Date of Award

1999

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Gaines M. Foster

Abstract

The civil rights movement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went beyond a battle between blacks and whites over segregation. Within each racial group, factions developed along class, generational, and educational lines. Interactions among these groups shaped the nature and pace of change in the city. In 1945, black World War II veterans launched the movement. Committed to working within the legal system, they established voter registration schools, participated in the 1953 bus boycott, and sued to equalize teachers' salaries and to integrate public schools. In the 1960s, black college students rose to prominence in the movement and used direct action, including sit-ins and marches, to challenge segregation laws. At the same time, working-class activists undertook protests of their own. Like the veterans and the students, they wanted increased voter registration and integrated public facilities, but they also demanded equal employment. In the late 1960s, young blacks abandoned nonviolence, embraced Black Power, and advocated racial separatism. Each stage of the movement frightened the city's white leaders. Although they supported segregation, white leaders realized that civil rights demonstrations threatened industrial development in their community. To preserve the stability they felt essential to continued economic expansion, they attempted to appease the activists by meeting with traditional black leaders---racial diplomats---and making small changes to the system of segregation. The compromises delayed integration and angered the activists. Agreements reached by black and white leaders also infuriated segregationists and white liberals. Segregationists believed that any changes to Jim Crow would destroy southern society and promised to defend racial separation at any cost. Conversely, white liberals supported the civil rights activists and believed that compromises undercut the movement. However, most white Baton Rougeans supported the delaying tactics of their leaders. In 1972, the black activists' pent up anger at the slow pace of change erupted in deadly clashes with the police. By then, strict segregation in Baton Rouge had ended, but blacks had made inroads into the city's political system. Although whites remained in control, older African-American activists believed that they could work within the existing framework to facilitate change.

ISBN

9780599548664

Pages

376

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