History Civil Rights Movement Timeline


Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

May 17, 1954

The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to have separate schools for black and white children. This occurred when Oliver Brown attempted to enroll his daughter in a white school that was closer to their home.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott

December 1, 1955

This was a protest against the segregation of the public transit system in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott began with an African American women, Rosa Parks, who was arrested for her refusal to give up her seat on a public bus to a white person. This boycott lasted until December 20th, 1956, when the Supreme Court ruled the Alabama laws requiring segregated busses to be unconstitutional. Many civil rights activists took part in this boycott.

Establishment of the SCLC

January 1957 - February 1957

This was the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. IT was established by Martin Luther King, Charles K. Steele, and Fred L. Shuttlesworth. The SCLC became a major force in organizing the civil rights movement and based its principles on nonviolence and civil disobedience.

Central High School in Little Rock, Arizona

September 1957

At Central High School in LIttle Rock, Arizona, 9 black students were accepted into the school (due to the ruling of the Supreme Court in the historic Brown v. Board of Education). At first, they were prevented from entering the school. President Eisenhower intervened with troops of the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. They kids were then allowed into the school.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957

September 9, 1957

This act was originally proposed by Attorney General Herbert Brownell. It marked the first occasion since Reconstruction that the federal government undertook significant legislative action to protect civil rights.

The Sit-Ins

February 1, 1960

The first sit-in occurred on February 1st, 1960. It took place in Greensboro, North Carolina. Four freshman from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College went into a store and purchased some school supplies, and then waited at the lunch counter to be served (knowing full well that it was segregated). They were forced to leave when the store closed, and had not yet been served (although they had not expected to be). This sit-in was relatively ineffective but sit-ins became more popular as the Civil Rights Movement progressed.

Establishment of the SNCC

April 1960

The SNCC, or Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee, was founded at Shaw University. It provided young blacks with a place in the Civil Rights Movement. It later grew into a more radical organization, especially under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael.

Freedom Riders

May 4, 1961

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate busses into segregated p[arts civil rights activists of the South. They did this to this to test the Supreme Court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia that which stated that segregation in interstate busses and railways was unconstitutional. The riders were often arrested in Souther states for "unlawful assembly" and the violation of Jim Crow laws. White mobs frequently attacked freedom riders and local law enforcement did nothing to stop them, sometimes even cooperating with the KKK.

Federal Transport Commission desegregates Interstate Transportation

September 22, 1961

On September 22nd, 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an end to segregation on interstate transportation and within transportation facilities. The new rules prohibited segregation in interstate travel and required interstate buses to post signs reading "Seating aboard this vehicle is without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission".

Ole Miss is forced to admit James Meredith

October 1, 1962

On October 1st, 1962, James Meredith became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. White students and anti-desegregation supporters protested his enrollment by rioting on the Oxford campus. In response, Robert Kennedy called in 500 U.S. Marshals to take control. They were supported by the 70th Army Engineer Combat Battalion from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama


(Spring of 1963) These demonstrations were collectively called the Birmingham campaign. IT was a strategic movement organized by the South Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to the unequal treatment of blacks in Birmingham. The protests began with boycotts, and, when those were unsuccessful, started a series of sit-ins and marches. This brought national attention to the issue and eventually Birmingham's public places became more open to blacks.

Assassination of Medgar Evers

June 12, 1963

Medgar Evers, Mississippi's NAACP field secretary, is murdered outside his home. Byron De La Beckwith is tried twice in 1964, with both trials resulting in hung juries. Thirty years later he is convicted for murdering Evers.

March on Washington

August 28, 1963

The March on Washington was an interracial march in Washington D.C. that protested segregation and job discrimination against blacks in the nation. This is where MLK gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Fannie Lou Hamer's speech of the MDFP


Fannie Lou Hamer was the cofounder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In 1964, the MDFP challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Hamer spoke in front of the Credentials Committee in a televised proceeding. She told the committee how African-Americans in many states across the country were prevented through voting through illegal tests, taxes, and intimidation. As a result of her speech, two delegates of the MDFP were given speaking rights at the convention and the other members were seated as honorable guests.

Freedom Summer


(Summer of 1964) Freedom Summer was a highly publicized campaign in the Deep South to register blacks to vote during the summer of 1964.

Ratification of the 24th Amendment

January 23, 1964

The 24th Amendment prohibits both the Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of tax. Poll taxes appeared in southern states after Reconstruction as a measure to prevent blacks from voting.

The Murders of Michael Schwerner, James Cheyney, and Andrew Goodman

June 21, 1964

These three men were lynched for advocating for civil right in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were setting up a Freedom school and encouraging African Americans to vote. All three were arrested but were later released and kidnapped by KKK members. They were then threatened, beaten, shot and buried by the KKK. President Johnson, outraged, demanded that the FBI get involved. Their bodies were found 44 days later. Seven of the twenty one accused were convicted and put in jail.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 2, 1964

This act outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national, and religious minorities, and women. It also ended the unfair voter requirements and the segregation in schools.

The Assassination of Malcolm X

February 21, 1965

Malcolm X was a courageous advocate for human and black rights. He was very outspoken and as a result was disliked by many. On February 21st, 1965, as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, there was a disturbance in the crowd. Malcolm X and his bodyguards moved to quiet the disturbance, and suddenly a man rushed forward and shot him in the chest. Two other men came forward and shot him again several times. Malcolm was pronounced dead at 3:30 PM that day.

The March on Selma, AL

March 7 1965

On March 7th, this protest movement began with a gathering of about 3,200 marchers. On March 9th, the protestors began a symbolic march to Pettus Bridge. Then, on the 21st, they began marching from Selma to Montgomery. By the time they reached the capitol their numbers had risen to 25,000.

Race Riots in Watts, Los Angeles, CA

August 11, 1965 - August 17, 1965

This was a series of six-day riots that resulted in 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, and 3,438 arrests. At this time, Los Angeles did not have outright segregation like the South, but it did have racial restrictive covenants which prevented blacks and Hispanics from buying in certain areas. The inciting incident of the race riots was the arrest of Marquette Fry. He was pulled over by a white police officer on the suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Everything escalated when Marquette's brother and mother got involved. Soon a crowd gathered and began throwing things at the officers. At the end of the day, 29 people had been arrested. This was the beginning of the six day riots.

The Attempted Murder of James Meredith

June 6, 1966

James Meredith was a Civil Rights activist. He was the first African American student to be admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi. He was shot after beginning a lone civil rights march, the March Against Fear, through Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, in an attempt to encourage voter registration in the South. He was shot the second day of his march. Other civil rights activists arrived to keep the march going. He recovered and rejoined his march.

Formation of the Black Panthers

October 15, 1966

This party was originally known as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. It was formed on October 15th, 1966, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. It initially set forth a doctrine calling primarily for the protection of African-American neighborhoods from police brutality. It soon gained national prominence and became an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s.

Race Riots in Newark, NJ, and Detroit, MI

July 1967

These were two of the largest race riots in the summer of 1967. There were a total of eight race riots that summer.

The Creation of the Kerner Commission

July 28, 1967

President Lyndon Johnson created the Kerner Commission in 1967. The commission was made up of 11 members. Its purpose was to investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots (what happened and why) and to provide recommendations for the future. When the commission's final report was released it became a bestseller. They found the riots to be resulting from black frustration at the lack of economic opportunity. Lyndon Johnson ignored these reports.

Thurgood Marshall appointed first black Supreme Court Justice

October 2, 1967

After the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, President Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court. The Senate responded with a 69-11 vote in favor of Marshall, making him the first black Supreme Court Justice.

Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 4, 1968

Martin Luther King, Jr. (age 39) is shot as he stands on the balcony outside his hotel room. Escaped convict and committed racist James Earl Ray is convicted of the crime.

Passage of the Fair Housing act

April 11, 1968

This act prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, and handicap and family status.