Timeline

1970

January 26th, 1970

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Georgia’s Decision to Close Park Rather than Integrate

In 1911, United States Senator Augustus O. Bacon executed his will, devising to the City of Macon, Georgia, “a park and pleasure ground” for whites only. He explained that “in limiting the use and enjoyment of this property perpetually to white people, I am not influenced by any unkindness of feeling . . . I am, however, without hesitation in the opinion that in their social relations the two races . . . should be forever separate.”

Baconsfield Park opened in 1920 as a large and lush recreation space. As trustee of the park, the City of Macon honored Senator Bacon’s wishes and for decades operated it as a “whites only” facility. That changed in 1963 when the city determined that, as a public entity, it could no longer constitutionally enforce segregation. Disgruntled, Baconsfield’s Board of Managers sued to remove the City of Macon as trustee and preserve the park as one for white residents only.

In May 1963, black citizens intervened, filing a lawsuit challenging Baconsfield’s racial restriction as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in February 1964, the City of Macon resigned as trustee; several months later the court appointed three private individuals as new trustees, and the racial segregation policy continued.

Black residents appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In January 1966, the Court held in Evans v. Newton that Baconsfield could no longer be operated on a racially discriminatory basis: “the public character of this park requires that it be treated as a public institution subject to the command of the Fourteenth Amendment, regardless of who now has title under state law.” Rather than integrate, however, the Georgia Supreme Court responded by terminating the Baconsfield trust and closing the park to the public altogether.

Black residents of Macon again appealed to the United States Supreme Court, contending the state court’s action violated the Fourteenth Amendment. But on January 26, 1970, in Evans v. Abney, the Court upheld the Georgia Supreme Court’s order, writing: “When a city park is destroyed because the Constitution requires it to be integrated, there is reason for everyone to be disheartened.” Baconsfield Park remained closed and is now a strip mall; Georgia’s Bacon County is named for Senator Bacon.

1970

May 15th, 1970

Mississippi Police Fire on Protesting Jackson State College Students, Killing Two

Eleven days after National Guard troops fired into a crowd of unarmed anti-war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio, local and state police in Mississippi opened fire on a group of students at Jackson State College in Jackson. In a thirty-second barrage of gunfire, police fired 150 rounds into the crowd, killing two students and injuring dozens more.

On the evening of May 14th, students were gathered on Lynch Street, a road connecting the predominately black college campus to the more affluent white neighborhood in Jackson. Police reports allege that the students had been throwing rocks and bottles at passing white motorists; students and white motorists had a tense relationship because the white motorists would yell racial slurs and taunt the students as they passed. Later that evening, a person not believed to be a student set fire to a dump truck. When firemen arrived to respond, they called the police for protection from the gathering students.

Shortly after midnight, a glass bottle was thrown into the crowd of police; they responded by opening fire on the students and riddling a women’s dorm with bullets. Phillip Gibbs, 21, and James Green, 17, were killed. Officers later claimed a sniper in the women's dorm had shot at them first. The President's Commission on Campus Unrest later called the shootings an “unreasonable, unjustified overreaction,” but ultimately no one was charged. A local grand jury blamed the students, arguing that people who engage in civil disobedience must accept the risk of injury or death by law enforcement.

In 1974, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the officers had overreacted but they could not be held liable for the two deaths that resulted. In 1982, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

1970

December 3rd, 1970

Cesar Chavez Jailed for Continuing Farmworker Strike

During the summer of 1970, farm owners in California’s Salinas Valley, with the assistance of the Teamsters union, used coercive tactics to prevent Latino migrant farm workers from joining Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union. In response, the United Farm Workers union organized a massive strike in the Salinas Valley.

As retaliation for participating in the strike, farm owners fired hundreds of Latino migrant farmworkers and targeted the workers with violence. Striking farmworkers and leaders of the United Farm Workers were attacked and beaten throughout the strike, and in November 1970, the offices of the United Farm Workers in the Salinas Valley were bombed.

As the strike continued, Cesar Chavez organized a boycott of lettuce produced by farms that had used coercive tactics against the United Farm Workers. The farm owners sought an anti-boycott injunction, which was granted by a Monterey County judge. When Mr. Chavez refused to end the boycott, he was charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction. On December 3, 1970, Judge Gordon Campbell sentenced Mr. Chavez to an indefinite jail term and warned him that “improper and evil methods cannot be used to achieve even noble objectives.”

Cesar Chavez spent twenty-one days in jail before being released on December 24, 1970. He was held in an isolation cell but received visits from Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy. In early 1971, the California Supreme Court held that the injunction against the strike was unconstitutional.

1971

June 17th, 1971

President Nixon Declares Drug Abuse “Public Enemy #1"

On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse to be public enemy number one and launched what has become known as the “War on Drugs.”

President Richard Nixon's announcement of new drug policies marked the beginning of an era in the criminal justice system in which the use and/or trafficking of drugs became the central conversations on social policy and crime. President Nixon and his administration helped to shift the national conversation from eliminating the causes of crime to focusing only on punishing the criminal. He created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in July 1973 to “combat an all-out global war on the drug menace.” Since its inception, the DEA has quadrupled the number of special agents and tripled its budget to $2.02 billion.

Similarly, since Nixon’s announcement, there has been a 700 percent increase in the United States prison population. Although the United States accounts for only five percent of the world's population, the U.S. confines 25 percent of the world's prisoners. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, nearly 50 percent of people in federal prisons are currently incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

In addition to criminalizing drug abuse, the drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color. Despite the fact that rates of drug use and sales are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. The lifelong penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent class of untouchables in America. These individuals, primarily poor people of color, have been disenfranchised and prevented from accessing social benefits such as housing, food, and educational assistance. Discriminatory enforcement of drug policy has undermined its effectiveness and legitimacy while contributing to continuing dysfunction in the administration of criminal justice.

1972

July 24th, 1972

Washington Star Newspaper Exposes Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

In 1932, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) in partnership with the Tuskegee Institute began a study in Macon County, Alabama, to examine the effects of untreated syphilis in African American men. PHS workers persuaded 399 African American men with syphilis, and 201 without the disease, to participate in an experiment they were told would provide treatment for “bad blood,” a vague term with many meanings in the rural community.

Nearly all the men were poorly educated, impoverished sharecroppers. In exchange for their participation, they were promised burial stipends, hot meals, and free medical exams. Those with syphilis were not told they were infected and were not treated even after Penicillin was discovered to be an effective cure for the disease in the 1940s. Even local health workers not affiliated with the project were prevented from administering treatment to syphilis-infected individuals participating in the experiment.

In July 1972, the Washington, DC-based Washington Star newspaper published an article exposing details of the experiment, which was still ongoing. The article incited public outrage over the unethical treatment of participants, leading to the experiment’s termination that November. Over the experiment’s 40-year span, 128 participants died of syphilis or syphilis-related complications. In 1973, the NAACP represented survivors in a class action lawsuit. In 1974, the federal government settled the lawsuit for $10 million and agreed to provide survivors and their infected family members with free medical services. It would be another 23 years, however, before the government issued a formal apology for its actions.

1973

June 27th, 1973

Relf Sisters Sue Montgomery Clinic for Involuntary Sterilization

On June 14, 1973, fourteen-year-old Minnie Lee Relf and her twelve-year old mentally disabled sister, Mary Alice, were sterilized without their knowledge or consent after nurses with the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, a federally funded family planning agency, deceived their illiterate mother into believing that she was consenting to the girls receiving birth control shots.

Two years earlier, after moving into public housing with their family, Mary Alice, Minnie Lee, and their older sister, Katie, had been administered experimental birth control injections by the local family clinic without their informed consent and initially without their parents' consent. After the federal government ended the experimental birth control trials, clinic nurses decided that the girls should be sterilized. The clinic targeted the girls for the procedure because they were poor, black, and living in public housing. More cognitively advanced than her younger sisters, Katie narrowly escaped sterilization on June 14 by hiding from the clinic nurse who came to their house.

After the procedure, Mary Alice and Minnie Lee revealed to their parents that instead of receiving shots, they had undergone surgery. On June 27, 1973, the Relf family, with assistance from the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, its parent agency, and the Office of Economic Opportunity, which provided federal funding to the clinic. The lawsuit drew national attention to the targeted sterilization of poor, minority women, led to the termination of federal funding for coerced/involuntary sterilization, and increased regulation of sterilization procedures for children and the mentally disabled.

1974

March 27th, 1974

Delbert Tibbs Indicted in Florida; Later Sentenced to Death and Exonerated

On February 3, 1974, a young white couple, Cynthia Nadeau and Terry Milroy, were hitchhiking in Fort Myers, Florida when, according to Ms. Nadeau, they were picked up by an African American man who shot Mr. Milroy to death, raped her, and left her bleeding and unconscious beside a secluded road.

A few days later, on February 6th, Delbert Lee Tibbs, a black hitchhiker from Chicago, was hitchhiking 220 miles north of Fort Myers when he was stopped by police, questioned about the crime, and photographed. Ms. Nadeau had initially described her attacker as a very dark-skinned man. Mr. Tibbs, who was of a light complexion, did not fit the eyewitness’s description and police released him. Nonetheless, his photo was sent to Fort Myers, and Ms. Nadeau identified him as her attacker. A warrant was issued and Tibbs was arrested two weeks later in Mississippi.

Mr. Tibbs was returned to Florida, indicted by a grand jury on March 27, 1974, and tried for the rape and murder. Though Mr. Tibbs had a solid alibi, and Ms. Nadeau had given several inconsistent descriptions of the suspect, the prosecution’s star trial witness was a jailhouse informant who claimed that Mr. Tibbs confessed his guilt to him. Based on this evidence, an all-white jury convicted Mr. Tibbs of murder and rape. In March 1975, he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Following the trial, the supposed informant recanted his testimony and admitted he had fabricated the story in hopes of receiving leniency in his own case. In 1977, Delbert Tibbs was released from prison, and in 1982, all charges against him were officially dropped. He died of natural causes in 2013.

1976

September 7th, 1976

First Black Person Elected to Statewide Office in the South Since Reconstruction

On September 7, 1976, Joseph Woodrow Hatchett was elected to a seat on the Florida Supreme Court, becoming the first black person elected to any statewide office in the South since the end of Reconstruction nearly a century before. A year earlier, in September 1975, Governor Rubin Askew appointed Judge Hatchett to a seat on the Court, making him the first black Florida Supreme Court justice in state history.

“Reconstruction” refers to a period following the Civil War, when the Republican-controlled United States Congress passed legislation granting black Americans citizenship, civil rights, and federal protection and established federally-controlled military governments in former Confederate states to oversee compliance. The inclusion of blacks in the political process angered many white Southern Democrats still invested in white supremacy. Their efforts to infringe upon blacks’ new political rights often involved extreme violence. Despite the danger of political involvement, blacks bravely took a more active role in the country’s political life than ever before, as both voters and candidates. Backed by federal forces’ presence and oversight, nine black men were elected to Congress between 1865 and 1877, and several black men served in the Florida state legislature.

When Reconstruction ended prematurely in 1877, with the removal of federal troops from the South as part of a political compromise to declare Rutherford B. Hayes winner of the contested 1876 presidential election, Southern states quickly passed laws to undo black political and social progress. This marked the start of a new era, defined by Jim Crow and widespread racial terrorism, in which blacks were economically exploited, restricted in their access to quality education and employment, and excluded from the political process through discriminatory laws and violent intimidation. The effects were immediate and long-lasting; most states in the region would not again elect a black person to state or national office for decades.

For many, the election to Florida’s highest court of Justice Hatchett, whose proud father and mother had worked as a fruit picker and domestic worker, realized the dreams of the civil rights movement, and represented a step in the direction of progress. After four years as a Florida Supreme Court justice, President Jimmy Carter appointed Hatchett to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth (later Eleventh) Circuit, where he sat until his retirement from the bench in 1999.

1976

September 13th, 1976

In Lawsuit Settlement, Alaska Agrees to Build Local High Schools for Native Students

In the late 1890s, the Gold Rush drastically increased the Alaska territory’s non-Native population. As white residents settled in Alaska, they began to demand a separate system of schools to educate their children apart from Native children.

In 1905, the federal government responded, proclaiming that the education of Native children would remain a federal responsibility, while the territorial government would oversee the education of “white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life.” Known as the Nelson Act, this law established a dual school system in Alaska. A subsequent 1917 law, which followed the formal creation of the Territory of Alaska, transferred power over education of “white and colored children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life” to the Alaska Territorial Legislature.

The federal government continued to oversee the education of Alaska Natives by sending Native high school students away from their villages to boarding schools in other states. Meanwhile, white and “mixed-blood” children attended local high schools. In the 1920s, the federal government retreated from its assimilationist program and began sending students to boarding schools within Alaska – but as enrollment increased beyond the capacity of the in-state schools, some students were once again sent out of state.

The Johnson-O’Malley Act, passed in 1934, transferred the responsibility of educating Native children to state and local school systems. The Alaska territorial government soon began assuming control of some Native schools, but the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) continued to operate separate Native schools as well – even after Alaska gained statehood in 1958. It was not until the early 1960s that the Alaska and federal governments made the final push to reduce the dual school systems to one unified system.

Many natives lived in rural areas without local high schools and had to attend boarding school or enroll in a largely unsuccessful correspondence study if they desired a high school education. In 1966, Alaska established its own Boarding Home Program to provide secondary education to students living in areas with no local high school. While Alaska’s boarding program meant Native students did not have to leave the state unless they wished, as many as 600 students per year were still forced to leave their homes to attend programs in towns hundreds or thousands of miles away. Students in the boarding program “experienced accelerated drop-out rates, psychological and social problems, including disruption of family life and loss of sense of identity, and failure to live up to educational potential” at a much higher rate than students attending local schools. In addition, many students boarded with white families were treated as servants.

In 1975, 27 Native high school students brought a suit against the state of Alaska for failing to provide secondary education in their villages in violation of their right to education guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The case, Tobeluk v. Lind, is commonly known as the “Molly Hootch” case, after one of the named plaintiffs. On September 13, 1976, a settlement was reached, in which the State of Alaska agreed to build secondary schools in rural Native villages.

1976

November 12th, 1976

Race Riot at Georgia Prison Leaves Five Dead and 47 Injured

On November 12, 1976, a deadly race riot erupted at Reidsville State Prison, now known as Georgia State Prison, in Reidsville, Georgia. Just a few years prior, a federal judge had ordered the prison to desegregate inmate living quarters. According to newspaper reports at the time, the riot began when 50-75 white prisoners armed with shanks attacked a group of black prisoners; in the end, 47 prisoners were injured and five were killed. Prison officials blamed the incident on an argument between homosexual inmates.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Georgia state law requiring racial separation of prisoners at Reidsville (where 60-65% of prisoners were black). However, after an initial attempt at integration, the prison had repeatedly reverted to segregation in supposed efforts to cool racial tensions. At the time, ACLU of Georgia Director Gene Guerrero remarked, “It's the worst sort of cop-out – to lay the problems at Reidsville on integration.”

Following the November 1976 riot and several other incidents of deadly violence, U.S. District Judge Anthony Aliamo issued an order on July 3, 1978, to re-segregate dormitories at Reidsville for a period of 60 days. The common areas, such as the mess hall and recreation yard, were to remain integrated. When another deadly racial attack occurred in August 1978, the state successfully sought an extension of the re-segregation order, resulting in eight months of segregated dorms. At the time, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Offender Rehabilitation said that he thought the prison would have a “hard time going back” to integrated dormitories.

1977

December 7th, 1977

Black Family Flees Smithfield, North Carolina, White Neighborhood After Violent Harassment

Around 3:30 a.m. on December 3, 1977, gunshots were fired into the Smithfield, North Carolina home of Cornell and Geraldine Cook, the only African American couple living in a previously all-white neighborhood. A sheriff’s detective found about twenty pellet holes from a .12-gauge shotgun in the front of the house, but no one was injured in the shooting. On December 7, the local newspaper reported that the family planned to leave the area following the incident, the latest in a string of attempts at racial intimidation since the Cooks moved into their home. The Cooks subsequently quit their jobs at the GTE-Sylvania plant and returned with their nine-month-old son to Mr. Cook’s hometown of Newport News, Virginia.

In October 1977 when the Cooks first expressed interest in buying the home, Realtor James White gave them the option of first renting it to see how they liked living there. Mr. White warned the Cooks “not to expect to be welcomed with open arms” by the community, and he received about fifteen complaints within a week of renting the home to them.

Several weeks before the shooting, neighbors had found a watermelon with a burning cross stuck in it on the Cooks’s lawn, but removed it before the Cooks returned and did not tell them about it. Similarly, the Cooks and their neighbors felt that the shooting was racially motivated. Said Mr. Cook, “When you come right down to it, it’s the color of my skin that caused it.”

Following the shooting, Smithfield’s community leaders worried about the town’s reputation, which had already been recently soured by a lighted billboard visible from Interstate 95 proclaiming: “Join and Support the United Klans of America. Welcome to Smithfield. Help us fight Communism and Integration.” The billboard had been removed the previous spring, before the Cooks moved in.

1977

December 17th, 1977

Georgia Prosecutors Drop Murder Charges Against Five Black Men Forced to Confess Under Threat of Death

On January 22, 1976, Gordon Howell, a cattle ranch worker, was shot to death in a one-room grocery store owned by Linward Denton, six miles east of Dawson, a rural town in southwest Georgia. According to testimony, Howell was shot by a group of young African American men who came into the store and slipped on ski masks behind a beer cooler before pulling a weapon. Denton identified Roosevelt Watson, who was then 19, as the gunman. Police also arrested his brother, Henderson Jackson, 21; brothers Johnny B. Jackson, 17, and James “Junior” Jackson, 16; and J.D. Davenport, 18, the Watsons’ cousin. All five young men were charged with murder and robbery. In preliminary hearings, the prosecution claimed the accused had confessed, and announced an intention to seek the death penalty.

The five men were represented by Millard Farmer of the Team Defense Project Inc. from Atlanta. Mr. Farmer contended that police coerced the defendants’ alleged confessions by threatening to shoot, electrocute, and castrate the young men. The prosecution’s case began to unravel when, in August 1977, a former police captain testified that he was present when a fellow officer jammed his gun into the forehead of one defendant, cocked it, and repeatedly ordered the defendant to confess, saying to him, “Okay, nigger, I want to know where y’all threw the weapons at.”

Following this testimony, Judge Walter Greer ultimately suppressed the confessions of three of the defendants, ruling that the illiterate young men could not have knowingly and intelligently waived their constitutional rights against self-incrimination. On December 17, 1977, the district attorney dropped the murder and robbery charges, saying that without the confessions there was not much of a case. Two of the defendants had spent one year in jail, and the other three had been incarcerated for almost two years. No one was ever convicted of Mr. Howell’s murder.

1978

February 11th, 1978

Native American Activism

In the 1960s and 1970s, growing social unrest and national protests for civil rights within the black community influenced action within other groups – including Native Americans, a segment of the American population that had remained largely marginalized, disadvantaged, and disproportionately impoverished since the United States government completed its policy of removal more than a century before.

On March 8, 1964, a small group of Sioux demonstrators affiliated with a San Francisco organization known as Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied Alcatraz Island for four hours, asserting that the land was due to be returned to the Sioux people. The temporary demonstration was to raise awareness of government violations of binding treaties – but a longer protest followed. Beginning November 20, 1969, the IAT and allies again occupied the island. Lasting more than 18 months and, at its height, including as many as 400 people, the protest did not result in renewed tribal ownership of the land, but did raise national and international attention and inspire continued activism.

Another advocacy organization, the American Indian Movement (AIM), in October 1972 organized members to march to Washington, D.C. in the “Trail of Broken Treaties,” and upon arrival occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs for several days. AIM’s 20-point list of demands sought multiple reforms to U.S.-Indian treaty policy, as well as restoration of land and rights, and abolition of the BIA. The occupation ended when the U.S. government agreed to negotiate, but change was slow.

On February 11, 1978, AIM began “The Longest Walk,” a five-month, cross-country march from Alcatraz Island to Washington, D.C. to protest legislation pending in Congress and raise public awareness about the growing governmental threat to American Indian sovereignty. The activists and allies arrived in D.C. on July 15, 1978 and held rallies addressing their demands and concerns. Though President Jimmy Carter refused to meet with the marchers when they arrived in the capitol on July 15, 1978, Congress responded to the public pressure by vetoing an anti-treaty bill and passing the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Today, AIM and many other organizations continue to fight for sovereignty and combat the poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness still plaguing American Indian communities. A second Longest Walk, organized in 2008, included participants from more than 100 American Indian nations.