The segregation movement's last holdouts
Updated: Mar 8, 2019
1964 marked a significant turning point in American race relations. The equal rights act, which had just narrowly squirmed past the orifices of congress, made it officially illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion. The result? The repelling of all segregation legislature in the country. The following years saw a gradual transformation of the southern landscape: Signs demanding separation were taken off, schools became more inclusive and utilities for colored people were rebranded or turned into storage rooms.
Many of the segregationists accepted the repelling with bitter defeat. Some, however, would continue to hold on in defiance. The battle for desegregation would continue well into the late 80s. One could argue that it persists even to this day.
Immediately following the civil rights act, a challenge to the supreme court came in the form of a disenfranchised white motel owner. Moreton Rolleston, proprietor of the 216-room 'Heart of Atlanta' motel, argued that being forced to admit Black costumers was a violation of his rights, namely the fifth amendment- his freedom to choose costumers and operate his business as he wished.
The landmark case was unanimously struck down by the supreme court, but the battle was far from over. Despite segregation being outlawed, enforcement in the south remained lax. For years after, private businesses would continue to separate by race.
One such business was the All star bowling lane in South Carolina. Owned by a white man, Harry K Floyd, the business was unwilling to serve black costumers. In early February 1968, protests over the bowling lane erupted in the predominantly black South Carolina State Campus. During the protest, a South Carolina Highway Patrolman was injured from a thrown wooden banister. Police responded by opening fire, killing three Afro-American men, including a teenage bystander who was simply sitting on the sidewalk waiting for his mother.
Despite evidence of excessive force, no federal charges were brought against the police officers. The South Carolina governor, in turn, blamed the protests on "Black power outside agitators".
Particularly challenging was the de-segregation of schools. Here surprisingly, much resistance came from the North. The 'Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR)' was an organization led by democratic congresswomen Louise Day Hicks in Boston, Massachusetts. The group, operating from 1974 to 1976, stiffly opposed federal government legislation attempts to integrate schools.
ROAR staged many protests, both violent and nonviolent. During one such protest a wooden bus was burned as a representation of the forced busing policy. There were also occasions on which school children and parents alike pelted the buses coming from predominantly African-American areas. Protester signs often displayed racial slurs such as, 'Nigger Go Home,' and depicted monkeys. The majority of the group were white Boston housewives, who described themselves as "Militant Mothers".
Another problem was the continuing reelection of segregation adherents, particularly in the South. Most notorious was George Wallace, 45th governor of Alabama who famously declared in his 1963 inaugural address that he stood for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever".
Wallace's 1968 presidential bid was dangerously close to succeeding in restoring segregation. Running as an independent, Wallace hoped to win enough electoral points so that he could prevent both parties from receiving the necessary amount of delegates required to win the election. Thus, he hoped to serve as a power broker in exchange for the end of federal efforts to repeal segregation.
His campaign ended up winning in five states, netting him 46 electorates with a total of nearly ten million votes (13.5% of the total votes cast). Fortunately, it was not enough to stall Nixon's landslide victory with 301 electoral votes.
An additional close call came in the 1990 United States Senate election in Louisiana. Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke narrowly lost the election by 150,000 votes (10.5%)
Even today, the stench of segregation continues to linger on. Many of the young opponents to the civil rights movements are still alive, and not all of them had changed. And while the illegality of segregation is established law, separation of races continues by fait accompli. Negligence to promote integration means that mixed towns continue to have predominantly White, Black and Latino school and living districts.
This separation can only serve to harm race relations in the USA. Research has found that the more interaction an individual has to a diverse community, the least likely he is to hold prejudiced views. It is the hope of this writer that the federal state continue it's efforts to integrate.