Civil Rights Movement

By Susanna Mills


Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka, KS

June 25, 1951 - June 26, 1951

In this case, the Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling, (Plessy vs Ferguson) which had allowed segregated schools on the condition that they wouldn't violate the 14th Amendment. However, as show by this particular case, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. This was a major victory for the civil rights movement.

Montgomery Bus Boycotts

December 1, 1955 - December 20, 1956

A group of African Americans formed the Montgomery Improvement Association in Montgomery, Alabama. This group peacefully protested the segregation of buses for about a year, enduring arrests, bombings, and more to boycott the buses. The leader of the MIA was Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, the issue was taken to the Supreme Court, which issued a mandate to desegregate buses.

Establishment of SCLC

January 10, 1957

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was established to be in charge of organizing peaceful civil rights protests. Its goal was to spread the message, involve churches in their protests, and make people comfortable with the idea of nonviolent movements.

"Integration" of High School in Little Rock

September 4, 1957

With the passage of Brown vs the Board of Education, all schools were desegregated. However, the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, had still not complied. The government tried to force the school and the Arkansas governor to allow students of all races to attend. Yet even when troops came in to protect the black students from the jeering white mobs, the governor retaliated by closing the public school for several years. Later, the school would reopen and be desegregated, but the governor fought it tooth and nail.

Civil Rights Act of 1957

September 9, 1957

This Act was signed in 1957 to protect voting rights for African Americans, after violence had risen to dangerous extremes in the South. The forced desegregation of schools after the Brown vs Board of Education had led to mass outrage on the parts of white southerners, who used violence, bombing, and threats to discourage African Americans. This Act was the first civil rights law to be signed since the Reconstruction Era.


February 1, 1960 - August 1961

One of the most successful ways of causing change in the civil rights movement was the sit-ins. Young black men and women sat in their Sunday best in restaurants and diners that would only serve whites, ask to be served, and sit down peacefully when they were refused. This led to a lot of arrests, violence from whites, and antagonistic behavior. However, the main rule for the sit-ins was to not retaliate, no matter what the belligerent whites said or did. This type of nonviolent protest was monumental in creating change.

Establishment of SNCC

April 1960

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed by the students who had emerged as leaders of the sit-ins. The SNCC was not a part of King's SCLC group, but the two organizations worked together on a lot of protest movements. The SNCC participated in the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the Albany Movement, and the March on Washington.

Freedom Rides

May 4, 1961 - June 16, 1961

The Freedom Rides were interstate bus trips undertaken by peaceful black protesters. They were started in order to raise awareness of the government that many southern states abided by Jim Crow laws instead of Supreme Court rulings. For example, the buses, roadside diners and pit stops were all segregated despite the Supreme Court ruling that that was unconstitutional. White police officers did mass arrests and often stood by and watched as mobs of angry whites harassed the nonviolent Freedom Riders. The Freedom Rides raised awareness across the country of the ridiculous amount of vicious behavior of whites.

Mississippi University admits James Meredith

May 31, 1961

James Meredith was a young man who was twice denied a place at the University of Mississippi because of his race. The NAACP took his suit to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the University would have to admit him. However, Mississippi Uni still did not admit him on the basis of his being convicted for "false voter registration" in the past, (which he had only done because the state had voter registration laws that disenfranchised black voters) but the US Attorney General had a quiet word with the governor of Mississippi on Meredith's behalf. After that, James Meredith was allowed on the campus and to attend the classes.

Desegregation of interstate transportation

September 22, 1961

The Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an end to the segregation of transportation. This was a major victory for the African Americans, except the real difficulty was enforcing it. The main states to raise a fuss were Mississippi and Alabama, and Freedom Riders continued to run into trouble.

Attempted Murder of James Meredith

June 6, 1962

James Meredith began a protest movement known as the March Against Fear, and only a day or so into the march, he was shot by a sniper and was taken to the hospital to recover. Martin Luther King Jr took over his march and continued to lead the peaceful protestors down to Jackson, Mississippi, until Meredith was better and could rejoin the march.

Ratification of the 24th Amendment

August 27, 1962 - January 23, 1964

The 24th Amendment prevents states from putting poll taxes on voters. Some southern states would do this to discourage black voters from voting. It took several years for enough states to ratify the amendment, and many southern states did not ratify it at all.

Birmingham Demonstrations

April 3, 1963 - May 10, 1963

The Birmingham Demonstrations were organized by Martin Luther King, Jr and were also known as Project C (for Confrontation). The plan was to flood Birmingham with peaceful protests to spark a reaction from the police. Birmingham's Public Safety Commission, "Bull" Conner, was well-known for being viciously racist, and he responded to the nonviolent protestors immediately with police dogs, firehoses, and mass arrests. The violence against the protestors in Birmingham led to a lot of awareness in the rest of the country and the government.

Assassination of Medgar Evers

June 12, 1963

Medgar Evers was a civil rights leader before his assassination, and was a field secretary for the NAACP. As was many other leaders, he was threatened many times and had many attempts on his life for challenging the white society. An assassination attempt by Byron De La Beckwith succeeded and Medgar Evers was killed. It took 30 years for Beckwith to be convicted of Evers's murder because of the prejudiced all-white juries.

March on Washington

August 28, 1963

One of the largest protest movements in history, the March on Washington involved several hundred thousand peaceful protestors. The crowd marched to the Lincoln Memorial, where there was a program of music and speeches, including Martin Luther King Jr's famous speech, "I Have A Dream". The March on Washington is often credited with helping to spur the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Freedom Summer

June 1964

The Freedom Summer was a movement to get as many black people to register to vote in Alabama as possible. Alabama historically had the worst record for discouraging potential black voters, so the SNCC and other civil rights organizations wanted to change that. They also provided Freedom Schools and Freedom Houses to provide aid and schooling to people in Alabama.

Mississippi Civil Rights workers' murders

June 21, 1964 - June 22, 1964

In Mississippi, as well as other southern states during the civil rights movement, the state government would do nothing to enforce any laws other than Jim Crow's. This leniency allowed white people to be very violent towards blacks. This is one reason that the lynching of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner occurred. These murders were the catalyst for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 2, 1964

This piece of legislation not only outlawed many forms of discrimination in response to the atrocities of many white southerners, but it also ended racial segregation in schools, and made voting applications equal for all races. This landmark in the civil rights movement would take a couple of years before it would be enforced properly, but it was still very important to the cause.

Fannie Lou Hamer's speech of the MFDP

August 22, 1964

Hamer and several others created a democratic political party that wouldn't be racially divided, the MFDP (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party). The MFDP wanted to run to have delegates in the government body, and as part of their campaign, Hamer gave a speech that was highly televised. Hamer testified about the mistreatment of blacks and their difficult life, and raised awareness a great deal to the civil rights movement.

March on Selma, Alabama

February 1, 1965 - March 21, 1965

Black protestors were attempting to gain rights and raise awareness in Selma by peacefully marching. Facing arrests, tear gas, and violence, they persevered until and even after Lyndon B Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Assassination of Malcom X

February 21, 1965

Malcom X was one of the symbols of the Civil Rights movements. He, unlike Martin Luther King Jr, at first advocated gaining civil rights by any means necessary, even violence. But soon he took a less violent view and upheld the view that racism was the enemy, not whites. He was assassinated in NYC while giving a speech to his organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Voting Rights Act

Aug 6, 1965

This piece of legislation prohibited states from using practices that prevent people from voting. This was a major victory for the civil rights movement, especially because one of their biggest goals was to improve black voting rights.

Watts, LA Race Riots

August 11, 1965 - August 17, 1965

The black community of Watts, LA was restless, so when the LA police arrested a young black man for a DUI, and brought him in overly violently, people started revolting for 6 straight days. Thousands of people were injured and there were 34 deaths.

Black Power speech

July 28, 1966

Stokely Carmichael was the chairman of the SNCC and participated in James Meredith's "March Against Fear" where he first coined the term Black Power. This was a call for blacks to have a sense of nationalism and pride in themselves. This idea brought many youth together and was a rallying cry.

Establishment of Black Panther Party

October 15, 1966

The Black Panther Party was originally a socialist revolutionary organization which had the primary goal of protecting black neighborhoods from police brutality. They were involved in the Black Power movement, and worked to obtain the goals of the civil rights movement.

Newark Race Riots

July 12, 1967 - July 17, 1967

Newark, NJ was one of the first black-majority cities in the North-east, yet there was a great deal of unrest due to unequal representation in positions of power, including in the police force. So when two white police officers arrested a black man for a DUI and dragged him into the police station, other blacks in the area assumed that he had been killed in police custody and began to riot. The riots lasted 6 days and killed 21 people.

Detroit Race Riots

July 23, 1967 - July 28, 1967

In the early hours of July 23, a white police force raided an illegally open bar to arrest the after-hours drinkers. When they tried to take them into custody, the crowd that had gathered outside rioted and began a 5 day outrage that destroyed many buildings and left 43 people dead. This riot was one of the largest in American history, surpassed only by the NY draft riots and the 1992 riots in LA.

Kerner Commission

July 28, 1967

President Johnson appointed a commission of people to investigate the race riots that were occurring around the country, with the goal of finding out why and how to prevent future riots that were sparked by unrest in the country. The commission found that the riots were spurred by "black frustration at lack of economic opportunity". The commission's findings were published in a book which became an instant bestseller.

Thurgood Marshall appointed Supreme Court Justice

August 30, 1967

Thurgood Marshall was a highly successful black man who won many cases for the government in the courts. He was a skilled defense lawyer and was instrumental in Brown vs Board of Education. His successes led President Johnson to nominate him for a position in the Supreme Court, which was a first (and a huge success for the civil rights movement.)

Assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King, Jr was the leader of the civil rights movement and a symbol for the cause. His policies of nonviolence to raise awareness and create change for the movement were hugely monumental. He was the leader of the NCLC and made faith and religion a big part of the movement. He was assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Tennessee. His death made him a martyr and spurred the movement to work even harder.

Fair Housing Act

April 11, 1968

This prohibited people from discriminating against people based on race when they sell houses and buildings.