1961 can be considered the year direct-action, fight-back grassroots organizing was born. This through the on- the-ground efforts of such Civil Rights Freedom fighting organizations as SNCC, CORE and SCLC and leaders such as, Kwame Ture, under the leadership of George Farmer, Robert Moses, Robert F. Williams, Charles Sherrod and many more. They mobilized behind one goal, and despite the odds, kept Civil Rights movement at the forefront despite the odds.
Events in early January forewarned trouble in America, and media attention to regional racial happenings in the Deep South sometimes were obscured by other events. Early on, in President Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation warned against the rise of “the military-industrial complex.” As the country prepared itself for the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States, riots rumble at University of Georgia in response to the court-ordered admittance of Charlayne Hunter (Gault) and Hamilton Holmes. Three days before Kennedy took off, Patrice Lumumba (34), the 1st premier Congo, is murdered after 67 days in office. On Jan 25, Kennedy holds the first presidential news conference carried live on radio and television.” During that year, Pampers, the 1st mass-market disposable diaper; adult Tylenol, contact lenses are introduced. The US FCC approves FM stereo for radio. The Soviets launched Sputnik V, the heaviest satellite at 7.1 tons. The US Omnibus Housing Act established the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It enabled the FHA to insure mortgages on condominiums. President Kennedy established the Peace Corps with the first volunteers were sent to Ghana. The British Trust Territory of Tanganyika becomes independent as part of the mainland of Tanzania. The first president was socialist Julius Nyerere. South Africa becomes an independent republic. The Berlin Wall is erected. In South Africa Nelson Mandela is acquitted on a treason charge after a 4 year trial. The U.N. General Assembly condemns South Africa for apartheid. The French army revolts in Algeria. The United Kingdom grants Sierra Leone independence. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, is founded. On Apr 24, President Kennedy accepts “sole responsibility” following Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, less than 10 days before Freedom Riders roll into segregated areas on buses throughout the South exposing racial strife and testing new laws on the books against segregation. The Administration is transfixed on the Cold War and other foreign affairs and relations. But they have been given notice.
On Feb. 1, CORE field secretary Tom Gaither — who as Claflin College student-body President had led the large Orangeburg sit-in movement — and 9 others are convicted of Trespassing for sitting-in at the McCrory lunch counter in Rock Hill, S.C. Mar 27, Nine Tougaloo College students attempt to use the white-only Jackson public library reading books not available at the “colored” library. They are arrested for “disturbing the peace” when they refuse to leave. Tougaloo President Daniel Beittel — who is white — courageously refuses to expell the student protesters, despite threats of retaliation against Tougaloo and himself. Jackson State College students organize a prayer vigil and are attacked the next day when they march towards the jail where the Tougaloo Nine are being arraigned.
May 4, a group of 13 CORE civil rights activists, dubbed “Freedom Riders” leaves Washington, D.C., for New Orleans to challenge racial segregation on buses and in bus terminals. James Farmer, director of the Congress of Racial Equality, leads 13 Freedom Riders (7 Black, 6 white) out of Washington on Greyhound and Trailways buses to challenge racial segregation on buses and in bus terminals and test new laws that prohibit segregation in interstate travel facilities. The plan is to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Their final destination is New Orleans Louisiana. Most of the Riders are from CORE, two are from SNCC, and many are in their 40s and 50s. Little trouble is encountered as they travel through Virginia and North Carolina, but John Lewis and other student volunteers are severely attacked by mobs in Rock Hill, S.C. and some of the Riders are arrested in Charlotte NC, and Winnsboro SC. On May 14, President Kennedy announces the authorization of American advisors to aid South Vietnam against the forces of North Vietnam. The next day, Mothers Day, May 15, a Klan mob of more than 100 ambush and beat the Riders in Anniston AL then set the Greyhound bus on fire. The passengers escape the bus just as the gas tanks are exploding. When the bus manages to reach Birmingham, Commissioner of Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor encourages another KKK mob to savagely attack on the Riders. SNCC-affiliated students in Nashville join the effort and eventually the Freedom Fighter movement transformed into an organization of organizers who move the Movement from protest to social revolution. The voter registration campaign into the Delta — the most segregated region of Mississippi and inspire a new volunteers from beyond the campuses. And out of McComb they bring five young organizers on to the growing SNCC staff — Hollis Watkins, Curtis Hayes, Emma Bell, Ike Lewis and Bobby Talbert — the first of many to come not from college campuses but from the rural South.
When the media begins to expose for the first time the true depths of southern racism and America’s racial strife, the nation’s positioning as a leader of the “free world” is exposed and challenged. The government does not move to uphold Federal law and Constitutional protections and CORE, SCLC, and SNCC push even harder to defy the Klan, the Citizens Councils, mob violence, and jail. become a strong-force together in direct action community organizing against racial injustice and voter registration. A new generation of leaders emerges among the volunteer which has burgeoned to more than 1,000, black and white.
Twelve days after the birth of Barack Obama in Hawaii, Martin Luther King, on Aug. 16, protested for black voting rights in Miami. But other events are in the news. The day after the Miami spark, on Aug 17, The Administration is focusing on foreign relations with the announcement of the Alliance for Progress.
Sep 10, Jomo Kenyatta, who knows Barack’s economist father, returns to Kenya from exile, during which he had been elected president of the Kenya National African Union. Three days later battles take place between UN and Katanga troops in Congo. And two days after that on Sep 15, the US resumes underground nuclear testing. On Sep 18, Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary-General of the UN, is killed in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He was flying to negotiate a cease-fire in the Congo.
While on Sep 20, James Meredith is refused access as a student in Mississippi, two days later President Kennedy is signing a congressional act establishing the Peace Corps.
Oct 6, JFK advises Americans to build fallout shelters from atomic fallout in the event of a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. And other interesting highlights that distinguished the Civil Rights community organizers who persisted on behalf of all: In October, A US Federal judge rules that Birmingham, Alabama, laws against integrated playing fields are illegal. In November, Freedom Riders were attacked by a white mod at a bus station in Mississippi. In December, Rev/ Martin Luther King Jr. and700 demonstrators are arrested in Albany, Ga. Meanwhile that November, Andrew Hatcher is named associate press secretary to President John F. Kennedy.; the President increased the number of American advisors in Vietnam from 1,000 to 16,000, and two days later increased it by 2,000. Shortly after that, the UN adopted bans on nuclear arms over American protest.
During the year W.E.B. DuBois renounces his American citizenship and spends his last remaining years in the West African country of Ghana. (DuBois died two years later in Accra, Ghana, August 27, 1963.) While Ernie Davis has become the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, Frantz Fanon, Martinique-born writer (The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks), psychiatrist, activist and revolutionary dies at age 36 in Washington, DC. He foretold of Third World liberation struggles. And by the end of Kennedy’s first year, on Dec. 31, the Marshall Plan is expiring after distributing more than $12 billion in foreign aid.