American Civil Rights Movement Timeline (1865-1968)

Civil Rights Movement

 This timeline details the main events of the American Civil Rights Movement


1865 (31st January)
13th Amendment
This amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery was passed by Congress. It was ratified by the House on 6th December 1865.¬† However, particularly in the southern states, black Americans were still subject to discrimination by white supremacists and state laws known as Black Codes. These codes were enacted by individual states and denied black Americans political rights, insisted they attend ‘black only’ schools and enforced segregation on public transport and in public places such as cinemas and restaurants.
1868 (9th July)
14th Amendment
This amendment to the United States Constitution includes the Due Process Clause which prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty or property without fair procedure. It also includes the Equal Protection Clause which requires states to provide equal protection to all people within its jurisdiction.
1870 (3rd February)
15th Amendment
This amendment to the United States Constitution made it illegal to deny any citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s ‘race, color or previous condition of servitude’.
1890s (during)
Jim Crow Laws
Many southern states passed local laws, known as Jim Crow laws. These local laws enforced segregation using the legal principle of ‘separate but equal’ and prevented African Americans and poor white people from voting by introducing tests that had to be passed before a person could register to vote.
1941 (25th June)
Executive Order 8802
United States President Franklin D Roosevelt issued this order which stated that national defence positions and other government jobs were now open to all Americans regardless of their race, creed, colour or origin.
1941 (7th December)
Pearl Harbor
The Japanese airforce made a surprise attack on the United States fleet stationed at Hawaii.
1941 (8th December)
World War Two
US President Franklin D Roosevelt declared war on Japan through his ‘Infamy Speech’, taking the United States into World War Two. Black Americans served during the war but continued to face discrimination.
1948 (26th July)
Executive Order 9981
US President Harry Truman signed this order which abolished discrimination in the United States Armed Forces.
1954 (17th May)
Brown v Board of Education
This was the first case in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Linda Brown, an eight-year old African American, had been denied attendance at the all white elementary school in Topeka, Kansas. Her father took the case to court. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren, decided that segregated schools were unequal and against the 14th Amendment.
1955 (March)
Fifteen year old black schoolgirl Claudette Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman and was arrested. Her case was not taken up by Montgomery black leaders due to the fact that she was an unmarried minor and pregnant.
1955 (May)
Despite the court ruling in Brown v Board of Education that all state schools should move to integration, many schools defied the ruling.
1955 (26th August)
Martin Luther King became a member of the executive committee of the Montgomery National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
1955 (28th August)
14 year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered after allegedly offending a white woman in her grocery store. Till’s mother insisted that his funeral service be public and that her son’s body be put in an open casket so that the full extent of his injuries could be seen. His killers were tried but acquitted of the murder. The murder brought attention and support to the Civil Rights Movement.
1955 (1st December)
Rosa Parks, secretary for the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. She was arrested.
1955 (2nd December)
Montgomery Bus Boycott
E D Nixon, president of the Montgomery NAACP decided to use Parks’ arrest as a test case to challenge segregation on the buses. It was agreed that all blacks would boycott the buses from Monday 5th December. To help people get to work many black taxi drivers agreed to take passengers to work for the price of a bus ticket.
1955 (8th December)
Montgomery officials issued an order that any taxi drivers charging passengers less than 45 cents wold be fined.
1956 (26th January)
Martin Luther King was arrested and put in jail for leading the continuing boycott of the city buses.
1956 (5th June)
The case of Browder v Gayle, which challenged the bus segregation laws, decided that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The Montgomery city council immediately appealed the decision.
1956 (13th November)
The appeal against the decision in Browder v Gayle was held. The city lost and the original decision was upheld.
1956 (late)
Because of his role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King was a well known figure and thought of as a leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
1957 (3rd September)
Little Rock Nine
Nine black students: Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Thelma Mothershed, Terence Robertsand Jefferson Thomas were registered to attend Little Rock Central High School. However, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, did not support integration and deployed the local national guard to prevent them entering the school.
1957 (9th September)
Civil Rights Act 1957
President Dwight Eisenhower signed this act into law. It was intended to outlaw the Jim Crow Laws that allowed state and local laws to impose discriminatory sanctions on black Americans and made it illegal for anyone to be prevented from voting.
1957 (24th September)
Little Rock Nine
President Eisenhower sent the US army to Little Rock to escort the nine students into school. The Arkansas National Guard was placed under the control of the state.
1958 (July)
In Wichita, Kansas, a series of sit-ins where black students refused to leave segregated lunch counters without being served, took place at Dockum Drug Store. The sit-ins resulted in the removal of segregated seating in all Dockum stores across the county. Sit-ins were seen as a successful form of protest by the Civil Rights Movement.
1960 (1st February)
Greensboro Sit-in
Four black students decided to protest against Woolworth’s policy of refusing to serve African Americans. After purchasing goods in the store they sat down at the lunch counter and asked to be served. When service was declined they refused to leave. The sit-ins continued on a daily basis.
1960 (Spring)
Sit-in protests against segregated lunch counters were taking place across many southern cities. Sit-ins also took place in other segregated public areas such as museums, parks and galleries.
1960 (6th May)
Civil Rights Act 1960
This act introduced inspection of local voter registration. Penalties were introduced for preventing anyone from registering to vote.
1960 (25th July)
The sit-ins had caused huge financial losses for Woolworth and the decision was made to desegregate lunch counters in all their stores.
1960 (19th October)
King was arrested during a restaurant sit-in and sentenced to four months in jail. He was released after intervention by John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
1960 (14th November)
Boynton v Virginia
The Supreme Court decided that racial segregation on public transportation and in bus terminals was illegal.
1960 (5th December)
Four federal marshals escorted 6 year old Ruby Bridges to school. Ruby Bridges was the first African American pupil at William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She continued to be escorted to school and faced insults and taunts as she made her way to school.
1961 (4th May)
Freedom Rides
Members of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) began making ‘Freedom Rides’. They boarded interstate Greyhound busses and travelled through southern states in protest at continued segregation on interstate buses despite the ruling in Boynton v Virginia. The riders faced hostility and violence along the way. In Anniston Alabama a bomb was thrown into the bus. The riders escaped the burning bus but were beaten as they left.
1961 (21st May)
Martin Luther King spoke at a rally in a church in Alabama in support of the Freedom Riders.
1961 (29th May)
Robert Kennedy called on the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to ban segregation on interstate transport.
1961 (1st November)
Segregation on interstate transport was banned by the ICC.
1961 (November)
The Albany Movement was formed in Albany, Georgia. It was formed by black leaders, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the NAACP to draw attention to segregation in Georgia.
1962 (20th September)
James Meredith was refused enrolment at the University of Mississippi. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the university to admit Meredith. However, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, still refused to allow Meredith’s enrolment.
1962 (29th September)
Rioting by whites against the desegregation of Mississippi University took place.
1962 (1st October)
U.S. Marshals were sent to Mississippi to accompany James Meredith into the University and he was the first black student to enrol.
1963 (14th January)
George Wallace was elected Governor of Alabama. Wallace declared his support for segregation against blacks.
1963 (3rd April)
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began a campaign against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. King’s idea was to stage mass demonstrations which would lead to multiple arrests and fill the city jail. This in turn would force city leaders to negotiate with the SCLC. However, as well as making mass arrests, police used water cannon and dogs against protesters. This was televised and viewers were shocked that the police used force against all demonstrators including children.
1963 (12th April)
Martin Luther King was arrested and jailed for his part in the Birmingham protests. While in prison he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail’ which defended the rights of people to protest against injustices even if it meant breaking the law.
1963 (19th April)
King was released from jail on bond.
1963 (6th May)
The Birmingham city jail was full to overflowing. Bull Connor, Commissioner of Public Safety, was forced to put up makeshift jails.
1963 (8th May)
White leaders in Birmingham agreed to the protesters’ demands for desegregation. Bull Connor was sacked and Mayor Hanes resigned.
1963 (11th June)
President Kennedy announced that segregation was legally and morally wrong and that he would be introducing new civil rights legislation.
1963 (22nd June)
King and other Civil Rights group leaders met with President John Kennedy to discuss plans for a rally to be known as the March on Washington. The leaders wanted Civil Rights legislation to ensure equality and a minimum wage for all workers.
1963 (23rd June)
Martin Luther King led more than 100,000 people on a Freedom Walk in Detroit.
1963 (28th August)
March on Washington
Around 250,000 people converged on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC at the end of the March on Washington. Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech during the rally.
1963 (15th September)
An explosion at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killed four black girls.
1964 (March)
Malcolm X, leader of the religious group, Nation of Islam, left the group and joined the Civil Rights Movement.
1964 (3rd April)
Civil Rights activist, Malcolm X made his speech ‘The Ballot or the Bullet’ in which he challenged the policy of non-violent protests.
1964 (21st June)
Civil Rights members: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner disappeared. When their bodies were found it was discovered that they had been murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan, some of whom were members of the sheriff’s department. The case caused public outrage.
1964 (2nd July)
Civil Rights Act 1964
President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed this Act into law. The law stated that discrimination by race, colour, nationality, religion or sex was illegal.
1964 (16th July)
Harlem Riot
Rioting broke out after 15 year old James Powell, an unarmed black student, was shot and killed by police officer, Thomas Gilligan. The rioting continued for six days and nights.
1964 (December)
Martin Luther King and the SCLC worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Selma, Alabama to improve voter registration.
1965 (21st February)
Malcolm X was assassinated at a rally in New York City, New York by members of the Nation of Islam group.
1965 (7th March)
Bloody Sunday
The SNCC organised an 80 km (50 mile) march from Selma to Montgomery in protest at the killing of black activist Jimmie Lee Jackson and demanding an end to segregation and discrimination. As agreed the marchers were peaceful. However, police and white mobs used extreme violence against the demonstrators. The violence was televised and shocked many viewers leading to increased support for civil rights.
1965 (25th March)
Martin Luther King led a march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. Federal troops had been mobilised to protect the marchers. At the end of the march King made a speech entitled ‘How Long, Not Long’ where he stated his belief that equality was on the horizon.
1965 (6th August)
The Voting Rights Act
This act made racial discrimination in voting illegal.
1965 (11th August)
Watts Riots
Rioting broke out in Watts, Los Angeles after Marquette Frye had been pulled over for dangerous driving and a fight had ensued. It was alleged that police had hurt a pregnant woman during the fight and this sparked six days of rioting and violence.
1966 (6th June)
James Meredith, the first black student at Little Rock Arkansas, was shot during a march through Chicago and was taken to hospital. Despite the shooting, the march continued.
1966 (5th August)
King led a march through Marquette Park in Chicago. The marchers faced violence and verbal abuse by opponents in the region.
1966 (15th October)
Black Panther Party
The BPP was formed by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in California to champion black power. Members monitored the behaviour of law enforcement officers and challenged police brutality. They were armed and advocated the use of violence if necessary.
1967 (12th June)
Loving v Virginia
The Supreme Court decided that the Virginia law that prohibited interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The case had been brought by Richard Loving and his wife Mildred nee Jeter after they had been found in violation of Virginia law and sentenced to a year in prison.
1967 (6th July)
It was reported that around 50% of blacks eligible had registered to vote.
1967 (Summer)
Riots occurred in black neighbourhoods across America. The riots were particularly serious in Detroit.
1968 (3rd April)
Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech at Mason Temple in Memphis.
1968 (4th April)
Martin Luther King was assassinated by James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. Despite emergency surgery he was pronounced dead at 7.05 pm.
1968 (5th April)
The assassination of King sparked a series of riots and demonstrations across the United States.
1968 (8th April)
Correta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, led a march through Memphis calling for an end to racism.
1968 (11th April)
Civil Rights Act 1968 – Fair Housing Act
This act made it illegal to discriminate in the rental, finance or sale of housing. The act also made it illegal to ‘by force or by the threat of force, injure, intimidate or interfere with anyone by reason of their race, color, religion or national origin.’


Published Mar 6, 2020 @ 4:10 pm – Updated -[last-modified]

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). American Civil Rights Movement 1865 – 1968 Last accessed [date]

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