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The Civil Rights Movement

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The civil rights struggle in modern times

1954 -- U.S. Supreme Court declares school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling.

Rosa Parks

1955 -- Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus as required by city ordinance; boycott follows and bus segregation ordinance is declared unconstitutional.

Federal Interstate Commerce Commission bans segregation on interstate trains and buses.

1956 -- Coalition of Southern congressmen calls for massive resistance to Supreme Court desegregation rulings.

1957 -- Arkansas Gov. Orval Rubus uses National Guard to block nine black students from attending a Little Rock High School; following a court order, President Eisenhower sends in federal troops to ensure compliance.

1960 -- Four black college students begin sit-ins at lunch counter of a Greensboro, North Carolina, restaurant where black patrons are not served.

Congress approves a watered-down voting rights act after a filibuster by Southern senators.

1961 -- Freedom Rides begin from Washington, D.C., into Southern states.

1962 -- President Kennedy sends federal troops to the University of Mississippi to quell riots so that James Meredith, the school's first black student, can attend.

The Supreme Court rules that segregation is unconstitutional in all transportation facilities.

The Department of Defense orders full integration of military reserve units, the National Guard excluded.

1963 -- Civil rights leader Medgar Evers is killed by a sniper's bullet.

Race riots prompt modified martial law in Cambridge, Maryland.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers "I Have a Dream" speech to hundreds of thousands at the March on Washington.

Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, leaves four young black girls dead.

1964 -- Congress passes Civil Rights Act declaring discrimination based on race illegal after 75-day long filibuster.

Three civil rights workers disappear in Mississippi after being stopped for speeding; found buried six weeks later.

Riots in Harlem, Philadelphia.


1965 -- March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to demand protection for voting rights; two civil rights workers slain earlier in the year in Selma.

Malcolm X assassinated.

Riot in Watts, Los Angeles.

New voting rights act signed.

1966 -- Edward Brooke, R-Massachusetts, elected first black U.S. senator in 85 years.

1967 -- Riots in Detroit, Newark, New Jersey.

Thurgood Marshall first black to be named to the Supreme Court.

Carl Stokes (Cleveland) and Richard G. Hatcher (Gary, Indiana) elected first black mayors of major U.S. cities.

1968 -- Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee; James Earl Ray later convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Poor People's March on Washington -- planned by King before his death -- goes on.

1973 -- Maynard Jackson (Atlanta), first black elected mayor of a major Southern U.S. city.

1975 --Voting Rights Act extended.

1978 -- Supreme Court rules that medical school admission programs that set aside positions based on race are unconstitutional (Bakke decision).

1979 -- Shoot-out in Greensboro, North Carolina, leaves five anti-Klan protesters dead; 12 Klansmen charged with murder.

1983 -- Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday established.

1988 -- Congress passes Civil Rights Restoration Act over President Reagan's veto.

1989 -- Army Gen. Colin Powell becomes first black to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

1989 -- L. Douglas Wilder (Virginia) becomes first black elected governor.

1990 -- President Bush vetoes a civil rights bill he says would impose quotas for employers; weaker bill passes muster in 1991.

1991 -- Civil rights museum opens at King assassination site in Memphis.

1994 -- Byron De La Beckwith convicted of 1963 Medgar Evers assassination.

1995 -- Supreme Court rules that federal programs that use race as a categorical classification must have "compelling government interest" to do so.

1996 -- Supreme Court rules consideration of race in creating congressional districts is unconstitutional.

Early civil rights efforts

The history of the civil rights movement in the United States actually begins with the early efforts of the fledgling democracy.

1783 -- Massachusetts outlaws slavery within its borders.

1808 -- Importation of slaves banned; illegal slave trade continues.

1820 -- Eighty-six free blacks sail to Sierra Leone, a British colony in Africa -- first immigration of blacks from U.S. to Africa.

Missouri Compromise allows slavery in Missouri, but not elsewhere west of the Mississippi and north of Missouri's southern border; repealed in 1854

1831 -- Nat Turner leads slave rebellion in Virginia; 57 whites killed; U.S. troops kill 100 slaves; Turner caught, tried and hanged.

1833 -- Oberlin College, first U.S. college to adopt co-education, is first to refuse to ban black students.

1850 -- Compromise of 1850 admits California into the union without slavery, strengthens Fugitive Slave Laws, and ends slave trade in Washington, D.C.

1857 -- Dred Scott Supreme Court decision rules that slaves do not become free when taken into a free state, that Congress cannot bar slavery from a territory, and that blacks cannot become citizens.

1861 -- Confederate States of America formed; Civil War begins.

1863 -- President Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation freeing "all slaves in areas still in rebellion."

1865 -- Civil War ends.

13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, added to the Constitution.

1866 -- Ku Klux Klan formed in secrecy; disbands 1869-71; resurgence in 1915.

Congress takes over Reconstruction.

1867 -- Series of measures aimed at suffrage, other redresses for former slaves passed over President Andrew Johnson's vetoes.

1868 -- 14th Amendment conferring citizenship added to Constitution.

1870 -- 15th Amendment barring racial discrimination in voting added to Constitution.

1875 -- Congress passes civil rights act granted equal rights in public accommodations and jury duty.

1877 -- Henry O. Flipper becomes first black graduate of U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

1883 -- Supreme Court invalidates 1875 Civil Rights Act, saying that the federal government cannot bar discrimination by corporations or individuals.

1896 -- Supreme Court approves "separate but equal" segregation doctrine.

1906 -- Race riots in Atlanta; 21 dead, city under martial law.

1909 -- National Congress on the Negro convenes, leading to founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

1923 -- Oklahoma placed under martial law because of Ku Klux Klan activities.

1925 -- Ku Klux Klan marches on Washington.

1943 -- War contractors barred from racial discrimination.

Riots in Harlem, Detroit.

1948 -- President Truman issues executive order outlawing segregation in U.S. military.

1952 -- Racial, ethnic barriers to naturalization removed by Immigration and Naturalization Act.

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