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Civil Rights Movement in America: Key Events

Updated on October 4, 2012

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.

Linda Brown

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.

Orval Faubus

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

Martin Luther King: 'I have a dream'


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    • nightnight profile image

      nightnight 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks :) Glad I could help.

    • Christy Kirwan profile image

      Christy Kirwan 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub! I don't know that much about American history, so this was very informative.

    • nightnight profile image

      nightnight 5 years ago from UK

      If you enjoyed this hub please do vote for it in the education and science section. Thanks!

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 5 years ago from New Orleans

      No way to not believe it's a great hub and will make people think, which is always wonderful!

    • nightnight profile image

      nightnight 5 years ago from UK

      Hmm.... I should have been more specific, I meant very young people, who had grown into that culture and knew no different. Of course this is not an excuse, but as you said at the age of 11 you certainly know what is right and wrong. The culture I feel certainly did scare people away from speaking out, and that was part of the problem.

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 5 years ago from New Orleans

      I don't know if you're correct or not on your final paragraph above. I was 11 years old and I knew what was happening was wrong. I was also frustrated with my parents for not being more vocal about the fact that it was wrong. I realize now that they were afraid, afraid of physical harm to themselves or their children for speaking out. As you said, it helped us get where we are now. That's what matters.

    • nightnight profile image

      nightnight 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks for sharing your personal memories, that was really interesting to read. It definitely was a terrible time, but I see these events as necessary outcomes that have helped shape the society that we live in today. Of course I wish that none of these events had to occur but without them, you might be wondering where would civil rights be now?

      I actually think I know which picture you might be talking about, if it's the one I'm thinking of it is very famous indeed. I'm glad she apologised, I personally think however that some people at that time got swept into the racist culture by the generations before them without actually knowing what they were doing, especially the younger generation.

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 5 years ago from New Orleans

      I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember the integration of Central High. I remember my neighbors coming over to our house and saying they were going downtown and spit on those........ It was a terrible, terrible time. Our school was innundated with children from Central. We attended a rural school outside Little Rock. I have a vivid memory of going to the polls with several friends and voting for Dale Bumpers, who defeated Faubus in the Democratic primary in 1970. There is a museum in Little Rock actually housed inside an old gas station with many films of those times and interviews of the "Little Rock Nine" as the nine African-American students came to be known. They were harassed constantly at Central. White students walked on their heels, spit on them, all while white teachers turned a blind eye. One of my friend's classmates a few years ago publicly apologized for her actions. Her picture is plastered all over the newspapers from those times with a hideous look on her face as she yelled at the black children, lining up with hundreds of others to taunt and humiliate them as they went to and from school. She said she was ashamed for her grandchildren to learn that she acted that way. For those of you who don't remember those times, be grateful!

      To see adults yell hateful epithets at a little girl dressed up in a pink dress and shiny Sunday shoes made me understand how the Holocaust must have begun.