Civil Rights Timeline ~

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Emmett Till Case

1941 - 1955

African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman. Till was from Chicago, Illinois, visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region, when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Several nights later, Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam arrived at Till's great-uncle's house where they took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes, before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound (32 kg) cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.

Brown v. Board of Education

1953 - 1954

Was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassinated

1955 - 1968

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader of the African-American civil rights movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights by using civil disobedience. He was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:05PM that evening. James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary, was arrested in London at Heathrow Airport, extradited to the United States, and charged with the crime. On March 10, 1969, Ray entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary. Ray later made many attempts to withdraw his guilty plea and be tried by a jury, but was unsuccessful; he died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, as alleged by Loyd Jowers in 1993, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. In a 1999 civil trial that did not name the US government as a defendant and sought $100 from Jowers, with both the family and Jowers cooperating together and the only presenting parties, the jury ruled against Jowers and Unidentified Coconspirators. King received death threats constantly due to his prominence in the civil rights movement. As a consequence of these threats, he confronted death constantly, making it a central part of his philosophy. He believed, and taught, that murder could not stop the struggle for equal rights. After the 1963 JFK assassination, he told his wife Coretta: "This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society."

The Freedom Riders

1955 - 1961

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and following years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960),which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.

Rosa Parks

1955 - 1956

On December 1, 1955, Parks broke the law. Her crime was to take an empty seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It's an act that doesn't seem special at all today. But in 1955, segregation laws in some states required separate seating for blacks and whites in restaurants, on buses and in other public spaces. Parks stood for racial equality by refusing to move when the driver asked her to give her seat to a white man. Parks sat quietly while the driver called the police. “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true,” Parks said. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”Parks was arrested, but her act of bravery set off a chain of events that changed the United States. African Americans responded to the injustice by refusing to ride buses in Montgomery, where about three-quarters of bus riders were black. Martin Luther King Jr. led the peaceful boycott, which lasted 381 days. In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African Americans could not be forced to sit only in certain areas on buses. And in 1964, the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in all public places.

Little Rock Nine

1957 - 1959

The Little Rock Nine were a group of African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The ensuing Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, and then attended after the intervention of President Eisenhower.

Greensboro Sit Ins

1959 - 1960

The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests in 1960 which led to the Woolworth's department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States. While not the first sit-ins of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action, leading to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in US history. The primary event took place at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth's store, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

16th Street Baptist Church bombing

1962 - 1963

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 as an act of racially motivated terrorism. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Although city leaders had reached a settlement in May with demonstrators and started to integrate public places, not everyone agreed with ending segregation. Bombings and other acts of violence followed the settlement, and the church had become an inviting target. The three-story 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama had been a rallying point for civil rights activities through the spring of 1963, and was where the students who were arrested during the 1963 Birmingham campaign's Children's Crusade were trained. The church was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth.

Bloody Sunday

1965

The Selma to Montgomery marches, also known as Bloody Sunday and the two marches that followed, were marches and protests held in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. All three were attempts to march from Selma to Montgomery where the Alabama capitol is located. The marches grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, launched by local African-Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL). In 1963, the DCVL and organizers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter-registration work. When white resistance to black voter registration proved intractable, the DCVL requested the assistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who brought many prominent civil rights and civic leaders to support voting rights.