EQUAL RIGHTS

In 1945, a young LonnIe KIng moved from rural Georgia to Atlanta after the death of his grandfather to be with his mother and stepfather. His stepfather was a baker and his mother worked as a maid. In that time, being employed as a maid was considered the best work a black woman could get in the South. In Atlanta, very few African Americans had the finest of things, as discrimination denied them the income and opportunity that would allow them to elevate their stations in life. King explained, “In the forties, the American South was a three-tiered society with whites at the top, followed by Jews, with blacks at the bottom. The Irish and Italians had a hard time, but there were very few of them in the South. I came from the poorest of the poor in a society where all entities within the community were affected by discrimination. You could not eat in restaurants or try on clothes in stores. You had no rights as an African American that the smallest white child had to respect. In spring 1945, I joined the Ebenezer Baptist Church. The preacher was Reverend M. L. King Sr., the father of Dr. Martin Luther King.

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Reverend King Sr. always preached on deliverance from the evils of segregation and discrimination. These sermons had a profound effect on me. He did not believe in violence. He wanted us to use the court system to address our inequalities. The problem with the court system was that the NAACP would bring the charges and you got a victory every ten to fifteen years.” Dr. Du Bois, who was a teacher at Atlanta University, wrote in his book The Souls of Black Folks that there would be a time when black people would stand up and say “enough is enough.” That time came in 1960. In February 1960, Lonnie King, then a senior at Morehouse College, formed the Atlanta Student Movement. King describes their strategy: “We began by publishing a document called ‘An Appeal for Human Rights’ on March 9, 1960. It was a full-page ad paid for by the college presidents led by Dr. Rufus Clement. The document, written by Roslyn Pope, outlined areas such as housing, education, law enforcement etc. where black people were subject to discrimination in the society. “It appeared in the three daily newspapers in Atlanta and The Nation magazine. The New York Times ran the full-page ad free. Liberal Republican Senator Jacob Javits read the document on the floor of the House and into the congressional records. The document shocked Atlanta, as before this, African Americans in the South were considered as accepting of the conditions of segregation and discrimination.

“Beginning with the Greensborough lunch counter protest on the 1st of February, 1960, students decided that enough was enough and things had to change, so we joined them. On June 30, 1960, over 70,000 black college students in the South were raging hell over segregation. The flame was lit, and it was now a time for direct action. It was a difficult period, but people were determined to take on the system. Some dropped out of school, some lost their lives, but we kept going, sitting down in restaurants and stores, spreading the action to other cities, schools and states. We needed courage and we had it. The white establishment was put on notice that the Negro was tired and were no longer willing to accept living under the umbrella of apartheid and prejudice.

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