Siteseen Logo

Civil Rights Movement


Civil Rights Movement: Three of the most famous leaders during the Civil Rights Movement era were Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Definition and Summary of the Civil Rights Movement
Summary and definition:
What was the Civil Rights Movement? The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's was the great effort by African Americans to achieve Civil Rights equal to those of whites. African Americans struggled to achieve the rights of citizenship guaranteed in the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution relating to a citizen's right to vote and taking away any citizen's rights or property without due process to the law.

When was the Civil Rights Movement? The modern American Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 with the legal case of Brown vs. Board of Education followed by the 1955 Rosa Parks protest. It ended in 1968 following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and the rise of Black revolutionaries and race riots.

Who were the presidents during the Civil Rights Movement Era? There were three presidents during the Civil Rights Movement era: Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson

Who were the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement? The peaceful leaders of the Civil Rights Movement included Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Ella Baker and Jesse Jackson. The revolutionary leaders included Stokely Carmichael, Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X.

 The 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution
African Americans participated in the Civil Rights Movement to achieve the Civil Rights, detailed in the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, that were equal to those of whites.

  • The 14th Amendment to the Constitution (1868) deals with Civil rights and equal protection, stating that every person born in the US is a citizen and individual states must follow due process of law before taking away any citizen's rights or property.

  • The 15th Amendment to the Constitution (1870) addresses Black suffrage The 15th Amendment (XV) to the Constitution addresses Black suffrage stating that a citizen's right to vote cannot be taken away because of race, the color of their skin, or because they were previously slaves.

The 14th Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868, just after the Civil War, during the presidency of Andrew Johnson. The 15th Amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870 during the presidency of Ulysses Grant. It took nearly 100 years of protests by African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement finally emerged in the 1950's and 1960's.

History of the Civil Rights Movement: Segregation, Discrimination & Violence
The history of the Civil Rights Movement witnessed the fight against the discriminatory
Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws of the south that segregated white Americans from black Americans in housing, education, transport, rest rooms and restaurants. African Americans were also denied the right to travel freely, marry whites and the right to vote. The Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were sanctioned by the federal government as a result of the Supreme Court decision in the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Case. African Americans in the south were denied the right to a fair trial and were subject to lynchings by supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

 Early Organizations to gain Civil Rights
African American Organization
s emerged to strive against discrimination and gain Civil Rights such as the Niagara Movement and the NAACP. The belief in Black Populism arose. The Black Nationalist movement was founded by Marcus Garvey. The Nation of Islam (NOI) was founded by Wallace D. Fard, later known as Farrad Muhammad, whose followers became known as the Black Muslims who taught a distinctive form of Islam based on the teachings of the Quran. George Houser and James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942 that began organizing sit-ins, as a form of protest against segregation.

 The Impact of WW2 on the Civil Rights Movement
During WW2 the American military was racially segregated and African Americans were initially assigned to non-combat positions as mess attendants, stewards, and cooks. The "Double V" Campaign was launched by the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper which encouraged African Americans to participate in winning the war abroad, while simultaneously fighting for their civil rights at home. The "Double V" stood for 'Double Victory - victory over Hitler's racism abroad and victory over racism at home.
Following WW2, and in response to pressure from civil rights activists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and Walter White, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948 abolishing racial discrimination in the United States Armed Forces.

 The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement of 1950's and 1960's
WW2 contributed to the origins of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's and 1960's. The million African Americans who had fought for their country during WW2, returned home and began to openly resist being treated as second-class citizens. Membership to the NAACP increased to 600,000 members by 1946 and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was established in 1942. By the 1950's African Americans were ready to protest and protect the rights of African American citizens.

 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
Summary and Definition: The NAACP won the legal case of Brown vs. Board of education of Topeka, Kansas. The NAACP's chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall led the case that resulted in the Supreme Court banning the practice of school segregation, effectively overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The Birth of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks is arrested (1955)
Summary and Definition: The birth of the African American Civil Rights Movement began on December 1, 1955 when 42-year-old seamstress Rosa Parks boarded bus 2857 on the Cleveland Avenue, Montgomery City Bus Line in Alabama. Rosa Parks was told to give up her seat for a white man, but Rosa Parks refused and was arrested for violating the city’s racial segregation laws.

 Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955 - 1957)
Summary and Definition: The act of civil disobedience by Rosa Parks precipitated the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Martin Luther King, Jr. who had been made the president of the Montgomery Improvement Association which was organized in response to protests against the incident involving Rosa Parks.  The Montgomery bus boycott began and was run by Martin Luther King, Jr. who also negotiated with city leaders for an end of segregation.

 Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) formed 1957
Summary and Definition: African American churches began to play a significant role in the growth of the Civil Rights Movement. Following the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr Martin Luther King became President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957 which aimed at eliminating segregation practices and to encourage African Americans to register to vote.

 Little Rock Nine (1957)
Summary and Definition: The Little Rock Nine crisis erupted in 1957 following the refusal for the admission of 9 African American students to the racially segregated Little Rock Central High school by Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas. President Dwight Eisenhower sent in the National Guard to enforce integration at Little Rock's Central High School in the face of violent White opposition to the de-segregation of schools.

 Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam
Summary and Definition: Elijah Muhammad (born Robert Poole) was the leader of the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975,  advocating black nationalism that called for the creation of a separate black nation in America as an alternative to being assimilated by the American nation. Elijah Muhammad also supported Black separatism, a movement that aimed to create separate institutions for African Americans. His most famous disciples included civil rights activists Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X. Cassius Clay joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

 The Greensboro sit-ins (1960)
Summary and Definition: The Greensboro Sit-ins began in 1960 when four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro, North Carolina walked into the F. W. Woolworth store and sat down at the segregated lunch counter. They were refused service but they kept their seats. Their Lunch counter protest spread throughout the South resulting in a massive boycott of stores with segregated lunch counters.

 Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) formed 1960
Summary and Definition: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded by Ella Baker, a Civil rights activist who had worked for the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SNCC assisted student activists and organized 'Sit-ins' throughout the Deep South. Ella Baker also helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and her name became synonymous with the Black Freedom Movement.

 Freedom Riders (1961)
Summary and Definition: The original Freedom Riders made their first journey from May 4, 1961 - May 17, 1961  when six whites and twelve blacks left Washington, D.C., on two buses bound for the New Orleans. The purpose of the Freedom Riders was to test new regulations and court orders banning segregation in interstate transportation and facilities. The first Freedom Riders were violently attacked in Alabama but extensive media coverage encouraged hundreds more Freedom Riders to follow their example.

 Fannie Lou Hamer (1962)
Summary and Definition: Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist who was evicted from her home on a plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi when the owner, W.D. Marlow, became aware that she had registered to vote. In June 1964 Fannie Lou Hamer went on to become one of the leaders of the Freedom Summer Campaign in an attempt to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, which had historically excluded most blacks from voting.

 James Meredith and the riot at "Ole Miss" (1962)
Summary and Definition: In 1962 there were Mississippi race riots on the "Ole Miss" campus and the town of Oxford over the first black student. The riots began when the registration of Civil Rights activist James Meredith was refused at the segregated University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss". Rioting followed at the campus resulting in the deaths of two people with at least 75 others injured and spread to the town of Oxford. On June 5, 1966, James Meredith was wounded in an ambush as he attempted to complete a peaceful march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi but recovered from his wounds and continued to fight for the Civil Rights Movement.

 MLK Birmingham Campaign and letter from Birmingham Jail (1963)
Summary and Definition: Dr. Martin Luther King organized a massive peace protest in 1963, referred to as the Birmingham Campaign,  in the heavily segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham was notorious as a
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) stronghold which Martin Luther King described as the worst city for racism in America. The Birmingham Peace Protest resulted in violence and. Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested together with hundreds of other protestors. Whilst imprisoned MLK wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail that advocated civil disobedience against unjust laws.

 The March on Washington (1963)
Summary and Definition: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. It was the largest demonstration ever seen in the nation's capital with the participation of over 250,000 people. The purpose of the March on Washington was to make demands for civil rights legislation and the elimination of racial segregation in public schools and jobs. It was on this occasion that Dr. Martin Luther King made the "I have a dream" speech, which remains one of the most famous speeches in American history.

 President Kennedy and the Civil Rights bill (1963)
Summary and Definition: Dr. Martin Luther King meets with President Kennedy who gives his full support to the civil rights movement and subsequently sent a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress on June 19, 1963 banning segregation and discrimination based on race, nationality, or gender.

 The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Summary and Definition: President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the most important civil rights laws in the history of the United States, banning discrimination, ending racial segregation, and protecting the voting rights of women and minority groups.

 The Assassination of Malcolm X (1965)
Summary and Definition: Malcolm X began speaking for the Nation of Islam in 1952. In 1963 Elijah Muhammad suspended Malcolm X from the Nation of Islam because he believed that Malcolm X did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement of the Black Muslims. In 1964 Malcolm X went on to found the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest enemy of African Americans. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 by Nation of Islam members.

 The Selma March (1965)
Summary and Definition of the
Selma March: The First March from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, was organized by John Lewis to highlight the voting issue and took place on March 7, 1965. The demonstrators were met with violence from state troopers. There was extensive media coverage of the event, which became known as "Bloody Sunday". Protests and demonstrations in support of the marchers were held in eighty towns and cities across the US and on 25 March 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led another march from Selma.

 The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Summary and Definition: Immediately following the Selma Freedom March, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress. The
Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965 to safeguard the right to vote of Black Americans and ban the use of literacy tests. The law had an immediate impact. By the end of 1965 250,000 new black voters had been registered

 The Watts Riots (1965)
Summary and Definition: The Watts Riots occured between ‎August 11, 1965 - August 17, 1965 in Los Angeles and resulted in 34 deaths, over 1,000 injuries, nearly 4,000 arrests, and the destruction of property valued at $40 million. Other race riots followed including the Newark Riots (1967) and the Detroit Riots (1967).

 Black Power (1966)
Summary and Definition: "Black Power" was the black nationalism rallying slogan. The term was coined by Stokely Carmichael at a rally at Greenwood, Mississippi,  when he launched an attack on the Mississippi justice system and stated "What we need is black power". The Black Power movement emphasized racial pride and social equality with whites through the creation of black political and cultural institutions.

 The Black Panthers (1966)
Summary and Definition: The Black Power movement included organizations such as the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers were founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966 who maintained that little had been achieved by the reformers in the Civil Rights Movement and that revolution would be the only means to achieve results in the liberation of African Americans. 

 The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (1968)
On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was killed by white supremacist James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Refer to the MLK Assassination.

The End of the Civil Rights Movement (1968)
The feuds and rifts among the SNCC, NAACP, SCLC and CORE contributed to the collapse of the Civil Rights movement. The death of Dr. Martin Luther King,  the violence and destruction of the race riots and the rise of Black revolutionaries such as the Black Panthers, effectively ended the Civil Rights Movement.

The Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights movement gave rise to many achievements including the passing of Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Although many issues and problems were not resolved, the Civil Rights movement changed American society and improved the lives of African Americans providing new hope and opportunities. Just forty years after the turmoil of the Civil Rights era, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first black President of the United States.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

ⓒ 2017 Siteseen Limited

First Published

Cookies Policy


Updated 2018-01-01

Publisher Siteseen Limited

Privacy Statement