Civil Rights Class Week 8

Billie Holiday sings “Strange Fruit.” The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever.

Originally a poem called Bitter Fruit, the poem was written by the Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allen in response to lynching in US southern states. “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching, and I hate injustice, and I hate the people who perpetuate it,” Meeropol said in 1971.

“The first time I sang it I thought it was a mistake … there wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping,” said Holiday in her autobiography. To hear Holiday sing of “the sudden smell of burning flesh” minutes after her jazz ballads was disquieting. Meeropol wrote: “She gave a startling, most dramatic and effective interpretation, which could jolt an audience out of its complacency anywheres [sic].”

Samuel Grafton, a columnist for the New York Post, wrote of the song: “It will, even after the tenth hearing, make you blink and hold onto your chair. Even now, as I think of it, the short hair on the back of my neck tightens and I want to hit somebody. And I think I know who.”
It’ unending power lies in the way it “distills the fact of racial violence so unmistakably.

Writer Emily J Lordi wrote that the song is shorthand for ‘What is a song I can think of that most powerfully indicts the ongoing legacy of racial violence in this country and across the world?’”

The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.

Jordan Peele

Homework 1: Read the attached document which gives an example of how African Americans were disfranchised in the 1890s.

Notes from reading:

The Reconstruction era was a period in American history following the American Civil War (1861–1865); it lasted from 1865 to 1877 and marked a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States. Reconstruction, as directed by Congress, abolished slavery and ended the remnants of Confederate secession in the Southern states. It proclaimed the newly freed slaves (freedmen; black people) citizens with (ostensibly) the same civil rights as those of whites; these rights were nominally guaranteed by three new constitutional amendments: the 13th, 14th, and 15th, collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Reconstruction also refers to the general attempt by Congress to transform the 11 former Confederate states, and refers to the role of the Union states in that transformation.

1890 delegates wrote a new Mississippi constitution.

suffrage question – Solomon Saladin Calhoon, a White county judge, put the voting issue bluntly. “Let’s tell the truth if it bursts the bottom of the universe,” he said. “We came here to exclude the Negro. Nothing short of this will answer.” Men who can’t read “are not of character to entrust the ballot,” the Clarion-Ledger agreed. “A plan of this kind would disenfranchise few White people, denying the ballot only to the idle and thriftless class.”

Delegates wrote The “Mississippi Plan” a literacy test plus a poll tax geared to suppress the Black vote in a state with a Black majority – became a part the racially oppressive Jim Crow laws that ended Reconstruction.

iteracy test – a voter “must read and write the English language or he is debarred from the privilege of voting.” Most of the state’s African Americans were former slaves who had been denied an education. Men who can’t read “are not of character to entrust the ballot,”

Mississippi’s 1890 convention sought to find a way around the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave African Americans the vote.

Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected yo to the U.S. Senate. He was the first African American member to serve in either house of Congress. https://history.house.gov/People/Listing/R/REVELS,-Hiram-Rhodes-(R000166)/

1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes removed all federal troops from Southern

A White Republican named Marsh Cook had campaigned for a seat vowing to protect the rights of Black voters. A few weeks before the convention, his bullet-riddled body was found on a rural road. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Marsh_Cook

A voter also could be questioned to determine his literacy. Delegates rightly foresaw that White registrars would ask White voters simple questions, while demanding that African Americans answer complex queries. In the following years Black voters in the state were asked such things as “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources.

A literacy test assesses a person’s literacy skills: their ability to read and write have been administered by various governments to immigrants. In the United States, between the 1850s and 1960s, literacy tests were administered to prospective voters, and this had the effect of disenfranchising African Americans and others with diminished access to education.

The convention also adopted a $2 poll tax (equal to about $58 today) that disproportionately eliminated Black voters, most of whom were very poor.

Isaiah Montgomery – He participated in the 1890 Mississippi constitutional convention as a delegate from Bolivar County and voted for the adoption of a state constitution that effectively disfranchised black voters for decades, using poll taxes and literacy tests to raise barriers to voter registration. Frederick Douglass said Montgomery “commits unconscionable treason to his race in surrendering his franchise.”

The convention adopted the constitution on Nov. 1, 1890, adding the new requirements to a provision allowing voting by male residents age 21 and older “except idiots, insane persons and Indians not taxed.”

When northern newspapers denounced the literacy test as discriminatory, one Mississippi state senator responded: “I deny that the educational test was intended to exclude Negroes from voting…the sole purpose was to exclude persons of both races who from want of intelligence are unsafe depositors of political power. That more Negroes would be excluded is true…but that is not our fault.”

James Kimble Vardaman, known as “The Great White Chief”, – the white supremacist who became governor of Mississippi in 1903. “There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter,” Vardaman said. “Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the [n-word] from politics. Not the ‘ignorant and vicious’ as some of the apologists would have you believe.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_K._Vardaman

The new law took effect in the 1892 election with a dramatic impact. Only 8,615 of the state’s 76,742 Black voters qualified to cast a ballot. Soon the Mississippi approach spread to other Southern states. It remained in place for nearly 70 years until Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In his speech to Congress proposing the law, President Lyndon B. Johnson specifically singled out the need to eliminate literacy tests. For a Southern Black voter, he said, “even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read or write.” Johnson declared: “We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.”

Voting Rights Act of 1965 – This act was signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson. It outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.

Class Notes: April 4

The Mississippi Plan of 1890 – In 1890 the Mississippi Democratic-dominated legislature drafted and passed a new constitution, which effectively disenfranchised and disarmed most blacks by erecting barriers to firearms ownership as well as voter registration, by a method of poll taxes, subjective literacy tests, and more restrictive residency requirements.

Gates reconstruction American after the civil war season 1 ep.1

Andrew Jonhson gave whites a free hand to keep the blacks in place. The black codes. Emancipation will not exist as long as there are black codes.

Arrested if no job

Your children can be taken away to be indentured. A way for the planter class to continue to have free labor

Kkk 1869 in tennesese targeted because children are in school or the have land

This is a new form of slavery

Booker t Washington and the Atlanta comprise

Thaddeus Stevens – African American men saved the untied states. He was ready for a revolution in the south. (12/4/1865) 39th congress – clerk ignores the southern delegates. If the clerk fails to call your name you are not seated in congress.civil rights act April 1866 – if you are born in the America you are a citizen.

Riots may 3 1866 in mephis – white mobs made of mostly Irish cops vs black union soldiers. John pendergrass. Three days. Every black church and every black school had been burned to the ground. Happened again a couple of days later in New Orleans. http://civilwarthosesurnames.blogspot.com/2009/05/memphis-tennessee-riots-of-1866.html

14th amendment, June 1866 – 1867 set laws to reorganize the south. Military reconstruction. Black men must be able to vote and must be able to hold office. Bayonet rule. Many Northern states did not allow black men to vote. A vote was considered as owned my the collective and not as an individual thing. Former slaves created schools, started political organization and reconstituted families. July of 1868 14th was because the law of the land.

Black codes (after civil war) – recreating slavery as close as possible

Jim crowd laws 1890 – about segrations

Black tax – is the financial cost of discrimination against black people in America by people and/or institutions that have conscious or unconscious antiblack bias. higher rents

Literacy test – understanding clauses in constitution

Homework 2: The document below is a literacy test given in Alabama to people trying to register to vote. It was used to deny registration to African Americans. Please complete it for a homework grade. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to look up any answers, and do not worry about whether your answers are correct or not; the goal of the assignment is for you to see how challenging this test would be for an ordinary citizen. Your grade will be based entirely upon completing the assignment, not on the accuracy of your responses.


1965 Alabama Literacy Test
  1. Which of the following is a right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?
    _____Public Education
    _____Employment
    _____Trial by Jury
    _____Voting
  2. The federal census of population is taken every five years.
    _____True _____False
  3. If a person is indicted for a crime, name two rights which he has.
  4. A U.S. senator elected at the general election in November takes office the following year
    on what date?
  5. A President elected at the general election in November takes office the following year
    on what date?
  6. Which definition applies to the word “amendment?”
    _____Proposed change, as in a Constitution
    _____Make of peace between nationals at war
    _____A part of the government
  7. A person appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court is appointed for a term of __
  8. When the Constitution was approved by the original colonies, how many states had to
    ratify it in order for it to be in effect? _____________________________
  9. Does enumeration affect the income tax levied on citizens in various states? __
  10. Person opposed to swearing in an oath may say, instead: (solemnly) ______________________________________
  11. To serve as President of the United States, a person must have attained:
    _____25 years of age
    _____35 years of age
    _____40 years of age
    _____45 years of age
  12. What words are required by law to be on all coins and paper currency of the U.S.?
  13. The Supreme Court is the chief lawmaking body of the state.
    _____True _____False
  14. If a law passed by a state is contrary to provisions of the U.S. Constitution, which law prevails?
  15. If a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate, the state must hold an election, but meanwhile the place may be filled by a temporary appointment made by _____________
  16. A U.S. senator is elected for a term of _ years.
  17. Appropriation of money for the armed services can be only for a period limited to _____years.
  18. The chief executive and the administrative offices make up the _______branch of government.
  19. Who passes laws dealing with piracy?_____________________________
  20. The number of representatives which a state is entitled to have in the House of
    Representatives is based on _____________________________________
  21. The Constitution protects an individual against punishments which are ___
    and ___________.
  22. When a jury has heard and rendered a verdict in a case, and the judgment on the verdict has become final, the defendant cannot again be brought to trial for the same cause.
    _____True _____False
  23. Name two levels of government which can levy taxes: ________________
  24. Communisn was the type of government in:
    _____U.S.
    _____Russia
    _____England
  25. Cases tried before a court of law are two types, civil and _____________.
  26. By a majority vote of the members of Congress, the Congress can change provisions of the Constitution of the U.S.
    _____True _____False
  27. For security, each state has a right to form a _____________________.
  28. The electoral vote for President is counted in the presence of two bodies. Name them:
  29. If no candidate for President receives a majority of the electoral vote, who decides who will become President?_______________________________________
  30. Of the original 13 states, the one with the largest representation in the first Congress was_____________________________________.
  31. Of which branch of government is the Speaker of the House a part?
    _____Executive
    _____Legislative
    _____Judicial
  32. Capital punishment is the giving of a death sentence.
    _____True _____False
  33. In case the President is unable to perform the duties of his office, who assumes them?
  34. “Involuntary servitude” is permitted in the U.S. upon conviction of a crime.
    _____True _____False
  35. If a state is a party to a case, the Constitution provides that original jurisdiction shall be in
    __________________________________________________________.
  36. Congress passes laws regulating cases which are included in those over which the U.S. Supreme Court has ________________________________ jurisdiction.
  37. Which of the following is a right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
    _____Public Housing
    _____Education
    _____Voting
    _____Trial by Jury
  38. The Legislatures of the states decide how presidential electors may be chosen.
    _____True _____False
  39. If it were proposed to join Alabama and Mississippi to form one state, what groups would have to vote approval in order for this to be done?____________________
  40. The Vice President presides over ________________________________.
  41. The Constitution limits the size of the District of Columbia to ________
    __________________________________________________________.
  42. The only laws which can be passed to apply to an area in a federal arsenal are those passed by _______________________________ provided consent for the purchase of the land is given by the _____________________________.
  43. In which document or writing is the “Bill of Rights” found?__________.
  44. Of which branch of government is a Supreme Court justice a part?
    _____Executive
    _____Legislative
    _____Judicial
  45. If no person receives a majority of the electoral votes, the Vice President is chosen by the Senate.
    _____True _____False
  46. Name two things which the states are forbidden to do by the U.S. Constitution.
  47. If election of the President becomes the duty of the U.S. House of Representatives and it fails to act, who becomes President and when? _____________________
  48. How many votes must a person receive in order to become President if the election is decided by the U.S. House of Representatives? ___________________
  49. How many states were required to approve the original Constitution in order for it to be in effect? _________________________________________
  50. Check the offenses which, if you are convicted of them, disqualify you for voting:
    _____Murder
    _____Issuing worthless checks
    _____Petty larceny
    _____Manufacturing whiskey
  51. The Congress decides in what manner states elect presidential electors.
    _____True _____False
  52. Name two of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution. _________________
  53. Congress is composed of ______________________________________.
  54. All legislative powers granted in the U.S. Constitution may legally be used only by
    __________________________________________________________.
  55. The population census is required to be made every _____years.
  56. Impeachments of U.S. officials are tried by _______________________.
  57. If an effort to impeach the President of the U.S. is made, who presides at the trial?
  58. On the impeachment of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., who tries the case____________________________
  59. Money is coined by order of:
    _____U.S. Congress
    _____The President’s Cabinet
    _____State Legislatures
  60. Persons elected to case a state’s vote for U.S. President and Vice President are called presidential ________________________________________
  61. Name one power which is exclusively legislative and is mentioned in one of the parts of the U.S. Constitution above______________________________________________.
  62. If a person flees from justice into another state, who has authority to ask for his return?
  63. Whose duty is it to keep Congress informed of the state of the union? _
  64. If the two houses of Congress cannot agree on adjournment, who sets the time?
  65. When presidential electors meet to case ballots for President, must all electors in a state vote for the same person for President or can they vote for different persons if they so choose? ________________________________________
  66. After the presidential electors have voted, to whom do they send the count of their votes?
  67. The power to declare war is vested in ____________________________.
  68. Any power and rights not given to the U.S. or prohibited to the states by the U.S. Constitution are specified as belonging to whom? __________________

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