Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement

Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement

This is a timeline of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, a freedom movement to gain equality for African Americans which culminated in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the goals of the movement were freedom from discrimination, equal access to public facilities, employment, education and housing, and the right to vote.

Pre-17th century

(Information in this section primarily taken from Slavery in Colonial United States.)


  • The colony of St. Augustine in Florida became the first permanent European settlement in what would become the US, and included an unknown number of African slaves.

17th century


  • The first record of African slavery in English Colonial America.


  • John Punch, a black indentured servant, ran away with two white indentured servants, James Gregory and Victor. After the three were captured, the white men were sentenced to four more years of servitude but Punch was required to serve Virginia planter Hugh Gwyn for life. This made John Punch the first legally documented slave in Virginia.[1][2][3][4][5]


  • John Casor, a black man, became the first legally recognized slave-for-life where no crime was committed in the Virginia colony.[6]


  • Virginia law defined that children of enslaved mothers followed the status of their mothers and were considered slaves, regardless of their father's status.


  • Royal African Company is founded, allowing slaves to be shipped from Africa to the colonies in North America. This company allowed England to enter the slave trade.


  • Both free and enslaved African Americans fought in Bacon's Rebellion along with English colonists.

18th century


  • The Virginia Slave codes defines as slaves all those servants brought into the colony who were not Christian in their original countries, as well as those Indians sold to colonists by other Indians.




  • Jupiter Hammon has a poem printed, becoming the first published African-American poet.



  • Phillis Wheatley has her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral published.



1776–1783 American Revolution

  • Thousands of enslaved African Americans in the South escape to British or Loyalist lines, as they were promised freedom if they fought with the British. In South Carolina, 25,000 enslaved African Americans, one-quarter of those held, escape to the British.[7] After the war, many African Americans leave with the British for England; others go with other Loyalists to Canada and settle in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Still others go to Jamaica and the West Indies.
  • Many free blacks in the North fight with the colonists for the rebellion.


  • July 8 – The Vermont Republic (a sovereign nation at the time) abolishes slavery, the first future state to do so.


  • Pennsylvania becomes the first then-U.S.-state to abolish slavery.



1790–1810 Manumission of slaves

  • – Following the Revolution, numerous slaveholders in the Upper South free their slaves; the percentage of free blacks rises from less than one to 10 percent. By 1810, 75 percent of all blacks in Delaware are free, and 7.2 percent of blacks in Virginia are free.[8]




19th century


Early 19th century









  • September – David Walker begins publication of the abolitionist pamphlet Walker's Appeal.






  • February - The first Institute of Higher Education for African-Americans is founded. Founded as the African Institute in February 1837 and renamed the Institute of Coloured Youth (ICY) in April 1837 and now known as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.





  • June 1 – Isabella Baumfree, a former slave, changes her name to Sojourner Truth and begins to preach for the abolition of slavery.
  • August – Henry Highland Garnet delivers his famous speech Call to Rebellion.













  • April 12 – The American Civil War begins (secessions began in December 1860), and lasts until April 9, 1865. Tens of thousands of enslaved African Americans of all ages escaped to Union lines for freedom. Contraband camps were set up in some areas, where blacks started learning to read and write. Others traveled with the Union Army. By the end of the war, more than 180,000 African Americans, mostly from the South, fought with the Union Army and Navy as members of the US Colored Troops and sailors.
  • May 2 – The first North American military unit with African-American officers is the 1st Louisiana Native Guard of the Confederate Army (disbanded in February 1862).
  • May 24 – General Benjamin Butler refuses to extradite three escaped slaves, declaring them contraband of war
  • August 6 – The Confiscation Act of 1861 authorizes the confiscation of any Confederate property, including all slaves who fought or worked for the Confederate military.
  • August 30 – Frémont Emancipation in Missouri
  • September 11 – Lincoln orders Frémont to rescind the edict.


1863–1877 Reconstruction



  • April 12 – The Battle of Fort Pillow, which results in controversy about whether a massacre of surrendered African-American troops was conducted or condoned.
  • October 13 – Controversial election results in approval of Maryland Constitution of 1864; emancipation in Maryland.



  • April 9 – The Civil Rights Act of 1866 is passed by Congress over Johnson's presidential veto. All persons born in the United States are now citizens.
  • The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Pulaski, Tennessee, made up of white Confederate veterans; it becomes a paramilitary insurgent group to enforce white supremacy.
  • July – New Orleans Riot: white citizens riot against blacks.
  • July 21 – Southern Homestead Act of 1866 opens 46 million acres of land in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi; African Americans have priority access until January 1, 1877.
  • September 21 – The U.S. Army regiment of Buffalo Soldiers (African Americans) is formed.
  • One version of the Second Freedmen's Bureau Act is vetoed and fails; another is vetoed and passed via override in July.





  • October 10 – Octavius Catto, a civil rights activist, is murdered during harassment of blacks on Election Day in Philadelphia.
  • US Civil Rights Act of 1871 passed, also known as the Klan Act and Third Enforcement Act.


  • December 11 – P. B. S. Pinchback is sworn in as the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Disputed gubernatorial election in Louisiana cause political violence for more than two years. Both Republican and Democratic governors hold inaugurations and certify local officials.


  • April 14 – In the Slaughter-House Cases the Supreme Court votes 5–4 for a narrow reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also discusses dual citizenship: State citizens and U.S. citizens.
  • Easter, the Colfax Massacre – More than 100 blacks in the Red River area of Louisiana are killed when attacked by white militia after defending Republicans in local office – continuing controversy from gubernatorial election.
  • Coushatta Massacre – Republican officeholders are run out of town and murdered by white militia before leaving the state – four of six were relatives of a Louisiana state senator, a northerner who had settled in the South, married into a local family and established a plantation. Five to twenty black witnesses are also killed.


  • Founding of paramilitary groups that act as the "military arm of the Democratic Party": the White League in Louisiana and the Red Shirts in Mississippi, and North and South Carolina. They terrorize blacks and Republicans, turning them out of office, killing some, disrupting rallies, and suppressing voting.
  • September – In New Orleans, continuing political violence erupts related to the still-contested gubernatorial election of 1872. Thousands of the White League armed militia march into New Orleans, then the seat of government, where they outnumber the integrated city police and black state militia forces. They defeat Republican forces and demand that Gov. Kellogg leave office. The Democratic candidate McEnery is installed and White Leaguers occupy the capitol, state house and arsenal. This was called the "Battle of Liberty Place". The White League and McEnery withdraw after three days in advance of federal troops arriving to reinforce the Republican state government.




  • July 8 – The Hamburg Massacre occurs when local people riot against African Americans who were trying to celebrate the Fourth of July.
  • varied – White Democrats regain power in many southern state legislatures and pass the first Jim Crow laws.


  • With the Compromise of 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes withdraws federal troops from the South in exchange for being elected President of the United States, causing the collapse of the last three remaining Republican state governments. The compromise formally ends the Reconstruction era of the United States.


  • spring – Thousands of African Americans refuse to live under segregation in the South and migrate to Kansas. They become known as Exodusters.


  • In Strauder v. West Virginia, the Supreme Court rules that African Americans could not be excluded from juries.
  • During the 1880s, African Americans in the South reach a peak of numbers in being elected and holding local offices, even while white Democrats are working to assert control at state level.



  • A biracial populist coalition achieves power in Virginia (briefly). The legislature founds the first public college for African Americans, Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, as well as the first mental hospital for African Americans, both near Petersburg, Virginia. The hospital was established in December 1869, at Howard's Grove Hospital, a former Confederate unit, but is moved to a new campus in 1882.


  • October 16 – In Civil Rights Cases, the United States Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional.


  • Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is published, featuring the admirable African-American character Jim.
  • Judy W. Reed, of Washington, D.C., and Sarah E. Goode, of Chicago, are the first African-American women inventors to receive patents. Signed with an "X", Reed's patent no. 305,474, granted September 23, 1884, is for a dough kneader and roller. Goode's patent for a cabinet bed, patent no. 322,177, is issued on July 14, 1885. Goode, the owner of a Chicago furniture store, invented a folding bed that could be formed into a desk when not in use.
  • Ida B. Wells sues the Chesapeake, Ohio & South Western Railroad Company for its use of segregated "Jim Crow" cars.



  • October 3 – The State Normal School for Colored Students, which would become Florida A&M University, is founded.


  • Mississippi, with a white Democrat-dominated legislature, passes a new constitution that effectively disfranchises most blacks through voter registration and electoral requirements, e.g., poll taxes, residency tests and literacy tests. This shuts them out of the political process, including service on juries and in local offices.
  • By 1900 two-thirds of the farmers in the bottomlands of the Mississippi Delta are African Americans who cleared and bought land after the Civil War.[14]


  • Ida B. Wells publishes her pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.




  • Louisiana enacts the first state-wide grandfather clause that provides exemption for illiterate whites to voter registration literacy test requirements.
  • In Williams v. Mississippi the Supreme Court upholds the voter registration and election provisions of Mississippi's constitution because they applied to all citizens. Effectively, however, they disenfranchise blacks and poor whites. The result is that other southern states copy these provisions in their new constitutions and amendments through 1908, disfranchising most African Americans and tens of thousands of poor whites until the 1960s.


20th century



  • Since the Civil War, 30,000 African-American teachers had been trained and put to work in the South. The majority of blacks had become literate.[15]




  • May 15 – Sigma Pi Phi, the first African-American Greek-letter organization, is founded by African-American men as a professional organization, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Orlando, Florida hires its first black postman.


  • July 11 – First meeting of the Niagara Movement, an interracial group to work for civil rights.






  • May 30 – The National Negro Committee chooses "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People" as its organization name.
  • September 29 – Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes formed; the next year it will merge with other groups to form the National Urban League.
  • The NAACP begins publishing The Crisis.




  • Newly elected president Woodrow Wilson orders physical re-segregation of federal workplaces and employment after nearly 50 years of integrated facilities.[17][18][19]



  • January – Professor Carter Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History begins publishing the Journal of Negro History, the first academic journal devoted to the study of African-American history.
  • March 23 – Marcus Garvey arrives in the U.S. (see Garveyism).
  • Los Angeles hires the country's first black female police officer.
  • The Great Migration begins and lasts until 1940. Approximately one and a half million African-Americans move from the Southern United States to the North and Midwest. More than five million migrate in the Second Great Migration from 1940 to 1970, which includes more destinations in California and the West.








  • Knights of Columbus commissions and publishes The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America by civil rights activist and NAACP cofounder W. E. B. Du Bois as part of the organization's Racial Contribution Series.
  • Spelman Seminary becomes Spelman College.





  • Claude McKay's Home to Harlem wins the Harmon Gold Award for Literature.






  • Hocutt v. Wilson unsuccessfully attempt to desegregate higher education in the United States.







1940s to 1970

  • Second Great Migration – In multiple acts of resistance, more than 5 million African Americans leave the violence and segregation of the South for jobs, education, and the chance to vote in northern, midwestern and California cities.






1945–1975 Second Reconstruction/American Civil Rights Movement


  • August – The first issue of Ebony.
  • Freeman Field Mutiny, where black officers attempt to desegregate an all-white officers club.






For more detail during this period, see Freedom Riders website chronology




  • January 5 - Governor of Georgia Herman Talmadge criticizes television shows for depicting blacks and whites as equal.
  • January 28 – Briggs v. Elliott: after a District Court had ordered separate but equal school facilities in South Carolina, the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case as part of Brown v. Board of Education.
  • March 7 - Another federal court upholds segregated education laws in Virginia.
  • April 1 – Chancellor Collins J. Seitz finds for the black plaintiffs (Gebhart v. Belton, Gebhart v. Bulah) and orders the integration of Hockessin elementary and Claymont High School in Delaware based on assessment of "separate but equal" public school facilities required by the Delaware constitution.
  • September 4 – Eleven black students attend the first day of school at Claymont High School, Delaware, becoming the first black students in the 17 segregated states to integrate a white public school. The day occurs without incident or notice by the community.
  • September 5 – The Delaware State Attorney General informs Claymont Superintendent Stahl that the black students will have to go home because the case is being appealed. Stahl, the School Board and the faculty refuse and the students remain. The two Delaware cases are argued before the Warren Supreme Court by Redding, Greenberg and Marshall and are used as an example of how integration can be achieved peacefully. It was a primary influence in the Brown v. Board case. The students become active in sports, music and theater. The first two black students graduated in June 1954 just one month after the Brown v. Board case.
  • Ralph Ellison authors the novel Invisible Man which wins the National Book Award.



  • May 3 – In Hernandez v. Texas, the Supreme Court of the United States rules that Mexican Americans and all other racial groups in the United States are entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • May 17 – The Supreme Court rules against the "separate but equal" doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans. and in Bolling v. Sharpe, thus overturning Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • July 11 – The first White Citizens' Council meeting takes place, in Mississippi.
  • July 30 – At a special meeting in Jackson, Mississippi called by Governor Hugh White, T.R.M. Howard of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, along with nearly one hundred other black leaders, publicly refuse to support a segregationist plan to maintain "separate but equal" in exchange for a crash program to increase spending on black schools.
  • September 2 - In Montgomery, Alabama, 23 black children are prevented from attending all-white elementary schools, defying the recent Supreme Court ruling.
  • September 7 - District of Columbia ends segregated education; Baltimore, Maryland follows suit on September 8
  • September 15 - Protests by white parents in White Sulphur Springs, WV force schools to postpone desegregation another year.
  • September 16 - Mississippi responds by abolishing all public schools with an amendment to its State Constitution.
  • September 30 - Integration of a high school in Milford, Delaware collapses when white students boycott classes.
  • October 4 - Student demonstrations take place against integration of Washington, DC public schools.
  • October 19 - Federal judge upholds an Oklahoma law requiring African American candidates to be identified on voting ballots as "negro".
  • October 30 - Desegregation of U.S. Armed Forces said to be complete.
  • November – Charles Diggs, Jr., of Detroit is elected to Congress, the first African American elected from Michigan.
  • Frankie Muse Freeman is the lead attorney for the landmark NAACP case Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing with the city. Constance Baker Motley was also an attorney for NAACP: it was a rarity to have two women attorneys leading such a high-profile case.


  • January 7 – Marian Anderson (of 1939 fame) becomes the first African American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.
  • January 15 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs Executive Order 10590, establishing the President's Committee on Government Policy to enforce a nondiscrimination policy in Federal employment.
  • January 20 – Demonstrators from CORE and Morgan State University stage a successful sit-in to desegregate Read's Drug Store in Baltimore, Maryland
  • April 5 - Mississippi passes a law penalizing white students who attend school with blacks with jail and fines.
  • May 7 – NAACP and Regional Council of Negro Leadership activist Reverend George W. Lee is killed in Belzoni, Mississippi.
  • May 31 – The Supreme Court rules in "Brown II" that desegregation must occur with "all deliberate speed".
  • June 8 - University of Oklahoma decides to allow black students.
  • June 23 - Virginia governor and Board of Education decide to continue segregated schools into 1956.
  • June 29 – The NAACP wins a Supreme Court decision, ordering the University of Alabama to admit Autherine Lucy.
  • July 11 - Georgia Board of Education orders that any teacher supporting integration be fired.
  • July 14 - A Federal Appeals Court overturns segregation on Columbia, SC buses.
  • August 1 - Georgia Board of Education fires all black teachers who are members of the NAACP.
  • August 13 – Regional Council of Negro Leadership registration activist Lamar Smith is murdered in Brookhaven, Mississippi.
  • August 28 – Teenager Emmett Till is killed for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi.
  • November 7 – The Interstate Commerce Commission bans bus segregation in interstate travel in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company, extending the logic of Brown v. Board to the area of bus travel across state lines. On the same day, the US Supreme Court bans segregation on public parks and playgrounds. The governor of Georgia responds that his state would "get out of the park business" rather than allow playgrounds to be desegregated.
  • December 1 – Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus, starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This occurs nine months after 15-year-old high school student Claudette Colvin became the first to refuse to give up her seat. Colvin's was the legal case which eventually ended the practice in Montgomery.
  • Roy Wilkins becomes the NAACP executive secretary.


  • January 9 - Virginia voters and representatives decide to fund private schools with state money to maintain segregation.
  • January 16 – FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover writes a rare open letter of complaint directed to civil rights leader Dr. T.R.M. Howard after Howard charged in a speech that the "FBI can pick up pieces of a fallen airplane on the slopes of a Colorado mountain and find the man who caused the crash, but they can't find a white man when he kills a Negro in the South." [26]
  • January 24 - Governors of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia agree to block integration of schools.
  • February 1 - Virginia legislature passes a resolution that the Supreme Court integration decision was an "illegal encroachment".
  • February 3 – Autherine Lucy is admitted to the University of Alabama. Whites riot for days, and she is suspended. Later, she is expelled for her part in further legal action against the university.
  • February 24 – The policy of Massive Resistance is declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr.
  • February/March- The Southern Manifesto, opposing integration of schools, is created and signed by members of the Congressional delegations of Southern states, including 19 senators and 81 members of the House of Representatives, notably the entire delegations of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia. On March 12, it is released to the press.
  • February 13 - Wilmington, Delaware school board decides to end segregation.
  • February 22 - 90 black leaders in Montgomery, Alabama are arrested for leading a bus boycott.
  • February 29 - Mississippi legislature declares Supreme Court integration decision "invalid" in that state.
  • March 1 - Alabama legislature votes to ask for federal funds to deport blacks to northern states.
  • March 12 - Supreme Court orders the University of Florida to admit a black law school applicant "without delay".
  • March 22 - Dr. King sentenced to fine or jail for calling Montgomery bus boycott, suspended pending appeal.
  • April 11 – Singer Nat King Cole is assaulted during a segregated performance at Municipal Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • April 23 - Supreme Court strikes down segregation on buses nationwide.
  • May 26 – Circuit Judge Walter B. Jones issues an injunction prohibiting the NAACP from operating in Alabama.
  • May 28 – The Tallahassee, Florida bus boycott begins.
  • June 5 – The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) is founded at a mass meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • September 2–11 - Teargas and National Guard used to quell segregationists rioting in Clinton, TN; 12 black students enter high school under Guard protection. Smaller disturbances occur in Mansfield, TX and Sturgis, KY.
  • September 10: Two black students are prevented by a mob from entering a junior college in Texarkana, Texas. Schools in Louisville, KY are successfully desegregated.
  • September 12: 4 black children enter an elementary school in Clay, KY under National Guard protection; white students boycott. The school board bars the 4 again on Sep. 17.
  • October 15: Integrated athletic or social events are banned in Louisiana.
  • November 5 – Nat King Cole hosts the first show of The Nat King Cole Show. The show went off the air after only 13 months because no national sponsor could be found.
  • November 13 – In Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court strikes down Alabama laws requiring segregation of buses. This ruling, together with the ICC's 1955 ruling in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach banning Jim Crow in bus travel among the states, is a landmark in outlawing Jim Crow in bus travel.
  • December 20 - Federal marshals enforce the ruling to desegregate bus systems in Montgomery.
  • December 24 - Blacks in Tallahassee, Florida begin defying segregation on city buses.
  • December 25 – The parsonage in Birmingham, Alabama occupied by Fred Shuttlesworth, movement leader, is bombed. Shuttlesworth receives only minor scrapes.
  • December 26 – The ACMHR tests the Browder v. Gayle ruling by riding in the white sections of Birmingham city buses. 22 demonstrators are arrested.
  • Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission formed.
  • Director J. Edgar Hoover orders the FBI to begin the COINTELPRO program to investigate and disrupt "dissident" groups within the United States.


  • February 8 - Georgia Senate votes to declare the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution null and void in that state.
  • February 14 – Southern Christian Leadership Conference formed. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is named chairman of the organization.
  • April 18 - Florida Senate votes to consider Supreme Court's desegregation decisions "null and void".
  • May 17 – The Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, DC is at the time the largest non-violent demonstration for civil rights.
  • September 2 – Orval Faubus, governor of Arkansas, calls out the National Guard to block integration of Little Rock Central High School.
  • September 6 - Federal judge orders Nashville public schools to integrate immediately.
  • September 15 - New York Times reports that in 3 years since the decision, there has been minimal progress toward integration in 4 southern states, and no progress at all in seven.
  • September 24 – President Dwight Eisenhower federalizes the National Guard and also orders US Army troops to ensure Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas is integrated. Federal and National Guard troops escort the Little Rock Nine.
  • September 27 – Civil Rights Act of 1957 signed by President Eisenhower.
  • October 7 - The finance minister of Ghana is refused service at a Dover, Delaware restaurant. President Eisenhower hosts him at the White House to apologize Oct. 10.
  • October 9 - Florida legislature votes to close any school if federal troops are sent to enforce integration.
  • October 31 - Officers of NAACP arrested in Little Rock for failing to comply with a new financial disclosure ordinance.
  • November 26 - Texas legislature votes to close any school where federal troops might be sent.


  • January 18 - Willie O'Ree breaks the color barrier in the National Hockey League, in his first game playing for the Boston Bruins.
  • June 29 – Bethel Baptist Church (Birmingham, Alabama) is bombed by Ku Klux Klan members.
  • June 30 – In NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court rules that the NAACP was not required to release membership lists to continue operating in the state.
  • August 19 – Clara Luper and the NAACP Youth Council conduct the largest successful sit-in to date, on drug store lunch-counters in Oklahoma City. This starts a successful six-year campaign by Luper and the Council to desegregate businesses and related institutions in Oklahoma City.
  • August - Jimmy Wilson sentenced to death in Alabama for stealing $1.95; Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asks Governor Jim Folsom to commute his sentence because of international criticism.
  • September 2 - Governor J. Lindsay Almond of Virginia threatens to shut down any school if it is forced to integrate.
  • September 4 - Justice Department sues under Civil Rights Act to force Terrell County, Georgia to register blacks to vote.
  • September 8 - A Federal judge orders Louisiana State University to desegregate. 69 African-Americans enroll successfully on Sep. 12.
  • September 12 – In Cooper v. Aaron the Supreme Court rules that the states were bound by the Court's decisions. Governor Faubus responds by shutting down all four high schools in Little Rock, and Governor Almond shuts one in Front Royal, Virginia.
  • September 18 - Governor Lindsay closes two more schools in Charlottesville, Virginia, and six in Norfolk on Sep. 27.
  • September 29 - Supreme Court rules that states may not use evasive measures to avoid desegregation.
  • October 8 - A Federal judge in Harrisonburg, VA rules that public money may not be used for segregated private schools.
  • October 20 - 13 blacks arrested for sitting in front of bus in Birmingham.
  • November 28 - Federal court throws out Louisiana law against integrated athletic events.
  • December 8 - Voter registration officials in Montgomery refuse to cooperate with US Civil Rights Commission investigation.
  • Publication of Here I Stand, Paul Robeson's manifesto-autobiography.


  • January 9 - One Federal judge throws out segregation on Atlanta, GA buses, while another orders Montgomery registrars to comply with the Civil Rights Commission.
  • January 12 – Motown Records is founded by Berry Gordy.
  • January 19 - Federal Appeals court overturns Virginia's closure of the schools in Norfolk; they reopen January 28 with 17 black students.
  • February 2 - A high school in Arlington, VA desegregates, allowing four black students.
  • April 10 - Three schools in Alexandria, Virginia desegregate with a total of nine black students.
  • April 18 - Dr. King speaks for the integration of schools at a rally of 26,000 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
  • April 24 – Mack Charles Parker is lynched three days before his trial.
  • November 20 - Alabama passes laws to limit black voter registration.
  • A Raisin in the Sun, a play by Lorraine Hansberry, debuts on Broadway. The 1961 film of it will star Sidney Poitier.




  • January 11 – Rioting over court-ordered admission of first two African Americans (Hamilton E. Holmes and Charlayne Hunter-Gault) at the University of Georgia leads to their suspension, but they are ordered reinstated.
  • January 31 – Member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and nine students were arrested in Rock Hill, South Carolina for a sit-in at a McCrory's lunch counter.
  • March 6 – President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which establishes a Presidential committee that later becomes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • May 4 – The first group of Freedom Riders, with the intent of integrating interstate buses, leaves Washington, D.C. by Greyhound bus. The group, organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), leaves shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court has outlawed segregation in interstate transportation terminals.[29]
  • May 14 – The Freedom Riders' bus is attacked and burned outside of Anniston, Alabama. A mob beats the Freedom Riders upon their arrival in Birmingham. The Freedom Riders are arrested in Jackson, Mississippi, and spend forty to sixty days in Parchman Penitentiary.[29]
  • May 17 – Nashville students, coordinated by Diane Nash and James Bevel, take up the Freedom Ride, signaling the increased involvement of SNCC.
  • May 20 – Freedom Riders are assaulted in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Greyhound Bus Station.
  • May 21 – MLK, the Freedom Riders, and congregation of 1,500 at Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church in Montgomery are besieged by mob of segregationists; Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sends federal marshals to protect them.
  • May 29 – Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, citing the 1955 landmark ICC ruling in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company and the Supreme Court's 1960 decision in Boynton v. Virginia, petitions the ICC to enforce desegregation in interstate travel.
  • June–August – U.S. Dept. of Justice initiates talks with civil rights groups and foundations on beginning Voter Education Project.
  • July – SCLC begins citizenship classes; Andrew J. Young hired to direct the program. Bob Moses begins voter registration in McComb, Mississippi.
  • September – James Forman becomes SNCC’s Executive Secretary.
  • September 23 – Interstate Commerce Commission, at Robert F. Kennedy’s insistence, issues new rules ending discrimination in interstate travel, effective November 1, 1961, six years after the ICC's own ruling in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company.
  • September 25 – Voter registration activist Herbert Lee killed in McComb, Mississippi.
  • November 1 – All interstate buses required to display a certificate that reads: “Seating aboard this vehicle is without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin, by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission.”[30]
  • November 1 – SNCC workers Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon and nine Chatmon Youth Council members test new ICC rules at Trailways bus station in Albany, Georgia.[31]
  • November 17 – SNCC workers help encourage and coordinate black activism in Albany, Georgia, culminating in the founding of the Albany Movement as a formal coalition.[31]
  • November 22 – Three high school students from Chatmon’s Youth Council arrested after using “positive actions” by walking into white sections of the Albany bus station.[31]
  • November 22 – Albany State College students Bertha Gober and Blanton Hall arrested after entering the white waiting room of the Albany Trailways station.[31]
  • December 10 – Freedom Riders from Atlanta, SNCC leader Charles Jones, and Albany State student Bertha Gober are arrested at Albany Union Railway Terminal, sparking mass demonstrations, with hundreds of protesters arrested over the next five days.[32]
  • December 11–15 – Five hundred protesters arrested in Albany, Georgia.
  • December 15 – Dr. King arrives in Albany, Georgia in response to a call from Dr. W. G. Anderson, the leader of the Albany Movement to desegregate public facilities.[29]
  • December 16 – Dr. King is arrested at an Albany, Georgia demonstration. He is charged with obstructing the sidewalk and parading without a permit.[29]
  • December 18 – Albany truce, including a 60-day postponement of King's trial; MLK leaves town.[33]
  • Whitney Young is appointed executive director of the National Urban League and begins expanding its size and mission.
  • Black Like Me written by John Howard Griffin, a white southerner who deliberately tanned and dyed his skin to allow him to directly experience the life of the Negro in the Deep South, is published, displaying the brutality of Jim Crow segregation to a national audience.



  • January 18 – Incoming Alabama governor George Wallace calls for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" in his inaugural address.
  • April 3 – May 10 – The Birmingham campaign, organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights challenges city leaders and business owners in Birmingham, Alabama, with daily mass demonstrations.
  • April – Mary Lucille Hamilton, Field Secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, refuses to answer a judge in Gadsden, Alabama, until she is addressed by the honorific "Miss". It was the custom of the time to address white people by honorifics and people of color by their first names. Hamilton is jailed for contempt of court and refuses to pay bail. The case Hamilton v. Alabama is filed by the NAACP. It went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1964 that courts must address persons of color with the same courtesy extended to whites.
  • April 7 - Ministers John Thomas Porter, Nelson H. Smith and A. D. King lead a group of 2,000 marchers to protest the jailing of movement leaders in Birmingham.
  • April 12 - Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested in Birmingham for "parading without a permit".
  • April 16 – King's Letter from Birmingham Jail is completed.
  • April 23 – CORE activist William L. Moore is killed in Gadsden, Alabama.
  • May 2–4 – Birmingham's juvenile court is inundated with African-American children and teenagers arrested after James Bevel, SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education, launches his "D-Day" youth march. The actions spans three days to become the Birmingham Children's Crusade.[34]
  • May 9–10 – After images of fire hoses and police dogs turned on protesters are televised, the Children's Crusade lays the groundwork for the terms of a negotiated truce on Thursday, May 9 puts an end to mass demonstrations in return for rolling back oppressive segregation laws and practices. Dr. King and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth announce the settlement terms on Friday, May 10 only after King holds out to orchestrate the release of thousands of jailed demonstrators with bail money from Harry Belafonte and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.[35]
  • May 11–12 – Double bombing in Birmingham, probably conducted by the KKK in cooperation with local police, [Birmingham crisis|precipitates] rioting, police retaliation, intervention of state troopers, and finally mobilization of federal troops.
  • May 13 – In United States of America and Interstate Commerce Commission v. the City of Jackson, Mississippi et al., the United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit rules the city's attempt to circumvent laws desegregating interstate transportation facilities by posting sidewalk signs outside Greyhound, Trailways and Illinois Central terminals reading "Waiting Room for White Only — By Order Police Department" and "Waiting Room for Colored Only — By Order Police Department" to be unlawful.[36]
  • May 24 – A group of Black leaders (assembled by James Baldwin) meets with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to discuss race relations.
  • May 29 – Violence escalates at NAACP picket of Philadelphia construction site.[37]
  • May 30 – Police attack Florida A&M anti-segregation demonstrators with tear gas; arrest 257.[38]
  • June 9 – Fannie Lou Hamer is among several SNCC workers badly beaten by police in the Winona, Mississippi, jail after their bus stops there.
  • June 11 – "The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door": Alabama Governor George Wallace stands in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop desegregation by the enrollment of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Wallace only stands aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, and the Alabama National Guard. Later in life he apologizes for his opposition to racial integration then.
  • June 11 – President John F. Kennedy makes his historic civil rights speech, promising a bill to Congress the next week. About civil rights for "Negroes", in his speech he asks for "the kind of equality of treatment which we would want for ourselves."
  • June 12 – NAACP worker Medgar Evers is murdered in Jackson, Mississippi. (His killer is convicted in 1994.)[39]
  • Summer – 80,000 blacks quickly register to vote in Mississippi by a test project to show their desire to participate.
  • June 19 – President Kennedy sends Congress (H. Doc. 124, 88th Cong., 1st session.) his proposed Civil Rights Act.[40] White leaders in business and philanthropy gather at the Carlyle Hotel to raise initial funds for the Council on United Civil Rights Leadership
  • August 28 - ( Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Northwest Baltimore, County, Maryland is desegregated.
  • August 28 – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is held. Dr. Martin Luther King gives his I Have a Dream speech.[41]
  • September 10 – Birmingham, Alabama City Schools are integrated by National Guardsmen under orders from President Kennedy.
  • September 15 – 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham kills four young girls. That same day, in response to the killings, James Bevel and Diane Nash begin the Alabama Project, which will later grow into the Selma Voting Rights Movement.
  • November 10 – Malcolm X delivers "Message to the Grass Roots" speech, calling for unity against the white power structure and criticizing the March on Washington.
  • November 22 – President Kennedy is assassinated. The new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, decides that accomplishing Kennedy's legislative agenda is his best strategy, which he pursues.[42]







  • January 8–18: Student protesters at Brandeis University take over Ford and Sydeman Halls, demanding creation of an Afro-American Department. This is approved by the University on April 24.
  • February 13: National Guard with teargas and riot sticks crush a pro-black student demonstration at University of Wisconsin.
  • February 16: After 3 days of clashes between police and Duke University students, the school agrees to establish a Black Studies program.
  • April 3–4: National Guard called into Chicago, and Memphis placed on curfew on anniversary of Dr. King's assassination.
  • April 19: Armed African-American students protesting discrimination take over Willard Straight Hall, the student union building at Cornell University. They end the seizure the following day after the University accedes to their demands, including an Afro-American studies program.
  • April 25–28: Activist students takeover Merrill House at Colgate University demanding Afro-American studies programs.
  • May 8: City College of New York closed following a two-week long campus takeover demanding Afro-American and Puerto-Rican studies; riots among students break out when the school tries to reopen.
  • June – The second of two US federal appeals court decisions not only confirms members of the public hold legal standing to participate in broadcast station license hearings, but under the Fairness Doctrine finds the record of segregationist TV station WLBT beyond repair. The FCC is ordered to open proceedings for a new licensee.[49]
  • September 1–2: Race rioting in Hartford, CT and Camden, NJ.
  • December – Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, is shot and killed while asleep in bed during a police raid on his home.
  • United Citizens Party is formed in South Carolina when Democratic Party refuses to nominate African-American candidates.
  • W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research founded at Harvard University.
  • The Revised Philadelphia Plan is instituted by the Department of Labor.
  • The Congressional Black Caucus is formed.





  • January 25 – Shirley Chisholm becomes the first major-party African-American candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
  • November 16 – In Baton Rouge, two Southern University students are killed by white sheriff deputies during a school protest over lack of funding from the state. Today, the university’s Smith-Brown Memorial Union is named in their honor.
  • November 16 - The infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment ends. Begun in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service's 40-year experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis has been described as an experiment that "used human beings as laboratory animals in a long and inefficient study of how long it takes syphilis to kill someone."



  • July 25 – In Milliken v. Bradley, the Supreme Court in a 5–4 decision holds that outlying districts could only be forced into a desegregation busing plan if there was a pattern of violation on their part. This decision reinforces the trend of white flight.
  • Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc Collective, the first "out" organization for lesbians, womanists and women of color formed in New York City.


  • April 30 – In the pilot episode of Starsky and Hutch, Richard Ward plays an African-American boss of white Americans for the first time on TV.








  • May 24 – The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Bob Jones University did not qualify as either a tax-exempt or a charitable organization due to its racially discriminatory practices.[50]
  • August 30 – Guion Bluford becomes the first African-American to go into space.
  • November 2 - President Ronald Reagan signs a bill creating a federal holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.



  • May 13 - Bombing of MOVE house in Philadelphia.



  • The Public Broadcasting Service's six-part documentary Eyes on the Prize is first shown, covering the years 1954–1965. In 1990 it is added to by the eight-part Eyes on the Prize II covering the years 1965–1985.


  • Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988.
  • December 9 – The film Mississippi Burning is released, regarding the 1964 Mississippi civil rights workers murders.









  • June 7 – James Byrd, Jr. is brutally murdered by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas. The scene is reminiscent of earlier lynchings. In response, Byrd's family create the James Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing.
  • October 23 – The film American History X is released, powerfully highlighting the problems of urban racism.



21st century






  • March 26 – Capitol Hill police fail to recognize Cynthia McKinney as a member of Congress.



  • June 3 – Barack Obama receives enough delegates by the end of state primaries to be the presumptive Democratic Party of the United States nominee.[52]
  • June 15 (Father's Day) – Obama says that many black fathers have "abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys rather than men"; Adolph Reed calls him a "vacuous opportunist".
  • July 12 – Cynthia McKinney accepts the Green Party nomination in the Presidential race.
  • July 30 – United States Congress apologizes for slavery and Jim Crow.
  • August 28 – At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, in a stadium filled with supporters, Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
  • November 4 – Barack Obama elected 44th President of the United States of America, opening his victory speech with, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."[53]



  • July 19 – Shirley Sherrod first is pressured to resign from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and immediately thereafter receives its apology after she is inaccurately accused of being racist towards white Americans.
  • August 3 – Fair Sentencing Act reducing sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to an 18:1 ratio.


  • January 14 – Michael Steele, the first African-American Chairman of the RNC lost his bid for re-election.
  • November 19 – Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr.


  • February 26 – Shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida
  • December 1 – Journalist A. F. James MacArthur arrested at his house by a SWAT team.


  • January 20 – Barack Obama is sworn in for his second term as president.
  • March 9 – New York police officers shoot 16-year-old Kimani Gray, triggering weeks of protests in Brooklyn
  • May 9 – Malcolm Shabazz killed in Mexico.
  • May 2 – FBI promotes Assata Shakur to list of "most wanted terrorists".
  • June 24 – State of Florida v. George Zimmerman begins.
  • June 25 – Supreme Court overturns part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
  • July 13 – George Zimmermann acquitted, provoking nationwide protests.

See also

African American portal


Further reading

  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century (5 vol. 2009) excerpt and text search
  • Palmer, Colin A. ed. Encyclopedia Of African American Culture And History: The Black Experience In The Americas (2nd ed. 6 vol 2005)
    • first edition was: Salzman, Jack, et al. eds Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (5 vol. 1995)

External links

  • Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History (international view)
  • Tullos, Allen. "Selma Bridge: Always Under Construction," Southern Spaces July 28, 2008.
  • Detailed year-by-year timeline 1951–1968
  • University of Southern Mississippi's Civil Rights Documentation Project, includes an extensive Timeline
  • Freedom Riders website chronology, extremely detailed
  • Civil Rights Timeline, sections on Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • 41 Lives for Freedom
  • Black baseball firsts
  • African-American Pioneers of Texas
  • Memphis Civil Rights Digital Archive
  • Life magazine