southern custom of the time. In response
ABRAHAM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL
to her arrest the Montgomery black
Ethnic Literature, Ms. Raupers
community launches a bus boycott,
which will last for more than a year,
until the buses are desegregated Dec. 21,
1956. As newly elected president of the
Montgomery Improvement Association
Civil Rights Timeline (MIA), Reverend Martin Luther King,
Milestones in the modern civil rights movement Jr., is instrumental in leading the
by Borgna Brunner and Elissa Haney
May 17 Martin Luther King, Charles K. Steele,
The Supreme Court rules on the and Fred L. Shuttlesworth establish the
landmark case Brown v. Board of Southern Christian
Education of Topeka, Kans., Leadership
unanimously agreeing that Conference, of
segregation in public schools is which King is made
unconstitutional. The ruling paves the the first president.
way for large-scale desegregation. The The SCLC becomes
1954 a major force in
decision overturns the 1896 Plessy v.
Ferguson ruling that sanctioned organizing the civil rights movement
"separate but equal" segregation of the and bases its principles on nonviolence
races, ruling that "separate educational and civil disobedience. According to
facilities are inherently unequal." It is a King, it is essential that the civil rights
victory for NAACP attorney Thurgood movement not sink to the level of the
Marshall, who will later return to the racists and hatemongers who oppose
Supreme Court as the nation's first black them: "We must forever conduct our
justice. struggle on the high plane of dignity and
discipline," he urges.
Fourteen-year-old Chicagoan Emmett
Till is visiting family in Mississippi Sept.
when he is (Little Rock, Ark.) Formerly all-white
kidnapped, brutally Central High School learns that
beaten, shot, and integration is easier said than done. Nine
dumped in the black students are blocked from entering
Tallahatchie River the school on the orders of Governor
for allegedly Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower
whistling at a white sends federal troops and the National
woman. Two white Guard to intervene on behalf of the
1955 men, J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant, are students, who become known as the
arrested for the murder and acquitted by "Little Rock Nine."
an all-white jury. They later boast about
committing the murder in a Look Feb. 1
magazine interview. The case becomes a (Greensboro, N.C.) Four black students
cause célèbre of the civil rights from North Carolina Agricultural and
movement. Technical College begin a sit-in at a
Dec. 1 1960 segregated Woolworth's lunch counter.
(Montgomery, Ala.) NAACP member Although they are refused service, they
Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at are allowed to stay at the counter. The
the front of the "colored section" of a event triggers many similar nonviolent
bus to a white passenger, defying a protests throughout the South. Six
months later the original four protesters uses fire hoses and police dogs on black
are served lunch at the same demonstrators. These images of
Woolworth's counter. Student sit-ins brutality, which are televised and
would be effective throughout the Deep published widely, are instrumental in
South in integrating parks, swimming gaining sympathy for the civil rights
pools, theaters, libraries, and other movement around the world.
public facilities. June 12
April (Jackson, Miss.) Mississippi's NAACP
(Raleigh, N.C.) The Student Nonviolent field secretary, 37-year-old Medgar
Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is Evers, is murdered outside his home.
founded at Shaw University, providing Byron De La Beckwith is tried twice in
young blacks with a place in the civil 1964, both trials resulting in hung
rights movement. The SNCC later grows juries. Thirty years later he is
into a more radical organization, convicted for murdering Evers.
especially under the leadership of
Stokely Carmichael (1966–1967).
May 4 (Washington, D.C.) About
Over the spring and summer, student 200,000 people join the March on
volunteers begin taking bus trips through Washington. Congregating at the
the South to test out new laws that Lincoln Memorial, participants listen as
prohibit segregation in interstate travel Martin Luther King delivers his famous
facilities, which includes bus and "I Have a Dream" speech.
railway stations. Several of the groups of Sept. 15
1961 "freedom riders," as they are called, are (Birmingham, Ala.) Four young girls
attacked by angry mobs along the way. (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley,
The program, sponsored by The Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Collins) attending Sunday school are
and the Student Nonviolent killed when a bomb explodes at the
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a
involves more than 1,000 volunteers, popular location for civil rights
black and white. meetings. Riots erupt in Birmingham,
leading to the deaths of two more black
Oct. 1 youths.
James Meredith becomes the first
black student to enroll at the Jan. 23
University of Mississippi. The 24th Amendment abolishes the poll
Violence and riots surrounding tax, which originally had been instituted
the incident cause President in 11 southern states after
Kennedy to send 5,000 federal Reconstruction to make it difficult for
troops. poor blacks to vote.
April 16 Summer
Martin Luther King is arrested and jailed The Council of Federated Organizations
during anti-segregation protests in 1964
(COFO), a network of civil rights groups
Birmingham, Ala.; he writes his seminal that includes CORE and SNCC,
"Letter from Birmingham Jail," arguing launches a massive effort to register
1963 that individuals have the moral duty to black voters during what becomes
disobey unjust laws. known as the Freedom Summer. It also
May sends delegates to the Democratic
During civil rights protests in National Convention to protest—and
Birmingham, Ala., Commissioner of attempt to unseat—the official all-white
Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor Mississippi contingent.
July 2 of 1965, making it easier for Southern
President Johnson signs the Civil blacks to register to vote.
Rights Act of 1964. The most Literacy tests, poll taxes, and
sweeping civil rights legislation other such requirements that were
since Reconstruction, the Civil used to restrict black voting are
Rights Act prohibits made illegal.
discrimination of all kinds based Aug. 11–17, 1965
on race, color, religion, or (Watts, Calif.) Race riots erupt in
national origin. The law also a black section of Los Angeles.
provides the federal government with
the powers to enforce desegregation.
Sept. 24, 1965
Asserting that civil rights laws alone are
Aug. 4 not enough to remedy discrimination,
(Neshoba Country, Miss.) The bodies of President Johnson issues Executive
three civil-rights workers—two white, Order 11246, which enforces affirmative
one black—are found in an earthen dam, action for the first time. It requires
six weeks into a federal investigation government contractors to "take
backed by President Johnson. James E. affirmative action" toward prospective
Chaney, 21; Andrew Goodman, 21; and minority employees in all aspects of
Michael Schwerner, 24, had been hiring and employment.
working to register black voters in
Mississippi, and, on June 21, had gone Oct.
to investigate the burning of a black (Oakland, Calif.) The
church. They were arrested by the police militant Black Panthers
on speeding charges, incarcerated for are founded by Huey
several hours, and then released after Newton and Bobby
dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, 1966 Seale.
who murdered them.
(Harlem, N.Y.) Malcolm X,
black nationalist and founder of
the Organization of Afro- April 19
American Unity, is shot to death. Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the
It is believed the assailants are Student Nonviolent Coordinating
members of the Black Muslim Committee (SNCC), coins the phrase
faith, which Malcolm had recently "black power" in a speech in Seattle. He
abandoned in favor of orthodox Islam. defines it as an assertion of black pride
and "the coming together of black
(Selma, Ala.) Blacks begin a march to people to fight for their liberation by any
Montgomery in support of voting rights means necessary." The term's radicalism
but are stopped at the Pettus Bridge by a 1967 alarms many who believe the civil rights
police blockade. Fifty marchers are movement's effectiveness and moral
hospitalized after police use tear gas, authority crucially depend on nonviolent
whips, and clubs against them. The civil disobedience.
incident is dubbed "Bloody Sunday" by June 12
the media. The march is considered the In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme
catalyst for pushing through the voting Court rules that prohibiting interracial
rights act five months later. marriage is unconstitutional. Sixteen
states that still banned interracial
Congress passes the Voting Rights Act marriage at the time are forced to revise
their laws. in decades erupt in south-central Los
July Angeles after a jury acquits four white
Major race riots take place in Newark police officers for the videotaped
(July 12–16) and Detroit (July 23–30). beating of African American Rodney
(Memphis, Tenn.) Martin June 23
Luther King, at age 39, is In the most important affirmative action
shot as he stands on the decision since the 1978 Bakke case, the
balcony outside his hotel Supreme Court (5–4) upholds the
room. Escaped convict University of Michigan Law School's
and committed racist policy, ruling that race can be one of
James Earl Ray is convicted of the 2003 many factors considered by colleges
crime. when selecting their students because it
furthers "a compelling interest in
obtaining the educational benefits that
April 11 flow from a diverse student body."
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights
Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination (See also: Affirmative Action Timeline.)
in the sale, rental, and financing of
housing. June 21
The ringleader of the Mississippi civil
April 20 rights murders (see Aug. 4, 1964), Edgar
The Supreme Court, in Swann v. 2005 Ray Killen, is convicted of manslaughter
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of on the 41st anniversary of the crimes.
Education, upholds busing as a October 24
legitimate means for achieving Rosa Parks dies at age 92.
1971 integration of public schools. Although
largely unwelcome (and sometimes January 30
violently opposed) in local school 2006 Coretta Scott King dies of a stroke at age
districts, court-ordered busing plans in 78.
cities such as Charlotte, Boston, and
Denver continue until the late 1990s. February
Emmett Till's 1955 murder case,
March 22 reopened by the Department of Justice in
Overriding President Reagan's veto, 2004, is officially closed. The two
Congress passes the Civil Rights confessed murderers, J. W. Milam and
1988 Restoration Act, which expands the Roy Bryant, were dead of cancer by
reach of non-discrimination laws within 1994, and prosecutors lacked sufficient
private institutions receiving federal 2007 evidence to pursue further convictions.
funds. May 10
James Bonard Fowler, a former state
Nov. 22 trooper, is indicted for the murder of
After two years of debates, vetoes, and Jimmie Lee Jackson 40 years after
threatened vetoes, President Bush Jackson's death. The 1965 killing lead to
reverses himself and signs the Civil a series of historic civil rights protests in
Rights Act of 1991, strengthening Selma, Ala.
existing civil rights laws and providing
for damages in cases of intentional
(Los Angeles, Calif.) The first race riots