Civil Rights / Cold War
Civil Rights Movement
Life in Tennessee began to change dramatically after World War II. Technology changes and increased affluence made day-to-day life very different than before the war.
However, in many ways life for African Americans stayed the same. People who were black were not allowed to fully participate. Public facilities, such as restaurants, parks, or theaters, did not allow blacks inside or made them sit in “special” areas.
Signs proclaimed “for whites only” or “colored” in front of restrooms and water fountains. If black people got on a bus or train, they had to ride in special areas. Their children went to segregated, often poorly funded schools.
To some this way of life, controlled by Jim Crow laws , was more and more unacceptable. African American soldiers had fought in World War II against fascism and for freedom. Yet, when they came home, they were not fully free.
More and more African Americans began to try and change the laws which restricted their freedom. There were legal battles, protests, sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and other civil disobedience acts, all to push the federal government into passing or enforcing laws outlawing segregation.
These civil disobedience acts became known as the Civil Rights Movement. Tennessee was in the forefront of this movement. The first public school to be integrated in the South was in Clinton, Tennessee. Blacks in Fayette and Haywood counties lived in tents to try and force county officials to allow them to vote.
In Nashville, students at predominantly black universities led the way in non-violent protest beginning with a sit-in of Nashville lunch counters, and moving on to Freedom Rides and voter registration drives in Alabama and Mississippi.
No event in Tennessee between 1945 and 1975 was more dramatic than the Civil Rights Movement. The movement towards integration and equality did not happen quickly, and not all protest activities were successful. But by the end of this era, most public schools were integrated in the state, and segregated facilities and signs had disappeared.
- Photograph of a "No White People Allowed in the Zoo Today" sign taken at the Memphis Zoo by Ernest Withers in the 1950s. Even visits to the zoo were segregated. Blacks had only one day a week they could visit the zoo while whites could go on the other week days. Ernest C. Withers Collection, Panopticon Galleries. This photograph may not be reproduced without the permission of Panopticon Galleries.
- Photograph of Bobby Cain and other black students walking to Clinton High School soon after it was desegregated while white onlookers watch. Cain was the first African American to graduate from a desegregated school in the South. U.S. News and World Report, Photo by Thomas J. O’Halloran
- Memphis sanitation workers walking with the "I AM A MAN" signs they used during their strike in 1968. A National Guard tank patrols downtown streets. Courtesy of the University of Memphis Special Collections
- Photograph of a integrated Nashville school room in 1957. Miss Mary Brent, principal of Glenn Elementary School in Nashville, introduces black and white students on the first day of integration of Nashville schools. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Library of Congress
- Photograph of sit-in demonstrators at a Nashville lunch counter in 1960. The demonstrators would sit at the counter, try to order food, and then, when refused service, continue sitting. This had the effect of blocking other customers from ordering. Many restaurants would then close down. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress
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