50th anniversary of King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech

Posted December 10th, 2014 by
Category: History Tags: , , , , , ,

Text of King's Nobel Prize acceptance speechToday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964. He was, at the time, the youngest person ever to receive that honor.

As the nation is embroiled in protests over the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson and Staten Island, let us pause for a moment to consider how much, and how little, has changed in half a century:

I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when 22 million Negroes of the United States of America are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice.

I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death.


50th anniversary of the War on Poverty

Posted January 8th, 2014 by
Category: History, Living consequences Tags: , , , ,

Lyndon Johnson delivers his State of the Union, January 8, 1964Today is the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty.

On January 8, 1964, Lyndon Johnson, in his State of the Union address to Congress, dramatically announced:

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.

On this occasion, I think it is worth remembering that Johnson was intimately familiar with poverty, having had what biographer Robert Caro calls a “terrible boyhood” filled with the insecurity and humiliations of poverty: living in a home that could be taken by the bank at any time, and often depending on neighbors to bring dishes of food to eat. This seems to have filled Johnson with a passion to fight poverty, which he began planning with his advisers within hours of the assassination of President Kennedy.1

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  1. See Robert A. Caro, Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012). []

50 years ago today: Birmingham integrates its golf courses

Posted June 29th, 2013 by
Category: History Tags: , , ,

Detail from the front page of the Birmingham (Ala.) Daily News, June 20, 1963Fifty years ago today, on June 29, 1963, the city of Birmingham, Alabama re-opened its municipal golf courses, making them available for the first time to both white and black citizens.

In October 1961, a federal district court had ordered the integration of Birmingham’s public recreation facilities, holding that their  segregation along racial lines was unconstitutional. This plan met with resistance from the city’s commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor, who is best known to history for the use of police dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators. Connor announced that he intended to close some 67 city parks, 38 playgrounds, 6 swimming pools, and 4 golf courses, and even the city’s football stadium and, if necessary, to sell them all to private citizens rather than accept the court’s integration order.

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The assassination of Medgar Evers, 50 years later

Posted June 12th, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , ,

Medgar EversYesterday, I wrote here on the 50th anniversary of one of the most momentous days in the history of the civil rights movement.

June 11, 1963 was a day of obvious, encouraging progress for the civil rights movement. It was the day when George Wallace was forced to step aside and watch the integration of the University of Alabama by Vivian Malone, James Hood, and the Alabama National Guard. That evening, President John F. Kennedy, released from the obligation to address the crisis in Tuscaloosa, made the last-minute decision to speak to the nation from the Oval Office anyway, announcing in hastily-prepared remarks that the civil rights movement was a moral issue without which the nation could not fulfill its promise of freedom, and promising the hastening of desegregation and the introduction of what would become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I ended by noting, briefly, that hours after the president finished addressing his radio and television audience, there would be a horrifying event in Jackson, Mississippi. That event, of course, was the assassination of Medgar Evers, the outspoken NAACP field secretary for Mississippi, who was murdered by Byron de la Beckwith, a white supremacist, in the early morning hours of June 12.

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The 50th anniversary of two civil rights landmarks

Posted June 11th, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,

Today marks the 50th anniversary of two major landmarks in the civil rights movement: George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” over desegregation at the University of Alabama, and President Kennedy’s address to the nation announcing what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door”

George Wallace at the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963On the morning of June 11, 1963, Governor George Wallace of Alabama personally and physically intervened, in front of television cameras, to attempt to block the desegregation of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The deputy attorney general of the United States, Nicholas Katzenbach, was present in person to request that Wallace step aside. When that request was rebuffed by the governor, General Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard, having been federalized by President John F. Kennedy, ordered the governor to stand aside. Wallace complied, after first complaining to the news cameras about this “unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion” by the federal government on the affairs of Alabama.

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What I hope Obama’s second inaugural will address

Posted January 21st, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,

Today marks only the second time that Inauguration Day has coincided with our national holiday commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and on this occasion, our first black president will be taking the oath of office for the second time.

Here is what I hope the president will include in his second Inaugural Address:

This year marks the coming together of two powerful anniversaries, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Today, 50 years after the civil rights movement and 150 years after the end of slavery, we have come a long way towards realizing the visions of Lincoln and King for a more just and inclusive society. Yet the legacies of slavery and race—the unfinished business of Civil War and civil rights—remain a crisis in our nation.

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The Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary in context

Posted January 1st, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , ,

Emancipation ProclamationToday is the first day of 2013. This is an anniversary year that we’ve been talking about, and anticipating, for a long time here at the Tracing Center.

In 2013, we will celebrate the 50th anniversaries of major civil rights era milestones, including the March on Washington and Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.

Over the coming year, the nation will also mark the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well as the New York City Draft Riots (the violence of which was aimed mostly at the city’s free black population) and a host of other Civil War battles and dates.

The anniversaries of the Civil War and the civil rights movement are directly connected, as they represent two different, but closely related, stages in our society’s slow process of reckoning with its centuries-long embrace of slavery and racism. Exploring these anniversary dates, their connections, and their broader significance for racial healing and justice will constitute much of the Tracing Center’s work in the years 2013-2015.

Today, however, marks the 150th anniversary of perhaps the greatest of all of these events: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

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