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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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A National Struggle

Introduction The President The Congress The Supreme Court

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The Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations (1921-1932) further alienated blacks from American politics, refusing to endorse anything related to civil rights. President Harding continued Wilson's policies of federal segregation, and his Justice department did nothing to investigate lynchings or the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. President Coolidge condoned the Republican ideal of a "lily white" party, further alienating black Americans, and declared that the federal government should not interfere with local race issues. The complicity of Republicans and Democrats on race was complete. President Hoover excluded blacks from federal offices and executive departments, and his administration would not allow blacks to work on federal construction jobs.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Newspaper headline
President Harry Truman

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman and a headline from a black daily heralding President Truman's order to desegregate the U.S. armed forces.
The administration of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) was initially a continuation of the "gentleman's agreement" within the Democratic party that Northern Democrats would not interfere in race issues on the behalf of black Americans. To ensure the passage of New Deal legislation, Roosevelt could not afford to offend Southern Democrats by challenging the white supremacist system of Jim Crow. Roosevelt did not publicly support civil rights for blacks, and his administration was silent on the issue until the late 1930s, when the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, began to speak up on behalf of black Americans. Without her persistent influence, the goals of civil rights and New Deal legislation would never have converged.

The attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) had a unifying effect on the United States, creating a national attitude in favor of ensuring freedom for people all over the world, including at home. A. Philip Randolph, a black leader and coordinator of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, threatened to organize a March on Washington, D.C. if Roosevelt did not do something to curb the discriminatory hiring practices of the National Defense Program. To avoid the embarrassment of a racial protest in the nation's capital, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941, which established the Fair Employment Practices Committee and mandated race-blind hiring by defense organizations. This change in attitude, influenced by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Pearl Harbor attack, and America's economic recovery during the War, allowed Roosevelt to implement more civil rights assistance for blacks.

President Harry Truman (1945-1953), though largely uninterested in an interracial society, issued Executive Orders 9980 and 9981, which ensured equal treatment for blacks in federal jobs and integrated the military forces, respectively. Truman was horrified to learn of brutal lynchings that were continuing in the South, and this influenced him to become the first U.S. President to address the NAACP and to make strong public statements on behalf of civil rights for black Americans. At the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Truman endorsed a strong civil rights platform, confirming the shift of the Democratic party from a Southern, white supremacist organization to a predominantly Northern, liberal party. Southern Democrats (self-termed as Dixiecrats) were so offended by the integration of the party that some walked out of the convention, led by Strom Thurmond. Though Truman was limited in his actual support of blacks, he strongly believed that the role of the federal government was to protect its citizens, of all races.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower strongly believed that race relations would only be improved when whites wanted to accept blacks. He did not condone forcing whites to treat blacks differently, and was reluctant to take any specific action in support of black Americans. Eisenhower, however, made a pivotal decision in appointing Earl Warren to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1953. He unwittingly strengthened the Supreme Court in a way that made subsequent victories for civil rights possible. The Court's ruling on Brown v. Board (1954) made discrimination and segregation in education on the basis of race illegal, rendering Jim Crow schools unconstitutional. The resistance and outrage of Southern whites to the Court's decision forced Eisenhower to use federal military power to ensure the safety of black students who integrated Little Rock's Central High School. Eisenhower was surprised by the reaction to desegregation attempts, and called for passage of a Civil Rights Bill of 1957, which though watered down by the Senate, was a major step in pursuit of federal legislation that would end Jim Crow intimidation and segregation that persisted in the South.

President John F. Kennedy (1961-63) was more openly supportive of black civil rights leaders than his predecessors, and appointed several blacks to government posts. He created a Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, chaired by then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, to monitor government agencies' efforts to hire and promote blacks. President Kennedy's appointment of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, as U.S. Attorney General facilitated action by the Justice Department in prosecuting those that attempted to deprive blacks of their voting rights. President Kennedy addressed the nation on television in 1963 to confront the issue of racial discrimination and emphasized the commitment of all three branches of the federal government in supporting civil rights, the strongest statement made by a President in several administrations.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was the most effective in the fight to end Jim Crow. President Johnson had a long history of working towards civil rights for blacks, having also worked towards the passage of the less effective Civil Rights Act of 1957. Johnson had become more personally committed to the cause of civil rights, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 strengthened his resolve to realize the ideals set forth by the administration. He worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, rendering all Jim Crow statutes illegal. Nearly a hundred years after 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, all citizens, regardless of race, could reap the benefits.

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Historical Documents
See the executive order President Franklin Roosevelt issued to end discriminatory hiring practices within the defense industry and government.
Related Pages
The Congress

The Supreme Court

Democratic Party

Republican Party

Ku Klux Klan

A. Philip Randolph

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

Proposed March on Washington

U.S. Enters World War II

Walter White

Harry S Truman Supports Civil Rights

Brown v. Board of Education

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