Race, Power, and Political Emergence in Memphis

By Sharon D. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

The Civil Rights Movement in Memphis

INTRODUCTION

Chapter 4 analyzes the civil rights movement in Memphis in the context of national efforts. In cities like Birmingham and Selma, Alabama, non-violent marchers and protesters were met with massive resistance and violence. Citizens conducted direct action protests such as boycotts, marches, and sit-ins while also filing federal and state lawsuits to protest their disfranchisement in a segregated society. Most received redress after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After these two crucial pieces of federal legislation were ratified, the civil rights movement changed its focus. Rather than addressing southern disfranchisement and segregation, civil rights activists tackled the issues of employment discrimination, police brutality, poverty, substandard living conditions, and the Vietnam War. Also during the mid-1960s and late 1960s, black youths organized new groups and race riots occurred in a number of cities. Many of the new organizations advocated the use of violence as a form of self defense rather than nonviolent protests.

In his study of Birmingham, Huey L. Perry found that “whites’ resistance to blacks’ demands for political rights was more severe in Birmingham than in any southern city of comparable size.” 1 In Memphis, however, relatively peaceful and voluntary rather than court-ordered desegregation occurred before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while black citizens maintained their powerful voting bloc. Never-

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