“I don’t know whether I am doing a right deed as to plead to you. But I do know that I am all right to plead for my race…I am a Southern colored girl in New York.” –Miss South Carolinean, April 10, 1933
Letter from Miss South Carolinean [Carolinian] to President Franklin Roosevelt Regarding the Scottsboro Case
Clarence Norris, Charlie Weems, Haywood Patterson, Ozie Powell, Willie Robertson, Eugene Williams, Olen Montgomery, Andy Wright, and Ray Wright were known as the “Scottsboro Boys.” In 1931, the nine African Americans were tried and convicted of assault and rape in Alabama by all-white juries within two weeks. Eight were sentenced to death. In this letter to Franklin Roosevelt, “Miss South Carolinian” asked for the President’s help.
The initial speedy trials, the age of the defendants, the racial bias of the juries and the severity of the sentences led to arguments that the defendants never received fair trials and a movement to free them. Their case went to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled they were denied the right to counsel, violating their right to due process under the 14th amendment. Eventually, their sentences were commuted and charges against four were dropped, but their lives were forever changed as most spent years in jail. On November 21, 2013, posthumous pardons were issued by the state of Alabama to Charlie Weems, Andy Wright and Haywood Patterson.
This letter is among the featured items at the “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures" exhibit now on display at the National Archives Museum.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Marian Anderson’s concert on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. More than 75,000 people attended.
Originally, Anderson was scheduled to sing at Howard University, but when officials thought the crowds would be too large, they asked the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) if Anderson could sing in their auditorium at Constitution Hall.
However, in 1939, Washington, DC, was still a racially segregated city, and Constitution Hall had a “white-only” policy for its performers. The DAR declined.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership from the organization in protest, surprising the nation (though not the black community) with her support.
Anderson’s manager Sol Hurok proposed that Anderson give an open-air concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior and past president of the Chicago NAACP, approved the idea immediately.
This iconic image shows Anderson singing to the 75,000 people gathered in Potomac Park on April 9, 1939. Image: National Archives Identifier 595378.
Our own Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, will introduce President Carter tonight at the Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Texas.
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library is hosting the summit on April 8, 9, and 10.
You can watch the panel discussions and keynote address live on their website: http://www.civilrightssummit.org/updates/
The keynote speakers include President Barack Obama and three former Presidents: Jimmy Carter will speak on April 8; Bill Clinton will speak on April 9; and George W. Bush will speak on the evening of April 10.
Learn more about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in our new Google Cultural Institute exhibit, which includes videos, letters, telegrams, meeting minutes, and high resolution photos.
Image: LBJ signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Serial Number: A1030-17a Date: 08/06/1965. Credit: LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto.
Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.
As detailed in his official daily diary, President Lyndon Johnson received word of the shooting shortly after 7 p.m. that evening. After learning of King’s death, Johnson called Coretta Scott King and later addressed the American people on television.
President’s Daily Diary Entry, April 4, 1968, 04/04/1968 - 04/04/1968
This March 29, 1960 advertisement is an exhibit from the court case Abernathy v Patterson involving Martin Luther King, Jr. The advertisement calls for support of the civil rights movement and is signed by 100 prominent citizens.
See more in the online exhibit Documented Rights
"For God sakes help the poor innocent people of Selma Alabama"
Mrs. E. Jackson wrote to the House Judiciary Committee the day after “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama. She was reacting to scenes of police brutality during a voting rights march that many Americans witnessed on television news programs. The interlined handwriting in pencil is likely that of House Judiciary Chairman Emanuel Celler, who was Mrs. Jackson’s representative in Congress and an active supporter of voting rights legislation in the House.
Letter from Mrs. E. Jackson in Favor of Voting Rights, 03/08/1965
Discharge Petition #14 Filed by Oscar De Priest Regarding H. Res. 236, a Resolution to Prevent Discrimination, 01/24/1934 - 03/05/1934
Item from Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. (04/01/1789 -)
This resolution and discharge petition from Representative Oscar De Priest, a Republican from Illinois, attempted to end racial discrimination in the House of Representatives’ Restaurant. De Priest introduced H. Res. 236 to the House, which called for the creation of a special committee to investigate the House Restaurant’s refusal to serve two African Americans, one of whom was a member of his staff. When the resolution stalled in the Rules Committee, De Priest successfully used a discharge petition to move the bill out and onto the House floor.
Don’t forget to check out the National Archives’ future exhibition “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures,” opening to the public on March 21, 2014!
"Serg’t. Stephen A. Swails particularly distinguished himself for coolness and bravery; he is a man in every way competent to do credit in a higher position, and I with pleasure recommend him for a Second Lieutenancy in this Regt."
Letter from Colonel Edward Hallowell to the Governor of Massachusetts, 2/24/1864
Regimental and Company Books of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored) Regiment, 05/13/1863 - 09/01/1865. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office
Recognizing the abilities of Sgt. Stephen A. Swails, Col. E. N. Hallowell recommends that Swails be promoted to second lieutenant and Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew commissioned Swails on March 11, 1864. However, the War Department would deny this request because Swails is “of African descent.” Swails would eventually be granted his promotion in 1865 and his seniority adjusted to May 14, 1864—the day he was assigned duty as a second lieutenant.
Happy Birthday Jackie Robinson! January 31, 1919 - October 24, 1972
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Former National Baseball League player, Jackie Robinson with his son.], 08/28/1963
Rowland Scherman, photographer.
Born 95 years ago today, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This decision would not only integrate baseball, but would help the country work to achieve equal rights for all. Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented to baseball pitcher Don Newcombe, “Don, you and Jackie will never know how easy you made my job, through what you went through on the baseball field.”
Before becoming famous, Lt. Jack R. Robinson was court-martialed at Camp Hood, Texas, because he refused to move to the back of the bus after being told to do so by a bus driver and disobeying an order from a superior officer. Robinson was acquitted of all charges and received an honorable discharge, but this was not the only experience he would have in fighting discrimination.
Many of these milestone events from Robinson’s life are documented in primary sources from the National Archives.
Holy Act of Congress, Batman! Equal Pay for Equal Work!
January 29 is the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In commemoration, our colleagues in the NARA Motion Picture Preservation Lab have posted this 1973 Public Service Announcement (PSA) in which Batgirl explains the concept of “equal pay for equal work” to her boss (Batman) and co-worker (Robin). Luckily for them she is equally adept at disarming nefarious devices.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was the first piece of legislation signed by President Barack Obama. It updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex when determining pay for employees doing the same work.
The 2009 Act resets the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit each time a paycheck reflecting a discriminatory pay decision is issued. It was named for Lilly Ledbetter, whose equal-pay suit against her employer was dismissed by the Supreme Court because she had not filed it within 180 days of the discriminatory pay decision. Ledbetter says she was not aware of the pay discrepancy during that window of time.
Batman , ca. 1973.
From the General Records of the Employment Standards Administration
Our favorite #museumselfie is hanging up over our main entrance!
The girl in the middle is Edith Lee-Payne, and she was snapped by a photographer at the March in Washington, DC, in 1963. Her photograph became an iconic image, but she had no idea she was in the National Archives until 2008.
You can read more about Edith’s story of finding herself in the National Archives in this Prologue post.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking.], 08/28/1963
Rowland Scherman, photographer. From the Records of the U.S. Information Agency
See all our previous Martin Luther King, Jr. posts, and the recent series from the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
A free screening and discussion of the Mildred and Richard Loving story, tonight, January 9 at 7pm at the National Archives!
A racially charged criminal trial and a heart-rending love story converge in this 2007 documentary film about Mildred and Richard Loving.
On Thursday, January 9, at 7 p.m. watch a free screening at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Attorney Phil Hirschkop (who pled the case in front of the US Supreme Court) will discuss the film. (77 minutes.)
The marriage of Mildred (who was part African American black and part Native American) and Richard (who was white) was declared illegal in 1958 by their home state of Virginia. They refused to leave one another and, with the help of the ACLU, pursued their right to happiness.
Their case reached the Supreme Court, which in 1967 struck down laws against interracial marriage in this country. With newly discovered footage of the Lovings and their lawyers, first-person testimony, and rare documentary photographs, this film takes us behind the scenes of the legal challenges and the emotional turmoil of the landmark case.
Police Report on Arrest of Rosa Parks
On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42 year-old woman took a seat near the front of the bus on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Refusing to yield her seat to a white passenger when instructed by the bus driver, police were called and she was arrested.
The police report shows that Rosa Parks was charged with “refusing to obey orders of bus driver.” According to the report, she was taken to the police station, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated.
The event touched off a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system in which a 26-year-old unknown minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as the leader.
(more via DocsTeach)
Yesterday we celebrated our veterans. But during World War II, one million African American men and the thousands of African American women were serving their country in racially segregated units.
In 1948, President Truman changed that by signing this landmark document.
This Executive Order called for equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces of the United States. Do you think it should be the first document to go display in our new “Records of Rights” exhibit? http://go.usa.gov/Djrh
Many years later, General Colin Powell would credit Truman for this move towards equality and civil rights:
“The military was the only institution in all of America—because of Harry Truman—where a young black kid, now twenty-one years old, could dream the dream he dared not think about at age eleven. It was the one place where the only thing that counted was courage, where the color of your guts and the color of your blood was more important than the color of your skin.”
Cast your vote for Executive Order 9981 to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. http://go.usa.gov/Djrh