Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.
From the outbreak of war in Europe to the chants of black power in Mississippi, Episode 5: Rise! (1940 – 1968), told the story of how African Americans came together in a mass movement for freedom. During World War II, black citizens used the rallying cry of patriotism to demand both victory abroad and victory at home over racism. However, Jim Crow followed black soldiers overseas, while the South’s commitment to white supremacy only grew deeper.
But the mobilization of black veterans and activists fueled new possibilities. Shortly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision struck down segregation, black men and women in Montgomery took to the streets, demanding an end to racial discrimination on the city’s buses.
With Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) serving key leadership roles, nonviolent protests and voter registration drives spread across the South.
The brutal retaliation against protesters was broadcast into America’s living rooms. For the first time since Reconstruction, the federal government stood to protect the civil rights of black Americans. As nonviolence and federal action failed to uproot black poverty and exclusion, a rising consciousness of black power in the late sixties pushed the freedom struggle in new directions.
Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center, Graduate Intern