Interview with Burke Marshall


Burke Marshall:

Well, here's what I think the civil rights movement accomplished. Of course, it accomplished it with the federal government, or through the federal government, through federal action, but what it accomplished was the destruction of Jim Crow. It- it accomplished the destruction of racial segregation by law. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, because it operated directly on state officials, not just through the courts, but directly on state officials, replaced them, made massive registration by black people possible, overnight—speaking historically, since they hadn't been able to be registered since 1880. And, so that was done. The whole framework of southern law that segregated blacks from whites, and oppressed blacks, was destroyed. It was destroyed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, mainly, and what was left of it was destroyed by the 1965 [ Civil ] Rights Act, plus the court decisions that accompanied that. The national commitment was clear as crystal, with respect to that problem. Racial segregation by law was dead. It didn't- it didn't have a supporter left, hardly, by the end of 1965, after the overwhelming passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So that's an enormous accomplishment. It- it is a- it is a return, in the way, to Reconstruction. It is- it is a wipe, an erasure, of the legal treatment of race, during the inter- intervening eighty, ninety years. So- and that was done basically between 1954 and 1965. And it was done even more basically, I'd say, between 1960 and 1965, with the start of the student participation, and sort of the grass-roots, direct action, Civil Rights movement. Now what did that leave unaccomplished? It left an awful lot unaccomplished. It hasn't done anything with respect to disparities in income, education, health, social living, housing, I mean, all of the sort of daily necessities of life, are untouched, by this destruction of the legal situation– legal racial oppression. And I think that there [ is ] a lot of black leaders, that– that wouldn't have existed but for that. And there is a larger black middle class, certainly, than there would have been but for that. But if you think of the masses of the city