Timeline: The Civil Rights Movement in America
1624 – the first slaves are brought to New York.
1688 – Philadelphia Quakers organize the first protest against slavery.
1857 Mar 6 In Dred Scott v. Sanford the Supreme Court finds that slaves are property,
are not and cannot become citizens, and thus have no rights of citizenship, such as the right to sue.
1865 Dec 6 The 13th Amendment is ratified, making slavery illegal.
1866 Apr 9 Both Houses of Congress overturn President Johnson’s veto of the Civil
Rights Act of 1866, which prevents state governments from discriminating on the basis of race.
1866 May 1-3 A race riot in Memphis results in 48 deaths, 5 rapes, many injuries, and the
destruction of 90 black homes, 12 schools, and 4 churches.
1868 Jul 28 The 14th Amendment is ratified. It characterizes citizenship as the
entitlement of all people born or naturalized in the United States and increases federal power over the states to protect individual rights, while leaving the daily affairs of the states in their own hands.
1870 Feb 17 The 15th Amendment is ratified, guaranteeing that “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” will not be used to bar U.S. male citizens from voting. Tennessee will not ratify this amendment until 1997.
1873 Jan 6 Sampson W. Keeble, the first African American to be elected to the Tennessee General Assembly, takes his seat in the House of Representatives.
1875 March The Tennessee Legislature passes House Bill No. 527 authorizing racial
discrimination in transportation, lodging, and places of entertainment. The Bill receives Senate approval before the end of the month and becomes law (Chapter 130 of the Tennessee Code)
1887-1888 Elected to the 45th Tennessee General Assembly are Monroe W. Gooden of Fayette County, Styles L. Hutchins of Hamilton, and Samuel A. McElwee of Haywood. After the end of their term in January 1889, there will be no more African Americans elected to the Tennessee legislature until A.W. Willis, Shelby County, takes his seat in the Tennessee House in January 1965, 76 years later!
1890 Nov 1 The Mississippi Plan becomes law on this date. It uses literacy and
“understanding” tests to disenfranchise minority voters. Other Southern states soon adopt similar practices to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote: violence, voter fraud, gerrymandering, poll taxes, literacy tests, white primaries, grandfather clauses, etc.
1896 May 18 In Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court rules that state laws requiring
separate-but-equal accommodations for blacks and whites are reasonable and do not imply the inferiority of either race. The 7-1 decision (Justice John Marshall Harlan dissents) will serve as legal justification for segregation until it is finally overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
1906 Dec 24 In March Noah Parden & Styles Hutchins, two African American lawyers from Chattanooga, Tennessee, convince Supreme Court Justice John
Marshall Harlan to grant an appeal to Ed Johnson, a black man wrongly
convicted of rape. This is the first time the Supreme Court has chosen to intervene in a state criminal court case. On the very day the Court’s ruling is
announced, a mob drags Johnson from the jail and lynches him. The
Supreme Court, for the first and only time in its history, brings criminal
contempt charges against the sheriff, his deputies, and several members of
the mob . . . and then elects to hear the case itself. On this date the Court, in
the landmark United States v. Shipp, finds the defendants guilty of contempt of court and sends them to jail for a short time. Not long after Sheriff Shipp
returns home to a triumphant welcome, attorneys Parden and Hutchins, their lives in danger, take their families and flee Tennessee forever.
1909 Feb 12 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
is founded in New York by a group of 60 men and women, both black and white. Among its founders are W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimké, and Florence Kelley.
1912 Jul 4 Hadley Park is dedicated in Nashville. Originally part of the John L. Hadley
plantation (Hadley was a well-known supporter of freedmen’s activities after the Civil War), this is the first public park in the United States for African Americans. Located near Tennessee State University, the park continues to this day to honor the community's cultural heritage.
1920 Aug 18 The 19th Amendment is ratified as Tennessee, in a razor-thin vote, becomes the 36th and final state needed to give women the vote.
1932 Nov 1 The Highlander Folk School opens near Monteagle, Tennessee. It supports
the labor and Civil Rights movement with classes in labor education, literacy training, leadership development, non-violent methods of protest, mediation, and voter education.
1939 African American contralto Marian Anderson performs at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday before a crowd of 75,000 people and a radio
audience of millions. After Anderson was denied permission to perform in the D.A.R. Auditorium, Eleanor Roosevelt herself arranged the Lincoln Memorial concert.
1940 Feb 29 Hattie McDaniel wins the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She is the first African American, male or female, to win an Academy Award.
1940 Apr 7 Booker T. Washington becomes the first African American depicted on a postage stamp.
1940 Oct Benjamin O. Davis Sr. is promoted to Brigadier General. He is the first black soldier to hold the rank of general. (See also May 16, 1960.)
1942 Apr The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is established in Chicago by
James L. Farmer Jr., George Houser, and Bernice Fisher. Having evolved from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the group espouses the principles of pacifism and believes that non-violent civil disobedience is the appropriate method by which to challenge racial segregation in the U.S.
1943 Rosa PARKS joins the NAACP, having served as youth advisor for the
Montgomery Chapter since the mid-1930s. She works with the state president to mobilize a voter registration drive in Montgomery. Later that same year she is thrown off a city bus, coincidentally by the same driver who will have her arrested in 1956.
1945 Oct 23 Baseball executive Branch Rickey announces that he has assigned Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor-league affiliate Montreal Royals.
Robinson will debut with the Royals in Daytona Beach on March 17, 1946.
1946 Summer African American football players Kenny Washington and Woody Strode are signed by the Los Angeles Rams, and Marion Motley and Bill Willis join the Cleveland Browns.
1946 Zilphia Horton, music director at the Highlander Folk School, adapts the
lyrics from a gospel hymn by the Rev. Charles Tindley (1851-1933) and creates the song “We Shall Overcome,” which quickly becomes the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.
1946 Dec 5 President Truman establishes a Committee on Civil Rights. Their task is to
study violence against African Americans in the country.
1947 Apr 15 Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to join a white professional baseball team when he is hired by the Dodgers. He will win the first MLB Rookie Award later the same year, and the Major League MVP award in 1949.
1947 Fall Indiana University integrates its basketball team when it adds William Garrett to its roster. He is the first black player in the Big Ten and will be named an All-American in 1951. As other schools follow Indiana’s lead over the next few years, an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement” evolves, limiting to three the number of black players on the floor at any one time.
1947 Dec President Truman’s Civil Rights Committee issues its report, “To Secure
These Rights,” which positions America’s harsh treatment of its black citizens against our criticism of Communism’s destruction of its citizens’ individual rights. Among other things, the report, which at the time is considered quite radical, calls for segregation to be abolished (first and foremost in government and the military), for lynching to become a federal crime, for poll taxes to be outlawed, for voting rights to be guaranteed for all citizens, and for a United States Commission on Civil Rights to be established.
1948 May 3 Sipes v. McGhee, a Michigan case, leads to Shelley v. Kraemer, in which the Supreme Court rules that, although no statute prohibits racially restrictive covenants in property deeds [written to block Asians, Jews, or African Americans from purchasing property in a neighborhood], no state or federal court can enforce them.
1948 Jul 26 President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which establishes
the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. [This will require an additional change in Department of Defense policy. See entry for July 26, 1963.] Order 9981 is accompanied by Executive Order 9980, creating a Fair Employment Board to eliminate racial discrimination in federal employment.
1949 William Henry Hastie is the first African American to be appointed a Federal judge, when President Truman names him judge of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hastie, a native of Knoxville, graduated first in his class from Amherst and took his law degree at Harvard University. One of his law students at Howard University was Thurgood Marshall.
1950 African American Ralph J. Bunche receives the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Arab-Israeli truce. He has also played a critical role in the formation and administration of the United Nations, chartered in 1945.
1950 Gwendolyn Brooks wins the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1950 Nov 1 Chuck Cooper becomes the first African American professional basketball player when he takes the floor with the Boston Celtics against the Fort Wayne Pistons.
1951 Fall The University of Tennessee admits its first African American students.
1952 The first year since 1881 without a recorded lynching.
1952 The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) passes a resolution
introduced by the Yale Law School faculty two years earlier, making racial integration a requirement for membership in the organization.
1953 Fall Vanderbilt University admits its first African American student.
1954 May 17 The unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education overturns many
previous rulings, beginning with Plessy v. Ferguson (58 years earlier, almost to the day), by ruling that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students deny the black children equal educational opportunities – separate is not equal. The decision bans segregation in public schools.
1954 Sep 30 The last all-black units are disbanded by the U.S. Military.
1955 Mar 2 Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African American is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Local black leaders consider using this as the test case for a major protest movement, but reject the idea when Colvin becomes pregnant.
1955 March Black basketball players K. C. Jones and Bill Russell lead the University of
San Francisco to the NCAA championship.
1955 May 24 The Little Rock School Board votes unanimously to adopt Superintendent Virgil Blossom's plan of gradual integration, to start in September 1957 at the high school level and add the lower grades over the next six years. Mr. Blossom is named "Man of the Year" by the Arkansas Democrat for his work on desegregation.
1955 July Rosa Parks receives a scholarship to attend a school desegregation
workshop for community leaders. She spends several weeks at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN, later saying that the workshop was the first time in her life she had felt a sense of being in "an atmosphere of equality with members of the other race."
1955 Aug 28 On a dare, 14-year-old Emmett Till, visiting relatives near Money,
Mississippi, whistles at a white woman in a general store. Later he is beaten to death by a group of men, including the woman’s husband. Shortly after the two men tried for murdering Till are acquitted by a local jury, they sell a story to Look magazine in which they confess to the murder.
1955 Sep 3 Emmett Till’s mother, schoolteacher Mamie Till Bradley, insists on
keeping Emmett’s casket open during his funeral, even though his face is so disfigured by the beating that he is unrecognizable: “Let the people see what I have seen,” she says. “I think everybody needs to know what happened to Emmett Till.”
1955 Nov 7 In Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company the Interstate Commerce
Commission outlaws segregation on interstate buses.
1955 Dec 1 Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. The next day JoAnn Robinson and other community activists make and distribute flyers encouraging the African American community to boycott the city buses.
1955 Dec 5 On the first day of the bus boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) is established. Members elect a 26-year old minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, as president.
1956 Jan 30 Dr. King’s home is bombed. Over the next two months, MIA attorneys file a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of segregated seating on public buses; a grand jury indicts 90 MIA members for breaking an anti-boycott law; Dr. King is convicted and fined $1,000. The MIA’s appeal draws nation-wide media attention.
1956 Mar The Southern Manifesto, opposing racial integration in public places, is
signed by 101 Senators and Congressmen, all from Southern states. Refusing to sign are Senators Albert Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver from Tennessee and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Other Congressmen who elect not to sign are Representatives William C. Cramer and Dante Fascell of Florida; Richard Chatham, Harold D. Cooley, Charles Deane, and Charles R. Jonas of North Carolina; Howard Baker Sr., Ross Bass, Joe Evins, J. Percy Priest, and B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee; and seventeen members of the Texas delegation, including Speaker Sam Rayburn. Their decision to oppose the Southern Manifesto cost several individuals any chance of reelection.
1956 Jun 5 A Federal court rules all bus segregation unconstitutional. Montgomery city officials quickly appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the boycott continues, and city officials concentrate on finding a legal way to prohibit the MIA’s carpool system, a home-grown network of alternative transportation provided by drivers both black and white.
1956 Summer African American tennis player Althea Gibson reaches the finals of the U.S.
Open. She wins both singles and doubles in the French Open, becoming the first African American to win a Grand Slam tennis title.
1956 Aug 28 After 27 African American students failed in their efforts to register in the all-white Little Rock city schools, the NAACP filed a lawsuit on their behalf. On this date, Federal Judge John E. Miller dismisses the suit, stating that the Little Rock School Board has acted in “utmost good faith” in following its announced integration plan. Although the NAACP appeals, a higher court upholds Miller’s ruling. Meanwhile, during the same period of late summer, the city’s public buses are quietly desegregated.
1956 Fall Although Vanderbilt University Law School has enrolled Native American, Asian, and Hispanic students for decades, Frederick T. Work and Melvin Porter are the first African American students admitted to a private law school in the South. Both will graduate in 1959.
1956 Nov 13 In Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling
finding Montgomery’s bus segregation unconstitutional. On December 20, U.S. Marshals officially serve the Supreme Court order on Montgomery city officials.
1956 Dec 21 The Montgomery bus boycott comes to a successful end. After 381 days
and the combined efforts of 50,000 people, black residents of Montgomery are now free to choose any seat on city buses.
1957 Jan 10 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is organized in Atlanta, its stated goal to coordinate and support non-violent direct action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South. Martin Luther King Jr., 28, is its first president.
1957 March Tennessee State University defeats Southeast Oklahoma at the NAIA
Basketball Tournament, 92-73, to become the first black college to win a
white-dominated national title.
1957 Spring Of the 517 black students eligible to attend Little Rock Central High School, 80 express an interest in doing so and go through a series of interviews with school officials. Of the 17 students who are selected, 8 decide to remain at the all-black Horace Mann High School, leaving a group who will become known as the “Little Rock Nine.”
1957 May 17 On the third anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Bobby Cain graduates from Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, becoming the first African American graduate of a state-supported, public, integrated high school in the South.
1957 Tennis player Althea Gibson wins both singles and doubles titles at the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon.
1957 Aug 27 During the summer opponents of school integration in Little Rock have organized into groups, the most vocal being the Capital Citizens Council and the Mothers League of Central High School. On this date one of the mothers files a motion in Chancery Court asking for a temporary injunction against school integration. Pulaski County Chancellor Murray Reed grants the injunction “on the grounds that integration could lead to violence.” Three days later Federal District Judge Ronald Davies nullifies the injunction.
1957 Sep 2 On Labor Day, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus calls out the Arkansas National Guard to protect the school against extremists. The next day, Judge Ronald Davies orders that integration will begin on September 4. This will be the first important test of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
1957 Sep 4 The nine black students attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School but are turned away by National Guardsmen.
1957 Sep 9 On March 11, 1956, President Eisenhower, responding to the racial unrest that follows Brown V Board of Education and following the recommend-ations of President Truman’s 1947 Civil Rights Committee, urges Congress to pass the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, both Texans, guide the Civil Rights Bill through Congress, in spite of the objections of many Southern politicians (most notably Strom Thurmond, author of the Southern Manifesto, whose 24-hour, 18-minute filibuster still stands as the Senate record). Despite the uproar over its passage, the bill is much weaker than Eisenhower has hoped – it does little more than to expand the authority of the U.S. Justice Department to enforce civil rights and voters’ rights, and to add a new assistant attorney general to oversee the division of a new Justice Department division responsible for civil rights issues.
1957 Sep 20 Judge Davies rules that Faubus has used the National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school and not to protect them. The Guardsmen are removed, and the Little Rock Police Department takes responsibility for keeping the school peaceful.
1957 Sep 23 Nine African American teenagers enter Little Rock Central High for the first time, out of sight of an angry crowd of 1000 protesters; they are removed for their own safety when the mob grows unruly. The next day the mayor asks Eisenhower for help.
1957 Sep 25 President Eisenhower sends 1000 members of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalizes the Arkansas National Guard. The nine black students return to school with a military escort.
1958 March The Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC) holds its first workshop on non-violent tactics against segregation under the leadership of the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith. The workshops will continue into 1960.
1958 May 27 Ernest Green becomes the first black student to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. With police and Federal troops standing by, the graduation ceremony is peaceful and dignified. Governor Orval Faubus will close Little Rock schools for most of the 1958-1959 school year.
1959 Nov James Lawson, a Vanderbilt University divinity student, and Kelly Miller Smith, the young minister of the First Colored Baptist Church on 8th Avenue North, continue to hold workshops to train Nashville high school and college students in the techniques of nonviolence and peaceful protest.
1959 Dec Lawson, Smith, and student leaders John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard
Lafayette, Marion Barry, and others buy goods and make early, though unsuccessful, attempts to desegregate the lunch counters at Harvey’s and Cain-Sloan department stores in Nashville.
1960 Feb 1 Four African American college freshmen bring attention to the unequal treatment of the races when they take seats at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. More students arrive the next day, and news services begin to take interest in the story.
1960 Feb 13 Nashville students begin their first full-scale sit-ins at downtown businesses.
Convening at the Arcade on 5th Avenue shortly after noon, they move out to the Kress, Woolworth’s, and McClellan’s stores, where they make purchases and then take seats at the lunch counters. Two hours later the stores close their lunch counters, and the students leave without incident.
1960 Feb 19 Thirty Chattanooga students (most from Howard High School) take seats at the lunch counters of three downtown variety stores. Their hand-written rules, circulated to all the participants, include “please be on best behavior,” “no loud talking,” “no profanity,” and “try to make small purchase.” They continue the sit-ins throughout the month of February, drawing more student participants each time.
1960 Feb 27 White students attack the Nashville lunch-counter demonstrators. Police arrest the black students, but others move in quickly to take their seats. The students are represented in court by Nashville councilman and attorney, Z. Alexander Looby and his associates Avon Nyanza Williams and Robert E. Lillard. By mid-May lunch counters will be opened to customers of any race; by October Looby will have convinced a judge to dismiss the charges against 91 students for conspiracy to disrupt trade and commerce.
1960 Mar 3 James Lawson, whom Martin Luther King has called “the leading non-violence theorist in the world,” is expelled from Vanderbilt University for his efforts in organizing the Nashville sit-ins. (He will complete his degree program at Boston University.) The dean and faculty members of the Vanderbilt Divinity School resign in protest.
1960 Apr The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded at a series of student meetings led by Ella Baker at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, at mid-month. Baker insists on a two-part organization – one part for direct action (sit-ins) and one part for voter registration. Marion Barry is the first chairman; other early members are Diane Nash, John Lewis, James Lawson, James Bevel, Charles McDew, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael.
1960 Apr 19 Z. Alexander Looby's home is destroyed by a dynamite blast. 2500
students and community members stage a silent march to City Hall, where Mayor Ben West meets them on the steps. Student leader Diane Nash asks him, "Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?" West says yes, later explaining, "It was a moral question – one that a man had to answer, not a politician."
1960 May 6 President Eisenhower introduced a second civil rights bill in late 1958, in reaction to violence against Southern schools and churches. Once again Southern politicians react against what they see as Federal interference in state business – 18 Southern Senators form a filibustering “team” and produce the longest filibuster in history: over 43 hours. Majority leader Lyndon Johnson holds the Senate in 24-hour session until the Civil Rights Bill of 1960 is passed. Eisenhower signs the bill into law on May 6, thus creating a Civil Rights Commission, establishing federal regulation of local voter registration polls, and providing penalties for anyone interfering with a citizen’s effort to vote or to register to vote.
1960 May 10 Six Nashville lunch counters begin serving black customers.
1960 Jul 31 Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, calls for the establishment of a separate state for blacks.
1960 Sep 7 Wilma Rudolph from Clarksville, Tennessee, is the first American woman,
black or white, to win three gold medals in the Olympics, winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 400-meter relay, in which she runs the anchor leg.
1960 Oct 12 Thurgood Marshall, who will later become a Supreme Court justice himself, pleads the case of Boynton v. Virginia before the Court. The case involves a black interstate bus passenger who was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only section of a bus station restaurant. Marshall claims such arrests violate the Interstate Commerce Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
1960 Dec 5 In Boynton v. Virginia the Supreme Court rules that restaurant facilities in bus terminals that primarily exist to serve interstate bus passengers cannot discriminate based on race according to the Interstate Commerce Act. The decision is a landmark event because it ties the future of the Civil Rights movement to the Federal Government.
1960 Dec 31 By the end of 1960, 70,000 people have participated in sit-ins, and 3600 have been arrested.
1961 Jan In Selma, Alabama, over 80% of African Americans live below the poverty line; fewer than 1% of eligible blacks are registered to vote.
1961 Feb Nine young African American men are jailed in Rock Hill, South Carolina, after staging a sit-in at a McCrory’s lunch counter. They are the first to use the “jail, no bail” strategy, which will lighten the financial burden of civil rights groups across the country.
1961 May 4 Organized by SNCC, the Freedom Rides will test the legal enforcement of Boynton v. Virginia. The first bus of 13 Freedom Riders (7 blacks, 6 whites) leaves Washington, D.C. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, their first stop in the South, John Lewis and another man are beaten by a white mob.
1961 May 14 One of the Freedom Riders’ buses is burned in Anniston, Alabama. As a second bus pulls into the Trailways Station in Birmingham, riders are attacked and badly beaten by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members. Sheriff Bull Connor orders Birmingham police to stay away. The wounded Freedom Riders eventually escape to New Orleans when Attorney General Robert Kennedy orders a plane to take them there.
1961 May 17 Unwilling to allow the KKK to defeat them, Tennessee activists take a bus from Nashville to Birmingham; Bull Connor arrests them and dumps them along the road, just over the Tennessee border. They make their way back to Birmingham but cannot find a bus driver willing to risk driving them.
1961 May 20 Under orders from Robert Kennedy, the Alabama governor provides a Highway Patrol escort, and the bus roars toward Montgomery at 90 mph. At the city limits the police guards disappear, under Connor’s orders, and the riders are set upon and brutally beaten by a mob of KKK supporters, who have as much as 20 uninterrupted minutes to attack the Riders with bats and iron bars before police arrive and drive the growing mob away with tear-gas. Many riders are left bloody and unconscious, including reporters (the mob has quickly destroyed their cameras) and Justice Department official John Seigenthaler, who is found lying in the street. Local black citizens eventually rescue the wounded and take them to hospitals.
1961 May 21 Martin Luther King and James Farmer of CORE (who is already recruiting more Freedom Riders) speak to 1200 people in the Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s Montgomery church, while a mob outside throws rocks at the windows, overturns cars, and starts fires. Over the next several days, more Freedom Riders arrive; most are jailed. By the end of the summer, more than 60 Freedom Rides have come south, and more than 300 individuals have been jailed, including many local supporters of the Riders.
1961 Winter The Loyola University (Chicago) basketball team puts four black players on
the floor at one time, breaking an unwritten rule of college sports.
1962 Darryl Hill is recruited by coach Lee Corso at the University of Maryland.
He is the first African American football player in the Southwest Conference (SWC). The only black player on the team until his senior year, he sets two records that still stand: total yards receiving, and most passes caught in a single game.
1962 Sep 30 James Meredith is escorted onto the University of Mississippi (Oxford) campus by a convoy of Federal Marshals. In the riots that follow, two people are killed and many others injured.
1963 January Alabama Governor George Wallace declares, “Segregation now,
segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
1963 Apr 8 Sidney Poitier is the first African American to win the Academy Award for
Best Actor. Starring in three major films, he is also the top box office star of the year.
1963 Apr 16 Jailed for his protest activities, Martin Luther King writes his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which becomes a classic document of the Civil Rights struggle, asserting that individuals have a moral right to disobey unjust laws.
1963 May Civil rights activists, including children, begin to march in Birmingham. By the end of the first day, 700 have been arrested. When 1000 more youngsters turn out to march peacefully on May 3, Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor turns police dogs and high-pressure fire hoses on them. Within five days, 2500 are in jail, at least 80% of them children. After 38 days of confrontation and public outcry from across the nation, Birmingham city officials and business leaders agree to desegregate public facilities. Governor George Wallace’s refusal to accept the plan will lead to violent confrontation.
1963 Jun 11 Governor George Wallace stands in the doorway of Foster Auditorium at
the University of Alabama, blocking the enrollment of two black students. Later, confronted by Federal Marshals and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, he stands aside.
1963 Jun 12 NAACP activist Medgar Evers is shot to death outside his home in Jackson, Mississippi. His assailant, KKK member Byron De La Beckwith, will not be found guilty of his murder until 1994.
1963 Jul 26 The true fulfillment of Executive Order 9981 (1948)—equality of treatment
and opportunity for all military personnel—requires a change in Defense Department policy, which finally occurs with the publication of Department Directive 5120.36, issued fifteen years to the day after Truman’s original order. This major policy shift, ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert J. McNamara, expands the military’s responsibility to eliminate off-base discrimination detrimental to the military effectiveness of black servicemen.
1963 Aug 28 250,000 civil rights supporters take part in the March on Washington for
Jobs and Freedom. The highlight of the event occurs when Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
1963 Sep Voter registration volunteers in Selma, Alabama, face arrests, beatings, and death threats. Thirty-two black schoolteachers who attempt to register to vote are fired by the all-white school board. After the September 15 church bombing, students begin lunch counter sit-ins – 300 are arrested, including John Lewis of SNCC.
1963 Sep 15 Four little girls, ages 11 to 14, are killed when a bomb explodes in the basement of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Many other people are injured.
1963 Nov 22 President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Lyndon B.
Johnson becomes President.
1964 Jan 3 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
1964 Jan 23 The 24th Amendment to the Constitution abolishes the poll tax, used in Southern states since Reconstruction to make the voting process more difficult for poor blacks.
1964 Jun 14 Freedom Summer (also called the Mississippi Summer Project) begins with training sessions in Ohio. This effort to register black voters, primarily in Mississippi (in which only 6.2% of eligible blacks were registered to vote) is spearheaded by SNCC, along with the NAACP, CORE, and the SCLC. Dr. Staughton Lynd from Yale University directs the Freedom Schools project.
1964 Jun 21 Three young civil rights workers – James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman – are arrested in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and then disappear.
1964 Jul 2 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin; it also provides the federal government with the authority to enforce civil rights legislation. To Johnson’s great dismay, the passage of this law will be followed by a year of violence as white supremacists attempt to undo the gains in registering black voters. Johnson turns his attention to passing a Voting Rights act.
1964 Aug 4 The bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman are found, buried in an earthen dam. Schwerner and Goodman have been shot; Chaney was beaten to death. The state of Mississippi refuses to charge anyone with the murders. Seven people are eventually tried for Federal crimes, but none serves more than six years in jail.
1964 Aug 25 By the end of the 10-week Freedom Summer project, four workers have been killed, four others critically wounded, 80 beaten, and 1000 arrested. Thirty black homes or businesses and 37 churches have been bombed or burned. Many of these crimes are never solved. Since Mississippi still requires a literacy test for voter registration, of the 17,000 Mississippi blacks trying to register, only 1,600 succeed.
1964 Oct 14 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 35, becomes the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He will deliver his powerful acceptance speech on December 10 in Oslo: “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”
1964 Nov Archie Walter “A.W.” Willis, Jr., is elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. When he takes his seat in January 1965, he becomes the first African American to serve in the Tennessee House of Representatives since Reconstruction.
1965 Feb 18 Jimmie Lee Jackson, 26, is shot during a peaceful protest in Marion, Alabama, as he tries to protect his mother and grandfather from a beating by Alabama State Troopers. Jackson, shot at very close range, dies a week later. An Alabama Grand Jury refuses to indict James Bonard Fowler, the trooper who shot him.
1965 Feb 21 Black nationalist leader Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little in Nebraska in 1925) is assassinated during a speech in Manhattan. Three members of the Black Muslim organization are accused of his murder.
1965 Mar 7 SCLC leader James Bevel sets up a 55-mile march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery – a demonstration on behalf of African American voting rights. On the outskirts of Selma, just after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the 600 marchers are brutally assaulted, in full view of TV cameras, by heavily armed state troopers & deputies. ABC interrupts its broadcast of Judgment in Nuremberg, a Nazi war crimes documentary, to show footage of the violence. John Lewis, 25, and the Rev. Hosea Williams, 39, leading the march are clubbed to the ground, as are many others. A widely published photograph shows 54-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson lying unconscious on the bridge. Fifty marchers are hospitalized.
1965 Mar 9 Martin Luther King Jr. leads a second march across the Pettus Bridge. The marchers kneel in prayer, then turn back around, obeying the court order that prohibits them from going on to Montgomery. After the march, three white ministers are attacked and beaten – one (James Reeb, from Boston) dies in Birmingham, after Selma’s public hospital refuses to treat him. On the same day, demonstrations condemning “Bloody Sunday,” as the March 7 incident has come to be called, take place in 80 cities across the nation.
1965 Mar 15 President Lyndon B. Johnson makes what many consider his greatest speech to Congress as he calls for a Voting Rights bill: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country . . . . What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement that now reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”
1965 Mar 16 A Federal judge rules in Williams v. Wallace: “The law is clear that the right to petition one’s government for the redress of grievances may be exercised in large groups . . . . These rights may . . . be exercised by marching, even along public highways.” Granting the protesters their First Amendment rights to march also means the State of Alabama can no longer obstruct them.
1965 Mar 21 Close to 8000 people, of all races, begin the third march from Selma to Montgomery. The 5-day march covers a 54-mile route along the "Jefferson Davis Highway"(U.S. 80). Protected by 4000 troops (U.S. Army, Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals), the marchers average ten miles a day and arrive at the Alabama Capitol building on the 25th.
1965 Mar 23 The marchers pass through cold, rainy Lowndes County, where, though African Americans make up 81% of the population, not a single one is registered to vote, while the 2240 whites on the voting rolls constitute 118% of the adult white population!
1965 Mar 25 Martin Luther King addresses the marchers in Montgomery (“How Long, Not Long”), and they listen to Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter, Paul & Mary, Tony Bennett, and others in a “Stars for Freedom Rally.”
1965 April Fannie Lou Hamer and other SNCC members help found the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union to organize cotton workers.
1965 May 19 Patricia Harris becomes the first African American since Ebenezer Bassett (1869, Haiti) to serve as an American ambassador (Luxembourg).
1965 Aug 6 President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This bill, urgently sought by Johnson, along with Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders, eliminates such devices as poll taxes and literacy tests, and authorizes federal registrars to register qualified voters.
1965 Aug 11 A large-scale race riot begins in the Watts area of Los Angeles, sparked by a traffic arrest. As community leaders try to restore order, rioters block fire fighters from burning buildings, and vandalism and looting take place throughout the area. Nearly 14,000 National Guardsmen are sent in to help restore order. By the time the violence ends six days later, 34 people have been killed, 1032 are injured, and 3952 are arrested. Nearly 1000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed, and the city is left with $40 million in property damage.
1965 Sep 15 The first episode of the television series I Spy is broadcast. This is the first
drama series on American television to feature a black actor (Bill Cosbey) in
a starring role.
1965 Sep 24 President Johnson issues Executive Order 11246, which requires government contractors to "take affirmative action" toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment.
1966 Jan13 Robert Clifton Weaver, nominated by President Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the first African American named to the cabinet.
1966 Mar Texas Western College (now called University of Texas at El Paso), with its all-black starting line-up, defeats the powerful University of Kentucky team to win the NCAA championship. The game inspired the 2006 film Glory Road. The entire team is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
1966 Jun 16 SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael rallies a crowd in Greenwood, Mississippi, with the cry, “We want black power!” Martin Luther King Jr.’s concerns that the phrase carries “connotations of violence and separatism” are borne out by splits in the civil rights movement between those favoring the use of nonviolent methods and those leaning more toward conventional revolutionary tactics like armed self-defense and black nationalism.
1966 Fall In college football, Jerry LeVias, a student at Southern Methodist University, is the first black scholarship athlete in the Southwest Conference. African American athletes Greg Page and Nate Northington join the University of Kentucky football team. When Page dies after a blow to the back during practice, Northington transfers to Western Kentucky University, which integrated its classes in 1956 and has fielded back players since 1963.
1966 Fall Seven African American students attend Vanderbilt University. Among them is Perry Wallace, the first African American basketball scholarship student and player in the SEC. Although Wallace would play for only three years (1968-1970), he is still the school’s second leading rebounder.
1966 October The militant Black Panther organization is founded in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
1966 Nov 8 Edward W. Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican, becomes the first African American elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate.
1967 Summer In the worst summer of racial violence in the nation’s history, more than 40 riots and 100 other upheavals occur across the country. Among the most destructive take place in Newark (July 12-16) and Detroit (July 23-30).
1967 Aug 30 Judge Thurgood Marshall, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is confirmed by the Senate to be the 96th Supreme Court Justice. He becomes the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.
1967 Fall Wilbur Hackett Jr. joins the University of Kentucky football team. He will become the first African American team captain in the SEC.
1967 Nov Carl Stokes, Cleveland, Ohio, becomes the first African American elected mayor of a major U.S. city.
1968 Feb 12 Demanding better pay and working conditions, job equality with white workers, and city recognition of their union, 1300 black sanitation workers in Memphis walk off their jobs. Although 500 white workers march with them, they get little support from the community and ask Martin Luther King Jr. to support their cause.
1968 Mar Winston-Salem State University becomes the first black college to win an NCAA basketball championship.
1968 Apr 4 Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. Violence breaks out in cities across America. James Earl Ray confesses to the murder, but later recants, working until the end of his life to clear his name, supported by members of the King family who doubt his guilt. The mayor of Memphis, fearing further violence, agrees to recognize the sanitation workers’ union, permits a dues check-off, grants them a pay raise, and introduces a system of merit promotions.
1968 Apr 11 President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.
1968 Jun 5 Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, on the night of his victory in the California Democratic Primary, is shot to death in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab nationalist.
1968 Summer Arthur Ashe wins the U.S. Open in tennis. He will go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and the Wimbledon championship in 1975.
1968 Fall Lester McClain becomes the first black athlete on the University of Tennessee football team. Two years later he will be joined by African American quarterback Condredge Holloway.
1968 Sep 17 With the premiere of Julia, Diahann Carroll becomes the first African American woman to star in a television series in which she does not play a domestic servant. In 1962 Carroll had been the first black performer to win a Tony Award, for her performance in the musical No Strings.
1968 Nov 5 Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, is the first African American woman elected to Congress. Republican Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin to become President.
1969 Jan Avon N. Williams Jr. (Nashville) and J. O. Patterson Jr. (Memphis) take their seats as the first two African Americans ever elected to the Tennessee State Senate.
1970 Sep 12 USC fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham’s stellar performance against the all-white Alabama team opens the door for Alabama’s coach Bear Bryant to recruit black players. In fact, Wilbur Jackson, watching the game from the stands, has already been offered a scholarship to Alabama, although most fans are still unaware of his status. NCAA rules make him ineligible to play as a freshman.
1970 Dec Perry Wallace, Vanderbilt basketball star, is named to the All-South-Eastern-Conference team and wins the Sportsmanship trophy after a vote by league players.
1971 Jan 12 All in the Family begins its eight-year run. The number-one TV sitcom for five years, the show generates many other programs that deal with race relations and other controversial subjects in realistic and humorous ways.
1971 Apr 20 In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court moves to end de facto segregation in schools where segregation occurs as a result of neighborhood segregation and proximity to schools, even though the schools themselves have no policy requiring segregation. The solution in most cases is to reassign students and to bus them to the newly integrated schools. Though the plan is met with disfavor and even violence, court-ordered busing will continue in some cities until the late 1990s.
1971 Fall The University of Alabama, one of the last schools to integrate its athletic
Teams, recruits John Mitchell, who will become both co-captain of the team and an All-American the following year.
1972 Sep For the first time, all grades in the Little Rock Public Schools are integrated.
1974 Sep 3 Surprisingly, the strongest opposition to enforced busing occurs in New England. A Federal court finds that Boston school districts were originally drawn to produce racial segregation; other courts rule that racially imbalanced schools are unfair to minority students and require the racial composition of each school in a district to mirror the composition of that district as a whole. Opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had worried about using forced busing to achieve racial quotas in schools, Senator Hubert Humphrey insisting "it would be a violation [of the Constitution], because it would be handling the matter on the basis of race and we would be transporting children because of race." When Boston schools open in 1974, police in riot gear accompany the buses. Some black children face abusive language and a storm of rocks and bottles as they enter their schools.
1977 Jan Indiana becomes the 36th and last of the 38 required states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would give equal rights to women. In the face of strong opposition, led by Phyllis Schlafly and others, no other states will ratify, and five (Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Tennessee) will rescind their earlier ratifications.
1978 Jun 26 In a controversial 5-4 decision on Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court rules that racial quotas must be eliminated in education. The decision is tempered by Justice Lewis Powell’s statement (he votes with the majority but writes an opinion supporting the minority view also): “Race can be a factor, but only one of many to achieve a balance.” Thus, affirmative action policies could continue if clearly defined.
1978 Sep 29 Seattle becomes the largest city in the United States to desegregate its schools without a court order. The “Seattle Plan” involves busing almost one-fourth of the school district's students.
1979 George Wallace recants his earlier segregationist statements and apologizes to black civil rights leaders, saying “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.”
1984 Jul 7 Returning from church in Bangor, Maine, Charlie Howard, 23, is beaten and kicked by three teenagers, who shout homophobic slurs before throwing him off a bridge even as he screams he can’t swim. His body is found several hours later. He has drowned.
1989 Aug 10 General Colin Powell becomes chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
1989 Nov 7 Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the nation’s first African American state governor.
1991 Nov 22 President George H. W. Bush, having first threatened a veto, signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening existing civil rights laws and providing for damages in cases of intentional job discrimination.
1992 Apr 29 When a predominantly white jury acquits four LAPD officers in the beating of a black man named Rodney King, a huge riot breaks out in Los Angeles. The videotaped beating combines with existing racial unrest in the city to spark five days of violence, ending only after the deployment of Federal troops. A total of 53 people die: 25 blacks, 16 Latinos, 8 whites, 2 East Asians and 2 West Asians. Approximately 3,600 fires are set, destroying 1,100 buildings. About 10,000 people are arrested. Stores owned by Asian immigrants are most likely to be targeted.
1993 Oct 7 Author Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.
1994 Feb 5 In Jackson, Mississippi, thirty-one years after the 1963 shooting of Medgar Evers, Byron De La Beckwith, now 73, is finally found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In December 1997 the Mississippi Supreme Court will uphold this verdict following De La Beckwith’s appeal.
1997 Apr 2 The Tennessee General Assembly ratifies the 15th Amendment, making the state the last in the nation to do so.
1998 Oct 7 College student Matthew Shepard, 21, is robbed, beaten, and left for dead, tied to a fence in a remote area of Wyoming by two men who have been heard plotting “to rob a gay man.” He dies on October 12 without regaining consciousness.
2000 Mar 7 In honor of the 35th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," Rep. John Lewis (now a U.S. , and Hosea Williams cross the Pettus Bridge in Selma in the company of President Bill Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and several hundred others. Lewis said, "This time when I looked there were women's faces and there were black faces among the troopers. And this time when we faced them, they saluted."
2000 Dec 16 President George W. Bush nominates General Colin Powell as Secretary of
State. When he is confirmed in January, Powell becomes the first African American to hold that office.
2003 Jun 23 In Grutter v. Bollinger the Supreme Court rules that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers "a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."
2005 Jan 20 Condoleezza Rice succeeds Colin Powell as Secretary of State. She is the second woman and first black woman to serve in that office.
2005 Jun 21 On the 41st anniversary of the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman (and as a result of rigorous investigative work by a newspaper reporter and three Illinois high school students preparing a National History Day project!) Edgar Ray Killen, 80, a leader of the killings, is finally found guilty of three counts of manslaughter. Following his 2007 appeal, the Supreme Court of Mississippi upholds Killen’s sentence of 3-times-20-years in prison.
2005 Oct 24 Rosa Parks dies. She is the first woman to be honored by lying in state in
The U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
2007 Feb Emmett Till’s 1955 murder case, reopened by the Department of Justice in 2004, is officially closed. Both confessed murderers have died, and there is insufficient evidence to pursue further convictions.
2007 May 10 James Bonard Fowler is indicted for the 1965 murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. In November 2010, after a lengthy postponement to prepare an appeal, Fowler, now 77, pleads guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter and is sentenced to six months in jail. Jackson family members, disappointed with the verdict, do agree that the jail time and Fowler’s apology has brought some closure to their suffering.
2008 Sep 18 Fourteen Freedom Riders, expelled from Tennessee University in 1961 because of their protest activities, receive honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters (three posthumously) in a touching ceremony.
2008 Nov 4 Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a black African father and a white American mother, is elected President of the United States.
2009 May 11 During an awards ceremony at Chattanooga’s Howard High School, the Chattanooga History Center dedicates a mural honoring the students who took part in the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins, many of whom were members of Howard’s 1960 graduating class. The mural will be on permanent exhibit at the school.
2009 Oct 28 President Barack Obama signs into law the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which specifies penalties for any crime in which someone targets a victim because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
2012 Nov 6 Barack Hussein Obama becomes the first African American to win reelection to the office of President of the United States.
The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.
Martin Luther King, March 25, 1965