In a little over a twenty-four hour period from June 11, 1963 to June 12, 1963 a significant shift in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States happened. During this time period of a little more than twenty-four hours three separate incidents occurred that propelled the Civil Rights Movement forward and garnered more support for the movement and became a turning point in the fight for equality. Whites in the North, and in the South, started becoming more and more vocal about the violence, atrocities, and discrimination happening to African Americans in the country.
The first incident happened at the University of Alabama on the morning of June 11, 1963. Governor George Wallace held a press conference on campus and reiterating that he would keep his promise “to stand in the schoolhouse door” to prevent African American students from registering and enrolling in the university. This arrangement had been made as part of a compromise with the Kennedy administration and the Justice Department to prevent the violence that had occurred the previous year at the University of Mississippi. The Ole Miss Riots were the result of the first African American student, James Meredith enrolling at the school. In the riot at the University of Mississippi in 1962 five-thousand federal troops had to be sent in by President Kennedy resulting in two-hundred injuries and two deaths. This incident at Ole Miss was the first major confrontation between the Kennedy administration and the South. In order to prevent a repeat Wallace had been allowed to make his speech at the University of Alabama from a podium to save face, while Federal Marshalls escorted African American students who were enrolling and registering on the campus at the same time.
The second incident happened later in the day on June 11, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised speech finally publicly endorsing legislation for public accommodation giving African Americans protection from discrimination in accessing public services, education, and voting. Kennedy told the American people the Civil Rights Movement was a moral crusade and that discrimination had to be stopped for moral reasons. Historians now know that it was Robert Kennedy who continued to push for anti-discrimination laws and protections for African Americans and was able to convince his brother, and President, to publicly speak out in support of the Civil Rights Movement.
The third incident happened in Jackson, Mississippi in the wee morning hours of June 12, 1963. Local NAACP leader Medgar Evers was gunned down and murdered by a sniper outside of his home after getting out of his car. It would later be discovered Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. an American white supremacist and Klansman from Greenwood, Mississippi was the assassin. It would take three trials the last one being in 1994 before he was convicted of assassinating Medgar Evers. Two previous trials in 1964 on this charge had resulted in hung juries.
These three incidents along with previous images from Birmingham where Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor had been broadcast into living rooms around the country. The images showing Connor and his police force using dogs, violence, and firehoses to attack non-violent African American protestors including thousands of children, some as young as six-years old led to a shift in support for the Civil Rights Movement.
Southern whites who had not been vocal in the past out of fear began to support the movement and those in the North began putting pressure on legislators and the White House to intervene. It would be later this year when what some call the worst of the terrorist racial attacks would happen at the 16th Street Baptist Church on a Sunday morning in September.
However it was during the period of time between June 11 and June 12 of 1963 that many historians believe the beginning of the major shift in supporting the Civil Rights Movement happened. It is important for all of us to remember the atrocities that happened during this period of time as well as the rhetoric used by racist individuals to justify their actions and behaviors. Everyone knows the saying “history repeats itself” but the truth is history does not repeat itself, people repeat history. It’s time for all of us to stand together once more and not allow that to happen.
About Renee Davis: Renee Davis sits on the Board of Directors for UniteWomen.org and is a Historian. She has been with the organization from it’s inception and has served as a Co-State Director of Louisiana, a Regional Director, Outreach National Director, Executive Vice President of Programs and created our UniteWomen.org Campus Division. She also created the concept for our Unite Against Rape campaign after the Steubenville Jane Doe case and was the catalyst for bringing UniteWomen.org into the Suffrage Centennial Celebration held in Washington, D.C. in March of 2013. Renee is currently finishing her M.A. in History at Louisiana Tech University where her research focuses on Women’s History, Race, Gender, and the South.
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