|Nearly 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans in Southern states still inhabited a starkly unequal world of disenfranchisement, segregation and various forms of oppression, including race-inspired violence. “Jim Crow” laws at the local and state levels barred them from classrooms and bathrooms, from theaters and train cars, from juries and legislatures. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that formed the basis for state-sanctioned discrimination, drawing national and international attention to African Americans’ plight. In the turbulent decade and a half that followed, civil rights activists used nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to bring about change, and the federal government made legislative headway with initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Many leaders from within the African American community and beyond rose to prominence during the Civil Rights era, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Andrew Goodman and others. They risked—and sometimes lost—their lives in the name of freedom and equality.
While the non-violent movement for civil rights started in the 1950s, it was during the early sixties that non-violent techniques began to pay off. Civil rights activists and students across the South challenged segregation, and the relatively new technology of television allowed Americans to witness the often brutal response to these protests.
By 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to push through the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. This timeline of the early 1960s Civil Rights Movement reveals just what an impressive number of historic events happened between 1960 and 1964.
The 1950s was a seminal decade for the Civil Rights Movement. This decade saw the first major victories for civil rights in the Supreme Court, the development of nonviolent protests and the transformation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., into the movement's preeminent leader.
1951-Linda Brown, an 8-year-old girl in Topeka, Kansas, lives within walking distance of a whites-only elementary school. Because of segregation, she has to travel by bus to a more distant school for African-American children. Her father sues the school board of Topeka, and the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.
1954-The Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, arguing that "separate but equal" schools are inherently unequal. The decision declares legal school segregation unconstitutional.
1955-Rosa Parks attends a workshop for civil rights organizers at the Highlander Folk School in July.
On August 28, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago, is killed near Money, Mississippi, for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
In November, the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission proscribes segregation on interstate buses and trains.
On December 1, Rosa Parks refuses to give her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The Montgomery Improvement Association elects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, as president on December 5 in order to lead the boycott.
1956-In January and February, whites angry about the Montgomery Bus Boycott bomb four African-American churches and the homes of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and E.D. Nixon.
On court order, the University of Alabama admits its first African-American student, Autherine Lucy, but finds legal ways to prevent her attendance.
On Nov. 13, the Supreme Court upholds an Alabama district court ruling in favor of the Montgomery bus boycotters.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott ends in December, having successfully integrated Montgomery's buses.
Martin Luther King helps found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January. The organization's purpose is to fight for civil rights, and King is elected its first president.
The governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, obstructs the integration of Little Rock High School, using the National Guard to block the entry of nine students. President Eisenhower orders federal troops to integrate the school.
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which creates the Civil Rights Commission and authorizes the Justice Department to investigate cases of African Americans being denied voting rights in the South.
1959-Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, visit India, the homeland of Mahatma Gandhi, who won independence for India through nonviolent tactics. King discusses the philosophy of nonviolence with Gandhi's followers.
On February 1, four young African-American men, students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College, go to a Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sit down at a whites-only lunch counter. They order coffee. Despite being denied service, they sit silently and politely at the lunch counter until closing time. Their action marks the start of the Greensboro sit-ins, which sparks similar protests all over the South.
On April 15, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee holds its first meeting.
On July 25, the downtown Greensboro Woolworth desegregates its lunch counter after six months of sit-ins.
On Oct. 19, Martin Luther King, Jr., joins a student sit-in at a whites-only restaurant inside of an Atlanta department store, Rich's. He is arrested along with 51 other protesters on the charge of trespassing. On probation for driving without a valid Georgia license (he had an Alabama license), a Dekalb County judge sentences MLK to four months in prison doing hard labor. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy phones King's wife, Coretta, to offer encouragement while his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinces the judge to release King on bail. This phone call convinces many African-Americans to support the Democratic ticket.
On December 5, the Supreme Court hands down a 7-2 decision in the Boynton v. Virginia case, ruling that segregation on vehicles traveling between states is unlawful because it violates the Interstate Commerce Act.
On May 4, the Freedom Riders, composed of seven African-American and six white activists, leave Washington, D.C. for the rigidly segregated Deep South. Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), their goal is to test Boynton v. Virginia.
On May 14, Freedom Riders, now traveling in two separate groups, are attacked outside Anniston, Alabama and in Birmingham, Alabama. A mob throws a firebomb onto the bus that the group outside Anniston is riding. Members of the Ku Klux Klan attack the second group in Birmingham after making an arrangement with the local police to allow them 15 minutes alone with the bus.
On May 15, the Birmingham group of Freedom Riders is prepared to continue their trip down south, but no bus will agree to take them. They fly to New Orleans instead.
On May 17, a new group of young activists join two of the original Freedom Riders to complete the trip. They are placed under arrest in Montgomery, Alabama.
On May 29, President Kennedy announces that he has ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to enact stricter regulations and fines for buses and facilities that refuse to integrate. Young white and black activists continue to make Freedom Rides.
In November, civil rights activists participate in a series of protests, marches and meetings in Albany, Georgia, that come to be known as the Albany Movement.
In December, King comes to Albany and joins the protesters, staying in Albany for another nine months.
On August 10, King announces that he is leaving Albany. The Albany Movement is generally considered a failure in terms of effecting change, but what King learns in Albany allows him to be successful in Birmingham, Alabama.
On September 10, the Supreme Court rules that the University of Mississippi must admit African-American student and veteran James Meredith.
On September 26, the governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, orders state troopers to prevent Meredith from entering Ole Miss's campus.
Between September 30 and October 1, riots erupt at over Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi or "Ole Miss."
On October 1, Meredith becomes the first African-American student at Ole Miss after President Kennedy orders U.S. marshals to Mississippi to ensure his safety.
King, SNCC and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organize a series of demonstrations and protests to challenge segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
On April 12, Birmingham police arrest King for demonstrating without a city permit.
On April 16, King writes his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in which he responds to eight white Alabama ministers who urged him to end the protests and be patient with the judicial process of overturning segregation.
On June 11, President Kennedy delivers a speech on civil rights from the Oval Office, specifically explaining why he sent the National Guard to allow the admittance of two African-American students to the University of Alabama.
On June 12, Byron De La Beckwith assassinates Medgar Evers, the first field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi.
On August 18, James Meredith graduates from Ole Miss.
On August 28, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is held in D.C. Around 250,000 people participate, and King delivers his legendary "I have a dream" speech.
On September 15, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed. Four young girls are killed.
On November 22, Kennedy is assassinated, but his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, uses the nation's anger to push through civil rights legislation in Kennedy's memory.
On March 12, Malcolm X leaves the Nation of Islam. Among his reasons for the break is Elijah Muhammad's ban on protesting for Nation of Islam adherents.
Between June and August, SNCC organizes a voter registration drive in Mississippi known as Freedom Summer.
On June 21, three Freedom Summer workers--Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman--disappear.
On August 4, the bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman are found in a dam. All three had been shot, and the African-American activist, Chaney, had also been badly beaten.
On June 24, Malcolm founds the Organization of Afro-American Unity along with John Henrik Clarke. Its aim is to unite all Americans of African descent against discrimination.
On July 2, Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination in employment and in public places.
In July and August, riots break out in Harlem and Rochester, New York.
On August 27, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDM), organized to challenge the traditional state democratic party that had excluded African Americans, sends a delegation to the national Democratic convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They ask to represent Mississippi at the convention. Offered two seats at the convention in turn, the MFDM delegates reject the proposal.
On December 10, the Nobel Foundation awards MLK the Nobel Peace Prize.
By the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Movement had succeeded in convincing the federal government to end legalized segregation, which was accomplished with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the urban cities of the North suffered from "de facto" segregation, or segregation that was the result of economic inequality rather than of discriminatory laws.
De facto segregation was not as easily addressed as the legalized segregation that had existed in the South, and Martin Luther King, Jr., spent the mid-to-late sixties prior to his death working on behalf of of both black and white Americans living in poverty. African Americans living in northern cities became increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of change, and a number of cities experienced riots.
Some turned to the black power movement, feeling that it had a better chance of rectifying the sort of discrimination that existed in the North. By the end of the decade, white Americans had moved their attention away from the Civil Rights Movement to the Vietnam War, and the heady days of change and victory experienced by Civil Rights activists in the early 1960s came to an end with King's assassination.
On February 21, Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom apparently by Nation of Islam operatives, although other theories abound.
On March 7, six hundred civil rights activists, including Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leave Selma, traveling eastward on Route 80 toward Montgomery. They are marching in protest of the killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson, an unarmed protester who was killed during a march the prior month by an Alabama state trooper. State troopers and local police stop the marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, beating them with clubs as well as spraying them with water hoses and tear gas.
On March 9, King leads a march to the Pettus bridge, turning the marchers around at the bridge.
On March 21, three thousand marchers leaves Selma for Montgomery, completing the march without opposition.
On March 25, around twenty-five thousand people join the Selma marchers at the Montgomery city limits.
On August 6, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, which illegalizes discriminatory voting requirements, like requiring a literacy test before registering to vote, that white Southerners had used to deprive black Southerners of the vote.
On August 11, a riot breaks out in Watts, an African-American suburb of Los Angeles, California, after a fight erupts between a white traffic officer and an African-American man accused of drinking and driving. The officer arrests the man and some of his family members who had arrived at the scene. Rumors of police brutality, however, result in six days of rioting in Watts. Thirty-four people, mostly African Americans, die during the riot.
On January 6, SNCC announces its opposition to the Vietnam War. SNCC members would feel increasingly sympathetic towards the Vietnamese, comparing the indiscriminate bombing of Vietnam to racial violence in the United States.
On January 26, King moves into an apartment in a Chicago slum, announcing his intention to start a campaign against discrimination there. This in response to the increasing unrest in Northern cities over prejudice and de facto segregation. His efforts there are ultimately deemed unsuccessful.
On June 6, James Meredith embark on a "March Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage black Mississippians to register to vote. Near Hernando, Mississippi, Meredith is shot. Others take up the march, joined on occasion by King.
On June 26, the marchers reach Jackson, Mississippi. During the last days of the march, Stokely Carmichael and other SNCC members clash with King after they encourage the frustrated marchers to embrace the slogan of "black power."
On October 15, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. They want to create a new political organization to better the conditions of African Americans; their goals include better employment and educational opportunities as well as improved housing.
On April 4, King makes a speech against the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York.
On June 12, the Supreme Court hands down a decision in Loving v. Virginia, striking down laws against interracial marriage as unconstitutional.
In July, riots break out in northern cities, including Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey.
On September 1, Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.
On November 7, Cal Stokes is elected as the major of Cleveland, making him the first African-American to be elected mayor of a major American city.
In November, King announces the Poor People's Campaign, a movement to unite the poor and disenfranchised of America, regardless of race or religion.
Between February and May, African-American students protest at major universities, including Columbia University and Howard University, demanding changes in faculty, living arrangements and curriculum.
On February 11, African-American sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, go on strike, a protest that would eventually bring King to Memphis several times in their support.
On April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated as he stands on the balcony outside his motel room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
On April 11, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (or the Fair Housing Act) into law, which prohibits discrimination by sellers or renters of property.
1969-On December 4, Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party, is shot and killed by police during a raid. A federal grand jury refutes the police's assertion that they fired upon Hampton only in self defense, but no one is ever indicted for Hampton's killing.
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