Social Activism through Shareholder Activism

By Fairfax, Lisa M. | Washington and Lee Law Review, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Social Activism through Shareholder Activism


Fairfax, Lisa M., Washington and Lee Law Review


I.Introduction

I will begin my talk with James Peck. James Peck is not only an important figure in American history and the history of the Civil Rights Movement, but he is also an important figure in corporate governance history and the history of shareholder activism. James Peck, who attended Harvard but never graduated, is the only person to have participated in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation as well as the 1961 Freedom Rides.1 The April 1947 Journey of Reconciliation was a form of activism designed to challenge segregation on interstate buses.2 The Journey involved a two-week trip with sixteen men (eight black and eight white) who rode on buses throughout southern states in the United States.3 During the Journey, either blacks sat in the front of the bus while whites sat in the back, or the two groups sat side by side.4 Although the seating arrangement violated state law in the South, which mandated segregation,5 such integrated seating had been declared constitutional and thus lawful by a recent 1946 Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in interstate travel an unconstitutional burden on commerce.6 During the Journey, Peck was attacked by an angry white mob, and left with bruises, none of which required stitches.7 The attack did not dissuade Peck from his activism. In May 1961, Peck participated in the Freedom Rides, another bus journey, believed to have been inspired by the Journey of Reconciliation.8 Like the participants in the Journey, Freedom Riders-as the bus riders became known-rode on buses throughout the South with whites in the back and blacks in the front or blacks and whites seated side by side.9 And like the Journey, such a seating arrangement violated state laws but had been sanctioned by federal law.10 Not only had the Interstate Commerce Commission explicitly concluded in 1955 that segregated busing on the interstate was unlawful,11 but in 1960 the Supreme Court, essentially for the second time, also declared segregated busing in interstate travel illegal.12

Thus for his second time, and as the only holdover from the Journey, Peck participated in a bus journey aimed at forcing southern states and their businesses to comply with federal law.13 The first Freedom Ride began on May 4, 1961 and lasted for more than seven months.14 Two buses began the journey, which started in Washington, D.C. and were to travel through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi and end in Louisiana.15 The first bus to depart from Washington, D.C. was a Greyhound Corporation ("Greyhound") bus, which never completed the journey.16 On Mother's Day, May 14, 1961, a mob of Klansmen bombed the Greyhound bus when it arrived in Alabama.17 Pictures of the Greyhound bus-bombed and on fire-were splashed across the nation and have now become an iconic symbol of the violence with which some were willing to resist desegregation.18 Peck boarded the second bus-a Trailways bus.19 The Trailways bus pulled into the Greyhound bus terminal in Alabama an hour after Klansmen had burned the Greyhound bus.20 The Trailways bus was met by a group of whites and Klansmen who proceeded to beat Peck and the other Freedom Riders.21 That beating did not stop Peck and his fellow bus riders. After receiving stitches, Peck and the other Freedom Riders got back on the bus and continued their journey through Alabama.22 In Birmingham, Alabama, the bus was met by police commissioner Bull Connor and yet another crowd of Klansmen. 23 Peck and others on the bus were severely beaten with baseball bats, iron pipes, and bicycle chains.24 They were taken to the hospital, but refused treatment because it was a segregated hospital.25 When he finally received treatment, it was fifty stitches to a head wound for Peck.26 Peck's participation in the 1951 Freedom Rides gained him a certain level of notoriety. Part of that notoriety stemmed from the fact that Peck was white, and in fact, it was later discovered that Klansmen had singled out white Freedom Riders for especially vicious beatings. …

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