I live close to Rock Hill, South Carolina (Rock Hill is across the state border with Charlotte, NC), which recently commemorated the Friendship 9. The Friendship Nine was a group of African American men who went to jail after staging a sit-in at a segregated McCrory’s lunch counter in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 1961. The group gained nationwide attention because they followed an untried strategy called “Jail, No Bail,” which lessened the huge financial burden civil rights groups were facing as the sit-in movement spread across the South. They became known as the Friendship Nine because eight of the nine men were students at Rock Hill’s Friendship Junior College.
Anyway, with all the national news coverage of the exoneration of the charges against them and the reenactment of their sit in, I began to reflect upon that turbulent time. I was in junior high school and high school throughout those years, but one of the most dramatic events was the closing of the all-black Douglass High School in my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. “2011 marked 50 years that the all-black Douglass High School closed. In 1961, Douglass closed its doors as a school and the students integrated with Huntington High. It was a transition that was bittersweet, former Douglass students said — one that meant new opportunities, but the passing of a time when their world was close-knit and familiar.” (The Herald Dispatch)
One of the events which I recall most vividly was the filibuster of 1960. Southern Democrats in the Senate, headed by Richard Bl Russell of Georgia, began to filibuster on 29 February 1960 to forestall a vote on – or to force compromises in – legislation dealing with school desegregation and voting rights. At the heart of the battle is the Southerners’ unwillingness to recognize a Supreme Court desegregation decision as law. In preparation for round-the-clock sessions, cots were moved into Senate offices and committee rooms. On March 8, the filibuster finally ended when Democratic leader Lyndon B. Johnson responded to a bipartisan petition signed by 31 senators calling for a vote. Eventually, after many compromises, the Senate passed a watered-down version of the bill in April. (“February and March 1960,” Memories: The Magazine of Then and Now, February/March 1990.)
Richard Brevard Russell, Jr. (November 2, 1897 – January 21, 1971) was an American politician from Georgia. A member of the Democratic Party, he briefly served as speaker of the Georgia house, and as Governor of Georgia (1931–33) before serving in the United States Senate for almost 40 years, from 1933 until his death in 1971. As a Senator, he was a candidate for President of the United States in the 1948 Democratic National Convention, and the 1952 Democratic National Convention.
While a prime mentor of Johnson, Russell and the then-president Johnson also disagreed over civil rights. Russell, a segregationist, had repeatedly blocked and defeated civil rights legislation via use of the filibuster and had co-authored the Southern Manifesto in opposition to civil rights. He had not supported the States Rights’ Democratic Party of Strom Thurmond in 1948, but he opposed civil rights laws as unconstitutional and unwise. (Unlike Theodore Bilbo, “Cotton Ed” Smith and James Eastland, who had reputations as ruthless, tough-talking, heavy-handed race baiters, he never justified hatred or acts of violence to defend segregation. But he strongly defended white supremacy and apparently did not question it or ever apologize for his segregationist views, votes and speeches.) Russell was key, for decades, in blocking meaningful civil rights legislation intended to protect African-Americans from lynching, disenfranchisement, and disparate treatment under the law. After Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Russell (along with more than a dozen other southern Senators, including Herman Talmadge and Russell Long) boycotted the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. (Wikipedia)
Russell was a founder and leader of the conservative coalition that dominated Congress from 1937 to 1963, and at his death was the most senior member of the Senate. He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement.