Letter from Jackie Robinson to President Eisenhower
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was the first African American to “officially” play in Major League Baseball. When he retired from the game, Jackie Robinson went on to champion the cause of civil rights from his position as a prominent executive of the Chock Full o’Nuts Corporation.
Robinson had grown increasingly impatient with what he regarded as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to act decisively in combating racism. In this letter, he expresses his frustration and calls upon the President to finally guarantee Federal support of black civil rights. Read more
75,000 People Gather on the National Mall to Hear Marian Anderson Sing
On this day, April 9, 1939, Marian Anderson performs from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
When Howard University invited her to perform in Washington, they approached the Daughters of the American Revolution about the use of their auditorium, Constitution Hall. The DAR’s rejection on the basis of Ms. Anderson’s skin color prompted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to publicly resign from the organization.
-from the FDR Library
“My grandfather was an Army Officer in World War I. My three uncles all volunteered and fought in World War II (William Jr. was a Tuskegee Airman), and my father [Franklin Delano Roosevelt Green] volunteered and fought in Korea. After Korea he became an attorney in Philadelphia. He was one of the first African American attorneys to work for the Department of Labor and was a law partner of civil rights pioneer Cecil Moore.”Read the full story of the letters here.
35th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Selma
President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and Representative John Lewis join hands and they lead the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 1965 March. March 5, 2000.
Happy Birthday Marian Anderson!
Eleanor Roosevelt first met African American opera singer Marian Anderson in 1935 when the singer was invited to perform at the White House.
Four years later, in January of 1939, Howard University invited Marian Anderson to perform in Washington, DC for an Easter concert. Anticipating large crowds for the acclaimed singer, the University asked the Daughters of the American Revolution if they could use their auditorium, Constitution Hall in downtown Washington. The DAR refused the request. As part of the original funding arrangements for Constitution Hall, major donors had insisted that only whites could perform on stage.
On February 26, 1939, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt submitted her letter of resignation to the DAR president, declaring that the organization had “set an example which seems to me unfortunate” and that the DAR had “an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way” but had “failed to do so.”
Mrs. Roosevelt’s resignation thrust the Marian Anderson concert, the DAR, and the subject of racism to the center of national attention. As word of her resignation spread, Mrs. Roosevelt and others quietly worked behind the scenes promoting the idea for an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial, just blocks away from Constitution Hall.
On April 9th, seventy-five thousand people, including dignitaries and average citizens, attended the outdoor concert. It was as diverse a crowd as anyone had seen—black, white, old, and young—dressed in their Sunday finest. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio. Ms. Anderson opened her concert with America. The operatic first half of the program concluded with Ave Maria. After a short intermission, she then sang a selection of spirituals familiar to the African American members of her audience. And with tears in her eyes, Marian Anderson closed the concert with an encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at a civil rights meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson. Cabinet Room in the White House, January 18, 1964.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday became a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The initial legislative proposal for the holiday was drafted by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. in 1968, following King’s assassination. It would take 15 years, and ongoing efforts by King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, for the bill to pass.
President Reagan signed the bill into law outside of the White House with Coretta Scott King by his side. In his remarks he said:
In 1968 Martin Luther King was gunned down by a brutal assassin, his life cut short at the age of 39. But those 39 short years had changed America forever. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had guaranteed all Americans equal use of public accommodations, equal access to programs financed by Federal funds, and the right to compete for employment on the sole basis of individual merit. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 had made certain that from then on black Americans would get to vote. But most important, there was not just a change of law; there was a change of heart. The conscience of America had been touched. Across the land, people had begun to treat each other not as blacks and whites, but as fellow Americans.”
-from the LBJ and Reagan Libraries
Desegregation of the armed forces did not occur overnight. Between 1948 and 1950, the Army in particular, resisted integration through bureaucratic tactics. General Omar Bradley, Army Chief of Staff, publicly declared “The Army is not out to make any social reforms.”
In opposition, President Truman told the military in January 1949 that he wanted “concrete results…, not publicity on it. I want the job done.” However, it wasn’t until the Korean War began on June 25, 1950 that integration became a battlefield necessity.
At the time of the armistice of July 27, 1953, ninety percent of the army’s units were integrated. On October 30, 1954, the armed services announced the integration of all of its branches.
Here, SFC Jasper and 1st Lt. Posey posing by the flag of their unit, 715th Truck Company, National Guard of Washington D.C., in Korea. The “Blair House” sign is the nickname for their units’ orderly room. December 8, 1951.
Supreme Court Order for Appearance of Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case for school desegregation. From the case file of Brown v. Board of Education. December 3, 1951.
Marshall would later become the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
More - Thurgood Marshall
On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42 year-old woman took a seat near the front of the bus (illustrated in this diagram) on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Before she reached her destination, she quietly set off a social revolution when the bus driver instructed her to move, and she refused. The bus driver called the police and they arrested Rosa Parks, an African American woman of unchallenged character.
The African-American community of Montgomery organized a boycott of the buses in protest of the discriminating treatment they had endured for years. The boycott, under the leadership of 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr., was a peaceful, coordinated protest that lasted 381 days and captured world attention.