How does America treat its own children

Racial Segregation in the US: In the Land of Inequality

Racial segregation still prevails in the southern United States in the early 1960s. Blacks are not allowed to sit next to whites in restaurants, are excluded from elections, and discriminated in everyday life - a racist system that the Oscar-winning film "Green Book" is about. But more and more African Americans are demanding, finally demanding equal rights. At their head: the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

People crowd the square in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the memorial to the 16th US President and pioneer for the liberation of blacks from slavery. Tens of thousands followed a call for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to demonstrate on that day, August 28, 1963, for work and equal rights for all US citizens.

Singing they got off the special trains, off the buses. Older black men in Sunday twine.

White students in t-shirts. Stage and film stars such as Josephine Baker, Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston came as well as many members of the US Congress.

A quarter of a million people, black and white, gathered for the largest demonstration Washington has ever seen.

The government and many citizens fear for security and order. The sale of alcohol is forbidden on this bright August day. 4,000 soldiers are ready in the suburbs, 15,000 parachutists can be set in motion immediately.

But the demonstrators remain peaceful. While the air becomes more and more sultry; while Bob Dylan sings and Mahalia Jackson; during all the speeches, the demands for freedom.

Then the last speaker steps forward. The man everyone has been waiting for: Pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

The most important leader of the black civil rights movement. A charismatic speaker who is revered by many as the Afro-American Moses, but at the same time is a secret sinner with countless affairs. Some reject them as dangerous radicals and others as harmless Uncle Tom. The preacher of nonviolent resistance who would have achieved nothing without the brutal excesses of his opponents.

At last the future martyr of black America, with a cruciform scar over his heart from an attack, begins his speech. A speech that will make him immortal.

100 years have passed since Abraham Lincoln began his "Declaration of Emancipation" to free the slaves in the south of America. Previously, eleven southern states, including Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, split off from the USA and merged as the "Confederate States of America" ​​in 1861 in protest against the anti-slavery attitude of many of the 23 northern states. 19 of them had already released their slaves.

Nine out of ten African Americans lived as slaves

In the subsequent fratricidal war, a union of these 19 northern states fought for the unity of the USA - and from 1863 also for the end of slavery in the southern states. Two years later the American Civil War ended with a Union victory over the Confederates; more than 600,000 people were killed.

Several amendments to the Constitution subsequently declared slavery to end across the United States.

They guaranteed civil rights for blacks and stipulated that no one should be kept away from elections because of the color of their skin.

Nine out of ten Afro-Americans were living as slaves on the plantations of the southern states at the time. But they only became free according to the constitutional text - but in fact they remained dependent on the families they had previously served as unfree, hired themselves out as cheap laborers in the same cotton fields on which they had previously toiled.

And the southerners continued to oppress the blacks. Unhindered by the Supreme Court, they passed laws that prevented almost any contact between black and white. The principle "separate but equal" became the legal foundation of racial segregation.

And because the constitution only forbade discriminating voters because of their skin color, they invented new hurdles: for example, an election tax, a reading test.

Millions of black people have left the southern states

These "Jim Crow Laws", named after an Afro-American character in racist music shows, still determine the life of black people in the south almost 100 years later:

Their children are born in hospitals for blacks, go to schools for blacks, and swing in playgrounds for blacks. The descendants of the slaves in the south are not allowed to use the same toilets as whites, not the same drinking fountains, not the same dressing rooms.

You are not allowed to order your coffee where the whites drink it. They are laid out in other funeral homes, buried in other cemeteries, and their deaths are announced in another section of the newspaper. Their schools are poorly equipped, and only the toilets for whites differentiate between "ladies" and "gentlemen".

Dealers refuse women the polite form of address "Mrs.", men are called "boy" at any age.

These are the circumstances under which Michael King, Jr., born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. grows up.

His father and one of the grandfathers are Baptist preachers, and after a visit to Europe, the father gives himself and his five-year-old son the first and last name of the great German reformer from Wittenberg.

Martin Luther King Jr. is an excellent student. He wants to be a lawyer or a doctor. But at Morehouse College he meets theologians who understand the office of pastor as social work and who give demanding sermons. And so he follows the example of his father.

His first pastor was shortly after his wedding in September 1954 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.

Times are hard. Around four million blacks have left the southern states since 1910 and moved to the industrial cities in the north: the conflict between black and white has long been a national problem.

But shortly before King's first sermon in Montgomery, the US Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, challenged the legal principle of "separate but equal" in a judgment.

It has ruled that it is against the constitution for a black girl to have to take a bus a mile to a school for blacks every day instead of attending the elementary school for white children in her neighborhood.

The model lawsuit was driven by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a black civil rights organization.

It relies on change through laws and judgments.

White thugs revive the "Ku Klux Klan"

But even after this victory in the Supreme Court, little has changed in the schools of the South.

On the contrary: White thugs are reviving the "Ku Klux Klan", a racist secret society that officially disbanded in 1944. Some states enact laws against the civil rights movement; so teachers and officials can lose their jobs if they serve in the NAACP.

80 percent of whites in the south are against their children going to school with blacks. Protesters stand in front of the schools that allow African American people. They call children niggers, wave a black baby doll in a coffin.

In Montgomery, Alabama, there is no trace of the first racial segregation victory either. On the one hand, the southern states are slow to implement the ruling of the Supreme Court, and on the other hand, they stick to all other injustices against which no one has yet sued.

And the African Americans in the city of Montgomery feel whenever they get on a bus: The Montgomery City Line has reserved the front rows for whites, the back rows are reserved for blacks. In between there are "neutral" rows - Afro-Americans are allowed to sit here as long as no white man has to stand.

On December 1, 1955, one of these seats was Rosa Parks, a NAACP activist.

The seamstress goes home after a hard day at work. The bus fills up, white men stand in the aisle. The driver orders Parks to get up.

She stays seated. The driver calls the police. Rosa Parks is arrested.

When the NAACP heard about it, the civil rights activists persuaded them to file a model lawsuit.

This should force the bus company to treat all passengers equally.

Rosa Parks, dignified, hardworking, married, is the perfect face for this protest.

The resistance is supported by the congregations, churches are the meeting places. In order for the fight to go beyond the first protest, the NAACP needs the support of the black clergy. And a leader who can unite black Montgomery: an intelligent, eloquent pastor. You can find him in Martin Luther King Jr.

Rosa Parks was convicted of racial segregation on December 5, 1955. Your Afro-American fellow citizens then boycotted the buses. They walk and use shared taxis.

More than 150 black people make their cars available.

In early January 1956, just under two months after the verdict, King was arrested - allegedly he was driving too fast.

Shortly afterwards, a bomb tears up the veranda of his house, glass splinters, smoke penetrates the living rooms. King is speaking at a rally, his wife and baby are unharmed.

When armed black demonstrators and police officers face each other in front of his house that evening, King finds words that show the way for the civil rights movement.

"Put down your weapons," he says, "we want to love our enemies. We have to love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us." While in college, Martin Luther King read the writings of Mahatma Gandhi and those of the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau on civil disobedience. He linked her thoughts with the Sermon on the Mount and spoke of nonviolence in his speeches.

Now he's proving that he means his words seriously.

Kennedy has to win over blacks

But his father is less convinced.

"Are you Gandhi?" He asks the son, "the British have thrown him in prison. The people from Alabama and Mississippi will shoot you to death." But King cannot be stopped.

The Montgomery City Line is missing three quarters of its customers due to the boycott.

When the city obtained an arrest warrant for King and 100 other boycotters for obstructing business, the pastor went to jail, cheered by his supporters. Newspapers print the photos. He has become a symbol of movement.

And in mid-November 1956, the Supreme Court ruled that the separation of black and white was not allowed on Montgomery's buses. Just over a month later, the city's public transport company lifted racial segregation after 382 days of boycott.

Dozens of black communities in the south follow Montgomery as an example. King and other activists found a new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to coordinate the struggle of local civil rights organizations in the southern states. The members elect him as president.

King's speeches, that combination of sermon and declaration of war, inspire a generation of young blacks, especially students. Everywhere in the south they start "Sitins" in spring 1960:

They sit down at counters where only white people are served, stay a few hours and come back every day - often for weeks.

Guests throw french fries and chewing gum at them, stub out cigarettes on their backs. The police arrested the peaceful protesters for trespassing. The students do not fight back.

They learn security measures from trainers at a civil rights organization:

"To protect the skull, fold your hands over your head. To prevent disfigurement of the face, press your elbows together in front of your eyes. For girls, to prevent internal injuries from kicks, lie on your side and pull your knees." chin up; for boys, kneel down and curl up, protecting your face and skull. " Tens of thousands participate, including Martin Luther King. He has traveled around soliciting money and supporters.

But he has not yet achieved a similar success as the Montgomery boycott. Now he is enthusiastic about the students, praises their courage and sits down with them at the "white" counter.

The movement keeps making headlines. Also in 1960, the year of the presidential election. "It is part of the American tradition to stand up for your rights," says John F. Kennedy, "even if you have to sit down recently." The democrat has to win over blacks.

Most recently, many descendants of the slaves voted for the Republicans, Abraham Lincoln's party.

After Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961, however, it became clear that the discrimination in the south was of little concern to the son of a millionaire from Massachusetts. In the first week of his presidency, African diplomats complained that they were not served in the restaurants along the way when they were driving.

"Can't you tell them not to do this?" Kennedy asks his chief of protocol. He starts an explanation that he is already trying to convince the restaurant owners.

The President interrupts him and says, "That's not what I mean. Can't you just tell them to fly?" Kennedy is already worried about his re-election: he depends on the goodwill of his party colleagues in the south, and many of them believe little of the promises he made to blacks during the election campaign.

To reconcile them, he appoints well-known proponents of racial segregation as judges - for life. And although he promised in the election campaign that discrimination in state housing could be quickly lifted, he does nothing.

The civil rights activists feel betrayed and are planning new actions. This time, as freedom riders, they want to draw attention to illegal racial discrimination in long-distance travel with a "ride for freedom" and thus put the president under pressure.

You will travel by bus from Washington to the heart of the south - to the place where non-violent resistance can cost your life.

Martin Luther King initiates a "children's crusade"

The first scuffles already started in North Carolina. In Anniston, Alabama, racists set fire to one of the buses the Freedom Riders are traveling on. The Ku Klux Klan is waiting in Birmingham. The police chief has promised the clansmen that they will go on for 15 minutes without intervening - and in return has demanded that the civil rights activists look afterwards "as if they were caught by a bulldog".

This is what an informant reports to the FBI.

The clan's thugs beat the civil rights activists half to death with steel pipes, attacked reporters and smashed their cameras.

As the Freedom Riders continue their ride and King rushes to Alabama to support them, Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Attorney General, work behind the scenes.

On the one hand, they cannot tolerate laws being broken openly; on the other hand, they consider the actions of civil rights activists to be too radical.

The Kennedys believe that change will come, but slowly. It cannot be forced.

They are sending federal officials to Alabama to protect civil rights activists. With the Senator from Mississippi, however, the next destination of the trip, they make a pact: He should ensure that the Freedom Riders are not beaten - conversely, Washington will not protest if the police arrest demonstrators.

They should cool off for a while, Robert Kennedy urges the black leaders: his brother is about to talk to the Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev, and the Soviet press will cannibalize the images from the southern states. Don't you realize how embarrassing that could embarrass the president?

"We have been cooling off for 100 years," replied one of the civil rights activists, "if we get even cooler, we are frozen." Much more important than their actions is the registration of voters for the 1963 gubernatorial election in Alabama, says Robert Kennedy. Because in the USA, only those who can be entered in the electoral roll are allowed to vote. And that's nearly impossible for African Americans in many rural southern regions.

Civil rights organizations are now sending teams there to help blacks gain their right to vote.

These volunteers are also threatened, beaten up and arrested.

There are bombings. And dead.

The promised help from Washington is not forthcoming.

Martin Luther King draws one conclusion from this: President Kennedy will only keep his election promises if public opinion forces him to do so.

King therefore no longer just wants to accept violence - he wants to provoke it.

He wants to bring brutal pictures into the living room. To do this, he needs a ruthless opponent.

His choice falls on Birmingham. In no other major US city do the races live so strictly separated.The administration would rather keep parks and playgrounds closed than open them to blacks. In 1957 Ku Klux Klan men castrated a black man - because "niggerkids shouldn't go to school with whites," as one says.

And the racist police chief Eugene Connor once handed over the Freedom Riders to the mob.

Martin Luther King's campaign begins with sit-ins in April 1963. The participants are arrested.

King patiently stirs up media interest: every day he lets small groups demonstrate, every day they are arrested, in front of the camera crews and newspaper reporters.

The city administration obtained a court order against the demonstrations.

King marches anyway, with 50 singing volunteers. Police chief Connor has him arrested.

In his prison cell, King writes what is perhaps his most important text, on the margins of a newspaper and on smuggled scraps of paper.

His "Letter from Birmingham Prison" is formally addressed to eight clergymen who have opposed his actions. In fact, however, he speaks to all those people who are not racists, but for whom the non-violent resistance is too radical.

"We waited over 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights," writes King.

And continues: "As if by jet propulsion, the nations of Asia and Africa are racing towards the goal of political independence, and we are still creeping at horse-drawn pace to get a cup of coffee in a diner. It's easy for those who never die Having felt the stinging arrows of racial segregation say, 'Wait.' "The letter is being distributed as a pamphlet in churches. Newspapers publish excerpts - drawing national attention to Birmingham. King pays bail to be released from prison and free to continue the confrontation.

But the protests are losing momentum. There are hardly any adults left who want to demonstrate.

Therefore King initiates a "children's crusade".

More than 1,000 teenagers and children, some as young as six, left the Baptist Church on Birmingham 16th Street on May 2nd, 1963. They sing freedom songs, kneel down and pray. Police chief Connor arrests hundreds.

The next day, 1,000 children gather again in the church. Connor blocks the entrances. But half of the young demonstrators escape.

Now the police chief gives the order to attack.

And the nation sees police dogs biting protesters on the evening news.

Sees little girls who are washed down the street by water cannons and whose clothes are torn from their bodies by the water pressure. See white policemen beating up black demons strangling. It goes on for days. Now Martin Luther King has the images he needs.

Civil Rights Act: "Perfect blueprint for the totalitarian state"

Anger grips black America - and shame grips millions of whites. After further unrest in Alabama, President Kennedy is finally acting.

In a televised address on June 11th, he lamented the race problem more clearly than ever before: "This nation will not be completely free until all of its citizens are free. It is time to act, in Congress, in the states and communities. and, above all, in our daily life together. " A week later, the president asks Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act - a law that provides unheard-of: it abolishes all privileges of whites in cinemas, restaurants, hotels and other public buildings, authorizes the attorney general, parents who segregated against Schools are suing to represent the United States in court and creating an opportunity to freeze grants for programs that discriminate.

James Eastland, the openly racist Mississippi Senator, calls the bill "a perfect blueprint for the totalitarian state". The new civil rights law has to be voted on in Congress.

To pass it, Kennedy needs the votes of 25 senators from within its own ranks: politicians who have not yet decided how they will vote - or who are even against the civil rights law.

In addition, the opponents still use the filibuster method: A senator speaks continuously on any topic and thus prevents a law from being voted on. With this tactic, the officials in the southern states have prevented any civil rights law since World War II.

While Kennedy is putting his Civil Rights Act before Congress, civil rights organizations are planning a "March on Washington for Work and Freedom." Blacks and whites should demonstrate together that the law comes into force.

But Kennedy still hopes to be able to prevent the march. He fears a mass demonstration this heated summer in Birmingham - and a defiant reaction from the senators.

"We want success in Congress, not just a big show in front of the Capitol," he said at a meeting with King.

But the leaders of the movement remain firm - and set the date for the march.

Washington, August 28, 1963. Two of Kennedy's employees stand by to unplug the microphone if necessary. Then Martin Luther King steps in front of the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

"The time has come to rise from the dark and desolate valley of racial segregation onto the sunlit path of justice," says the preacher to thunderous applause.

He wrote his speech well into the night.

But now Mahalia Jackson calls out to him: "Tell them about your dream!" And King lets himself be carried away, forgets his manuscript and speaks freely.

"I have a dream," he says in his resounding baritone, practiced in countless sermons, "that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to hold the hands of little white boys and girls as brothers and sisters the heart of every racist who fears nothing more than the mixing of black and white.

King quotes the Bible and the patriotic hymn "My Country 'Tis of Thee".

He dreams that one day freedom will ring from all the hills and mountains, including Stone Mountain in Georgia, the base of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, a former Confederate fortress.

People cheer King's speech.

It is broadcast live on three national television channels, via satellite even to Europe - and it reconciles many whites with the blacks' struggle for freedom.

There is no agitator here who wants to take revenge on the grandchildren of the slave owners. But a man who wants nothing other than a decent life for his children.

For the FBI's vice director, however, this "demagogic speech proves that King is the most effective and dangerous leader of the negroes in the country."