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THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT OF THE 1950S

Although many blacks had migrated North for better jobs during World War II, more than half still lived in the South under Jim Crow laws that kept them prisoners of segregated schools, trains, parks, and hotels.

African Americans died because they couldn't be treated at whites-only hospitals. The only place for Martin Luther King Jr. to stay with his bride on their honeymoon was a blacks-only funeral parlor. Only a few African Americans were registered to vote in the South; the rest were disenfranchised by poll taxes, rigged literacy tests, and flat-out threats. The lives of blacks in the South in the 1940s and 1950s weren't much better than they had been in 1880.

The Democratic Party helped poor people, but it had trouble letting go of its historic base of support among white Southern racists — ugly, but handy for winning close elections. This support dated all the way back to the fact that the Democrats were not the party that led the North in the Civil War.

Dixiecrats

Franklin Roosevelt had made the first move for racial fairness when he ordered an end to discrimination in defense employment during World War II. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that whites-only primary elections in the South were illegal.

When Harry Truman, a Democratic president from a border state, heard about the murder of six black servicemen returning from the war, he was outraged. Truman supported the first civil rights legislation in years and desegregated the federal civil service.

Southerners opposed to civil rights walked out of the Democratic Party in 1948 to start the short lived Dixiecrat Party, but Truman won reelection anyway. Because millions of blacks had moved to the North and West where they could vote, their voices began to be heard. Jackie Robinson became the first black player in professional sports in 1947. A few years later, the first black winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes were named.

Example

Question: Why did some Southerners form the Dixiecrat Party in 1948?

Answer: Dixiecrats opposed President Truman's civil rights legislation.

 
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