Let Freedom Ring: A Documentary History of the Modern Civil Rights Movement

By Peter B. Levy | Go to book overview

Chapter Five THE FIRES OF DISCORD

By the summer of 1963 hardly a day passed without new civil rights protests occurring. As President Kennedy observed in a nationally televised address: "The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South." The protests were led by SNCC, CORE, SCLC, local chapters of the NAACP, and by independent community organizations. Young and old, men and women, college educated and the illiterate took part. America had not witnessed such social upheaval in years, if ever. While only a multivolume collection of documents could do justice to the breadth of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this chapter seeks to provide a flavor of the many local insurgencies that dominated the landscape. This section also seeks to raise a set of interrelated questions: What was the significance of the local civil rights struggles? How were they connected, if at all? Did they share similar objectives and methods and face similar obstacles to success? What role did "outsiders" play? What role did blacks and whites indigenous to the region play?

5.1 One local movement which has received scant attention was centered in Fayette County, Tennessee. There, blacks committed themselves to registering to vote. As of 1959 less than one hundred blacks were registered in all of Fayette County; on election day in 1960 close to twelve thousand blacks voted. Contrary to the national trend, they overwhelmingly voted for the Republican Party, or against the local white supremacist Democratic Party. For daring to challenge white supremacy, former black sharecroppers were evicted--or threatened with eviction--refused service by local grocers and doctors, and shot at.

Many of Fayette County's blacks belonged to the Fayette County Civic and Welfare League. Led by John McFerren, the league promoted political activity

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