The Civil Rights Movement is an unforgettable event that occurred in the United States. Although it lasted more than a decade (1940s-1960s), there were many leaders that contributed with enforcing equal rights for all of the African Americans that they were not already granted. Without the important leaders of this movement, no progress could have been shown and discrimination towards African Americans would have continued for many more years. Every states in the United States had a vast majority of leaders that all struggled with gaining equality and showed others that African Americans were like any other race. This paper aims to focus on the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Florida and what they faced during this time. Not only were the leaders male, but there were also many females who cooperated with men to fight for their rights. Together, the African Americans worked with each other and it took many years until they finally got their fair rights.
Keywords: Civil Rights Movement, African Americans, leaders, Florida
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During the 20th century, specifically in the 1940s-1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was occurring in the United States. African Americans struggled for equality during that time and there were many leaders that are known like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks for example, who made an impact and fought to get equal rights for African Americans.. However, in each state there were also many more leaders that might not have had an impact nationwide, but they each individually took action in their state and made a difference. Some of these took action prior to the civil rights movement but it influenced other to take action during the civil rights movement and some went into the civil rights movement already making changes.
Harry T. Moore
Harry T. Moore was born on November 18, 1905 in Houston, Florida. He was the first president of the Florida Conference of NAACP branches. During the Civil Rights Movement, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) took action in helping with the situation that African Americans were in. One of the problems that this organization wanted to solve was the one about African Americans and their voting rights. In 1944, the NAACP won a case which followed with the Supreme Court allowing African Americans to have a voice in politics and were granted voting rights. After this case, Henry T. Moore took his role as a leader and made sure that African Americans took this opportunity to go to polls and vote (Emmons, 1997, p.234). Moore would tell the African Americans to vote using his slogan “A Voteless Citizen Is a Voiceless Citizen,” and in no time, it was noticeable that many of them were voting. In Miami and Daytona Beach many African Americans had voted but in other places in Florida, they were not allowed to vote. This made Moore and many others take action and they formed an organization called the Progressive Voters’ League (Emmons, 1991, p.235). Through this organization, Moore and the other leaders listed their goals and did what they could to accomplish those goals that dealt with voting rights. Two years after the Supreme Court ruling, the quantity of African Americans enlisted to cast a ballot had dramatically increased from 20,000 to 48,157. In 1950 there were 166,145 African Americans enrolled to cast a ballot, or 31.7 percent who qualified. The rate was 50 percent higher than the other Southern states. In addition to Moore’s success in empowering expansive numbers of African Americans to enroll, he had the capacity to register noteworthy quantities of voters in rural areas, where terrorizing by whites was most noteworthy (Whorley, 1994 p. 201).
Not only did Moore help with voting rights, but he also contributed with raising the salary of African American teachers, since during that time white educators were paid more. As Whorley states (1994), “In the mid 1940s, Moore became a pioneer in the struggle to establish the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ for Florida’s black teachers.” African American teachers only earned 48 percent of the salaries of the white teachers in 1937. This resulted in Moore filing the first lawsuit about this situation. Between the year 1936-1950, over thirty lawsuits were filed in the South against neighborhood school locale to acquire equal pay. However, school superintendents saw that they could prevent these suits by firing the teachers who threatened to file a suit. In June, 1946, Moore and his wife were advised that their agreements with the Brevard County School District would not be restored. All things considered, Moore’s endeavors were effective for other people, notwithstanding himself. By 1950 African American instructors earned 86 percent of the pay rates of white educators in Florida, a standout amongst the most great gains in the South (Whorley, 1994 p.200).
There were many African American women activists during the Civil Rights Movement who also made an impact. They made instructive chances and impacted government strategy; many worked inside the framework, others regardless of it. Also, some were more outspoken than others. However, the African American women all tested the framework and were ace dynamic in addressing the necessities of the African American community and calling attention to the white people the imbalances of segregation, racism, and discrimination. These female activists and community pioneers filled in as strenuously and contributed a lot in enhancing the state of African American Floridians as did African American men (Jones, 1999 p.476).
Two women who showed how they fought for their rights in the year 1956, were Carrie Patterson and Wilhelmina Jakes. As mentioned by Jones (1999) they “inadvertently catapulted the state of Florida into a new phase of the struggle for first class citizenship.” Both women were students at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). When they were on the bus, they refused to leave the only unoccupied seats and go to the “colored” section which is what they were told to do by the bus driver. Patterson and Jakes did not want to be humiliated in public so they said they would leave if they got their money back. The bus driver did not return their fares and called the police instead. Both women were arrested for “placing self position to incite a riot” (Jones, 1999, p. 495). Students at FAMU noticed the bravery that these young women portrayed and they organized a boycott of the City Transit Company to confront the seating policy between whites and African Americans. The boycott was successful and the bus company changed its seating policy.
Moreover, the sisters Patricia and Priscilla Stephens (also FAMU students) showed no fear in challenging segregation. Both sisters assembled a branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, at their campus. In February 1960, 11 students who included Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, Mary Gaines, Barbara Broxton, and Angelina Nelson organized a sit-in in Downtown Woolworth. These women were arrested for interrupting the peace of the community and for provoking a riot. All of them were found guilty on March 17, and were sentenced for 60 days behind bars or they were charged three-hundred dollars. Six of the students were released by paying the fines or by getting appealed. However, the rest of them including Patricia and Priscilla Stephens chose to stay in jail for the sixty days. They were supported by their parents and since they would be there they would miss out on school. Patricia Stephens mentioned that their parents offered to pay the money to set them free but she said that if the fine were to be paid, it would be like supporting segregation. Staying in jail was a way in which they could show their braveness towards segregation with African Americans. Only forty nine days were spent in jail until the students were set free on May 5, 1960. Many people throughout the nation were amazed with the determination that these students showed towards ending discrimination. “They gained national attention and soon after their release embarked on a national tour” (Jones, 1999, p.497). These two women went through a lot during their time, and it wasn’t just them because any others suffered the way they did. They were spit on, called a “nigger,” put in jail and dragged across the streets. “But none was as humiliating as the second-class citizenship that sentenced them to a life of inferiority” (Jones, 1994, p. 497). Apart from the Stephen sisters, many African American females from FAMU and other schools came forth as powerful fighters for equal rights in education, politics, and economy for the rest of the African Americans.
Another African American woman, C. Bette Wimbish was also a civil rights activist. She showed her efforts in the way she fought through segregation and discrimination. It was a difficult time for her and it angered her when she had to explain to her kids why it was that they could not enjoyt a simple ice cream at a drugstore in downtown St. Petersburg. Wimbish organized sit-ins at counters in downtown and to her it was a “frightening experience” because there were threats of violence, “But it was a thing that had to be done” (Jones, 1999, p.501). In 1960, she ran for a position in the school board of Pinellas County and many people burned crosses on her lawn. This did not stop her, instead it made her more eager to end the racial discrimination towards African Americans, open up the opportunities of her race, and have fair rights for them as well. Wimbish was the first African American who got to be a part of the St. Petersburg City Council in the year 1969. While a part of the council, she was able to better the situation in African American communities and help get rid of unjust laws. Through her years she was able to demonstrate her courageousness and how she fought through her fears during the civil rights movement.
Leaders in Miami
In Miami, there were many civil rights activists who struggled during the civil rights movement and tried to help stop the injustice. It was seen by many people that Miami was not a city where there was segregation present. There were many tourists that went to Miami and it seemed like there were many different races. The city leaders of Miami wanted to portray the image of Miami being a “tropical paradise (Rose, 2007, p.44). However, this city was no tropical paradise, as Jim Crow conditions were used in contrary of African Americans like in any other parts of Florida. African Americans had to sit (or stand) in the seats at the back of the bus, use separate water fountains, attend different schools from whites, and live in inadequate houses. Many leaders of organizations like Brownsville Improvement Association (BIA), the Dade County Negro Teachers’ Association, and the Negro Service Council (NSC) struggled for racial equality. The leaders promoted voting and led voter registration drives and also protested racial segregation (Rose, 2007, p.47). The actions of these leaders built a foundation of communication between other African American activists that was essential during the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
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Theodore R. Gibson was a priest at Christ Episcopal Church in Coconut Grove and Edward T. Graham was a pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Miami. Both of these men saw African American churches as institutions that “must lend itself to responsibilities outside of the formal sanctuary worship” (Rose, 2007, p.48). Graham and Gibson were involved in the church because it was noticeable that whites only listened to African American ministers. They both wanted to speak against racism and see if they could make a difference. Graham and Gibson partnered up and petitioned to the Dade County School Board for refinements in schools where African Americans attended because they were in poor condition. Graham and Gibson told the board members how there were many African Americans who could not keep their patience and were tired of the way they were treated and wanted to take action. Both men had alliances with the BIA organization and together they fought against racial inequality.
Grattan Ellesmere (G.E.) Graves was a man who had graduated from Howard University Law School and his arrival in 1946 had a major impact in Miami. He opposed segregation and wanted to change the inequality that African Americans had. Graves showed his efforts in trying to receive access to public places like the public library in the downtown of Miami and the Orange Bowl. This lead to the Ku Klux Klan sending death threats to Graves for taking action like this. He was described as “a militant lawyer who has contributed much to the making of justice and fair play in this city” (Rose, 2007, p.50).
Jews and African Americans worked together to end segregation, which was something that they struggled with in Miami. On April 15, 1959, two Jews and two African Americans (CORE workers) went to eat at the Woolworth store on Flagler street. Shirley Zoloth and Alice Barr sat down in seats that were free and the other two, Milton Zoloth and Ishmael Howard sat in seats that were farther away. They were not attended by any waitresses and they said that the waitresses left out of nowhere. The assistant manager then came to tell them that “they did not serve colored here.” The four of them wanted to see the store manager but they were told that he was not available. They talked with the assistant manager about CORE’s objectives and “gave him a copy of CORE’s leaflet” and left, but said they would be back (Mohl, 1999, p.3). Although these four activists were told that they could not be served, they showed bravery in telling the assistant manager about CORE and showed him how it was unfair. These may not be considered leaders, but they showed their struggles and how they confronted them during this time which many other African Americans had to deal with but were afraid.
Conclusion and Future Study
African Americans struggled during the civil rights movement throughout the United States. Florida was inhabited with many African Americans and they had to fight for justice and put an end with segregation. African Americans suffered throughout the years with the disrespect of whites. Jim Crow laws did not let them share public places or education with the whites because of their color. This is why there were many civil rights activists who could not wait and had to do something so that this could come to an end. It was not an easy journey for African Americans, but together they sought to make a difference. Both men and women showed efforts in eliminating racial injustice in Florida. Women had as much of an impact as men did. They went through a lot but showed that they did not give up because they wanted to see the impact that they were willing to make. Many of the African Americans were put in jail or were threatened many times by the Ku Klux Klan, but this did stop them. The leaders of the civil right movement did not have to make a big impact. Small actions that they took showed already they they were a leader and influenced other to do the same. By the research that was done, it was shown that in Florida, many African Americans who people may not even know of, went through many obstacles to gain equality. In the future, more research can be done about leaders in other states in the United States during the civil right movement.
- Emmons, C. (1997). “Somebody Has Got to do that Work:” Harry T. Moore and the Struggle for African-American Voting Rights in Florida. The Journal of Negro History, 82(2), 232-243.
- Jones, M. (1999). “Without Compromise or Fear”: Florida’s African American Female Activists. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 77(4), 475-502.
- Rose, C. (2007). The “Jewel” of the South?: Miami, Florida and the NAACP’s Struggle for Civil Rights in America’s Vacation Paradise. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 86(1), 39-69.
- Mohl, R. (1999). “South of the South?” Jews, Blacks, and the Civil Rights Movement in Miami, 1945-1960. Journal of American Ethnic History, 18(2), 3-36. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27502414
- Whorley, T. (1994). Harry Tyson Moore: A Soldier for Freedom. The Journal of Negro History, 79(2), 197-211.
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