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Tag: segregation

Executive Order 9981: Equality in the military

Cast your vote for Executive Order 9981 to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Today’s post comes from Tammy Williams, archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

President Harry S. Truman spent his entire young adulthood in Missouri, a border state during the Civil War. Both of his sets of grandparents owned slaves. Many voters and politicians believed that Truman would carry his region’s prejudices to the White House and would do comparatively little to advance the cause of civil rights. And so Truman’s decision to issue Executive Order 9981 to provide for equality of treatment and opportunity in the military surprised many people.

What led President Truman to this decision? As African American soldiers returned to the United States from fighting overseas in World War II, they hoped to return to a more equitable society. However, many soldiers experienced openly hostile reactions from white Southerners as they wore their uniforms in their hometowns.

Two such cases made national headlines. In Aiken, South Carolina, a bus driver kicked Sergeant Isaac Woodward off a bus for allegedly being disruptive, and a police officer beat him and gouged out his eyes, blinding him. In Monroe, Georgia, a group of white men dragged two soldiers and their wives from a car and shot them.

In September 1946, shortly … [ Read all ]

Honoring the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”

Today’s post comes to us from Michael Hussey, education and exhibition specialist at the National Archives.(He’s also a speaker at tonight’s program!)

Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913. In honor of her centennial, “Public Law 106-26, An Act to authorize the President to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Rosa Parks in recognition of her contributions to the Nation,” is on display at the National Archives until February 28.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks went as usual to her job as a seamstress.  By the time she returned home, her role as an enduring symbol of the African American civil rights movement had begun.

Seamstress Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus on December 1, 1955, after her day’s work. The driver ordered her to move to the back to make room for white passengers, in compliance with the state’s racial segregation law.  She refused, and her arrest sparked a successful boycott of Montgomery buses (led by 26-year-old minister Martin Luther King, Jr.) that led to their integration. Her courageous act at a pivotal moment in the American struggle for racial equality led some to name her the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In 1999, Congress authorized President Clinton to bestow upon her its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.  At the medal … [ Read all ]

March on Washington: A. Philip Randolph

This coming Sunday is the dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial on the National Mall. It’s also the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, when King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to the assembled thousands.

As I looked at the program from the day and then at some group photographs, I started to wonder about the other men who were part of the events. I picked a name from the group—A. Philip Randolph—and searched our Online Public Access engine. I quickly realized I knew nothing of a man who had been active in civil rights and labor for a long time before August 28, 1963.

Mary Graves Reyneau painted Randolph’s portrait as part of a series called “Portraits of Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin,” commissioned by the Harmon Foundation. The original 22 portraits were exhibited at the Smithsonian and later around the country. The depiction of Randolph was displayed in the company of portraits of Mary McLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, and W.E.B. DuBois two decades before the March on Washington.

Randolph was an influential man who had organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. The Pullman Company began to negotiate with the unionized porters in 1935, but it was not until 1937 that a contract was reached. Randolph was used to hard work and to waiting for results—but he was also skilled at organizing and rallying.

In 1946, Randolph … [ Read all ]