Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Reginald K. Ellis, and Peter B. Levy, eds. The Seedtime, the Work and the Harvest: New Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle in America. University of Florida Press, 2018.
This volume's contributors expand the chronology and geography of the black freedom struggle beyond the traditional emphasis on the Jim Crow South and the years between 1954 and 1968. Beginning as far back as the nineteenth century, and analyzing case studies from southern, northern, and border states, the essays in The Seedtime, the Work, and the Harvest incorporate communities and topics not usually linked to the African American civil rights movement. The collection opens with a biographical sketch of Thomas DeSaille Tucker, an educational pioneer who served as the first president of Florida State Normal and Industrial School for Colored Students. It then highlights the work of black women, including Bostonian publisher Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, who defied local governments during the Progressive Era by disseminating medical information and providing access to medical professionals. Next, the collection explores the life and work of Norfolk civil rights attorney James F. Gay, who helped to democratize the political establishment in Virginia’s largest city but became a victim of his own success. The collection then moves to York, Pennsylvania, to examine a 1969 riot that went mostly unnoticed until the town's mayor was charged--more than thirty years later--with the riot-related murder of Lillie Belle Allen. Also featured is an essay examining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's "Food for Freedom" campaign that aimed to complement voter registration work in Mississippi by providing everyday sustenance to African Americans. Addressing more recent issues, this volume considers the politics of public memory in Baltimore, Maryland, a city divided by racial "riots" in 1968 and in 2015. It then examines the Black Lives Matter movement that gained international attention for its response to Michael Brown's death at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the Sandra Bland Movement inspired by the arrest of Bland and her subsequent death in the Waller County jail in rural Texas. These chapters connect the activism of today—shaped in so many ways by social media, student activism, and grassroots organization—to a deeply historical, wide-ranging fight for equality.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, eds. “The Enemy Within Never Did Without”: German and Japanese Prisoners of War at Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945. Texas Review Press, 2015.
Camp Huntsville was one of the earliest and largest Prisoner of War camps constructed in the United States during World War II. Located roughly eight miles east of Huntsville, Texas, in rural Walker County, the camp was built in 1942 and opened for prisoners the following year. The camp served as a model site for POW installations across the country and set a high standard for the treatment of prisoners.Between 1943 and 1945, the camp housed roughly 4,700 German POWs and experienced tense relations between incarcerated Nazi and anti-Nazi factions. Then, during the last months of the war, the American military selected Camp Huntsville as the home of its top-secret re-education program for Japanese POWs. The irony of teaching Japanese prisoners about democracy and voting rights was not lost on African Americans in East Texas who faced disenfranchisement and racial segregation. Nevertheless, the camp did inspire some Japanese prisoners to support democratization of their home country when they returned to Japan after the war. Meanwhile, in this country, the US government sold Camp Huntsville to Sam Houston State Teachers College in 1946, and the site served as the school’s Country Campus through the mid-1950s.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford. Elusive Equality: Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk's Public Schools. University of Virginia Press, 2012.
In Elusive Equality, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford place Norfolk, Virginia, at the center of the South's school desegregation debates, tracing the crucial role that Norfolk’s African Americans played in efforts to equalize and integrate the city’s schools. The authors relate how local activists participated in the historic teacher-pay-parity cases of the 1930s and 1940s, how they fought against the school closures and "Massive Resistance" of the 1950s, and how they challenged continuing patterns of discrimination by insisting on crosstown busing in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the advances made by local activists, however, Littlejohn and Ford argue that the vaunted "urban advantage" supposedly now enjoyed by Norfolk’s public schools is not easy to reconcile with the city’s continuing gaps and disparities in relation to race and class.
In analyzing the history of struggles over school integration in Norfolk, the authors scrutinize the stories told by participants, including premature declarations of victory that laud particular achievements while ignoring the larger context in which they take place. Their research confirms that Norfolk was a harbinger of national trends in educational policy and civil rights.
Drawing on recently released archival materials, oral interviews, and the rich newspaper coverage in the Journal and Guide, Virginian-Pilot, and Ledger-Dispatch, Littlejohn and Ford present a comprehensive, multidimensional, and unsentimental analysis of the century-long effort to gain educational equality. A historical study with contemporary implications, their book offers a balanced view based on a thorough, sober look at where Norfolk’s school district has been and where it is going.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Historian and Activist: Joseph Lynn Clark and the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation,” East Texas Historical Journal vol. 57, no. 2 (2019): 79-125. Full Text.
Winner of the C.K. Chamberlain Award (2020) from the East Texas Historical Association for the best article appearing in the East Texas Historical Journal.
As a native Texan and state historian, Joseph Lynn Clark (1881-1969) knew more about the racial tensions that plagued the Lone Star State than just about anyone in the white community. After a decade of teaching at Sam Houston State Normal College in Huntsville, Texas, Clark helped found the Texas Commission on Interracial Cooperation (TCIC) in 1920. The group aimed to foster dialog between white and black Texas. As a result, Clark participated in anti-lynching efforts, public health campaigns, and educational programs to build trust between whites and blacks and to help ameliorate the worst problems that African American faced in Texas. Yet, it would be wrong to suggest that he advocated anything resembling true equality between the races. On the contrary, like the majority of Southern liberals of his generation, Clark channeled his religious and democratic ideals into a paternalistic form of managed race relations that was intended to soften the rough edges of Jim Crow without fundamentally challenging the system. From Clark's point of view, white supremacy and segregation were simply unquestioned, natural facts of life, which defined the place of whites and blacks in Southern society. At the same time, however, he and many of the other Christian, civically-minded whites associated with the TCIC believed that segregation required an intermediary group that could serve as both a link between the races and a force to “perfect” Jim Crow. Clark and his allies hoped that their actions as members of such a group could help bridge the gap between the realities of the Jim Crow system and the rhetoric that was used to justify it. Only then, they believed, could whites and blacks “live in friendliness and mutual respect,” leaving the controversial issue of segregation to be settled through “the wisdom and justice of oncoming generations.”
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn with Charles H. Ford, Jami Horne, and Briana Weaver, “The Cabiness Family Lynching: Race, War, and Memory in Walker County, Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol. 122, no. 1 (July 2018): 1-30. Full Text.
Winner of the H. Bailey Carroll Award (2019) from the Texas State Historical Association for the Best Article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly.
Winner of the Special Award for Research and Writing on Texas in World War I (2018) from the Texas State Historical Association .
“I don't know for sure that this is true,” Thomas Anders, a native of Walker County, Texas, reported in his manuscript, Memoirs of a Country Boy, “but I heard that there were two colored brothers who supposedly roughed up one of the members of the Draft Board ... during World War I.” The black youngsters intended to teach the local draft officer a lesson, but, before they could, “a bunch of [white] men ... went out to where the brothers lived, and ... shot ’em.” It was a brutal killing, Anders recalled. The white mob “forced ’em into the[ir] house” and “burned the[ir] whole family—men, women, and children.” The murder of the Cabiness family proved so traumatic, in fact, that, even years after the event, “old colored men” on the Huntsville square continued to talk about the ill-fated brothers and their lingering ghosts.
Anders’s recounting of the Cabiness family lynching near Huntsville, Texas, covers the event like a shroud, revealing the broad outline of the story, but concealing its true horror. A white mob in Walker County did, indeed, target and kill George Cabiness, his mother Sarah, and four of his siblings between May 30 and June 1, 1918. Although the Walker County sheriff, Tom E. King, the Huntsville city marshal, C. B. Birmingham, and the Dodge, Texas, justice of the peace, Sam Roark, were all identified as members of the mob, these law enforcement officers did nothing to prevent the burning of the Cabiness home or the murder of its inhabitants. Not only does Anders’s narrative miss this important fact, laying blame for the event on the Cabiness boys themselves, but it, like contemporary news stories and more recent reference articles, fails to place the lynching in historical context or to explain who the victims and perpetrators of the crime actually were. So, even now, one hundred years after the events of 1918, the facts and figures involved in the Cabiness lynching remain a mystery.
This article seeks to move beyond the vague memories and deliberate silences that have surrounded the Cabiness lynching by providing the first in-depth study of the crime based on archival research. The authors of this article have examined hundreds of pages of census records, court reports, property deeds, and newspaper stories while also consulting a half-a-dozen local authorities on Walker County history. The result is a story that stretches from the antebellum days in Walker County, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and on to World War I and the” Red Summer” of 1919. It is a story about black slavery and white supremacy, about the search for freedom and the limits of democracy, and, most of all, it is a story about African American agency and white violence in the New South at the turn of the twentieth century.
Ervin Malakaj, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, Kimberly Bell, Patrick J. Lewis, and Julia D. May, “Teaching an Honors Seminar on #BlackLivesMatter in East Texas,” Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, vol. 18, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017): 3-15. Full Text.
In spring 2017, Ervin Malakaj (Assistant Professor of German) and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn (Professor of History) led a Difficult Dialogues seminar on #BlackLivesMatter for Sam Houston State University (SHSU) Honors College. The seminar considered the complex historical, economic, and cultural forces that produced the movement along with the various responses to it. By mid-semester, however, the course had become a target for fake news blogs and websites. Critics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement attempted to portray the course as a propagandistic endeavor intended to force a left-wing ideology upon unwilling students who had reluctantly enrolled in the course in order to receive scholarship money from taxpayer funds. Media responses mischaracterized the institutional parameters governing the course as well as the course aims. Consequently, Malakaj (as the instructor of record), the SHSU Honors College, and university administrators were all contacted by various interest groups angered by the news. Donors threatened to withdraw donations to the university. Students who had been accepted for admission and had declared that they would matriculate the following fall threatened to withdraw their initial intent to attend the university. At the same time, however, the course instructors and the university received a great deal of support. We provide here an outline of the institutional parameters within which the course was offered, the pedagogical aims and content of the course, and an examination of the public and university response to the fake news story. Our goal is to offer a case study that will benefit honors colleges considering similar course programs as well as those having dealt with or anticipating negative public responses to sensitive programming.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Booker T. Washington High School: History, Identity, and Educational Equity in Norfolk, Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography vol. 124, no. 2 (2016): 134-162. Full Text.
In the early 1990s, historian Earl Lewis showed the centrality of Norfolk’s Booker T. Washington High School for working class African Americans in Hampton Roads, Virginia, between the 1920s and 1950s, but there is no similar study that carries the Booker T. story into the civil rights era. In fact, there are few in-depth community studies in general that present the multifaceted role that African Americans played as they confronted official attempts to equalize and integrate their schools. This essay draws inspiration from those pioneering works that do exist, including David Cecelski’s Along Freedom Road, Vanessa Walker’s Their Highest Potential, and Jack Dougherty’s More Than One Struggle. Drawing on these and other fine works, we incorporate African American sources alongside familiar documents from the white establishment to show that black educational history cannot be reduced to a simple struggle for integration. Rather, the Booker T. Washington story illustrates the complex and at times contradictory efforts that African Americans pursued as they struggled to reconcile their community history and personal identities with the larger integrationist objectives being pursued by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “African American Activism: New and Broadening Scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement,” Southern Studies vol. 23, no. 1 (2016): 27-28. (Introduction to a three-article volume of Southern Studies that we edited). Full Text.
The civil rights movement for racial equality in the United States has proven to be to be longer and more complicated than both contemporary memory and popular culture recall. The iconic timeline of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 to the March from Selma in 1965, engrained in our memory with the Eyes on the Prize series, has been recently expanded and enriched by scholarly efforts. Historians like Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Patricia Sullivan, Glenda Gilmore, Danielle McGuire, Peniel Joseph, and Waldo Martin Jr. have extended both the chronological and thematic limits of the movement. Collectively, their work shows that African American activists pushed for equal rights in a variety of ways beyond the courtroom and the ballot box.
The three articles that we edited for this special edition of Southern Studies complement this growing body of historical work. Accordingly, the first article by Norfolk State University Professor of History Cassandra Newby-Alexander uncovers fascinating and previously unknown links between the legendary ex-slave Harriett Tubman and the extraordinary social worker and engineer Vivian Carter Mason. Mason's local reputation in Norfolk, Virginia, as a civic and educational leader is well-known, but this article places that reputation within her larger national and international ambitions. The second article by Florida A&M University Assistant Professor of History Reginald Ellis traces the evolution of North Carolina College for Negroes President James Shepard's pragmatic moves to effect approximate equality within the dual system of the Jim Crow South. Shepard’s battles with the NAACP have been covered elsewhere and in detail, but this article argues that the college president changed his tone to match those of his more militant critics by the end of his life. Finally, the third article by Sam Houston State University Adjunct Professor of History Carolyn Carroll documents the late and ongoing process of desegregation at Sam Houston State University, which began only after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Carroll’s story reveals that student integration came to the East Texas school before the end of the 1990s, but that the faculty and staff remain nearly lily-white in the new century.
Carolyn Carroll and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, “The Dismissal of Rupert C. Koeninger: Cold War Hysteria, Academic Freedom, and the Creation of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board,” East Texas Historical Journal vol. 53, no. 2 (2015): 115-140. Full Text.
On May 6, 1961, after more than a decade of devoted service at Sam Houston State Teachers College (SHSTC), Dr. Rupert C. Koeninger received word that he would soon be dismissed from his position as chair of the school’s sociology department. Surprised by the news, the fifty-four-year-old professor naturally questioned the president of the Huntsville, Texas campus, Harmon Lowman, about his pending dismissal. Lowman could offer little in the way of clarification, however. The president had not initiated proceedings against Koeninger, nor had he received any complaints from students, faculty, or staff members about the sociologist or his work. In fact, as Lowman hesitantly revealed, he had been pressured by the Texas State Teachers College Board of Regents to decline Koeninger’s contract because of allegations made against him by right-wing politicians and activists who opposed his stance on civil liberties and civil rights.
Although elements of the Koeninger story have been told before, no one has ever been able to uncover the real players behind the events until today. Using archival evidence that has only recently become available, this article pushes beyond the contemporary accounts of Koeninger’s dismissal by journalist Ronnie Dugger, historian C. Vann Woodward, and faculty-activist William J. Kilgore. In order to enhance and correct the existing narrative, this essay links the behind-the-scenes machinations of four key individuals who were responsible for Koeninger’s dismissal: James A. Franklin, Jr., the business manager of a little-known Bible College in Tehuacana, Texas; John V. Dowdy, Sr., the powerful Congressman from the Seventh Texas Congressional District; William H. “Bill” Kellogg, the chair of the John Birch Society in Walker County; and finally C. Smith Ramsey, the chairman of the Board of Regents of the Texas State University System. Archival evidence shows that these radical right-wing ideologues ran roughshod over Koeninger’s academic and personal liberty in a vicious act meant to silence his support for civil liberties and civil rights. In the process, however, these radical forces overplayed their hand and prompted state and national organizations, including the Texas Association of College Teachers (TACT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), to defend Koeninger and his academic freedom.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Moving ‘Mere Pawns on the Chessboard’: Walter E. Hoffman Jr., School Desegregation, and Busing in Norfolk, Virginia,” Southern Studies vol. 22, no. 11 (2015): 47-72. Full Text.
U.S. District Court Judge Walter E. Hoffman’s distinguished reputation for “selfless dedication to law and duty” may be traced back to its origins in the 1950s, when he took an uncompromising stand against the forces of state-sponsored Massive Resistance to school desegregation. As local members of the political establishment in Norfolk, Virginia, are still fond of recounting, Hoffman’s rulings in Beckett v. School Board of Norfolk and James v. Almond required that Virginia’s largest city desegregate six of its secondary schools in February 1959. Despite opposition from political figures and public commentators, Hoffman’s orders proved decisive and helped usher in a new era of desegregated schools not just in Virginia but throughout the South.
While we do not deny the greatness of Judge Hoffman as a jurist, this essay presents a more nuanced and humanized portrait of him than the Olympian judge who braved social ostracism in the 1950s to uphold the rule of law. The existing story, which spotlights the heroic Hoffman “standing before the shouting mob” of the 1950s, ignores his deep-seated opposition to real integration that came only with cross-town busing at the dawn of the 1970s. In fact, Hoffman’s opposition to busing and true integration of public schools has been forgotten in the municipal hagiography that has grown up around him. Using accounts from local newspapers, the city’s school board records, and documents from the Walter E. Hoffman Papers at Washington and Lee University, this essay traces the arc of Judge Hoffman’s career, from his stand against Massive Resistance in the 1950s to his role as a passive resister a decade later. In the end, our research shows how even one of the most courageous Southern judges of the 1950s -- who stood up for racial desegregation in a time of crisis -- could, by the 1970s, serve as a disenchanted force of delay working to temper the social experimentation of the era.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Arthur D. Morse, School Desegregation, and the Making of CBS News, 1955-1964,” American Journalism vol. 31, no. 2 (2014): 1-20. Full Text.
On April 2, 1964, one month after assuming the presidency of CBS News, Fred W. Friendly announced the appointment of his long-time associate and friend, Arthur Morse, as the Executive Producer of CBS Reports. This was not an unexpected choice. The two men had worked together for more than a decade, and Morse had distinguished himself as a reporter-director with Friendly on both See It Now and its successor CBS Reports. Most significantly, Morse had produced a series of prize-winning television documentaries on public schools and racial discrimination. These programs included “Ballots of Bear Creek,” “Clinton and the Law,” “The Lost Class of ’59,” “Who Speaks for the South,” and “The Other Face of Dixie.” Despite his contributions to this impressive body of work, which won two Sylvania Awards, a Peabody Award, two School Bell Awards, an Ohio State University first prize for television, and a commendation from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Morse’s role in reporting and producing these documentary programs has been ignored by previous historians of television and the civil rights movement. This omission is particularly startling, given the fact that fewer than 20 of the programs produced during the era that media historian Michael Curtin has called the “Golden Age of Television Documentary” focused on civil rights at all.
As this article shows, Morse’s commitments to racial desegregation and educational quality were deep-seated and stemmed from his long career as a freelance writer and activist in the decade before the advent of television news. His untold story complicates and deepens the existing narrative provided by media historians like Aniko Bodroghkozy, Michael Curtin, and Steven Classen, who argue that television news privileged white moderates over deviant segregationists and black activists in an attempt to form a narrative of “sectional reconciliation” and national unity. This historiography assumes that CBS icons Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly produced an event-driven, episodic accounting of the most dramatic flashpoints in the desegregation struggle in an attempt to explain the white South to a national audience. We find, in contrast, that it was the seemingly obscure Arthur D. Morse, rather than the more familiar figures of Murrow and Friendly, who provided the primary voice and authorship behind CBS’s prize-winning pieces on desegregation. From very early on, Morse had demonstrated an exceptionally strong interest in achieving racial equality beyond mere compliance with the law, and this advocacy came through in certain key points of his various programs and earlier print pieces. He developed a narrative template that would see its most advanced stage in the two programs he wrote on public school desegregation in Norfolk, Virginia -- outsiders manipulating local people, white moderates saving the day, and most problematically for his superiors at CBS, black agency and voices presented, albeit in a limited way. Finally, Morse’s work on desegregation was linked to his broader interests in educational issues in general and to wider discourses involving public anxieties over the effectiveness of local schools and teachers. These forgotten details offer the much more nuanced and interesting story behind the story that can only be recaptured through archival research on television and the heyday of the civil rights movement.
Charles H. Ford and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, “Reconstructing the Old Dominion: Lewis F. Powell, Stuart T. Saunders, and the Virginia Industrialization Group, 1958-1965,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography vol. 121, no. 2 (2013): 146-172. Full Text.
Winner of the William M.E. Rachal Award (2013) from the Virginia Historical Society for the Best Article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.
On the eve of his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in August 1971, Richmond attorney Lewis F. Powell, Jr., issued a call to American businessmen, beckoning them to stand up and fight against “extremists on the left” who held free enterprise and markets in contempt. This memo to fellow Virginian Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., of the National Chamber of Commerce urged business leaders to challenge their critics in Hollywood, academe, and on national television networks by establishing a coalition of think tanks, speaker bureaus, and textbook review committees that would make modern conservatism both intellectually respectable and broadly popularly. Only much later did conservative pundits, looking back at their success, attribute the memo with any lasting influence. However significant or inconsequential in launching modern conservatism, the memo came out of a much earlier battle in Powell’s career than that with liberal pundits and professors in the Nixon era. Ironically, it emerged from earlier divisions within Virginia’s white elite on how best to deal with Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Massive Resistance, and the grave economic consequences that both posed for the Old Dominion during the 1950s and ’60s.
Massive Resistance was a scary prospect for elite white Virginians. No one they knew actually wanted the implementation of Brown, but just like the Great Depression and World War II, they perceived that the “trial” over public school desegregation would soon pass with them firmly in charge. Of course, Virginia’s elite knew that to retain their power the white masses and government officials associated with the state’s leading political boss, U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd, must not be allowed to overdo their outrage at school desegregation. Although Byrd had once supported the elite’s subtle and refined management of white supremacy—even signing a celebrated anti-lynching bill as governor in 1928—the older he became the more he bristled at outside criticism of Virginia and its system of race relations. Now, a generation after his triumphant moderation in the 1920s, Byrd and his friends in Congress had decided that they had had enough. When news of the Brown decision finally came out, Byrd and one hundred of his Congressional colleagues issued the Southern Manifesto in 1956, calling for “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s embrace of public school desegregation. Despite the tenuous constitutional and legal grounding of the manifesto, Massive Resistance proved to be no laughing matter. It meant closed public schools in several key Virginia cities; it meant official and extra-legal surveillance and harassment of civil rights attorneys by the state; it meant state tuition grants to parents who enrolled their children in segregated private academies; and it meant giving air time to racist and roguish elements of the American right. In short, its excesses were poisonous for businessmen and women in the Old Dominion who wanted to show that Virginia was a great place for creative people of whatever background to live and raise a family.
Before Virginia became for lovers, it first had to mute or marginalize its most rabid home-grown haters, according to both old and new money in the state. This article assesses the efforts of two elite white Virginians—Richmond attorney and school board chair Lewis J. Powell, Jr., and Norfolk and Western Railway president Stuart T. Saunders—who worked through the Virginia Industrialization Group to tame the most virulent strains of white racism in Virginia between 1958 and 1965. Although scholars have looked at the group’s initial attempts to persuade Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., to halt the school closing crisis in 1958, no one has yet analyzed its long-term effectiveness after Massive Resistance was declared dead in February 1959. This article fills in that historiographical gap, suggesting that the group’s success in pushing a moderate, if not egalitarian agenda, ultimately led to its demise by 1965. More significantly, however, the group’s effectiveness in organizing public-private partnerships and extending the influence of business on the operation of government became the template for a national movement in the upcoming decades. In short, solving the “Moderates’ Dilemma” of the 1950s opened the door for a free-market, pro-business renaissance by the early 1970s and helped launch what became modern conservatism.
Carolyn Carroll and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, “The Construction of Huntsville State Park: Race and Recovery in Twentieth Century East Texas,” in Milton Jordan and George Cooper, eds., Conflict and Cooperation: Reflections on the New Deal in Texas (Nacogdoches: Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2019). Full Text.
Huntsville State Park has long been considered one of the great success stories from the New Deal era. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began construction on the park during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. At the time, government officials and local boosters promised that the park would provide visitors with a welcome respite from the economic conditions of the Great Depression. Design plans called for scenic spots for bird watching, a large man-made lake for fishing, and a beautiful stone lodge for relaxation and refreshments. The park’s initial construction phase came to an end, however, in November 1940, when a violent storm destroyed the park’s spillway and lake. Despite local calls to repair the park, World War II and the Cold War delayed construction at the site for more than a decade. Finally, in March 1956, the park opened to the public with a new dam, spillway, and lake built by the Trinity Construction Company. Today, the park boasts a 2,100-acre wooded recreational area with 21 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can also enjoy fishing in Lake Raven, camping in one of the park’s 160 campsites, and learning about the regional environment through ranger programs at Raven Lodge. Despite the bucolic setting at Huntsville State Park, the site has a complicated racial story that exposes some of the most painful ironies and contradictions in Texas history. Few campers today know that one of the park’s initial construction crews, CCC Company 1823 Veteran Colored (VC), was an all-black unit of veterans from the Spanish American and First World wars. Although the men in this unit cut the hiking trails, reforested the landscape, and built the original spillway for the park, they were barred from visiting it and other state parks in Texas due to racial segregation. As attorneys for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) fought against the obvious discrimination that African Americans endured in Texas, state park officials and local leaders in Huntsville and other cities around the state debated the best way to resolve the matter. In the short run, massive resistance against desegregation won the day. In fact, Texas governor Allan Shivers co-opted Huntsville State Park, making it a rhetorical weapon in his campaign to stave off racial desegregation during the 1950s. By injecting “a state's right theme” into his dedication address at the park on May 18, 1956, Shivers called on white Texans to resist federal attempts to force the state to desegregate parks, schools, and other publicly-funded institutions. Shivers’ tactics worked in the short-run, setting the stage for at least one racially-charged confrontation at Huntsville State Park in the 1960s. But Shivers and the segregationists lost in the end. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 required that public parks, like the one in Huntsville, be open to all people without regard to race or color.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Southern Discomfort: The Rise and Fall of Civil Rights Attorney James F. Gay, 1942-2008,” in The Seedtime, the Work, and the Harvest: New Perspectives on the Black Freedom Struggle in America. University of Florida Press, 2018.
James F. Gay was one of the most important figures of the civil rights era in Norfolk, Virginia, but he has been forgotten in both academic and political circles. Gay, along with his older brother Milton, organized the sit-ins that brought down Jim Crow in Tidewater, and he went on to become one of the first African Americans to graduate from the University of Virginia Law School. As a local entrepreneur and leader of the Norfolk branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was seen as a possible mayoral candidate in the 1970s. His fame finally peaked in the following decade, as he won a significant case before the U.S. Supreme Court that transformed Norfolk’s local electoral practices to allow for greater diversity and inclusion in city government. Gay quickly fell from grace, however, and his fall was especially sharp and traumatic. In 2007, a year before Gay’s death, columnist Earl Swift of the Virginian Pilot, the area’s principal newspaper, laid blame for Gay’s decent into obscurity on the attorney’s string of ethical lapses that had led to his disbarment in late 1993. Yet for all of his narrative prowess, Swift failed to place the rise and fall of James Gay within its proper and wider historical context. While we do not deny the self-destructive arrogance that underlay some of Gay’s professional misconduct, we also appreciate the venom of Norfolk’s establishment toward an outsider who successfully turned everything upside down. In fact, Gay’s story is not simply a local tale about a civil rights activist falling from favor. Rather, it illustrates the high hurdles that leaders of the black freedom struggle faced as they attempted to convert the political and cultural accomplishments of the 1960s into a new governmental reality in the 1980s. Along the way, Gay made many personal mistakes, but his every misstep received attention from a white oligarchy that forgave segregationists of the old order, like Judges Hal Bonney and James G. Martin IV, and ignored the malfeasance of African American politicians and city councilmen Paul Riddick and Anthony Burfoot. James Gay’s sins were never forgiven, though, largely because he had effectively challenged the civic status quo, whereas many of the other transgressors simply became part of the establishment.
Charles H. Ford and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, “The Crisis Responds to Public School Desegregation,” in Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis and American History, edited by Amy Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2014, 226-240. Full Text.
Throughout the 1950s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) used its monthly magazine, The Crisis, to survey and analyze the implications of public school desegregation. Building on the print activism and visual protest for civil and human rights deployed by its inaugural editor W. E. B. Du Bois, who spent the 1950s under an anti-Communist microscope, The Crisis captured relatively obscure developments, probing the logistical problems and cultural effects of school desegregation that other media outlets either ignored or celebrated. It correctly interpreted Massive Resistance as a national problem -- rather than simply a southern phenomenon -- underscoring the deleterious and, often, subtler discriminatory practices in the North and West. It confidently and predictably foresaw the ultimate end of Jim Crow schools, but it had no illusions about the difficulties and dangers associated with that long and strange death. This chapter analyzes how The Crisis covered the Brown v. Board of Education decisions and their effects on parents, students, teachers, politicians, and pundits, spotlighting the important role that the magazine had in increasing awareness and mobilizing support for public school integration.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford, “Truman and Civil Rights,” in A Companion to Harry S. Truman, edited by Daniel S. Margolies. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2012. Full Text.
On April 5, 1968, less than twenty-four hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Harry Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, hosted the first national conference devoted exclusively to the Truman Administration and civil rights. The coincidental timing of the conference made the occasion doubly poignant, since many of the participating scholars felt a deep affinity for Dr. King and his work on behalf of civil rights. Despite the somber spirit that pervaded the first hours of the meeting, however, discussion leader and historian Donald R. McCoy pressed on with the agenda as planned. Throughout the day, sixteen invited scholars took part in three discussion sessions, which were each devoted to a series of pre-arranged questions. Among the questions discussed were: 1) what contributed to the Truman administration’s interest in civil rights; 2) what more could the administration have done to further civil rights; and 3) what significant accomplishments did the administration achieve for its period and for subsequent times? In answering each of these questions, the participants suggested that President Truman and his administration had taken bold steps to secure important advances on the civil rights front. As the distinguished historian John Hope Franklin told the group at a public address that afternoon, “The crucial turning point in viewing the problems of race … in the United States occurred when the executive branch of the federal government began actively to assume a major role. This occurred during the administration of Harry S. Truman.” Indeed, Franklin went on to argue that Truman had “move[d] the country” on the civil rights issue in a way that no previous President had done before. Truman created the President’s Commission on Civil Rights; he issued executive orders desegregating the military and federal bureaucracy; and he placed the civil rights of American citizens above the narrow regional interests of the Southern white establishment. “If the nation had listened more carefully to the President’s entreaties for human equality, and if it had assumed the grave responsibilities that it faced in those critical years,” Franklin concluded, then the horrors and recriminations of 1968 might have been avoided altogether.
In the years immediately following the Truman conference, scholars codified an orthodox interpretation of the President’s work on civil rights that was drawn mainly from positive contemporary assessments from the 1940s. The historical monograph to appear in 1969 was Richard M. Dalfiume published Desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces: Fighting on Two Fronts, 1939-1953. Then, two years later, Donald McCoy and Richard Ruetten’s book, Quest and Response: Minority Rights and the Truman Administration came out. These studies presented what some scholars have called the “liberal” interpretation of the Truman administration, which reflected the egalitarian hopes of contemporary progressives who viewed Truman’s work as a stage in the unfolding march toward equality and social justice. Revisionist scholars soon challenged these generous claims about the President and his administration. In 1970, William Berman published The Politics of Civil Rights in the Truman Administration, and Barton J. Bernstein released “The Ambiguous Legacy: The Truman Administration and Civil Rights.” The following year, Harvard Sitkoff published his essay, “Harry Truman and the Election of 1948: The Coming of Age of Civil Rights in American Politics.” These works portrayed Truman as a “reluctant champion” of civil rights, who took up the African American cause (and then tailored its boundaries) for calculated political reasons that had little to do with civil rights. According to this school of thought, Truman’s life-long racism prevented him from seeing African Americans or other ethnic minorities as true equals, and thus his own personal limitations shaped what was essentially an “ambiguous legacy” on civil rights. Recent scholar have further refined this view moving in one of two directions. First, biographers, like David McCullough and Alonzo Hamby, have combed the archives and conducted hundreds of interviews to present a more nuanced and in-depth study of Truman the individual. These studies are important because they reveal a great deal about the President’s personal views on race, the power of the federal government, and the role that civil rights should play in the Democratic agenda. At the same time, a second group of scholars, including Mary Dudziak and Thomas Borstelmann, has moved in the opposite direction. These diplomatic and global historians argue that Truman’s civil rights activities must be understood not primarily on the personal or even national stage, but that his actions were in large part the result of new diplomatic realities created by the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
These historiographical debates had their origins in the fragmentation of American consensus during the 1960s. From the orthodox perspective, Truman’s civil rights policy stemmed directly from the benevolent expansion of federal power during the twentieth century. From the revisionist vantage point, however, Truman’s domestic policies including civil rights were viewed in tandem with his alleged failures in foreign policy. He had helped to mid-wife the domino theory and the containment policy, the same arrogant assumptions of American power and goodness that had led to the quagmire of Vietnam. Incipient detente made his stand against a seemingly monolithic communism a generation before seem incredibly naive. Domestically, his extensions of the New Deal had blossomed into Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which had only seemed to fuel urban unrest and black militancy. His accommodation of Joseph McCarthy’s red scare and the national security state of J. Edgar Hoover seemed particularly sour in a turbulent era whose professors and students were rebelling against that kind of governmental intrusion. In fact, Truman seemed to embody the small-town provincialism that the radical chic and the professional left regularly ridiculed. Thus the early 1970s was a prime entry point for the revisionists of Truman’s civil rights legacy. No longer would he be portrayed in the same pantheon with the great white fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy. The turbulence of the Vietnam era underscored the unfinished business of civil rights from the Truman years that, to revisionists, may have been left deliberately unfinished by the everyman from Missouri.
The pendulum then swung back again to accentuate the positive features of Truman’s civil rights legacy with the biographies of McCullough and Hamby. This shift resulted from a growing appreciation of the common sense measures pursued by Truman during a time of great crisis. For example, the resumption of the Cold War with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980 made Truman as foreign policy hawk seem not so bad. Ironically, his popular and academic reputation seemed to be reborn against a backdrop of a renaissance of the Gilded Age, laissez-faire economics that had been seen in the Truman years as being made obsolete by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Reagan and his speechwriters did their utmost to connect the Gipper, a Democrat during the 1940s, with Cold Warriors Truman and Kennedy who had stood up to the evil empire. This was in stark contrast to contemporary Democrats from McGovern through Mondale who allegedly were for appeasing the Soviet menace. Along with this reassessment of Truman’s foreign policy, his domestic liberalism was forgotten or conveniently embraced, as nearly all politicians of the 1980s came to agree with the increasingly distant accomplishment of dismantling racial segregation if not the actual attainment of racial equality in economic matters. Indeed, Truman's forthrightness and simple maxims paralleled Ronald Reagan's homespun and corny stories, as 1984's "morning in America" meant a restoration of a post-World War II peace and quiet that had never existed. The petty scandals that had almost driven Truman out of office were never mentioned, as the Gipper's own "Teflon" coating deflected charges that his administration was the most corrupt in history until that point. The obvious abuses of power during both the Truman and Reagan administrations came from an inherently evil Washington, DC and its entrenched elites, and not from the Midwesterners sent there to represent the people's interests. In reference to civil rights, Truman emerged as a competent manager of competing and conflicting interest who became a uniter and not a divider.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, ”'Sit Down Children, Sit Down': The Sit-In Movement in Norfolk, Virginia,” in Voices from Within the Veil: African Americans and the Experience of Democracy, edited by William Alexander, Cassandra Newby-Alexander, and Charles Ford, 330-344. Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008.
When school let out on Friday, February 12, 1960, Milton Gay Jr., prayed for guidance. Gay was a nineteen-year-old freshman at Virginia State College in Norfolk, and he was preparing to lead his first sit-in demonstration. “I was anxious and frightened,” he later recalled. “It was just the uncertainty” of the situation. “We didn’t know whether police were going to take out their billy clubs . . . hit us over the head, and drag us off to jail.”
The sit-in movement had begun eleven days earlier -- on February 1 -- when African American college students sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina to protest against segregation. The Woolworth’s staff refused to serve the students, insisting that lunch counters in Greensboro, like those around the South, were reserved for whites-only. When the Greensboro students were asked to move from the counter, however, they refused. In a dramatic act of non-violent resistance, the students -- Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond -- kept their seats. Over the coming days, hundreds of students joined the Greensboro protest against segregated seating. Their efforts inspired a wave of sit-in demonstrations that spread across the South in the winter of 1960, forever transforming the Civil Rights Movement.
Inspired by the Greensboro demonstrations, Milton Gay and a host of Norfolk students coordinated a similar protest for their city’s downtown district. This essay chronicles their effort. It is a tale of growing impatience and dissatisfaction, in which young people, furious with the tortured pace of desegregation, bypassed their elders and became the leaders in a campaign to challenge Jim Crow. In the process, Norfolk’s African American young people sat-in at restaurants and spoke at churches; they marched on sidewalks and protested at schools. But, most of all, they led their parents and their pastors into a new stage of the civil rights struggle.
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn, "The Brown Decision in Local Context: Race and Public Education in Norfolk, Virginia." In Brown v. Board of Education: Its Impact on Public Education, 1954-2004, edited by Dara Byrne, 165-175. New York: Word for Word Publishing for the Thurgood Marshall Foundation, 2005.
In 2004, the citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. As part of the year’s activities, this article examined three legal cases from Norfolk that helped to frame the Brown decision and place it in historical context.
The first pivotal showdown began in Norfolk during the era of “separate but equal,” years before the Brown decision in 1939. By that time, sixty-eight years of segregation had created tremendous inequality in the city's white and black schools. In response, Aline Black and Melvin Alston, two African American teachers at Booker T. Washington High School, joined with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and lawyer Thurgood Marshall to file suit against the City of Norfolk so that they might win salaries equal to those of their white counterparts. Although Black lost her case and was unable to secure an appeal, Alston won his -- the first such equalization victory in the state of Virginia. Alston's victory had no immediate impact on segregation itself, but the NAACP's success in cases like his paved the way for a switch in legal strategy that would soon challenge the entire idea of “separate but equal.”
The second educational showdown began in Norfolk soon after the Brown decision in 1956. Disgusted with the Massive Resistance tactics promoted by Senator Harry F. Byrd, several African American families in Norfolk sued the School Board for its failure to desegregate the public schools. What followed was a hard-fought three-year legal battle, pitting Mayor W. F. Duckworth, local segregationists, and Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. against local African American families and the NAACP. The tides turned many times during the struggle, but in the summer of 1958, District Court Judge Walter Hoffman ordered that Norfolk must begin to integrate its previously all-white schools. In response, Governor Almond shut down the six schools that were to be integrated, displacing almost 10,000 students in the largest district in the state. It took two further judicial decisions -- one by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the other by the Federal District Court in Norfolk -- to re-open the schools in February 1959. The six previously all-white schools were then open to the “Norfolk 17,” and these brave African American students were soon in classes with nearly 10,000 white students. Although Massive Resistance had been defeated, the school closings represented how difficult the road ahead would be for supporters of integration and equality.
The third educational showdown began in Norfolk during the early 1980s, as the city's leaders considered ending cross-town busing for elementary school children. Court-ordered busing for desegregation had begun in Norfolk in 1971. By 1975, the city had achieved “unitary” status, which meant that the federal courts no longer considered Norfolk a segregated public-school system. Although cross-town busing continued, the next ten years produced a dramatic transformation in the racial composition of Norfolk 's public schools. White children were leaving the district in large numbers, and the system was becoming increasingly African American. As a result, in 1982, the School Board sponsored six public forums to consider a proposal to end the cross-town busing of elementary school children, which many people believed to be a major cause of “white flight” from the district. Parents and community leaders immediately took sides in the debate, which resulted in the School Board's approval of the proposal to end cross-town busing. The fight was not over, however. Within a month, several African American leaders filed suit in Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk. The case was not decided until 1986, when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued the first federal opinion permitting a school district to dismantle its integration plan. Norfolk would no longer bus its elementary school children.