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Ray Elliot - 1945 and after:
Life in Cold War America
The GI Bill, Chemistry, Malcolm X and the Civil Rights Act
Upon returning from the war, Ray Elliott finished his
education, became a chemist, and worked to fulfill the
promise of the "Double V"...
Learn more about Ray Elliot:
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his life and listen to his
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This November 1951 photograph shows Nevada troops watching a U.S. nuclear field test from six miles beyond the detonation site.
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In a televised address on July 26, 1963, President
Kennedy informed the nation about the country's participation
in the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
With the United States' detonation of the world's
first nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Japan, in August of 1945, the Second World War ended.
As the Cold War between the Communist countries of
the East and the Democratic countries of the West commenced,
the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union
developed and tested ever more powerful nuclear weapons.
The First World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen
Bombs was held during August of 1955 in Hiroshima,
a little over a year after the test of an American
hydrogen bomb rained deadly nuclear fallout onto a
Japanese fishing vessel. Less than a year after the
October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, at which time the
United States and the Soviet Union narrowly averted
a nuclear war, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and
the United States signed the Treaty Banning Nuclear
Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and
Under Water. For a decade, Ray Elliott worked at a
tracer laboratory where, he explains, "we had to monitor
the radiation fallout around different parts of the
world. They'd send us samples of air samples, vegetation...to
our lab and we would break it down and count the radioactivity
fallout, mainly to monitor...since there was a moratorium
on the testing of atomic bombs after Hiroshima, mainly
to determine whether other countries around the world
were testing atomic bombs."
November 1951 nuclear test at the Nevada
Test Site, (Public Domain).
President Kennedy's address on the
Test Ban Treaty, 26 July 1963. Photograph by Abbie
Rowe, National Park Service, in the John F. Kennedy
Presidential Library and Museum, Boston (Public Domain).
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Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X converse as
Dr. King leaves a press conference on March 26, 1964.
Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X embodied opposite
approaches to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Advocating militancy, Malcolm X totally disagreed with
Dr. King's belief that nonviolent protest and civil
disobedience would lead to black civil rights. Malcolm
X once stated, "The only revolution in which the goal
is loving your enemy is the Negro revolution. Revolution
is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows
no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything
that gets in its way." Ray Elliott, who believed in
peaceful resistance and became a youth advisor, training
civil rights workers and organizing boycotts for the
NAACP, relates how he confronted Malcolm X who was
speaking at a Boston mosque.
Marion S. Trikosko, photographer, Martin
Luther King and Malcolm X at Press Conference, Photographic
Print, Washington, D.C., March 26, 1964. U.S. News
and World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library
of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC–USZ6–1847.
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Clouds of dark smoke rise from burning buildings during
the August 1965 Watts Riots.
Despite the groundbreaking Civil Rights Act of 1964,
Ray Elliott believed that there were "no real solutions
in enforcement of legislations to be changing the hearts
and minds of man." Events bore out Ray's concerns.
In November 1964, 65% of California voters negated
the Rumford Fair Housing Act (which had ended housing
discrimination in the state). By amending the state
constitution to bolster the rights of property owners,
California's Proposition 14 circumvented the Federal
Civil Rights Act which had ended legal segregation
a few months before. Further, urban riots, resulting
in 34 deaths and over 1000 injuries, erupted in Los
Angeles just five days after the passage of the Voting
Rights Act which had ended legal voting discrimination.
On August 17th, Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that
the cause of this violence was "environmental and not
racial. The economic deprivation, social isolation,
inadequate housing, and general despair of thousands
of Negros teeming in Northern and Western ghettos are
the ready seeds which give birth to tragic expressions
of violence."1 Several days later, on August
20th, Lyndon Johnson stated in his "Remarks at the
White House Conference on Equal Employment Opportunities",
If there is one thing
I think we have learned from the civil rights struggle,
it is that the problem of bringing the Negro American
into an equal role in our society is more complex,
and is more urgent, and is much more critical than
any of us have ever known. Who of you could have predicted
10 years ago, that in this last, sweltering, August
week thousands upon thousands of disenfranchised Negro
men and women would suddenly take part in self–government,
and that thousands more in that same week would strike
out in an unparalleled act of violence in this Nation?2
"Three buildings burn on Avalon Blvd.
and a surplus store burn at right as a looting, burning
mob rules the Watts section of Los Angeles," Photographic
Print, Los Angeles California, August 13, 1965. New
York World–Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph
Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, LC–USZ62–113642.
Footnote 1. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Statement on riots in Watts, Calif., 17 August 1965,
Southern Christian Leadership Conference Records, Martin
Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change,
Inc., Atlanta, GA toURL="http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/watts_rebellion_los_angeles_1965/">Watts
Rebellion (Los Angeles, 1965) (http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/kingpapers/article/watts_rebellion_los_angeles_1965/)
Footnote 2. Lyndon B. Johnson, toURL="http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=27170">Remarks
at the White House Conference on Equal Employment
Opportunities", August 20, 1965. Accessed March
23, 2009. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=27170)
Story Clip #1:
Ray takes advantage of the G.I. Bill and becomes a chemist
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Audio also available in MP3
Story Clip #2:
Ray joins the NAACP and teaches about peaceful resistance. He confronts Malcolm X.
Audio also available in MP3
I was involved in the NACP [sic] quite actively. I was in charge of youth groups and training them to be able ...to...how they could be effective in...during sit–ins and boycotts and that type of thing because many of the stores, Woolworth and many others, were, de....what they called...were uh...it was a ...a form of segregation which was not openly done. [Ray is referring to de facto segregation.]
NM: What year are we talking about?
This was in the fifties...well, I got out...let's see...I got back in the fifties...in the early fifties. In the early fifties. So I was training them, and then in the sixties, what happened was that Malcolm X was visiting Boston [something here that is unintelligble] on Blue Hill Ave. in Boston and his mosque was in New York, but he was visiting. I heard about this and I...I felt that I should try to go there and talk about more peaceful resistance than what they were doing, because they were very militant, and they were talking a lot of hatred and rage against Caucasian people. And so I went to the mosque and when I went in, they sit all the visitors up in front at the time, and I was...and Malcolm started preaching and he was very charismatic and everything and as he was preaching, he sent...he called his daughter, a little...his daughter was about six years old or so...he called her up to the stage. He called her up to the stage and then he showed her a picture of Marilyn Monroe, who was a movie star at the time. And he asked her, he said "Who is this?" and she said, "Daddy, that's the devil. That's the devil, Daddy." And so he'd been...he'd been teaching his child to hate. And that made me even more furious. And so then he said to everyone, he said to the guests that were there, a lot of young people, too, he said, uh....if you're not with me, then you're against me...or something like that. He said, now if you wanna join the movement, he said then come forward. And some of the young folks got up and they started to go forward. And then I jumped up and I said, "How can you ask your brothers and sisters to sign up for something they know nothing about and that they may not be in agreement with?"
And he said, they'll learn once they join, then they come to meetings and then we'll teach them about this after they become members. And then at that moment, they have what they call the Black Guard...these are the members that are men...that line the walls and watch very closely...body guards... I called'em...and they [slight chuckle] beckoned me to come come from the seat and finally I did. They took me out not the front door, the back door and they told me, they said they're going to let me go this time. But they said, don't ever challenge Malcolm X publicly, or any time. And uh...they said, 'cause we would give you a lesson that you'll never forget, or something like that. And I'll never forget that... and so that started me in trying to form groups for non–violent resistance, and fight any kind of racial hatred against whites or whatever.
Story Clip #3:
How to "change the hearts of man": Ray reflects on the passage of the Civil Rights Act
Audio also available in MP3
This is Ray Elliott's story, to learn more about the
G.I. Bill of Rights please visit:
To learn more about John F. Kennedy and the Nuclear
Test Ban Treaty please visit:
To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement please visit:
Lyndon Johnson's televised and radio-transmitted
speech given on July 2, 1964, the day that he
signed the Civil Rights Bill-From the Lyndon Baines
Johnson Library and Museum (lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/640702.asp)
- The National
Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Tennessee (http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org)
- Juan Williams. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil
Rights Years 1954-1965. (New York: Penguin Books),
1987. The companion volume to the PBS Television
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