Brown vs. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision overturning “separate but equal” as unconstitutional, stating that segregation in public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment.
Four years earlier, members of the Topeka, Kansas, Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine governing public education through a class action suit when they were denied the opportunity to enroll their children in the white-only schools.
When the Topeka case made its way to the United States Supreme Court it was combined with other NAACP cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. The combined cases became known as Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka (KS).
You can see the original Complaint against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Court Order, and correspondences between President Eisenhower about Brown vs. Board of Education from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Papers as President here.
Pictured: Supreme Court Opinion of Brown vs. Board of Education, pages 1-3. 5/31/55.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This decision would not only integrate baseball, but would help the country work to achieve equal rights for all. Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented to baseball pitcher Don Newcombe, “Don, you and Jackie will never know how easy you made my job, through what you went through on the baseball field.”
Before becoming famous, Lt. Jack R. Robinson was court-martialed at Camp Hood, Texas, because he refused to move to the back of the bus after being told to do so by a bus driver and disobeying an order from a superior officer. Robinson was acquitted of all charges and received an honorable discharge, but this was not the only experience he would have in fighting discrimination.
After retiring from baseball, Robinson turned much of his attention to civil rights issues. He wrote to several Presidents about the cause, and even attended the March on Washington.
Many of these milestone events from Robinson’s life are documented in primary sources from the National Archives.
Today in History — Marian Anderson Concert at the Lincoln Memorial
On April 9,1939, 75,000 people attended Marian Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio.
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.
The DAR’s refusal to grant Marian Anderson the use of Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt’s resignation from the DAR in protest, and the resulting concert at the Lincoln Memorial combined into a watershed moment in civil rights history, bringing national attention to the country’s color barrier as no other event had previously done.
Mrs. Roosevelt and Marian Anderson remained friends for the rest of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life. Marian Anderson continued to sing in venues around the world, including singing the National Anthem at President Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961. She died in 1993 at the age of 96.
Photo: 75,000 People Gather to Hear Singer Marian Anderson in Potomac Park, 4/9/39.
-from the FDR Library
Marian Anderson was born on this day, February 27, 1897. The internationally renowned contralto opera singer sang the National Anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
Twenty two years earlier, Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial marked a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. Learn more about the concert, and the friendship between Anderson and Eleanor Roosevelt here.
Photo: President Kennedy with Marian Anderson and her accompanist Franz Rupp in the Oval Office, White House. 3/22/62.
-from the JFK Library
“We sincerely appreciate the many true Americans who insist on equal rights for all.”
Telegram to the White House, August 13, 1957
Jack Roosevelt Robinson (1919-72) was the first black man to “officially” play in the big leagues in the 20th century. In the course of a distinguished 10-year career beginning in 1947, Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to six National League titles and one victorious World Series.
Beyond his many and baseball feats, Jackie Robinson went on to champion the cause of civil rights when he retired from the game. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson all received candid correspondence from Robinson on the need to act for civil rights.
Our holdings at the Presidential Libraries and National Archives include numerous records relating to Jackie Robinson. You can see a number of the telegrams and letters Robinson sent to the White House here.
Image: Telegram to the White House from Jackie Robinson regarding the 1957 Civil Rights Act from the Eisenhower Library.
January 31, 1919 - October 24, 1972
1964 Presidential Campaign - Civil Rights and the South
It was October 1964, and the November Presidential election was looming as parts of the country still seethed over the Civil Rights Act President Lyndon B. Johnson had signed into law just a few months earlier.
Many white southerners and politicians considered the law an assault on their long-established way of life. Southern Democrats threatened to bolt as racial politics threatened to splinter the party and cost Johnson the election.
It was during this tumultuous time that Lady Bird Johnson embarked on perhaps her most difficult assignment as First Lady. In a four-day, 1,628-mile trip aboard a train dubbed the Lady Bird Special, the First Lady traveled through eight southern states.
This was the first time a First Lady campaigned on her own for her husband and she championed the new legislation that eliminated “Jim Crow” laws and guaranteed African Americans access to all public accommodations and the right to equal employment opportunities.
Along the way, Mrs. Johnson was met with invective that no First Lady has experienced since. But the ultimate success of the trip, as she defended the need for the Civil Rights Act, was a testament to Lady Bird’s spirit and stoicism.
While she loved her role as First Lady, she wrote at the end of her tenure, “I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience. But not for anything would I pay for the price of admission again.”
Images: “Please don’t forget to vote” Postcard, 1964 ; Lady Bird Johnson on her Whistle Stop Tour. 10/6/64.
Eisenhower Dispatches Federal Troops to Enforce Desegregation
On September 24, 1957, The Little Rock Nine attended their first full day of classes after President Eisenhower ordered the dispatch of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army to ensure the students’ safety and to uphold the law of the Supreme Court.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education that segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African-American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The ensuing struggle between segregationists and integrationists, the State of Arkansas and the federal government, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, has become known in modern American history as the “Little Rock Crisis.” The crisis gained world-wide attention. When Governor Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High School to keep the nine students from entering the school, President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock.
The manuscript holdings of the Eisenhower Presidential Library contain a large amount of documentation on this historic test of the Brown vs. Topeka ruling and school integration. See selections from the digital catalog here.
Photo: Little Rock Nine escorted into Central High School by U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division soldiers. Courtesy of Central High Museum Historical Collections.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Today in history, The Japanese-American Internment Compensation Bill is Signed by President Ronald Reagan.
In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which was used almost exclusively to intern Americans of Japanese descent. By 1943, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans had been forced from their homes and moved to camps.
Forty-six years later, on August 10, 1988, President Reagan signed the Japanese-American Internment Compensation Bill. The bill acknowledged the injustice of the internment, apologized for it, and provided a $20,000 cash payment to each person who was interned.
Pictured above: First-grade children of Japanese ancestry during flag pledge ceremony at a public school in San Francisco prior to internment. 4/20/42
Below: President Reagan signs the Reparations Bill for Japanese-Americans in the Old Executive Office Building. 8/10/88
On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This draft of the VRA demonstrates a part of the legislative process in which different versions of the bill from the two houses, in this case H.R. 6400 and S. 1564, are reconciled as one bill and then passed by both houses.
Engrossed Copy of H.R. 6400, 7/9/1965, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (ARC 5637803)