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Foreshadowing the Future: 1957 and the United States Black Freedom Struggle

28 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2013  

David J. Garrow

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: 2009


On January 1, 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a 7000-person NAACP Emancipation Day benefit rally at Atlanta’s Big Bethel AME Church. Titling his remarks “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” King declared that he and his listeners were living in “an age in which a new world order is being born . . . The old order of colonialism is passing away, and the new order of freedom and equality is coming into being . . . ” A new world was dawning in the United States as well, King said, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. “[A]s a result of this decision,” King stated, we can “gradually see the old order of segregation and discrimination passing away and the new order of justice and freedom coming into being.”

The events of 1957 across the South, and in Washington, foreshadowed a future in which two successive Presidents overcame the racial ambivalence that had constrained Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Oval Office behavior. Once the determined southern black activism symbolized by King finally won the committed support of first John Kennedy, and then far more so Lyndon Johnson, the transformative promise so richly visible throughout 1957 burst forth in full flower in 1964 and 1965.

King had been right on that New Year’s Day to call that forthcoming transformation inevitable, even if he could not then fully foresee how long it would take, the price to be paid, or the ineluctable limits — as Bayard Rustin was beginning to teach him — of a social metamorphosis that would come to be defined wholly in racial rather than economic terms. That future may have been inexorably constrained in ways that King could only dimly discern, but the events of 1957 foreshadowed that future more than any previous year in American history.

Keywords: Civil Rights Movement, Black Freedom Movement, racial discrimination, civil rights, desegregation, inequality, African-Americans, Black Americans, Warren Court, judicial decision-making, First Amendment rights, equal protection, black activism

JEL Classification: K19, K39, K41, J71

Suggested Citation

Garrow, David J., Foreshadowing the Future: 1957 and the United States Black Freedom Struggle (2009). Arkansas Law Review, Vol. 62, p. 1, 2009; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN:

David J. Garrow (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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