Click on the picture below to get more information about Jim Crow laws.

Interactive popup. Assistance may be required. "Jim Crow" was a derogatory term for African Americans during the late 19th to the mid- 20th centuries. The term was popularized in a song, "Jump Jim Crow," that made fun of African Americans.

So, Jim Crow laws were laws affecting African Americans, but not in a positive way. Jim Crow laws were state and local laws passed to limit the rights of African Americans.

They denied rights given to African Americans by the Reconstruction Amendments. These laws included segregation, or separation, of races in public places, and poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent African Americans from voting.

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By the mid-1900s, many African-American leaders, especially church leaders, felt that African Americans should fight for the rights that were given to them by the Reconstruction Amendments. World War II had ended, and black soldiers had died along with white soldiers in Europe and in the Pacific. By 1948, President Harry Truman had ordered the integration of the armed forces. Civil rights activists felt that the time was right to expand the struggle for integration and equal rights.

One of the most powerful African-American leaders was Martin Luther King, Jr. He felt that African Americans should fight for their rights, but they should do it in a nonviolent way. Dr. King based his plan on the nonviolent campaign that Gandhi led in India when successfully obtaining that country's freedom from British rule. Dr. King thought that a nonviolent campaign in the United States would help black citizens obtain the civil rights promised them in the Constitution.

Click the picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., to find out more information about his work.

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. worked for true equality for African Americans. Dr. King began his career as a Baptist minister in Atlanta, Georgia. He joined the NAACP, an organization that worked for equal rights for African Americans, and he gained national attention by leading the Montgomery bus boycott as a result of Rosa Parks's arrest. He became the most prominent leader in the fight for African-American civil rights and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his work. At age 35, he was the youngest person ever to win the award. Close Pop Up

This picture is a letter to white religious leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, who criticized Dr. King and his work. He was in jail at the time he wrote the letter; he had been arrested for helping to plan a protest against racial segregation in Birmingham. Click the letter to learn more.

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Dr. King faced some opposition to his work. He was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, for his part in a peaceful protest.

While in jail, several white church leaders in Birmingham published a letter in the newspaper saying that the fight against discrimination should be fought in the courts, not in the streets.

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," King answers the statement from the church leaders.

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In the following excerpt from ╩║Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King acknowledges to Birmingham church leaders that demonstrations are inconvenient, but he urges them to remember the deplorable conditions that led to the demonstrations.

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

Think about Dr. King's response to the white church leaders. In your notes, answer these questions: What argument does Dr. King give for needing these protests? Is his argument valid?

Dr. King gained worldwide popularity after his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington in August of 1963. The speech was a plea to end discrimination and to support racial equality. His words ignited support for the civil rights movement.


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