Resistance in the Era of Segregation

Resistance in the Era of Segregation, 1900-1945: Side 1

As the lines of segregation hardened, black leaders and their white allies responded by coming together in reform organizations, the most famous of which was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which began in the early years of the century a legal campaign to defend the civil rights of black defendants and to challenge the most blatant forms of discrimination and disenfranchisement.  World War I triggered the Great Migration, the movement of African Americans from the rural to urban South and onward to northern and Midwestern cities, a process that over the next few decades would fundamentally reshape the African American role in American politics and culture.  In the wake of the war two new currents of activism joined the freedom struggle.  The Marcus Garvey movement promoted black nationalism, appealing primarily but not exclusively to urban blacks and emphasizing economic self-reliance.  Meanwhile black and white leaders came together in new interracial initiatives to promote cooperation, communication and better conditions.

The national emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II caused new economic and personal hardships for African Americans.  Although parts of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” caused negative consequences for blacks, the economic support provided by relief agencies funneled benefits to them.  The administration also included some blacks in government posts which combined with Franklin Roosevelt’s reputed love for common people and the association of his wife Eleanor with the civil rights cause turned black voters en masse away from the party of Lincoln to the Democratic Party coalition.  During the war, black participation in the armed services and in the defense industry, coupled with an NAACP-led campaign that connected the fight against Nazi fascism with the battles against racism and segregation at home laid the ground work for an expansion of the freedom struggle in the postwar years.


Resistance in the Era of Segregation, 1900-1945: Side 1

In Louisville, the turning point in the struggle for freedom was the founding of the local NAACP in 1914.   The branch’s first major victory was the Buchanan v. Warley case, which struck an early blow against legal segregation.  In that 1917 ruling, the U. S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisville ordinance requiring housing segregation, effectively turning the tide on enshrining segregation into law.

While court action laid a foundation for later successes, more often in this period black citizens used their voting power to challenge restrictions against them and to demand equal access to civic resources.  In 1921, disgruntled with both major political parties, a group of black leaders formed the Lincoln Independent Party (LIP) and ran for election to a number of offices.  Although they suffered personal harassment and failed to win at the polls, the LIP succeeded in pressuring the Republican administration to open both police and fire department jobs to blacks.  In 1925 black leaders again marshaled political power to win a promise of more funding for higher education for local African Americans.  In 1931 that promise was fulfilled when the Louisville Municipal College (LMC), a branch of the University of Louisville for black students, opened its doors on the grounds of the former Simmons University.  During its brief, two-decade existence, LMC provided training for the next generation of black leaders and a social and cultural community resource.    Black voting power in the Depression decade led to the election of Charles Anderson in 1935 to represent the 42nd district in the Kentucky General Assembly, the first black elected state representative in the South since Reconstruction.  The Depression decade mobilized many, black and white, to pull together and act against widespread economic suffering. With the coming of World War II, black leaders associated the struggle against fascism abroad with the fight for interracial democracy at home, and stepped up their public pressure against discrimination in employment and education.


Selected Sources

Dunnigan, Alice Allison.  The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and

Traditions.  Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, Inc., 1982.

Frazier, E. Franklin.  Negro Youth at the Crossways: Their Personality Development in the

Middle States.  American Council on Education, 1967 ed.

Hardin, John.  Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1954.

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Harrison, Lowell H., and James C. Klotter. New History of Kentucky. Lexington: University

Press of Kentucky, 1997.

Kentucky=s Black Heritage.  Frankfort: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, 1971.

Lehmann, Nicholas, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How it Changed

America (New York: Vintage, 1992)

Siktoff, Harvard, A New Deal For Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue:

the Depression Decade (New York: Ocford, 2009)

Sitkoff, Harvard. “Racial Militancy and Interracial Violence in the Second World War,” Journal

of American History 58 (1971) 1: 661-81.

Sosna, Morton.  In Search of the Silent South: Southern Liberals and the Race issue.  New York:

Columbia University Press, 1977.

Sullivan, Patricia, Life Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement.

New York: New Press, 2010.

Wright, George C.  A History of Blacks in Kentucky, Volume II: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-

1980.  Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992.

Wright, George C.  Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1865-1930.  Baton Rouge:

Louisiana State University Press, 1985.