Civil Rights (1954 - 1990)
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress of the United States adopted the
Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that all people are created equal.
Many Americans have struggled to make that promise a reality, and in the latter
half of the 20th century, women, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and the
physically challenged have all fought for and received equal rights under the law.
These groups followed in the footsteps of the African-American civil rights
movement that led the way in the fight against discrimination.
Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as the leader of the early civil rights movement in
the 1950s. Committed to a strategy of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in
the fight for change, King's eloquent speeches inspired many people who became
activists all over the country. National reaction to images of civil rights
demonstrators facing extreme violence and imprisonment eventually resulted in
the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, comprehensive U.S. legislation intended
to end discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
Despite these gains, other African Americans disagreed with King's strategy of
passive resistance and, frustrated with the slow pace of change, called for a more
radical approach. The assassination of King in 1968 was a dramatic loss for the civil
rights movement and sparked intense rioting in more than 130 cities.
While the African-American struggle for justice was being fought, other civil rights
groups also worked bravely for equality. Nonviolent protests and direct action by
activists resulted in the passage of important laws addressing discrimination based
on race, gender, sexual orientation and physical disability.
In the 1960s, César Chávez, a labor union organizer, drew attention to the plight of
migrant workers by encouraging boycotts that eventually led to passage of the first
bill of rights for farm workers ever enacted in the United States. Inspired by the
protests for social justice occurring in that era, activist Betty Friedan founded the
National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966, devoted to the fight for equal
rights for women. Civil rights groups continue to strive to move the United States
closer to the pledge of "one nation...with liberty and justice for all."
1954 – Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka - Supreme Court decision
outlaws racial segregation in public schools.
1955 – Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. This leads to the
Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted 381 days until the U.S. Supreme
Court declared segregated bus laws unconstitutional.
1957 – The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, is formed by
Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.
1961 – The Freedom Riders campaign begins in the South when civil rights activists
ride interstate buses into the South to challenge segregation laws.
1962 – National Farm Workers Association is formed, led by César Chávez.
1963 – March on Washington demonstration is held on the National Mall in
1963 – President John F. Kennedy is assassinated is Dallas, Texas at age 46.
Lyndon Johnson becomes President.
1964 - Congress passes the Civil Rights Act.
1965 - César Chávez joins forces with the Filipino-led Agricultural Workers
Organizing Committee to form the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
1965 – Congress passes the Voting Rights Act.
1965 - Malcolm X is assassinated in New York City at age 39.
1968 - Around this time, American Indian Movement is founded by Dennis Banks,
Russell Means and others.
1968 - Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee at age 39.
1968 - Robert Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles, CA at age 42.
1973 - Supreme Court decides in Roe v. Wade that abortion is legal, and that
women have the right to choose what happens with their pregnancy.
1990 - Americans with Disabilities Act is passed by Congress.