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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002. Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of the <cite>Briggs</cite> and <cite>Brown</cite> decisions on southern race relations

Rivera describes his reaction to <cite>Briggs v. State of South Carolina</cite> and the <cite>Brown</cite> decision as especially pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights. He also mentions briefly a court case he covered in Florida. In addition, he briefly describes the impact of the end of de jure segregation on black-owned businesses, such as the <cite>Pittsburgh Courier</cite>, which he worked for as a photojournalist during these years. According to Rivera, these court decisions ended racial strife legally, but not in actuality.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Alexander M. Rivera, February 1, 2002. Interview C-0298. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was really with Brown, I think, was where the tape ends and starting to get into the emerging civil rights movement. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your last few years as a correspondent for the Courier and the kind of changes you saw in terms of stories you were reporting on after Brown.
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
Well, my last years with the Courier, I worked with Thurgood Marshall on the cases that he was interested in. The big case of course was the Clarendon County case. It was named because it was in the Clarendon County that everything originated. The legal name was Briggs versus the State of South Carolina, whatever it was. In law, they take the name of the case alphabetically, and there were twenty-some defendants in the case, and being Briggs, he was one of the first. So they named it the Briggs case. That's all. But they had twenty-some odd defendants. The case was started before the NAACP got into it. A lawyer named Harold Boulware out of Columbia, South Carolina, had the first case, and he lost it on a technicality that he didn't bring it in the correct court. So it was thrown out because they said it was not in the jurisdiction of the court that he brought it in. So then these people got very much disgusted and went to the NAACP and asked them if they would take the case. Well, Boulware was also an NAACP lawyer. So he remained with the case, but Thurgood Marshall said, 'Well, yes, we will take the case if you can get as many as a dozen' - I think he asked for - 'defendants, plaintiffs.' He was surprised. They got over twenty. They got over twenty-some odd people. He was surprised because it was a hotbed of racial prejudice, but these people were determined. They knew that they were going to lose. Well, they knew, first, they were going to lose their jobs. They lost their jobs, and then they lost their farms, and their churches were burned and houses were burned and all of that. But they stuck it out. I was surprised. So Thurgood Marshall took it over, of course, and then as they said the rest of it is history. He won the case under Judge Waties Waring. He won it. He lost it in the federal court and won, of course, in the Supreme Court. Now, I think that was the last large case or story that I had with the Courier, large one. I had several smaller stories, but because of my location, I was on the front page of the Courier every week. See I was assigned to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. But there was always something happening in these three states. Then the Courier because I did write and take pictures, the Courier sent me everywhere. They sent me outside of my territory to cover cases. They sent me as far as Florida and then I went to Africa with Nixon.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What was in Florida? What stories did you cover there? Would you remember? You wouldn't have been there for the Tallahassee rape case?
ALEXANDER M. RIVERA:
No, this was a case where a black woman killed a white doctor. She was going with him and they were, or at least they had an affair, whatever it was. When he decided that the affair was over, she decided that it was not over. She killed him. I'd have to look that case up, but it was a very outstanding case. It was a man and the doctor had two waiting rooms, white waiting room and a colored waiting room, but he had this black woman that he was having an affair with. When he wanted to call it quits, she wouldn't let him. She killed him. I had to go down for that. I covered that case. I don't remember the dates. I'd have to look it up. The case, the Clarendon County case or the Brown versus Topeka Board case changed everything. It changed everything for everybody in this country because up until that time we had been the strictly segregated, racially segregated country, white and black. With this decision it became a desegregated country. The case of Brown versus Topeka Board made Plessy versus Ferguson case unconstitutional. Of course, the court knew what the law should be. But they were troubled about what affect their decision would have on the country in general because they knew it was going to be such a tremendous change in everybody's life, lifestyle. In the decision they hedged because they said, 'Well, we're going to rule.' Then they ruled against segregated, all segregation based on race, but they ruled that it must proceed with all deliberate speed. You remember that. All other cases ought not, not all other cases but most cases as soon as the law was passed, there was immediate change right immediately. The law became law immediately. But in this case because of the situation the court said, 'We will move in all deliberate speed.' Well, this changed everything. Black newspapers went out of business because they were, by and large, they were protest organizations. They didn't have the same things to protest. The strife, racial strife wasn't over, but legally it was over. So black newspapers went out of business. The Courier was one of them. They struggled for a while.