A Civil Rights Timeline
- President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in places still in rebellion against the union.
- Confederate troops surrender at Appomattox, ending the Civil War.
- The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution is adopted, abolishing slavery.
- The Ku Klux Klan, a group advocating white supremacy, is formed by veterans of the Confederate army.
- The Fifteenth Amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution, barring racial discrimination in voting.
- Congress passes a civil rights act granting equal rights in jury duty service and public accommodations.
- The Supreme Court hands down the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which establishes the “separate but equal” doctrine, justifying segregation, including in the public schools.
- The National Congress on the Negro is held. This ultimately leads to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
- President Harry Truman outlaws segregation in the U.S. military.
- The Supreme Court hands down the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, which overturns the separate but equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson and declares segregation of public schools unconstitutional.
- Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is brutally beaten and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till’s death becomes a rallying point of the civil rights movement.
- African-American heroine Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus as required by a city ordinance. Her arrest triggers a boycott, which leads to the bus segregation ordinance being declared unconstitutional.
- The Federal Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation on interstate trains and buses.Martin Luther King, Jr., and others establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which becomes a major force in the civil rights movement. King serves as the group’s first president.
- The governor of Arkansas uses National Guard troops to block nine black students from attending a Little Rock high school. President Eisenhower sends in federal troops to ensure compliance with a court order to integrate the school. The students come to be known as the Little Rock Nine.
- Four black college students begin sit-ins at the lunch counter of a Greensboro, North Carolina, restaurant, protesting the restaurant’s policy of not serving black patrons.
- Students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, form the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (also known as SNCC).
- First grader Ruby Bridges becomes the first African-American student in New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School. The Cheerleaders’ protests against her enrollment draw national attention to the cause of school desegregation.
- Freedom Riders protesting segregation depart from Washington, D.C., traveling by buses into southern states.
- Riots erupt at the University of Mississippi over the enrollment of James Meredith, the school’s first black student. President Kennedy sends in federal troops to quell the riots.
- The Supreme Court rules that segregation is unconstitutional in all transportation facilities.
- After being arrested during an antisegregation protest in Alabama, Martin Luther King composes his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which argues that civil disobedience is justified when defying unjust laws.
- Civil rights activist Medgar Evers is shot and killed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan.On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech to more than 200,000 people at the March on Washington.
- Ku Klux Klan members bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young black girls.
- The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, making poll taxes illegal. Poll taxes had been imposed during Reconstruction to prevent people from voting.
- Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, declaring discrimination based on race illegal. The Act passes despite a seventy-five-day filibuster by prosegregationists.
- Three civil rights workers, one black, two Jewish, disappear in Mississippi after being stopped for speeding. Their dead bodies are found buried six weeks later.
- A march is held from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand protection for voting rights after two civil rights workers were slain earlier in the year. This series of three marches includes “Bloody Sunday,” in which marchers are attacked by police with hoses and tear gas, drawing national sympathy to the fight for civil rights.
- On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X is assassinated while giving a speech in New York City.In August, six days of rioting erupt in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.The National Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlaws literacy tests for voter registration and ensures oversight of the registration process by the Department of Justice.
- Republican Edward Brooke of Massachusetts becomes first African American elected to the U.S. senate in eighty-five years.Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panthers in Oakland, California.
- In July, deadly riots erupt in Detroit, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey.
- Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
- On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., is assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was in Memphis to show support for striking sanitation workers. James Earl Ray is later convicted for the murder and sentenced to serve ninety-nine years in prison.
- Despite the passing of Dr. King, the Poor People’s March descends on Washington in May of 1968. The march is part of the Poor People’s Campaign that had been planned by King to draw attention to issues of economic inequality.
- Maynard Jackson of Atlanta becomes the first African American elected mayor of a major southern U.S. city.
- In the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision, the Supreme Court forbids the use of quota systems, but allows that race can be used as a factor in determining college admissions.
- In what comes to be known as “the Greensboro Massacre,” five protestors are shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan while organizing industrial workers there.
- Martin Luther King Day becomes an official federal holiday to honor the birth of the civil rights leader, who was born on January 10.
- Congress passes the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which requires recipients of federal funds to comply with all civil rights laws.
- U.S. Army General Colin Powell becomes the first African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush.
- Virginia’s Douglas Wilder becomes the first African American to be elected governor in the U.S.
- Byron De La Beckwith is convicted of the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers.
- Edgar Ray Killen is convicted of three counts of manslaughter for being the ringleader of the murder of the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964.