Exploring the Print Culture of the Civil Rights Movement
Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” offered a humorous but pointed critique of the relationship between the media and the reality of change and revolution taking place in the streets and on the campuses of America.
Social justice movements of the 1960s coincided with rapid changes in a variety of news and communications media. The expansion of television and documentary film making brought images of the struggles of African Americans and those who supported civil rights into the homes of Americans. However, control of the tone and content of electronic media was not always in the hands of those being documented. Changes in the field of printing technology, most notably increased affordability and the democratization of various printed media, allowed civil rights leaders, workers, and organizations to circulate their combined, and sometimes contradictory, voices.
The CORE-lator was the official organ of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and published by its national office in New York on a bi-monthly basis. It covered CORE and civil rights activities in both the North and South.
In this issue, a brief description of the protests against segregated counters at McCory's and Woolworth's on Canal Street in New Orleans is provided by Connie (Bradford) Harse. Other information included were the arrests of CORE activists Julia Aaron, Dave Dennis, Jerome Smith, and Doris Jean Castle for their participation in the picketing.
In the early 1930s, a series of Buy Where You Can Work campaigns sprung up in various cities, including Washington, DC; Baltimore, Maryland, and others. This type of protest called for African Americans to boycott white-owned businesses that engaged in discriminatory hiring practices. This flyer advertises a meeting focused on such a campaign in New Orleans as late as the early 1960s.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) established local and state branches throughout the United States. Many of these branches worked independently on local civil rights issues while coordinating with the national headquarters. Flyers and publications for the branches were often produced with the assistance of local African American printing companies.
In October 1963, Lorine Chan, a student from Fiji who attended Scarritt College in Nashville, Tennessee, was refused entrance to a local eatery, The Campus Grill. This flyer was produced after a letter-writing campaign and discussions with the business’s management failed to desegregate the Grill. On November 6, students called for a boycott and began to picket the restaurant. The demonstrations went from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day for 2 ½ weeks. When the protests threatened to escalate, Nashville’s mayor negotiated a settlement that called for the desegregation of both Campus Grill locations on January 1, 1964.
This protest flyer against Columbia University was for one of a number of demonstrations held in April of 1968 to protest the university’s ties to the Vietnam War, as well as perceived segregationist aspects of the construction of a gymnasium by the school in Morningside Park, which linked the campus and the Harlem area of New York City. The protests entailed occupations of campus buildings by members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Student Afro Society (SAS).
On September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan detonated a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young African American girls and injuring 22 other people. The event became a turning point of the Civil Rights Movement and led to increased support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Reaction to the bombing was illustrated by memorials held nationwide. The flyer displayed here is from a memorial held in New York soon after the tragic event.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. Organized by leaders of various civil rights organizations, including CORE, NAACP, SNCC, SCLC, and the National Urban League, the day featured speeches by John Lewis, Whitney M. Young Jr., Eugene Carson Blake, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Mathew Ahmann, and others. It was at this march where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. This flyer illustrates the planning that went into the successful staging and completion of the march.
In 1968, workers at Medical College Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina – many of them African-American women with little education earning only $1.30 an hour – began to agitate for a 30 cent wage increase, desegregation of the hospital's medical staff, and the end of racist treatment by white hospital workers. A union named the Local 1199B was created to enact the changes sought by the hospital workers. This flyer highlights the subsequent strikes that occurred when the hospital administration refused to recognize or negotiate with the newly formed union.
This flyer was originally produced for an anti-war rally sponsored by the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee to be held on April 27, 1968, in New York City, at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was to speak. As seen on the verso of the flyer, it was re-made following King’s assassination to announce the dedication of the rally in memory of him.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in 1941 and evolved out of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, sharing with it a belief in nonviolent resistance to segregation and discrimination. CORE focused its early efforts on sit-in demonstrations and later organized the Freedom Rides in which integrated buses traveled into the South to protest segregated interstate travel. The founders of CORE, including James Farmer, George Houser, James R. Robinson, and Bernice Fisher, took inspiration from the teachings and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, as illustrated on the cover of this brochure.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed in January 1957 by Rev. Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and others in order to coordinate nonviolent protests to desegregate bus systems throughout the South. As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, the organization was often seen as a middle-ground between the old guard, such as the NAACP, and more radical organizations such as CORE and SNCC.
The SCLC Newsletter, seen here, was published irregularly from 1961-1967. It was eventually superseded by the SCLC National Magazine, which began in 1972.
A pamphlet produced by the SCLC as a recruitment tool for its "Freedom Army." The pamphlet advocates nonviolence in civil rights demonstrations. It contains a code of discipline, reasons why SCLC will not post bond for jailed civil rights workers, advice for "a more profitable stay in jail" and rules for prison.
Brochure inviting participation and support for the Poor People's Campaign. Organized by the SCLC and Martin Luther King Jr., shortly before his death, The Poor People's Campaign was a 1968 effort to gain economic justice for and increase the visibility of America's poor. It was carried out under Ralph Abernathy's leadership in the wake of King's assassination.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in April 1960 by student activists in North Carolina. It would eventually become the largest of the major civil rights organizations of the era, working in the areas of student protests, voter registration, and direct action campaigns. SNCC and its various local branches utilized an extensive print campaign in support of its causes, producing a number of flyers, pamphlets, and position papers such as the one displayed here.
The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was formed in 1961 to support jailed Freedom Riders. In 1962, it reorganized as a coalition of the Mississippi branches of the four major civil rights organizations (SNCC, CORE, NAACP and SCLC). SNCC contributed the largest number of staff workers to the COFO.
As an umbrella organization, COFO was designed to be a coordinating body to avoid inter-organizational political wrangling and to facilitate the flow of funds into Mississippi for voter education and registration, particularly from the Voter Education Project (VEP). Equally as important, the COFO was also meant to protect and nurture grassroots activism in the state.
Freedom Summer (also known as the Mississippi Summer Project) was a campaign launched in June 1964 to attempt to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi. The project was organized by the COFO. Most of the impetus, leadership, and financing for the Summer Project came from SNCC, which was directed by SNCC field secretary and COFO co-director Robert Parris Moses. This brochure gives details about the project.
In the Fall of 1968, students at Southern University-New Orleans protested a proposed tuition hike at the school. In March of the following year, an organization called the Afro-American Society was formed and presented a list of demands focusing on the tuition hike, as well as the institution’s curriculum and maintenance of its facilities. The group also called for the development of a black studies department and a course on black liberation. A small number of students occupied an administration building and a boycott of classes began. Black Liberation Express was published to air the striking students’ opinions.
The Black Liberator was published by students at Dillard University in New Orleans and is an example of the type of student newspapers that began on campuses, many at historically Black colleges and universities, during the 1960s and 1970s. These more radically-oriented publications were not considered the official campus newspapers and were often not condoned by school administrators. Nevertheless, they provided an outlet for student activism on campuses across the country.
The Nat Turner Theater in New Orleans began publishing a literary magazine, Revolt!, in 1969. The magazine published poetry and drama, and contributors included Jac’lyn Early, Edd Johnson, James Tucker, Rosemary Bernard, and Sybil Kein. The theater, as well as its publication, focused on works that explored Black consciousness, and was one of a number of African American theater groups in the city during the 1960s, including Free Southern Theater, Dashiki Theater, and others. This publication is an example of the the type of “little magazine” – small run, self-produced publications often with a literary focus – that blended the Civil Rights Movement with the Black Arts Movement.
The Student Voice, the newspaper of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), began publication in June 1960. Published in SNCC’s small headquarters in Atlanta, the newspaper sought to provide the student movement with a “system of flash news to alert the nation of emergencies and serious developments.”
During its five years of existence, The Student Voice contained news of sit-ins, marches, and reports on the activities of SNCC field secretaries who helped launch mass mobilizations of Black communities in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. The paper was produced by local printers in Atlanta until October 1963 when the Student Voice, Inc. became the printing arm of SNCC. The newspaper eventually became a weekly and at its peak more than 40,000 copies were mailed out to readers and supporters. The publication ceased in December 1965.
Along with Eldridge Cleaver and others, comedian and activist Dick Gregory was a candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party presidential nomination. When Cleaver received the nomination, Gregory formed the Freedom and Peace Party and ran with multiple running mates in different states. Gregory wrote about his presidential run in his book Write Me In in 1968.
One interesting anecdote that Gregory discussed in his book, Write Me In, related the story of a publicity stunt in which his campaign printed $1 bills with Gregory's image on them. Some of these bills made it into circulation in cash transactions causing considerable problems, but priceless publicity. The majority of these bills were quickly seized by the federal government. A large contributing factor to the seizure came from the bills resembling authentic U.S. currency enough that they worked in many dollar cashing machines of the time. Gregory avoided being charged with a federal crime, later joking that the bills couldn’t really be considered U.S. currency because “everyone knows a black man will never be on a U.S. bill.”
In 1968, Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver ran for President of the United States on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. The Party began as a left-of-center organization that was founded due to frustration with what was perceived as the Democratic Party’s lack of support for civil rights and support of the Vietnam War. Although legally prohibited from serving as President since he was under 35 years old, the party nominated Cleaver as its candidate in August of 1968.
In 1964, activist Clifton DeBerry ran for President of the United States on the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) ticket, with fellow SWP member Ed Shaw as his running mate. DeBerry was the party’s first African American candidate for President. While some sources cite him as the first African American candidate of any party, his bid was preceded by Clennon King (Independent Afro-American Party, 1960) and George Edwin Taylor (National Negro Liberty Party, 1904).
Activist Aaron Henry, worked with a number of groups to establish the statewide Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). He served as president of COFO in 1962 and helped organize the “freedom vote,” a mock statewide general election to parallel the Mississippi gubernatorial election of 1963. Henry believed that if African American voters showed their willingness to vote in this mock election, then Mississippians and the nation would realize that Black voters would participate in the electoral process. Henry was on the mock ballot for governor and Edwin King, a white chaplain at Tougaloo College in Jackson, was on the ballot for lieutenant governor.
Founded in October 1966 in Oakland, California, by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the Black Panther Party began as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and focused on protection within African American neighborhoods from police brutality. The organization’s newspaper, The Black Panther, began in 1967. Originally entitled The Black Panther Community News Service, the first two issues were produced using a typewriter and copy machine.
That same year, Panther member and artist, Emory Douglas began to oversee the art direction and production of the paper, a role he maintained until the paper ceased publication in 1979. Introduced to printing while in a youth prison, Douglas later studied graphic design at San Francisco Community College. Douglas produced designs for The Black Panther, such as collages and political cartoons that became icons of the Black leftist cause. His drawings, such as this one, usually appeared on the back cover of each issue.
Founded by Joseph Waller in St. Petersburg, Florida, in May 1968, the Junta of Militant Organizations (JOMO) was founded “with the idea of creating a central body to direct the revolutionary activities of this nation” according to this pamphlet, which outlined the goals and philosophy of Waller and the organization. Among these were a series of demands made in the name of the Black community, including control of schools, housing, businesses, as well as a police review board and redistricting of voting districts along racial lines.
Charles Kenyatta (Charles Morris) was a bodyguard and protégé of Malcolm X, who became a Harlem street orator after the latter’s death. This essay by Kenyatta was likely handed out by him during his orations. Although it is not dated, the essay is bound with photos and headlines from New York newspapers from May 1971.
This flyer was for a rally in Harlem Square, sponsored by the Pan-African National Association in the Americas and the Human Rights Political Association, in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. The speakers listed were Adam Clayton Powell, James Farmer, Charles Diggs Jr., Dick Gregory, Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, Lewis H. Michaux, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Lloyd Dickens, Hope Stevens, Percy Sutton, Hulan E. Jack, Jackie Robinson, Paul Zuber, and Louis Lomax, with Alex Prempeh as master of ceremonies.
The African Nationalist Independence Partition Party (The Alajo Party) was founded in 1961 by Ofuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, born Walter Eugene King. Adefunmi’s goal, and that of the Party, was to establish an African State in America by 1972. Adefunmi and his followers later established a Yoruba-modeled village near Sheldon, North Carolina, which they named Oyotunji. Little information is known about The Nationalist and its affiliation with Adefunmi’s party. Sources on Adefunmi and the Yoruba Temple do not mention the newsletter and this copy is the only one reported to be held by a U.S. library. Whether additional issues were published is unknown.
The Nation of Yahweh is an African American religious organization founded by Yahweh ben Yahweh (Hulon Mitchell Jr.) in Miami, Florida, in 1979. It was known for its early revitalization efforts among poor African American communities in the Miami area. It later encountered controversy due to Mitchell's legal issues, charges of corruption and fraud, and its classification as a black supremacist organization. Yahweh ben Yahweh was imprisoned in 1992 and many of his followers left the organization, and renounced him and his teachings. These flyers, undated but probably from the early 1980s, were likely circulated by Yahweh and his followers.
Established in 1962, the Voter Education Project distributed grant funds to voter registration and education projects throughout the South during the civil rights movement. Among others, the VEP funded programs administered by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). In addition, the VEP conducted extensive research on Southern elections, voting patterns, and minority elected officials. This poster reflects the VEP’s work in the area of voter registration.
Exhibition curated by Christopher Harter. Digital exhibition created by Chianta Dorsey.
This digital exhibition was supported by a grant from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation. It is an expansion of the exhibition “The Revolution Will Not Be...: Print Culture of the Civil Rights Movement” held at the Amistad Research Center in 2011.
The Amistad Research Center is committed to collecting, preserving, and providing open access to original materials that reference the social and cultural importance of America's ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, and global social justice movements.
As the nation's oldest, largest and most comprehensive independent archive, the Amistad's holds 800 manuscript collections which include over ten million documents from the 1780s to present, 250,000 original photographs dating from 1859, 1200 audiovisual recordings, 40,000 book titles, 2000 periodicals titles, and over 400 pieces of fine art dating from the 19th century.