The Civil Rights Movement changed race relations in America forever. While there are hundreds of events, this article will examine five significant milestones.
1. Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to relinquish her seat to a Caucasian man on a public, segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. African-Americans protested by refusing to ride the buses, deeply hurting the profits of the bus company. The boycott ended on December 20, 1956 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated seating was unconstitutional.
2. The Sit-In in Greensboro, NC
Four African-American students attempted to eat lunch at a “whites-only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 5, 1960. The staff at the department store refused to serve the students, who remained seated until the store closed that evening. For the next five days, these four students continued this protest, which eventually led to the closing of the business. This event led to individuals throughout the country participating in sit-ins at whites-only businesses. While these protestors generally practiced a nonviolent approach, they often endured physical injury by police officers and individuals in hate groups. However, these protests ultimately led to the desegregation of diners, because business owners did not want to lose revenue.
3. March on Washington
Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the March on Washington on August 27, 1963 in Washington D.C. The peaceful protest, held 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, included approximately 250,000 citizens. On August 28, 1963, King gave his famous inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech. This protest is one of the most pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement. Ironically, the event occurred the same day as the death of W.E.B. DuBois, who was also active in civil rights.
4. Civil Rights Act of 1964
Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on July 2, 1964. This legislation banned racial discrimination of qualified persons for employment and public housing. It also banned discrimination based on beliefs, sex, and citizenship. This law created the framework for affirmative action and subsequent laws regarding the discrimination of individuals based on disabilities, medical conditions, and sexual orientation.
5. Assassination of Two Great Leaders
Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965 and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Both of these men were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, although their philosophies differed. King strongly encouraged peaceful protests, whereas Malcolm X is known for saying “by any means necessary” to achieve protection and equality. The two leaders had only met once, on March 26, 1964. While the Civil Rights Movement continued, these two men were the primary momentum of the revolution.
The Civil Rights Movement had an enormous impact on equality in the United States and several of its accomplishments remain effective today. The events listed above give a brief overview of the historical transformation.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kwame Anthony Appiah edited the Africana Encyclopedia and a supplement specifically regarding civil rights. This article is based primarily on that information.