The Civil Rights Movement, also The Black Civil Rights Movement. While it has not been the only notable movement for civil rights, when North Americans say "The Civil Rights Movement," they are generally referring to the movement for Black civil rights which took place in the United States (especially in the South) in the middle part of the twentieth century. (Generally the late 1940s - the late 1970s) This does not pretend to be a complete history. Please add writeups or /msg me if you think of something I should add.


Slavery was officially abolished in the United States by the ratification of the thirteenth amendment to the US Constitution on December 6, 1865. The fourteenth amendment (July 9, 1868) extended the rights of US citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the US, and the fifteenth (February 17, 1870) barred voting restrictions based on race.

Nevertheless, many Black people in the South continued to work as wage slaves and sharecroppers, often on the same plantations where their parents and grandparents had been slaves. Black people were routinely denied the rights of citizenship (equal protection under the law, the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to trial by jury). And Jim Crow legislation (literacy tests, intimidation, violence and unconstitutional state laws) kept most Black people in the South from voting. Segregation was also the word of the day. There were segregated schools (where Blacks had schools at all), and segregated bathrooms, water fountains, courtrooms, theatre seating, and hospitals to name just a few.

The Beginnings of the Movement

After World War II (1939-1945) returning Black soldiers started demanding new respect. Angry at having been asked to die for a country where they weren't full citizens, freshly exposed to new cultures and ideas, these soldiers were a major force in the birth of the new movement for civil rights. And indeed, one of the first major victories for desegregation was Harry Truman's 1948 executive order which instituted fair employment practices in the civilian agencies of the federal government and provided for "equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

Also contributing to the new movement was the fact that Black people in the urban north were making new economic and educational gains (which were nearly impossible for Blacks in the South), and they were registering to vote. As a result, the NAACP and other Black organizations started attracting many new members, who brought new funding and a new group of young lawyers sympathetic to their cause.

Civil Rights Organizations

Started by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other black Southern clergymen, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinated the work of other civil rights groups. They organized and supported countless sit-ins, boycotts, and marches.

On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. This sparked a wave of other sit-ins in college towns across the South. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was started by a group of Black and white college students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina for the purpose of coordinating these sit-ins, supporting their leaders, and publicizing sit-in activity.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded in 1909, it is one of the oldest and strongest organizations dedicated to equal rights for African Americans.

Major Events

The murder of Emmett Till (1955)

The Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955)

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for disobeying a city law that required blacks to give up their seats to white people and to sit in the back seats of buses. Montgomery's blacks protested by refusing to ride the buses. Their protest lasted 382 days, ending when the city abolished the bus law. The boycott became the first organized mass protest by blacks in Southern history. It also focused national attention on its organizer, Martin Luther King, Jr., a Montgomery Baptist minister.

Arkansas Governer calls in the National Guard (1957)

In 1957 Arkansas governer Orval E. Faubus defied a federal court order to integrate Little Rock Central High School by sending the Arkansas National Guard to prevent black students from entering the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower eventually used federal troops to enforce the court order.

The March on Washington (1963)

Demanding a federal policy that would end remaining discrimination in public places, 200,000 people, including many whites, took part in what was called the March on Washington in August 1963. The march was organized by Martin Luther King, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, James L. Farmer of CORE, and Whitney M. Young, Jr., of the Urban League. This was the site of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Afterwards, President Kennedy would propose new civil rights legislation. Eventually, under President Johnson Congress would pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education.

The Riots

The most famous riots of the 1960s were the Watts riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1965, the Detroit and Newark riots in 1967, and the Cleveland riots in 1968. The Detroit riot was the most violent. It led to 43 deaths and property damage of about $45 million.

The Kerner Commission, established by President Johnson to study the causes of urban riots, later stated that the major cause of the riots was racial prejudice and discrimination of whites against blacks. It recommended such measures as better housing and increased economic opportunities for blacks and poor people.

Black Power

(An excellent writeup already exists and I won't try to add)

Landmark Legal Decisions

(see also: Civil Rights Rulings (Circa 1960's)

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation in the public schools was in itself unequal and thus unconstitutional. The suit had been filed because the school board had not allowed a black student named Linda Brown to attend an all-white school near her home. The court's decision rejected the separate but equal ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson and inspired African Americans to strike out against other discrimination, particularly in public places.

Loving v. Virginia

On June 12, 1967, the US Supreme Court struck down Virginia's antimiscegenation laws (miscegenation means mixing of races) which outlawed mixed-race marriages.

Enemies of the Civil Rights Movement

the Ku Klux Klan

the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission

Key Figures

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