodiment of a dominant yet subtle form of grace.

    Dr. Height's quick mind could out-maneuver compatriots and adversaries. She was the tortoise and not the hare in the race. She stood steadfast with a regal bearing and a twinkle in her eye while the guys rushed to grab the microphone, and effectively chided them without humiliation when they forgot that women are the backbone of the most durable black institutions -- whether it is the church, the voter registration efforts, the sororities, the Links, Jack & Jill, or her own National Council of Negro Women -- groups with longevity and real staying power. Our mothers and sisters licked the envelopes, went door to door, registered the voters, went to the polls, fed the leaders and trained the kids to keep the movement going. Dr. Height never forgot about us.

  • April 26, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office

    The passing of Dr. Dorothy Height was a huge loss to the nation, particularly to American women. She inspired me and so many women leaders because she embraced and nurtured her sisters and daughters in the movement. I lost a role model and a mentor who, whenever we met, always clasped my hand in hers, looked me in the eyes and said, "Carry on."

    She had a determination to stand her ground as a leader for over seventy years throughout the entire modern day civil rights movement which is sadly, to this day, a deeply male-dominated sphere. It is striking how Dr. Height outlasted so many men who were the civil rights leaders of the moment. It was her extraordinary combination of skills and attributes that were hardwired into her being: a tremendous memory for names, dates and events, flawless command of the English language, a unique speaking voice, an elegant style of dressing, her height, her steady temperament and unwavering good manners. Dr. Height was the embodiment of a dominant yet subtle form of grace.

    Dr. Height's quick mind could out-maneuver compatriots and adversaries. She was the tortoise and not the hare in the race. She stood steadfast with a regal bearing and a twinkle in her eye while the guys rushed to grab the microphone, and effectively chided them without humiliation when they forgot that women are the backbone of the most durable black institutions -- whether it is the church, the voter registration efforts, the sororities, the Links, Jack & Jill, or her own National Council of Negro Women -- groups with longevity and real staying power. Our mothers and sisters licked the envelopes, went door to door, registered the voters, went to the polls, fed the leaders and trained the kids to keep the movement going. Dr. Height never forgot about us.

  • April 20, 2010
    Dorothy Height, a trailblazing civil rights figure, died today, at the age of 98. The Associated Press said she was "the leading female voice of the 1960s civil rights movement and a participant in historic marches with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others ...," and The Washington Post remembered her as "a founding matriarch of the American civil rights movement whose crusade for racial justice and gender equality spanned more than six decades ...."

    In a press statement, President Obama called Height "the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans.

    Obama continued:

    Ever since she was denied entrance to college because the incoming class had already met its quota of two African American women, Dr. Height devoted her life to those struggling for equality. She led the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and served as the only woman at the highest level of the Civil Rights Movement - witnessing every march and milestone along the way. And even in the final weeks of her life - a time when anyone else would have enjoyed their well-earned rest - Dr. Height continued her fight to make our nation a more open and inclusive place for people of every race, gender, background and faith. Michelle and I offer our condolences to all those who knew and loved Dr. Height - and all those whose lives she touched.

    The Washington Post's Bart Barnes wrote:

    As a civil rights activist, Ms. Height participated in protests in Harlem during the 1930s. In the 1940s, she lobbied first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on behalf of civil rights causes. And in the 1950s, she prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to move more aggressively on school desegregation issues. In 1994, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor."

    ...

    In the turmoil of the civil rights struggles in the 1960s, Ms. Height helped orchestrate strategy with movement leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Whitney Young, James Farmer, Bayard Rustin and John Lewis, who later served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia.

    In a press statement, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Wade Henderson said:

    It is with a heavy heart that I mourn the passing of our chairperson, Dr. Doroth I. Height. For the past seven decades, her work and her wisdom have enriched and ennobled the civil rights movement and our nation.

    Dr. Height has been an extraordinary leader, a gifted organizer, a trusted adviser, and a shrewd strategist from the days of the New Deal to these times of the Raw Deal for so many Americans. She was at every important meeting, participated in every historic struggle, and advised major national leaders from Eleanor Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

    Henderson's full statement is here. A a blog post from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is here

    Both The Post and Associated Press noted, one of Height's famous sayings, "If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time." In a 1997 interview with the news service, Height said the civil rights movement had seen progress, but much had yet to be accomplished.

    "We have come a long way, but too many people are not better off," Height said. "This is my life's work. It is NOT a job."