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The Civil Rights Era (1865–1970)

History
Summary

Twentieth-Century Roots: 1900–1950

Summary Twentieth-Century Roots: 1900–1950

Even though most of Garvey’s business ventures failed and the U.S. government deported him for mail fraud in 1927, his contribution to the development of black consciousness empowered the “New Negro” and helped lay the foundation for the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

World War II

The majority of the more than 1 million blacks who joined the Allied forces during World War II served in segregated, noncombat service and maintenance units, just as they had in World War I. There were exceptions, however, perhaps the most notable of which was the elite all-black Tuskegee Airmen bomber unit.

Segregated or not, black Americans made significant gains during the war. Civil rights leaders, for example, pushed their “Double V” campaign for both victory abroad and victory at home. NAACP membership soared during the war years to more than half a million people. The newly formed Congress of Racial Equality(CORE) launched peaceful protests in order to gain sympathy for the movement from white Americans. National Negro Congress President A. Philip Randolph even threatened President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a massive march on Washington, D.C., if the federal government failed to pass more civil rights legislation.

Roosevelt and Civil Rights

Hoping to avoid civil unrest, Roosevelt compromised with Randolph by signing Executive Order 8802, which outlawed racial discrimination in the federal government and in war factories. Roosevelt also established the Fair Employment Practices Committee to execute the order. As a result, more than 200,000 Northern blacks found work in defense-related industries during the war. Roosevelt’s election victories during the Great Depression and World War II happened, in part, because a majority of black Americans began voting for Democrats rather than Republicans. Continued support from the Democratic Party proved to be vital in securing the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Truman and Civil Rights

After the war, in 1946, President Harry S Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. The committee pushed for antilynching laws in the South and tried to register more black voters. Although symbolically powerful, the committee had little practical influence. More significant was Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces with Executive Order 9981 in 1948. Truman’s support for civil rights angered many southerners within the Democratic Party, though, and many left the nominating convention in 1948 to back their own presidential candidate, segregationist Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Notable Firsts

Two major color barriers were broken shortly after the war’s end. The first was in 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first black professional baseball player in the major leagues. Robinson’s contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers opened professional sports to black players and helped integrate blacks into white American culture.

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