The African American Civil Rights Movement

Fifty years ago, in March 1965, the events at Selma, Alabama marked a turning point in the progress of the African American Civil Rights Movement. In this blogpost we will take a look at why the Selma Marches proved to be so significant and the background against which they took place.

A hundred years before the watershed events of 1965, the United States was coming to terms with the after effects of the American Civil War. The United States Constitution had been altered to abolish slavery via the Thirteenth Amendment, and this was passed and ratified before the close of 1865. However, there remained huge opposition to this measure in the Southern States where laws were introduced to severely restrict the civil rights of black people. The Jim Crow laws segregated the black population from white people and measures were also taken to prevent them from exercising their right to vote.

The Rabbit’s Foot Company of Pat Chappelle Placards of Negro Theatrical Company. Royal Geographical Society c.1908

Racial segregation operated across all areas of public life. The image above shows an advertisement for an all black vaudeville company which was run by Pat Chappelle at the beginning of the 20th century. He became famous for the excellence of the entertainment he provided despite the problems of performing to segregated audiences.

The US Army also practiced segregation; however, when the USA joined WWII in 1941, there was a need to enlist as many black people as possible to increase the available manpower. Frank Capra was tasked with producing a documentary style propaganda film which would motivate young black men to join up and fight for a nation which subjected them to oppression. The resulting film, ‘The Negro Soldier’, was very well received (click on the image below to watch in full) and portrayed African Americans in a heroic way, which was successful in influencing public opinion. Racial segregation within the army finally ended in 1948.

The Negro Soldier. Imperial War Museum (films) 1944

The Negro Soldier. Imperial War Museum (films) 1944

The Civil Rights Movement started to gather momentum during the Fifties and Sixties when cultural changes, following the end of WWII, brought about a greater awareness of the rights of the individual.

In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, after being ordered to do so by the bus driver. This incident, small in itself, catalysed the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Alabama) and started Martin Luther King‘s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement. Black people’s refusal to use the buses caused an economic crisis in the city, forcing the authorities to recognize them as a powerful force. Those involved in the boycott formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) and they chose the 26 year old Martin Luther King to be their leader.

Civil Rights Legend Rosa Parks Getty (still images) 01-12-2001

Civil Rights Legend Rosa Parks
Getty (still images) 01-12-2001

A couple of years later the Civil Rights Movement came to the attention of the world’s press through the conflict at Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas. The Supreme Court had outlawed segregation in schools in 1954, however the Southern States continued to resist this legal ruling. In September 1957 Little Rock was due to accept its first intake of 9 black students, but there was a huge amount of hostility to this and an angry mob gathered by the school to prevent the students entering.

Police attempt to control a rowdy mob outside Little Rock Central High School Honours for a Great Innings: British Gaumont News 30-09-1957

Police attempt to control a rowdy mob outside Little Rock Central High School
Scenes from Little Rock: Honours for a Great Innings: British Gaumont News 30-09-1957

Black people and newspaper reporters suffered verbal abuse and violence over several days and this threatened to become a constitutional issue. For a short while the Arkansas Police were forced to restrain the ferocious mob (a role they did not relish as many were sympathisers), before President Eisenhower eventually despatched paratroopers to uphold federal law. Click on the image above to watch a compilation of film clips taken during this period. Start watching at 1minute 34 seconds into this British Gaumont clip.

Bayard Rustin speaks at the Civil Rights March in Washington 1963 Civil Rights March: ITV News 28-08-1963

Bayard Rustin speaks at the Civil Rights March in Washington 1963
Civil Rights March: ITV News 28-08-1963

The famous March on Washington took place on 28th August 1963, the main aim of which was to help President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill through Congress.  Over 200,000 black and white Americans took part in a peaceful demonstration. Click on the image above to see footage of the march and hear Bayard Rustin (one of the chief organisers) speak about what they hoped to achieve. The last speaker of the day was Martin Luther King, who delivered his now legendary “I have a dream” speech, which remains one of the greatest speeches of the 20th Century.

A landmark achievement took place 10 months later when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act 1964. This made racial segregation and discrimination illegal, as well as any attempt to restrict voter registration rights.

Malcom X Interview: ITV News 10-07-1964

Malcolm X warns about a potential blood bath in America. Malcom X Interview: ITV News 10-07-1964

Malcolm X, a muslim preacher, was another charismatic black leader who emerged at this time. Malcolm X held extreme views, believing that nothing short of separating blacks from whites (separatism) would allow black people to live fully independent lives. Click on the image above to hear him warn in July 1964 about the violence which might erupt as a result of the fast pace of social change in the USA.  He moderated his more extreme views following a visit to Mecca, where he realised that Islam could be a force for racial toleration. He was assassinated 7 months later on 21st February 1965 and it is generally believed that Nation of Islam (a group to which he had previously belonged) carried out the killing.

Martin Luther King talks about the Civil Rights Movement during a visit to the UK Luther King Interview: ITV News 21-09-1964

Martin Luther King talks about the Civil Rights Movement during a visit to the UK
Luther King Interview: ITV News 21-09-1964

In September 1964 Martin Luther King came to the UK to talk about his book ‘Why We Can’t Wait’. During an interview he was asked whether, as a moderate, he was worried about the effect extremist movements would have on his cause. Click on the image above to hear his response.

Martin Luther King speaks at City Temple Hall, London Negro Equality: ITV News 07-12-1964

Martin Luther King speaks at City Temple Hall, London
Negro Equality: ITV News 07-12-1964

The basic thing about a man is not …..the texture of his hair or the colour of his skin, but his eternal dignity and worth

Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for civil rights and social justice. On his way to Oslo to collect the prize he stayed in London, where he delivered a number of speeches on “Negro equality”. Click on the image above to see a clip from the speech he gave at City Temple Hall. This is followed by another piece of film taken on a different occasion (possibly a debate at the Oxford Union), of Malcolm X speaking of how ideas about race can no longer be seen from a European perspective.

Three months later, violent events in Selma (Alabama) would focus world attention on the continuing struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. The proposed marches from Selma to Montgomery were intended as a peaceful protest against the continuing discrimination which existed to prevent black people from voting. The Governor of Alabama, George C.Wallace, was determined the marches should not happen. The first march ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (a short distance from the starting point) when State Troopers attacked unarmed marchers with tear gas and clubs. When pictures of beaten bodies were broadcast across the world, many felt this represented a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement.

James Reeb is interviewed before the second Selma March. He died the next day following an attack. Selma Marchers: Alabama: ITN Reports 10-03-1965

James Reeb is interviewed before the second Selma March. He died the next day following an attack by white segregationists.
Selma Marchers: Alabama: ITN Reports 10-03-1965

The second march took place two days later and was supported by many white groups, including a band of clergymen who had been attending a conference. Martin Luther King led the march to the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, but no further so as not to violate a court injunction put in place by Governor Wallace. The State Troopers again blocked the way ahead but the marchers stopped to pray and then turned around and returned. There was no violence at this point, but later in the evening three clergymen were beaten by white segregationists on leaving a non-segregated restaurant. By coincidence, one of these clergymen (James Reeb) had been interviewed by ITN earlier that day, however he died from his injuries hours later. Click on the image above to watch ITN coverage of the day’s events.

Martin Luther King is interviewed as he marches ITN Reports : 24-03-1965

Martin Luther King is interviewed by Peter Woods during the Third Selma March
Selma March Takes Place: ITN Reports 24-03-1965

The Third Selma March began on 21st March and this time President Johnson did everything possible to protect the marchers, since Governor Wallace had refused to do so. The State troops were put under federal control and the US Army was brought in along with FBI agents and Federal Marshalls. Click on the image above to watch an ITN news report made during the march, which includes an interview with Martin Luther King.

The clip shows how segregationist propaganda was used along the way, in the form of billboards linking Martin Luther King to Communism and dropping leaflets calling on white employers to sack their black workforce. None of this could prevent the 54 mile march from being successfully completed and it is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the African American Civil Rights Movement.

The resounding impact of this historic march provided the impetus for the passing of the Voting Rights Act in August 1965. This legislation protected all African Americans’ right to vote by banning literacy tests and minimising the fear of intimidation through federal supervision of the voting process. By removing this barrier to equality African Americans were able to participate in public and political life to a far greater extent and ensure their voices were much more widely heard.

Further Links:

JFK : Life and Death in the Media Spotlight

Fifty years ago the world was rocked on its axis by the news that the President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been assassinated during a visit to Dallas. That the most powerful leader in the western world had been killed seemed beyond belief. Click on the image below to hear an ITV News report from the scene a few days later.

Dallas Today

Wreaths are laid at the site of the assassination
ITV News: Dallas Today 27-11-1963

This event marked the end of a period of huge expectation and hope that Kennedy had brought with him when he came to power. His assassination sent a wave of despair and fear across America and the rest of the world when tensions over the Cold War were at their height.

In the clip below you can hear some reaction to the news from Americans and further on in the clip there are broadcasts from the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and the Leader of the Opposition, Harold Wilson.

Reaction to the news of the assassination of President Kennedy
Kennedy Assassination: ITN Specials 23-11-1963

A few years earlier it had seemed extremely unlikely that Kennedy could be successfully voted into office. However at 43 years of age Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by the slimmest of margins (0.2%) to become the youngest ever elected President of the United States and the first Roman Catholic.

The Kennedy Campaign
Kennedy Obituary: ITV News 22-11-1963

To many this unexpected victory was all the more surprising due to his lack of experience in government. Nixon had served under the previous Republican President, Eisenhower and had been considered the favourite candidate. In the following clip you can hear reaction to the news from Londoners interviewed on Waterloo Bridge, as well as a disappointed American Republican voter.

Londoners on Waterloo Bridge give their opinions on Kennedy’s election
US Election Reactions in Britain : ITV News 9-11-1960

Kennedy came from a privileged East coast background but his undeniable charisma and charm won him lots of support from ordinary people during his grassroots campaigning. While running in the Democrat Primaries he targeted West Virginia where unemployment was at around 30% due to the decline in the coal industry. The following ‘Roving Report’  looks at the real deprivation which was prevalent in the area at the time.

The Hungry Hills: Report on Poverty and Unemployment
Roving Report 22-02-1961

Kennedy’s commendable war record gained him many votes among the large number of veterans who lived in the State and winning West Virginia became a turning point in his successful campaign.

Kennedy wins the Nomination for Democrat Candidate
ITV News: Kennedy Obit 22-11-1963

JFK represented a break with the past and the staid post war years. He projected an image of youth and vigour which was in  tune with the birth of the Sixties. It was the first Presidential election to be televised and this played to Kennedy’s strengths. Having worked as a journalist in the past he had a good understanding of the media and how to use it to his best advantage, particularly during the televised debates with Nixon. However despite his easy going manner  he suffered from several serious health conditions and was often in chronic pain, although details of this were suppressed until many years after his death.

Kennedy delivers his inaugural address as President
ITV News: Kennedy Obit 22-11-63

 Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country

Kennedy’s inauguration speech, delivered on 20th January 1961, is regarded as one of the greatest of the 20th Century. It served as a rallying cry for a new generation to defend freedom and liberty and work towards world peace at a time when the possibility of nuclear war was very real.

With Kennedy as President it must have seemed anything was possible so it was all the more humiliating for him to have been involved in the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco a few months later. The following year he was able to redeem his reputation through  the leadership skills he showed during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At a time when nuclear war was a hair’s breadth away his level headed negotiations with Kruschev defused a potential Armageddon.

Kennedy stands with Harold Macmillan outside the US Embassy in London
ITV News: Kennedy in London 05-06-1961

This was a time when the ‘special relationship’ really was special.  Britain was valued as America’s staunchest ally in the fight against communism and the Kennedys had strong ties with the UK.  JFK had lived in London for several years during the time his father was U.S. Ambassador and his family roots all lay in Ireland.

Kennedy in London

Jacqueline Kennedy: The most potent weapon in JFK’s charm offensive
ITV News: Kennedy in London 05-06-1961

There was great public excitement about the Presidential visit in June 1961 when the Kennedys were received as a celebrity couple. In this ITV News clip you can watch them arrive in London to cheering crowds but also some CND protests. Click here to see further coverage of their fever-pitch welcome.

U.S.A. Mr Harold Wilson meets President Kennedy

Harold Wilson meets Kennedy at the White House
Visnews: U.S.A. Mr Harold Wilson meets President Kennedy

In  April 1963 Harold Wilson, the Leader of the British Labour Party who was soon to become Prime Minister, spent a short time with Kennedy during a visit to Washington. In this clip from Visnews he is asked about his personal reactions to the President and whether the world belongs to ‘young’ men such as him. Wilson gives his forthright views on the topic – however the fact he is only 15 months older than Kennedy is never referred to. For more on this interesting visit watch the following ‘Roving Report’  Mr Wilson’s Washington.

Kennedy’s success lay in his ability to allow the American people to believe the world could become a better place and they could lead the way in bringing this about. He also had many enemies, possibly including the CIA, the FBI and the Mafia, who were plotting to bring him down. Kennedy was living in dangerous times and was killed before he had chance to start campaigning for a second term.

ITV News: Oswald Lawyer Interview 15-04-1964

Interview with the Lawyer defending Lee Harvey Oswald
ITV News: Oswald Lawyer Interview 15-04-1964

In the panic and confusion immediately following Kennedy’s assassination, the authorities moved rapidly to arrest Lee Harvey Oswald as the prime suspect. No records were made of his interrogation and he was shot dead by Jack Ruby two days later on live television as he was about to be moved to another Police Station. In the meantime  Lyndon B. Johnson set up the Warren Commission who reported the following year that Oswald had killed Kennedy alone and unaided. The report was soon discovered to be full of inconsistencies and mistakes and many believe it was a cover-up for a conspiracy. In the following ITV Newsclip you can hear Mark Lane, Oswald’s defence lawyer discuss why he believed Oswald to be innocent of the crime.

Evidence offered by the famous Zapruder film has suggested that more than one gunman was involved and this tallies with many eye witness accounts. Mark Lane went on to develop the ‘magic bullet’ theory which discredits the Warren Commission’s report on how Kennedy was shot. Click on the image below to hear him explain his ideas.


Mark Lane explains the ‘Magic Bullet’ theory
ITV News: JFK Assassination 26-09-1975

What would we think of Kennedy if he were alive today? During the Sixties his carefully managed media profile combined with his untimely death gained him an almost god-like status. In recent years this gilded image has tarnished following revelations about his lifestyle and infidelities. Whatever our opinion of him may be (American hero or amoral socialite?) the West has remained forever grateful to him for preventing the outbreak of nuclear war. His style and personality changed the look of modern politics forever and in that sense he has influenced all our lives.

If you have any comments to make about the life or death of President Kennedy we would love to hear from you. Just leave a reply below at the end of this post.

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As Hurricane Sandy batters the Eastern Seaboard


Hurricane Sandy – NASA image acquired October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy is currently doing it’s best, or worst, to disrupt Halloween  on the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.   Sandy is a vast storm, currently a swirling mass some 800km across and is trundling north up the coast.  Importantly, the wind speeds are increasing having risen from 120km/h (75mph) to over 140km/h (85mph).  Officially, Sandy is still a category 1 hurricane and the US has seen much stronger but it is the path of Sandy that is causing concern.  While he has not intensified in the same way as hurricanes that feed off the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, he is moving towards densely populated states on the eastern seaboard.  The US government has, rightly, taken necessary precautions ordering thousands from their homes and closing schools. The question is, where will Sandy make landfall?

For anyone interested in finding out more about Hurricane Sandy GoGeo has compiled some resources.  For those interested in hurricanes and tropical storms in general there are some really useful links as well. As always, if you find anything useful which is not on the list, just add a comment and I will append it to the list.

Hurricane Sandy:


  • NOAA National Huricane Centre – The main source for hurricane information in the USA with the latest projected paths and forecasts updated regularly.
  • BBC Info page – great little collection of news, pictures and live updates from the Beeb
  • Wikipedia – as usual, a plethora of links and information which will grow during the event and provide an archive to material afterwards.
  • Google crisis map – a crisis map from Google with information about medical and evacuation centres in the areas likely to be affected. It also links to weather feed to display radar, cloud and predicted storm tracks.
  • ESRI Public Information map – showing similar data to the google map but in addition seems to drag in tweets and YouTube clips where it can.
  • Wind Map – A nice info-graphic showing the live wind vectors across America. (This is a live feed so i grabbed a map from 0500 hrs on 30th October 2012, just after the storm hit land)
  • ESA – data collected by ESA satellites including 3D structure of the hurricane from CloudSAT. Masses of images and data here.

Useful Hurricane Links

Some more links to useful hurricane and tropical storm resources.

  • ShareGeo – A subset of the data from the Historical Hurricane Center that shows all storms since the year 2000.
  • Historical Hurricane Tracks – This is a service run by NOAA and it provides a host of information about historic hurricanes.  You can download the data they hold by year, by oceanic basin or by name.  Data is provided in a variety of data formats including CSV, NetCDF and shapefile.

All major storms since 2000