Dynamics of Desegregation


Dynamics of Desegregation: With Some Deliberate Speed

With Some Deliberate Speed is part 15 of 15 in the Dynamics of Desegregation series, hosted by Harvard psychology professor Thomas F. Pettigrew. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Pettigrew discuss five stages of desegregation since the Supreme Court decision of 1954. Dynamics of Desegregation, which aired in 1962 and 1963, served as an intensive study of race relations in the United States.

AIRED: February 13, 1963 | 0:29:01

>> "The Dynamics of


[ Glass shatters ]

[ Dramatic music plays ]

>> "Old walls are crumbling

inside and outside us.

And on May 17, 1954,

it happened.

The Supreme Court's decision

about the public schools

left no place from this time on

for any form of legal

segregation in our nation.

It did not come a day too soon.

The world alarm clock

was ringing.

'Now is the time,'

it was warning us,

'to take out of the demagogues'

hands forever a weapon too

dangerous for this atomic age.'"

"Now is the time" -- these words

were written by Lillian Smith,

the noted Southern novelist,

in 1955.

And the Supreme Court

of the United States agreed,

implementing its



The Court ruled in 1955 that

states with school segregation

must end such discrimination

"with all deliberate speed."

This majestic phrase,

"With all deliberate speed,"

has a long legal history.

And its very vagueness

was perhaps deemed a virtue

by the nine unanimous justices,

since it allowed Court control

of desegregation to be guided

by the unfolding events

of the process itself.

Yet the words "deliberate speed"

have obvious dangers when

applied to racial change

in the South.

For as this Dallas Morning News

cartoon illustrates, my native

South is very deliberate in such

matters, but not conspicuous

for its speed.

The pace of desegregation

since 1954 might better be

described as occurring

with some deliberate speed.

If we review these years

carefully, we can delineate

five fairly distinct stages

that the process

has gone through.

First, from 1954 to 1955,

there was the quiet

before the storm.

Next, from 1955 till 1956,

there was the buildup

of segregationist resistance.

A defiant year of violence

and angry mobs marked

the next period, 1956 to 1957.

And following this,

a reconsideration phase set in

for the years 1957 through 1960.

Finally, the stage which is

still unfolding began in 1961 --

a slow but definite

beginning of the end.

Let's look at each

of these periods.

The year following the 1954

ruling of the Supreme Court

was a calm one

throughout the South.

This quiet before the storm

was due in part to the South's

wait-and-see attitude toward

the Court's implementation

order, which was not handed down

until May of 1955.

It was also due to the initially

accepting posture assumed

by most of the South's

political leaders.

It may be hard to remember now,

but the dominant tone in the

politicians in 1954 is typified

by this Southern mayor.

>> I want to say to the press

at this time that

this new court decision

is now the supreme law

of this land.

Whether we agree with it or not,

we must obey it.

And our law-abiding city

will act accordingly.

>> Many observers of the

Southern scene still feel that

this reluctant-but-willing

attitude would have continued

in most of the South

had the Supreme Court rendered a

forceful-implementation order in


Such an order might have set

specific deadlines for the

beginning and the completion

of the racial desegregation

of public schools.

The order could have also

requested the Justice Department

always to act as amicus curiae,

as the friend of the Court,

in all later desegregation

litigation in federal courts.

Had the Court's implementation

order contained these

provisions, we can see now,

in the wisdom of hindsight,

that the process might have been

considerably smoother.

The specific deadlines

would have taken much

of the pressure off of

federal district court judges,

for as this

Memphis Commercial Appeal

cartoon indicates,

the district court judges

were tossed the hot potato.

These men, white Southerners

enmeshed in their home

communities and subject

to the direct pressures

of local segregationists,

have had to bear

most of the burden

of executing the decision.

The consistent use

of the Justice Department

would have further aided these

beleaguered district judges,

would've ensured enforcement aid

from the executive branch

of the government.

And it would've taken some of

the litigation pressure off

of the overtaxed legal staff

of the NAACP.

Instead, the Supreme Court

sought maximum flexibility with

the dangerously vague formula of

"all deliberate speed."

Many Southern segregationists

had feared the Court would set

firm deadlines,

and publicly breathed sighs

of relief when the nebulous

order came down.

"The Court didn't really mean it

after all," contended many


And this misconception

was all they needed to initiate

a massive buildup

of organized resistance.

Ku Klux Klans began to reappear,

and the White Citizens'

Councils, quietly formed in

Mississippi in 1954,

suddenly began spreading

throughout the Deep South

with a pseudo-respectable aura

of manicured Kluxism.

From 1955 to 1956 then,

Southern segregationists

organized themselves for a

determined effort to demonstrate

to all that "deliberate speed"

would have to mean centuries.

And following this buildup

of resistance, the third of our

five stages began -- the defiant

year of 1956 to 1957.

The more violent segregationists

now boldly opposed court orders

with physical

and economic intimidation

throughout much of the South.

You remember the more publicized

outbursts of this stage.

During 1956, there was the mob

of 3,000 which cursed and threw

eggs, rocks, and mud

at Miss Autherine Lucy as she

unsuccessfully attempted to

enter the University of Alabama.

There were the mobs led

by the later-jailed demagogue

John Kasper in Clinton,

Tennessee, that tried

to prevent school desegregation

and finally had to be dispersed

by over 700 police

and National Guardsmen.

In short, as this

Norfolk Guide cartoon shows,

the spirit of '56 was something

less than the spirit of '76.

All of this culminated

in the tragic fall of 1957,

when school desegregation

met mob resistance in Nashville,

Charlotte, and, of course,

Little Rock.

In Nashville,

Hattie Cotton Elementary School,

one of those to be desegregated,

was dynamited.

In Charlotte,

one courageous young girl,

Miss Dorothy Counts,

was greeted with insults,

tossed rocks, and spittle as she

attempted to register in a


high school.

And in Little Rock,

the whole world looked on

with amazement as angry mobs

opposed school desegregation

behind the leadership

of the governor of the state.

As illustrated by these cartoons

inThe Daily Worker,

communist propagandists

had a field day that fall,

for all they had to do was

accurately relate

these racist activities

to the colored peoples

of the world

and describe them as examples

of American democracy in action.

During this tragic period,

the dominant tone

of the South's political leaders

shifted into a posture

almost as defiant as that

of the hate groups themselves.

Listen to our mayor

at this point.

>> The Supreme Court

had no right

to pass such a law against us,

and we don't mean to accept it

down here in our city.

You just couldn't desegregate

our schools without bloodshed.

Our good citizens

will not allow their rights

to be trampled upon.

As far as we're concerned,

nothing's changed here

in race relations,

and nothing's going to change.

>> Little Rock marked

the crest of this type

of hands-on-hips arrogance.

And it swiftly led to a

different mood among the South's

more influential business

leaders -- a different mood that

signaled the beginning

of our fourth stage

of reconsideration.

Religious morality and concern

for American democratic values

undoubtedly motivated many

of these influential Southerners

to reconsider.

But, frankly, the principal

motivation was economic.

Little Rock lost money

and lost opportunities

for future industrial expansion.

Quietly, the self-styled

moderates of the South began

to see that open and bitter

resistance to the desegregation

process was just too expensive

to be allowed to continue.

Behind the scenes,

these anxious businessmen began

to put pressure

on their political leaders

and on their law-enforcement


Now, this is not to imply that

this 1957-through-1960 period

of reconsideration

witnessed no violence.

On the contrary,

there was a considerable --

though ever-declining --

number of burning crosses,

bombs, and beatings

across the region.

But at least token desegregation

was increasingly being viewed

as inevitable.

Now, this growing feeling

of inevitability

was enhanced in February of 1959

when my native state, Virginia,

had to reverse its previous

plans of all-out defiance

and reopen most of its closed

public schools.

Senator Harry Byrd's so-called

"massive resistance"

to the Supreme Court

of the United States was forever

buried in the cold, cold ground

as portrayed by this cartoon

from the St. Petersburg Times.

If any doubts remained

about the inevitability

of the process,

they were dispelled

by the happenings of 1960

that closed this

reconsideration phase.

In February of 1960,

the famous sit-ins began

as a mass movement

when four Negro college

students protested

at a segregated lunch counter of

an F.W. Woolworth store in


Within weeks, this protest form

spread to seven other states,

guided by the nonviolent

philosophy of our guest on this

program, Dr. Martin Luther King.

Unruffled by repeated

rejections of service

and thousands of arrests,

and supported

by effective boycotts

of the segregating merchants

by whole Negro communities,

these determined students

soon accomplished

extensive desegregation

in over 100 Southern cities.

On the school front, violence

burst forth again

in November of 1960

in New Orleans, ushering in our

fifth -- and last -- period,

the beginning of the end.

Now those Southerners

who thought that a Little Rock

could never happen in their city

had to think twice.

Ithad happened again,

and with the same glare

of world publicity

and the same economic

ill effects.

Reconsideration was over.

The great majority

of Southern businessmen

now made up their minds

to prevent those events

from occurring in their cities.

Only in Alabama and Mississippi

did they remain aloof,

still willing to risk violence

to maintain segregation.

1961, the first year of this new

phase, witnessed three major


Without the snarling mobs

of Little Rock and New Orleans,

token public-school

desegregation began

in three of the region's largest

cities, of Atlanta,

Dallas, and Memphis.

And 1961 was the year

Freedom Rides carried direct,

nonviolent protests into the

states that believed the process

would never touch them --

Alabama and Mississippi.

Testing the illegally segregated

terminals of Greyhound and

Trailways, these Freedom Riders

faced a bus burning

near Anniston, Alabama, mobs in

Birmingham and Montgomery,

and hundreds of arrests.

Yet like the sit-iners,

they achieved notable

desegregation advances.

Finally, two Negro students


the University of Georgia

in 1961, initiating

state-university desegregation

in the Deep South.

James Meredith,

an Air Force veteran

and a Negro Mississippian,

met violent resistance

when he attempted to desegregate

his state's university

in September of 1962.

But backed by federal troops,

he succeeded in spite

of a bloody outburst,

which took two lives.

This violent lesson was not lost

on South Carolina, however.

Four months later, Harvey Gantt,

a Negro South Carolinian,

enrolled at state-supported

Clemson College

without disturbance.

And despite the antics of

Governor George Wallace, two

more Negro students desegregated

the University of Alabama

in June of 1963.

But 1963 will go down in history

as the year of tragedy, when

the South's violent tradition

flared up in its ugliest form.

Medgar Evers, the NAACP leader

in Mississippi,

was shot from behind

and killed in Jackson in June.

And similarly,

the late President Kennedy

was shot from behind and killed

in Dallas in November.

Nor did this mark

all of the year's bloodshed.

In September, a Negro church

was bombed in Birmingham, and

four young girls were killed.

This bombing followed months of

tension in this city -- months

marked by then-Police

Commissioner Bull Connor's

fire hoses and police dogs

unleashed upon

Negro demonstrators.

Now, these events have

intensified the struggle

to write Jim Crow's epitaph.

They launched a full-scale Negro

revolution throughout the

nation -- a new Negro insistence

for full rights for all here,


And these events have also

resulted in a major federal

civil-rights bill, which,

while not providing

a definitive solution

to all racial problems,

represents a giant step forward.

And, finally, outside of Alabama

and Mississippi, a changed

political climate is evolving.

Listen to what our mayor

is now saying.

>> My friends, I am pleased

to report we haven't had

any of this race trouble

in our fair and prospering city.

Of course, our colored people

did boycott our stores

for a while.

But now we've begun the

desegregation of our schools

and libraries and all of our

inner-state terminals, and I

suppose soon we'll desegregate

our public parks.

But our good citizens

didn't allow any mobs to form or

trouble to start around these


We're not like Little Rock

or New Orleans.

>> Our friend had gone

full-circle since 1954,

hadn't he?

And so had much

of the influential South.

As this beginning-of-the-end

phase continues on in the '60s,

the inevitability of Jim Crow's

demise becomes still more widely

accepted, even in Alabama and


Gaining this attitude

of inevitability was the problem

of the past decade.

Now tokenism is the problem

of the present decade.

For instance,

the same business leaders

who carefully avoided violence

in Atlanta, Dallas, and Memphis

also carefully avoided

full-scale desegregation too.

Only nine Negro children

were desegregated in Atlanta,

18 in Dallas, and 13 in Memphis.

These leaders are trying to

prevent any decline in their

business, while at the same time

holding the progress

of desegregation

to the absolute minimum.

Most Southern businessmen

have so far been able

to do precisely this.

On the average, since 1954,

each year an increase of only 1%

of the potential

Negro school population

has been able to enter

previously-all-white schools.

And only about a third

of the Southern school districts

with both races have started

any desegregation whatsoever.

Moreover, even this minimum

progress is concentrated

in a few border states.

The future pace of

desegregation, you see,

will be largely determined by

three key factors -- the manner

in which the federal courts

handle these local plans

of extreme gradualism, the

consistent support given

desegregation by the president

and his administration

in Washington, and finally --

and most important of all --

the determination

of Negro Southerners

in pressing the issue.

Listen to how the symbol of the

Negroes' nonviolent protests,

Dr. Martin Luther King,

interprets these factors

and views the future.

>> There can be no gainsaying

of the fact that there is a

crisis in race relations today.

This crisis has been

precipitated to a great extent

by the resistance of many

reactionary elements in the

South to the Supreme Court's

momentous decision of 1954

outlawing segregation

in the public schools.

This resistance has risen

to ominous proportions.

There are still legislative

halls in the South ringing loud

with such words as

"interposition" and


And all of these forces

have conjoined to make

for massive resistance.

In spite of this massive

and determined resistance,

the objective observer must

admit that the old South

has passed away,

never to return again.

Many of the problems

in the South today exist

because there are still

those individuals

who are seeking to perpetuate

a system of human values

that came into being

under a slave-plantation system

and which cannot survive

in a day of democratic


Many forces are at work

breaking down the old system.

For instance, there is a great

deal of industrialization

going on in the South

with a concomitant urbanization.

As this industrialization takes

place, it will inevitably break

down the mores of white


Also hopeful is the fact that

many persons in the white South

are coming to see that bigotry

is costly and bad for business.

There is also the rolling tide

of world opinion.

Within the last few years,

many new, independent nations

have come into being in both

Asia and Africa.

And as these new, independent

nations come into being,

the leaders and the people

are saying that racism and

colonialism must go, and that

they are making it clear that

they will not respect any nation

that will subject a segment

of its citizens

on the basis of race.

And with this rolling tide

of world opinion,

the federal government

will inevitably take a stronger

and more forthright stand in

breaking down the barriers

of racial segregation.

And I think that very few

Southerners enjoy having the

South lumped in the same

category with

the Union of South Africa as a

last refuge of segregated power.

Also hopeful is the fact that

many human-relations agencies

are coming into being.

And there are many persons

in the white South

who have a nagging conscience

concerning this matter.

And they are willing to work in

many ways, sometimes in quiet

and unpublicized ways,

in order to implement

the law of the land.

But probably more than anything

else, the determination

of the Negro himself will break

down the barriers of segregation

and discrimination.

For many years, the Negro

passively accepted and adjusted

to the conditions of segregation

and discrimination.

But today, in many ways,

thousands and thousands of

Negroes are making it clear that

they do not like segregation,

and they are willing to suffer

and sacrifice in order to make

integration a reality.

This is the meaning

of the student movement.

This is the meaning

of the numerous developments

that have taken place

all over the South.

And I think, with all of these

forces working together,

in the not too distant future,

we will be able to see

a desegregated society.

And certainly most of the major

centers and major cities

of the South will be

desegregated in

the not too distant future.

And I am sure that,

after the desegregation process,

we will move on to a thoroughly

integrated society

in the not too distant future.

>> The speed with which

the racial-desegregation process

will proceed is still

an open question, then.

But its direction

and inevitability are not.

The South has chosen

the 20th century and progress.

When faced with a hard choice

between ending its vaunted,

massive resistance to

desegregation or closing its

schools and universities, its

choice has already been made.

As in the cases of Virginia and

Georgia, it surrenders its


And as Dr. King

has just mentioned,

the broad trends of history,

the international pressures

upon our nation,

and our own highest national

and religious ideals

are consistent with the process.

And so, too, are the major

long-term forces

within Southern society itself.

But you might well ask at this

point, how can we be so sure

that the South can adjust

to these sweeping racial


Through its long, tragic

history, has the region

preserved the necessary touch of

humanity to ever achieve a truly

harmonious pattern

of race relations?

Well, let me indicate

an answer to these questions

by telling you of an incident

that occurred in in the little

lumber town of Crossett,

Arkansas, in 1962.

A heavy January snow had halted

a through bus, and the stranded

passengers found that there

was no bus station to help them.

It was closed tight, for

Crossett lies in the

southeastern Black Belt

of Arkansas,

has a long tradition

of racial oppression and

segregation, and had angrily

closed down its bus facilities

rather than have them

desegregated by federal court


The white passengers

managed to get rooms

at the local white hotels.

But there was no Negro hotel,

and the bus had two

Negro passengers --

Mrs. May Lee Johnston and her

2-year-old granddaughter.

Consequently, the bus driver,

Mr. C.C. Barlow, stayed on his

bus throughout two below-zero

nights to keep it warm

for Mrs. Johnston and the child.

During the daytime,

he helped them through the snow

for meals at a Negro restaurant.

The manager of a nearby radio

station heard about the


He came and he visited the

scene, and then he broadcasts

the story.

Calls of help flooded the

station, and dozens of white

and Negro people

hurried to the bus with food

and clothes.

And offers of hospitality

poured in from both races.

A white hotel invited

Mrs. Johnston

and the little girl

to come take a room, regardless.

And a white mother

offered her son's room at home.

Mrs. Johnston,

her granddaughter,

and driver Barlow wearily

trudged off to spend

their third stranded night

in comfort.

Now, I think this little drama

has deep significance

for my native South.

The rash, impulsive first

reactions of the region,

like Crossett's closing

of its bus terminal, are just

that -- rash and impulsive.

But there nevertheless lies

behind these initial acts

a sense of humanity that

is not limited by skin color --

a fifth column of decency

that is betraying racism.

Negro Southerners have spent

their cold, lonely nights on the

bus, though always there were

the white driver Barlows who

suffered with them.

Today, however, their story

is broadcast afar, and the

epitaph for Jim Crow

is being inscribed busily.

And after the first violent

reactions we have been

discussing, the basic humanity

of the South will finally show

itself, unafraid.

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

>> The actor -- Bill Cadmus.

>> "Epitaph for Jim Crow" is a

presentation of the

Commission on Extension Courses,

Harvard University, in

association with

the Lowell Institute Cooperative

Broadcasting Council, WGBH-TV,


>> Studio production costs

were provided in part

with the assistance of grants

from the Anti-Defamation League

of B'nai B'rith;

the Commonwealth School, Boston;

and the Claudia B.

and Maurice L. Stone Foundation.

>> This is NET,

National Educational Television.