Civil Rights Movement in America: Key Events
Martin Luther King, 1963
Influence of the war
The Second World War was one of the first major turning points in the battle for civil rights. At the end of the war over 0.5 million people had joined the NAACP. (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) This acted as a catalyst for change bringing civil rights into the forefront of global issues. To read more about this take a look at this article on the impact of World War 2 on America.
The 1954 Brown v Topeka Board of Education Decision
This was one of the first major victories for the black equal rights movement. With the assistance of the NAACP, the parents of eight year old Linda Brown sued the town of Topeka for preventing their daughter from attending the nearby school which was an all white school.
On the 17th of May 1954, the US supreme Court declared that schools in the USA could not be segregated. This legal victory brought confidence to the black communities, and showed that through direct peaceful action progress could be made. This being said, six states chose to ignore the federal ruling, and this only changed in 1964 when the schools were forcibly desegregated.This decision overturned Plessy's 'separate but equal doctrine' in 1896.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955
On the 1st of December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to get up from her seat on a bus to a white man who demanded it. She was arrested and refused to pay a $10 fine. Within two days Martin Luther King came onto the scene and organised a one-year bus boycott. This method of non violent direct action in the form of economic leverage left a deep mark on the bus companies financially.
This led to worldwide sympathy and attention causing action by the Supreme Court in December 1956, declaring that segregation on buses was illegal.
Little Rock High School, 1957
In September 1957, following the court decision in 1954, nine black students were due to begin their education at Little Rock High School, in the state of Arkansas. However they never made it into the building because the racist Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, sent thousands of National Guardsmen to stop the black students.
The federal government stepped into the situation and ruled this illegal and the national guard were removed. The black students however still could not enter the buildings because they were met by a white mob abusing and harassing them. President Eisenhower had to take action and sent in 10,000 federal troops to defend the students for the rest of the school year. Despite clear federal ruling, Orval Faubus tried unsuccessfully to close all schools in Arkansas unless segregation took place once again. Again the Supreme Court stepped in and declared segregation in schools illegal.
Freedom rides, 1961
In 1961, white and black people took part in freedom rides across the US. They travelled on southern buses and trains, attempting to reinforce the Supreme Court Rulings and defy the old 'Jim Crow Laws'. These bus rides were met by hostility especially in the more violent states that they travelled into.
Birmingham, Alabama 1963
Marches and demonstrations in Birmingham, 1963
In 1963 the city authorities tried to reverse the ruling on segregation regarding access to public places. The authorities closed parks, swimming pools, and other public places in order to avoid interaction with the black community.
This was met by action from Martin Luther King who organised a peaceful protest with children in Birmingham. Over 3,500 protesters were met by heavy aggression from the police. Children and adults were attacked by police dogs and arrested on the order of Eugene 'Bull' Connor. The media attention that King got from the protest proved a vital part in gaining support, turing around public opinion.
'I have a dream' speech, Washington, 1963
Martin Luther King organised a march on Washington on August 28, 1963, where he called for racial equality. This speech was delivered to over 250,000 supporters (including 80,000 white Americas) and is seen as one of the most significant moments in the whole campaign for civil rights. The success of the speech can be seen by the two acts that gave a sign of victory to the black communities, and the fact that King was given the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964.
1964- The Civil Rights Act
Outlawed racial discrimination and segregation
1965- The Voting Rights Act
Outlawed minimum literacy and wealth levels from preventing blacks to vote