37¢ To Form a More Perfect Union
Set of 10 Stamps
Issue Date: August 27, 2005
City: Washington, DC
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: Serpentine Die Cut 10.75 x 10.5
Executive Order 9981
Early American laws barred blacks from the military, but in times of war, white leaders recruited both slave and free blacks. The Continental Army had 5,000 African-Americans, and at least 216,000 black men served in the Union forces during the Civil War.
In that war, blacks suffered unequal pay, promotion, supplies, and services. “Jim Crow” discrimination in the military continued for decades after the Civil War.
Even so, large numbers of African-Americans still volunteered to fight for their country. One million African-Americans served in the military during World War II. Many black servicemen hoped their military service would earn them equal status in U.S. society. When they returned home, they were impatient with continuing anti-Negro discrimination and violence.
Black leaders pressed President Harry Truman to end military segregation. Truman was aware how important the black vote was to his Democratic Party. He knew that integration would also help America win Cold War allies among Third World countries.
On July 26, 1948, Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ordering “...equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
1965 Voting Rights Act
The 15th and 19th Amendments to the United States Constitution granted black citizens the right to vote. However, Southern registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other strategies to deny this right.
The murder of voting-rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 brought national attention to the issue. Then, on Sunday, March 7, 1965, Selma, AL, residents and supporters marched to demand an equal right to vote. Alabama police used tear gas and clubs against them.
President Johnson denounced “Bloody Sunday,” “Wednesday I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.... It is wrong – deadly wrong – to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country.”
The voting rights bill Johnson sent to Congress removed the right of states to restrict who could vote in elections. The Act was passed by large majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law on August 6.
Within months of its passage, a quarter of a million new black voters had registered. Within four years, voter registration in the South had more than doubled. In 1965, barely 100 African-Americans held any elective office in the U.S.; by 1989, there were more than 7,200. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 accomplished its purpose.
1960 Lunch Counter Sit-ins
Throughout the South in 1960 and for decades before, people were segregated by race in restaurants and other public places. On February 1, 1960, four African-American college students sat at the “whites only” lunch counter of the F.W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, NC, and tried to order lunch. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats.
A larger group of students returned the next day. Hundreds of students and others joined in sitting-in at the lunch counter and boycotting the store. Six months later, the Woolworth lunch counter was desegregated.
News of the Greensboro sit-in spread. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in 11 cities. Northern students supported the Southern students by boycotting and picketing Northern branches of the targeted chain stores.
White-owned businesses suffered from the sit-ins, pickets, and boycotts. In Nashville, TN, students held sit-ins through February and March of 1960. When a lawyer who had represented the arrested students had his home bombed in April, 2,500 students and citizens staged a silent march on city hall. Three weeks later, six Nashville lunch counters began serving blacks.
By October, there had been sit-ins in 112 cities. The courage of four young men had inspired a movement.
Little Rock Nine
Three years after the Supreme Court ordered public school desegregation, the Little Rock, Arkansas, school board reluctantly began to comply. In the 1957-58 school year, Central High School would be integrated. About 75 black teenagers applied to go to all-white Central High, but the school board accepted only nine.
Opposed to integration, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school and block the black students. He declared that if black students attempted to enter the school, “blood would run in the streets.” Legal action by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stopped the Guard from continuing to block the students.
On September 23, the Little Rock Nine braved a mob outside the school to pass through the school doors. Inside, white students spit upon them, tripped them, and yelled insults. With the mob outside growing more violent, the black students were led out a rear door.
President Dwight Eisenhower responded by sending troops of the 101st Airborne Division to protect the black students. The 101st patrolled outside the school and accompanied each black student inside the school. Eight of the Little Rock Nine managed to endure and finish that historic school year.
1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott
As in most of the South, the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system was segregated. Although 75 percent of the city’s bus passengers were black, they had to move to the back of the bus to let white people sit.
On Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black seamstress, boarded a city bus. A few stops later, several white people got on, and one was left standing. The bus driver told Parks to give the white man her seat. When she refused, she was arrested.
Black community leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to organize a Monday bus boycott to protest Parks’ arrest. They elected a new minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., as president. Word of the boycott spread through fliers and Sunday sermons.
At a mass meeting Monday night, people voted unanimously to maintain the boycott. Drivers with cars transported people who ordinarily used the buses. The boycott continued, month after month.
In February 1956, a group of Montgomery’s black citizens brought segregated transportation before a federal court. On December 21, 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that segregated buses were unconstitutional. After more than a year of walking, carpooling, legal action, and intimidation, the boycott was over.
1957 Freedom Riders
In 1960, the Supreme Court ruled segregation in public transportation to be illegal. In May 1961, an interracial group boarded a bus in Washington, D.C., bound for New Orleans. Called “Freedom Riders,” the whites sat in the back of the bus and the blacks in front. They intended to see whether President Kennedy would enforce the Supreme Court ruling.
A mob in Anniston, Alabama, stoned one Freedom Riders’ bus and fire bombed it. At the Birmingham station, a mob severely beat Riders of another bus. The first Freedom Riders escaped by plane to New Orleans.
A second wave of Freedom Riders, Nashville college students, went to Birmingham. They rode the bus to the Montgomery bus terminal, where a vicious mob attacked them. In response, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to the city.
The bruised and battered Riders continued on to Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested. Wave after wave of Freedom Riders, more than 300, came and were arrested.
The Freedom Riders’ action made the Kennedy administration take a stand. The Interstate Commerce Commission, at Robert Kennedy’s request, outlawed segregation in interstate bus travel in September 1961.
1964 Civil Rights Act
Constitutional amendments passed after the Civil War outlawed slavery and gave civil rights to African-Americans. After 1900, however, the government did little to enforce civil rights. Northern migration of blacks and the return of black veterans from World War II reawakened the demand for equal treatment.
Hundreds of dramatic demonstrations early in 1963 brought civil rights issues before the nation. In June 1963, President Kennedy urged Americans to guarantee every citizen equal treatment. Soon after, he asked Congress to consider civil rights legislation.
After Kennedy’s assassination in November, President Johnson called for passage of the civil rights bill to honor the fallen leader. Pressure also came from citizens, and major national, civil rights, and church groups.
The House bill passed in February 1964, but Southern senators delayed the bill with a two-month filibuster. Finally, the Senate voted to end the filibuster and passed a modified bill. The House approved the new version on July 2, and Johnson signed the bill into law.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination in public facilities, government, and employment. It was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
1963 March on Washington
In May 1963, a shocked nation watched television images of black children being brutalized with fire hoses and police dogs as they marched for civil rights in Birmingham. In June, Alabama Governor Wallace personally barred black students from the University.
President Kennedy responded with a civil rights bill to Congress on June 19. Civil rights groups joined to march on Washington on August 28 to support the bill.
The march was the idea of A. Philip Randolph, the president of the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black U.S. labor union. The focus was jobs, freedom, and passage of the civil rights bill.
“Freedom trains” and “Freedom buses” brought people to Washington from all across the country. More than 250,000 people came, as many as 60,000 of them white. Fifteen thousand paratroopers were put on alert, but there was no violence.
Following speeches and songs from activists, artists, and civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the closing address, his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Shortly after the March on Washington, violence was back in Birmingham. A bomb was thrown into a church full of African-American children, injuring 21 and killing four young girls. The struggle was not over.
1965 Selma March
In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came to Selma, Alabama, to fight for black citizens’ right to vote.
The SCLC demonstrations led to massive arrests. Hundreds of protesting students were arrested. For days, news media showed black children being led to jail.
During one protest, police fatally shot a black veteran who was protecting his mother. After his death, the idea grew for a procession to the state capital.
On Sunday, March 7, marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Police stopped them, told them to disperse, then fired tear gas and beat the protesters.
King planned another march with people from all over the country. A court order limited the marchers to the bridge. Following the march, a white minister from Boston was beaten to death. A week later, with the restraining order lifted, the full march was scheduled.
President Johnson ordered the National Guard and Army to protect the marchers. Four thousand people set off for the capital on March 21. Five days and 54 miles later, now numbering 25,000, the marchers reached Montgomery. The march itself was peaceful, but it was followed by a tragic event. Klansmen killed a white homemaker from Detroit as she returned to Selma.
Brown vs. Board of Education
In Topeka, Kansas, seven-year-old Linda Brown had to walk one mile to get to her black elementary school; a white school was only seven blocks away. Mr. Brown tried unsuccessfully to enroll his daughter in the white school. He appealed for help to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In June 1951, the Kansas U.S. District Court heard Brown’s case against the Topeka school board. The NAACP argued that segregated schools sent a message to black children that they were inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were not equal.
Interpretation of an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, had allowed separate but equal school systems for blacks and whites. Based on this precedent, the district court ruled against Brown.
The NAACP appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 17, l954, the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine for public education and required the desegregation of schools across America.
Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court, saying “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The Brown v. Board of Education decision sparked a movement to desegregate all public facilities across the American South.
Civil Rights Act Of 1964
On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, fulfilling a goal set by his predecessor, John F. Kennedy.
Early on in his career, John F. Kennedy did not speak out frequently concerning civil rights. However, his brief term in office came at a tumultuous time in US history, when the matter of civil rights became the defining issue of a generation.
Mere months into his term, Kennedy faced his first major civil rights decision, concerning the 1961 Freedom Riders. That spring and summer hundreds of people rode southern interstate buses to oppose the practice of segregation, which had been outlawed on public buses. Some were arrested and attacked by local mobs. The violence and imprisonments brought the civil rights issue to national attention and showed that the federal government was not enforcing its own laws. In response, Kennedy sent federal marshals to guard the riders, though he stressed that his decision was a legal issue, rather than a moral one. He was being cautious so as not to infringe on the Southern states’ rights.
The following year, Kennedy authorized federal troops to protect James Meredith, an African American attending the University of Mississippi. Though he insisted that it wouldn’t change his legislative plans. Then in 1963, as the movement became more violent and attracted international attention, Kennedy realized that stronger legislation would take the issue “out of the streets” and into the courts – away from international spectators. That February, he proposed a Civil Rights bill to Congress. He stated that it would have economic and diplomatic benefits, and argued that it should remove institutional racism because, “above all, it is wrong.”
Kennedy was further moved by the Birmingham campaign in May 1963, in which African American students staged nonviolent protests. Then on May 21, 1963, a federal judge ruled that the University of Alabama must allow two African American students to attend its summer courses. The governor of Alabama strongly opposed the order and insisted on making it a public display. On June 11, the students attempted to enter the school’s auditorium to register for classes, but the governor himself blocked the doorway. Kennedy then ordered federal troops to order him to step aside and allow the students to register.
In the wake of the nationally televised event, Kennedy decided it was time to address the nation on the civil rights issue. That night, at 8 p.m., Kennedy delivered his Civil Rights Address. He began by briefly talking about the events at the University of Alabama earlier in the day. Kennedy then stressed the importance that all Americans recognize civil rights as a moral cause that everyone should contribute to and that it was “as clear as the American Constitution.”
Kennedy’s address was well received by many people in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Can you believe that white man not only stepped up to the plate, he hit it over the fence!” Days later, on June 19, Kennedy sent his bill to Congress, saying its passage was “imperative.” Passage of the bill would be one of his major goals in the coming months.
Congress debated the bill and added a series of provisions to ban racial discrimination in employment, offer better protection to black voters, end segregation in all publicly owned buildings, and improve the anti-segregation clauses in regards to public facilities. Kennedy continued to push for the bill’s passage, but he wouldn’t live to see it, losing his life to an assassin’s bullet that November.
Upon taking office, Lyndon B. Johnson saw to it that Kennedy’s act be completed. Less than a week after becoming president, he addressed Congress, saying “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.”
The House bill passed in February 1964, but Southern senators delayed the bill with a two-month filibuster. Hubert Humphrey, Everett Dirksen, and others submitted a new bill that they believed could get enough Republican swing votes to gain passage. Their new bill was accepted, passed, and signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.
Click here to read the full text of the act.