This subject guide will introduce you to pacifist personalities, philosophies, events, and historical contexts that shaped the American Civil Rights Movement during much of the 20th century.
This pacifist/civil rights Movement can be traced to citizens’ activism in the Nineteen Teens to create organizations (across lines of race, gender, and social class) to end war, emancipate women, end racial segregation of black people (“Negroes”), end legal discrimination against black people and secure legal protection and legal recognition of the constitutional rights of negroes, women, and conscientious objectors to war. Often the founders of these organizations, which included the NAACP (National Organization for the Emancipation of Colored People); the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union); the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee); the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR); and the War Resisters League (WRL), supported socialist economic arrangements, because they also believed that fundamental economic inequalities underlay social and political inequalities and fostered wars. At the start some of these founders drew inspiration from British and American Quakers’ traditional resistant practices, as well as the writings and actions of the 19th century American writer Henry David Thoreau. During the teens, W.E.B. DuBois drew the attention of Negroes to the Nonviolent anticolonial campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi, and by 1930, international representatives of the Fellowship of Reconciliation had begun to travel to the U.S. accompanied by Indian scholars who had worked with Gandhi. They introduced these scholars to black activists and white social organizers , including black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who quietly incorporated Gandhi’s, issue-spotting strategies and his techniques, including disruptive nonviolence, into their in-house workshops and social-action training guides
From 1910 through 1966, pacifist philosophies, organizations, and actors played leading roles in the American Civil Rights Movement and established racial integration as the Movement’s goal and measure of success. Over time, Pacifist individuals and groups variously aligned and /or cut ties over personal rifts and/or fundamental disagreement s on matters as disparate as support for loyalist soldiers during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s; membership in the Communist Party; participation in the movement to end the Vietnam War, or homosexual identity and activity.
By 1966, pacifists’ dominance in the Civil Rights discourse gave way to prevalence of ideas, activism and organizations identified with Black Nationalism, black separatism and Black Power, which called for an “end to racism”, not the accomplishment of racial integration. The American struggle to attain a non-racist society continues into the present. Meanwhile, pacifists have continued to work nonviolently, away from the spotlight, in diminished numbers, to accomplish human rights for all people. “We are all one human family,“ they have continued to say.
Founders and leaders of these organizations included:
NAACP: Lilian Wald (public health advocate; woman’s rights advocate)/ Ida B. Wells (journalist; woman’s suffragist; anti-lynching campaign-leader)/W.E.B. DuBois: (social theorist; historian; writer; educator; editor)/ Jane Addams: (social philosopher; feminist; Nobel Peace Prize winner; social reformer; Quaker pacifist)/John Haynes Holmes: (pacifist; founder of the Harlem Ashram; Chairman of ACLU 1940-1950)
ACLU (including NCLB, established 1917-1920): Jane Addams/ Crystal Eastman: (attorney; feminist; social reformer)/ Rodger Nash Baldwin: (conscientious objector; social worker; socialist); Norman Thomas (socialist; conscientious objector; pacifist-educator; political candidate); John Haynes Holmes
AFSC (established 1917): anonymous activists, especially Quakers; advocates for alternative services, in battle zones, where conscientious objectors can work without participating in killing or in the military, as such.
FOR (established in U.S.1915) John Nevin Sayre (pacifist- educator; labor-educator ; national and international pacifist administrator)/ Norman Thomas/ A. J. Muste (labor-educator; union activist; pacifist; pacifist educator; national pacifist administrator )/Jane Addams and more than 50 others.
WRL (established 1923) Jessie Wallace Hughan (Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University; socialist; public school educator; political candidate)/ Richard Gregg (pacifist writer; pacifist practitioner and teacher of Gandhian nonviolence)
In founding these organizations, leaders committed themselves and their groups to accomplishing nonviolent social and political change. While appalled at the mis-application of laws (state and federal) which created disadvantage for negroes, women, poor people and the non-violent, these leaders believed that fairness and justice could be achieved through proper actions of existing institutions if citizens’ activism were applied to the task of reformulating those institutions.
Accepted-as-given were the foundational notions of the U.S. Constitution (if revised); elections (if fairly organized and administered); and litigation (if fairly conducted and monitored, and appealable to a fair-minded highest court)
Tactics of these organizations included, for example : negotiation; the sit-down strike; the hunger strike; the boycott; educational workshops in self-discipline and nonviolent self-assertion; self-publication of nonviolent educational pamphlets; organized expression through letter-writing campaigns and personal lobbying in conventional newspapers and magazine; the mass march; refusal to pay war taxes; reporting on conditions in prisons and mental hospitals where alternative service or punishments for civil disobedience take place; cultivation of positive media coverage; deep broad, personal interaction with groups dominated by bureaucratic, de-personalizing authorities.
Purpose of these tactics (and others): to change laws of governments (or commands of authority-figures) without resorting to physical violence.
Assumptions: 1) that certain human rights supersede obedience to unjust laws/unfair rules and 2) that breaking a law or violating a rule can be punished and that accepting the punishment shines light on the unjustness of the law/rule, which, in turn encourages onlookers to support legal, social, and economic change.
Strategies of these organizations included, for example: racial integration; coalition-building through alliances with like-minded churches and labor unions, across lines of race, gender, and religions/lobbying of Congress and state legislatures/ participation in conventional political parties and their conventions/ test-case litigation/ monitoring of enforcement of court opinions/ creation of new organizations to support and coordinate non-violent action.
Time periods of activism and accomplishment included, for example :
1910-1937 (WWI)-U.S. Conscientious Objectors begin alternative service in ‘Europe, as outlined by AFSC for itself and other “peace churches”/ (1917).National Women’s Party members(including many Quakers) picket the White House to provoke their own arrest/ in prison, engage in hunger strikes ; when force-fed, the picketers arouse popular sympathy; pressured, Woodrow Wilson decides to support the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment./ (1917)W.E.B DuBois and NAACP lead 10,000 black marchers in New York City to protest failure of authorities in St. Louis, Illinois, to protect Great Migration’s black laborers from white threats and the National Guard’s protection of white laborers/ (1929) Brotherhood of Sleepingcar Porters’ (BSCP) founding president , A. Philip Randolph, adopts a Gandhian nonviolent pacifist strategy, influenced by FOR’s international representative Muriel Lester and two of her Indian colleagues/(1937-1941) FOR and AFSC begin formally to incorporate Gandhian methods into their training; Richard Gregg’s work is adopted; they commission a guidebook from Shridharani
1937-1954/(1937-1941)FOR and AFSC begin formally to incorporate Gandhian methods into their training; Richard Gregg’s work is adopted; they commission a guidebook from Shridharani/ (1940-1947) some NYC pacifists study and live at a Harlem Ashram, established by John Haynes Holmes/(1940)Bayard Rustin (AFSC), Norman Thomas (FOR) , and A.J. Muste (FOR) train Gordon Hirabayshi (AFSC) in Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence NYC/(1941) FOR establishes special mission to prevent the outbreak of racial warfare in the U.S. with Bayard Rustin as its paid agent; Rustin engages in 13 years of work for FOR teaching Civil Disobedience and nonviolence in black churches and schools in the American South/(1941-1946) BSCP founder and President A. Philip Randolph leads a nationwide March on Washington Movement; even without a planned 1941 March achieves Oval Office concessions from FDR including Executive Order 8802/(1941) FOR member Pauli Murray uses Shridhirani’s guidebook to organize picketing of racially segregated restaurants near Howard Law School(1943)FOR employees, James Farmer, George Houser, and Bayard Rustin, found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) as branch organization of FOR/(1947) FOR employees Bayard Rustin and George Houser organize Freedom Ride across Upper south to test enforcement of the 1946 Morgan decision/ (1949) FOR’s Rustin writes account of his 22 Days on a North Carolina chain gang for New York Post (result of the 1947 Freedom Ride), and chain gang is abolished in North Carolina/AFSC, ACLU, FOR support efforts of NAACP in its litigation of Brown v. Board of Education. FOR member Pauli Murray is credited with developing legal strategy for the litigation.
1954-1966 (1954-1960)WRL’s Executive Director , Bayard Rustin travels to Montgomery ; (NYC pacifists fear that racial warfare is erupting in America); local BSCP leader ,Dixon, introduces Rustin to situation; Dixon has spearheaded selection of MLK as new head of Montgomery Improvement Association; /(1955-1960) Rustin serves as leading strategist for the King-led Movement /Rustin drafts working papers for a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) ; persuades King and Southern ministers to effect it, and recommends Ella Baker to administer it/CORE, WRL, SCLC, and FOR work together and in competition to support civil rights litigation and to teach political activism and to advocate for legislative/political change/(1963)BSCP President (A. Philip Randolph) and WRL Executive Director (Bayard Rustin) organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which achieves coalitions among churches, synagogues, pacifist organizations, and some major labor unions/(1964) Bayard Rustin (WRL)calls for transition from protest into a new participation in politics/(1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s-present)/(1966)Former pacifist and protégé of Bayard Rustin, Stokley Carmichael calls for an end to integrationism and nonviolence. Black Panthers decry nonviolent strategies and assert self defense.
1966—Since the mid-1960s until 1980s-NAACP, AFSC, ACLU, FOR, WRL continue to work across lines of gender, race, and economic circumstance to achieve nonviolent social, political and economic change These organizations remain influential in lobbying, litigation, and public debate , even though their voices do not dominate the formulation of change-based strategies /(1960s)WRL recedes from U.S. domestic activity in support of black civil rights, but reorganizes along feminist lines under leadership of Grace Paley, Barbara Deming and others. Director David Mc Reynolds, a Conscientious O bjector (Korean War) supports homosexual rights; continues decades-long efforts against nuclear war; / (2011)Methods of the so-called Occupy Movement, directly influenced by formal training in Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence by the WRL, may signify the re-emergence of the power of nonviolence, itself, as well as sustenance of the conviction of the WRL’s founder, Jessie Wallace Hughan, that the roots of social unrest lie in 1) government-enforced racial barriers and 2) huge disparities of wealth and income.
1980s- AFSC, ACLU, FOR, WRL continue to work across lines of gender, race, and economic circumstance to achieve nonviolent social, political and economic change These organizations remain influential in lobbying, litigation, maintenance of highly respected educational institutions , engagement in public debate , even though their voices have not dominated the formulation of change-based strategies. Environmental activism /(2011)Methods of the so-called Occupy Movement, directly influenced by formal training in Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence by the WRL, may signify the re-emergence of the power of nonviolence, itself, as well as sustenance of the conviction of the WRL’s founder, Jessie Wallace Hughan, that the roots of social unrest lie in huge disparities of wealth and income.
[Japanese Americans-1940-1980s]1940)Gordon Hirabayashi, a Quaker pacifist college student from Seattle Washington, receives training in Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence in NYC from Bayard Rustin (AFSC), Norman Thomas (ACLU/FOR), and A.J. Muste (FOR)/ (1942) Peace Churches including the Brethren and Mennonites select Quakers to lead in pacifists’ response to Executive Order 9066 (February 25, 1942), which orders internment of Japanese Americans / (1942) Quaker Claude Pickett heads the nationwide response from Quakers’ Philadelphia AFSC headquarters / (1942)FOR’s John Nevin Sayre becomes co-chair of FOR (with A.J. Muste) to lead the FOR’s engagement with the internment./ Quakers and the AFSC relocate thousands of Japanese American students and workers form the West Coast to schools and jobs in the Midwest and East Coast./Under Sayre’s leadership FOR members and employees visit internment camps; report on conditions in camps; establish personal relationships with internees; lobby Congress; and write letters to editors of mainstream newspapers and magazines/ (1942) Hirabayashi turns himself in to the FBI/(1942-1943)Seattle Quaker Floyd Schmoe and Seattle FOR members Attorney Mary and husband Burt Farquharson lobby the AFSC and ACLU to obtain first rate legal representation for Hirabayashi, who loses his case, nonetheless, before the U.S. Supreme Court/ (1944-1946)AFSC arranges for jobs and housing upon Japanese Americans ‘ release from camps./(1970-1981) AFSC and Gordon Hirabayashi support Japanese American redress movement championed by Aiko Herzig and others; the effort stumbles because of internal divisions and external opposition/ (1980s)Conscientious Objector (Vietnam War) Peter Irons heads successful legal challenges in U.S. federal district courts to the three “Japanese American cases” [Note: Bayard Rustin,(WRL) Norman Thomas (FOR) and A. J. Muste(FOR) had trained Irons in Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence during 1961.]