Jim Crow is the term for a system of oppression enforced by law, custom, and violence. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the southern states stripped blacks of the right to vote, denied equal justice, and racially segregated public places. Blacks also lived in terror of lynch mobs and sexual assault. Such practices were tools for controlling blacks, and whites seldom, if ever, had to fear prosecution for committing such crimes.
Segregation successfully divided between the races, and created two distinctly different American experiences. African Americans built communities that drew strength from within. They fought white supremacy in a number of ways, in churches, schools and businesses and thru networks of friends and family. Black churches, fraternal orders and sisterhoods sheltered, supported and provided leaders to the struggle for freedom. They raised funds for self-help groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and political action groups that fostered voter registration and desegregation. The next generation was prepared to carry the torch of freedom.
The Freedom Riders were from all walks of life, races and nationalities. Included were college students, clergy from all denominations and leaders from groups such as the Congress for Racial Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Riders fought for desegregation of public transportation and facilities within the terminals. Other collegiate groups held sit ins at all white lunch counters, and fought for the right to vote in places like Albany, Georgia, Selma, Alabama, and the Mississippi Delta. They encountered resistance and brutal attacks by die hard segregationists, but not once did they retaliate with violence. Because of the determination and persistence of the Freedom Riders, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and other groups segregation ended.
On April 4, 1968 , the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights Movement lost their most important leader. Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, who were protesting unfair wages, unsafe conditions and unjust treatment they faced daily on the job. As Martin stepped onto the balcony at the Lorraine Motel, he was shot in the neck and collapsed. At the age of thirty nine, his life was cut short. Forty eight years later the struggle continues.
Thanks all of my predecessors for the sacrifices you made for equal justice in America. We as a nation still have work to do. Only when we are all treated as equals in this country can we say the struggle is over and our work is done.
The March Continues