We'll Never Turn Back
History & Timeline of the
Southern Freedom Movement
"History does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the
contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it
within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is
literally present in all that we do." - James Baldwin
Jump To: Year-by-year List of
These History & Timeline articles are written by webmaster
Bruce Hartford who was active with
CORE and SCLC from 1963-1967 in California, Alabama, and Mississippi,
with input from members of the Bay Area
Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, other Freedom Movement veterans,
and group discussions.
Yet another timeline and history? Why?
To put the "movement" back in the Civil Rights
There are dozens of Civil Rights Movement timelines, chronologies, and
histories on the web, but too many of them minimize the central role played
by ordinary people transforming their lives with extraordinary
courage — people coming together to change their lives for
themselves. But all too often that central fact has been quietly dropped out
of history in favor of a "benevolent" court ruling, a couple of charismatic
leaders, a handful of famous protests in a few well-known places, some tragic
martyrs, and the gracious largess of magnanimous legislators.
"Civil Rights Movement" or "Freedom Movement?"
The mass media calls it the "Civil Rights Movement," but many of those whose
boots were on the ground prefer the term "Freedom Movement" because it was
about so much more than just a few narrowly-defined civil rights.
From the onset we acted with deeper goals in mind than having a cup of
coffee sitting down. When the students formed the sit-in committees, they
didn't call themselves "Students Tired of Standing at Lunch Counter's;" they
didn't even call themselves "Students United to Build a Truly Integrated
Society." The Greensboro A&T
students called themselves the "Student Executive Committee for Justice." The
Atlanta students called themselves the
"Atlanta Committee on Appeal for Human Rights." And when we focused on
political rights, we didn't form groups called "Black Mississippians United
for the Vote" or even "Black Alabamians Fighting for Full Citizenship." No,
we formed the "Mississippi Freedom Democratic
Party." And when we moved outside we didn't call it the "Black
Independent Political Party," we called it the
"Lowndes County Freedom Organization."
And in so doing we didn't limit our sights to full citizenship or full
political rights. — Martha Prescod Norman in
A Circle of Trust: Remembering
The essence of the Freedom Movement was first to defy, and then to overthrow,
a century of systemic racial oppression and exploitation across all aspects
of society. At heart, the Freedom Movement was a demand for social and
political equality, an end to economic exploitation and injustice, and a fair
share of political power for Blacks. Though the Freedom Movement failed to
achieve all of these goals, it did decisively and permanently end the "Jim
Crow" system of enforced social inequality through segregation. And by
winning voting rights for all nonwhites it obliterated the main legal
mechanism used to restrict American racial minorities to a form of
Challenging the Master Narrative
In I've Got the Light of
Freedom..., Charles Payne challenges:
...what Julian Bond calls the Master Narrative of the civil rights
movement. That narrative, so familiar as to constitute almost a form of civic
Traditionally, relationships between the races in the South were
oppressive. Many Southerners were very prejudiced against Blacks. In 1954,
the Supreme Court decided this was wrong. Inspired by the court, courageous
Americans, Black and white, took protest to the street, in the form of
sit-ins, bus boycotts, and Freedom Rides. The nonviolent protest movement,
led by the brilliant and eloquent Reverend Martin Luther King, aided by a
sympathetic federal government, most notably the Kennedy brothers and a born
again Lyndon Johnson, was able to make America understand racial
discrimination as a moral issue. Once Americans understood that
discrimination was wrong, they quickly moved to remove racial prejudice and
discrimination from American life, as evidenced by the Civil Rights Acts of
1964 and 1965. Dr. King was tragically slain in 1968. Fortunately, by that
time the country had been changed, changed for the better in some fundamental
ways. The movement was a remarkable victory for all Americans. By the 1970s,
Southern states where Blacks could not have voted ten years earlier were
sending African Americans to Congress. Inexplicably, just as the civil rights
victories were piling up, many Black Americans, under the banner of Black
Power, turned their backs on American society.
Or, in its most simplistic form: "Rosa sat, so Martin could march, so
Obama could run."
We, too, challenge this false and simplistic "master narrative" of the
Freedom Movement to which we dedicated our lives. We want to set the record
straight. The gains made by the Freedom Movement were won by the courage,
determination, and activity of hundreds of thousands of men and women of all
ages in cities, towns, and hamlets across the South. It was their blood,
sweat, and tears that forced change up from below, and without them
there would have been no Freedom Movement, no famous leaders, no court
rulings, no new laws, and no change.
What and when was the Civil Rights Movement?
To most Movement veterans, the post-WWII U.S Freedom Movement was but one
episode in the long struggle of Black Americans for human rights in this
country. A struggle that began 400 years ago when
the first slaves were brought to these shores and tried to escape, and when
Native Americans first fought to defend their homelands. A movement that
continues to this day in on-going struggles to win justice, dignity, and
equality for all regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual-orientation or
economic level; struggles for fair pay and decent working conditions; and
struggles to have every vote counted, every child educated, every senior
cared for, every ill person treated, and every human soul accorded a fair
share of the Tree of Life.
Today, too many timelines and textbooks tell us that the Civil Rights
Movement "began" in 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of
Education, and "ended" with the call for "Black Power" in 1966 or with
the assassination of Dr. King in 1968. But to us, our Freedom Movement
grew out of all that came before and has never ended, but
rather, like a living organism, it has evolved and flowered into struggles of
many kinds that continue to this day. For the purpose of this timeline, we
have arbitrarily chosen 1951 as the start date of our phase of the long
struggle for freedom, justice and equality because in that year a 16 year old
high-school girl named Barbara Johns led her Virginia classmates out on a
student strike to protest segregated
schools. And we have arbitrarily concluded this timeline of the Southern
Freedom Movement at the end of 1968 to mark a cross-over year in which the
struggle evolved into new phases and nation-wide campus uprisings against the
Vietnam War brought us full circle to our student roots and the beginning of
the next cycle.
Where was the Civil Rights Movement?
From what you see today in the mass media and what you read in textbooks and
websites you would think that the Civil Rights Movement only existed in a few
states of the deep South but that is not so. The Freedom
Movement lived and fought in every state and every city of America, North and
South, East and West. There were some differences between the Southern and
Northern wings of the Movement, but those differences were insignificant
compared to the Movement's essence. North or South, it was the same movement
This website is devoted the Freedom Movement as it existed in the South. Not
because the Northern wing of the Movement was unimportant it
was enormously important but because the Southern Movement
was the part of the Movement that we participated in and know enough about to
build this website. Hopefully, some day soon activists from the Northern wing
of the Movement will do the same.
A note on Census figures.
Throughout this History & Timeline we cite U.S. Census figures because
they're the best we have available. But in every census an unknown number of
Blacks, other non-whites, and poor people in general were not counted.
Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans living deep in forests and swamps were
often missed by the mostly white census counters. As were many people of all
races living in urban slums or working as migrant farm labor. And in some
instances, white plantation owners made certain that the census reports
under-counted the tenants, share-croppers, and field-hands existing on their
Our Words — Articles & speeches by Movement veterans written at the time.
Letters & Reports From the Field — By Movement veterans written at the time
Discussions — Transcripts of later group discussions by Movement veterans.
Our Stories — Memories, narratives & interviews of Movement veterans.
Our Thoughts — Retrospectives and later analysis by Movement veterans.
Documents — Movement publications, reports, organizing materials, strategy papers, etc.
[Copyrights to the
History & Timeline articles are owned by Bruce Hartford and use
permissions are as stated in Privacy &
Freedom Movement veterans are encouraged to send in their suggestions,
thoughts, comments, and criticisms regarding Timeline articles to
webmaster. Movement veterans
are also welcome submit their own articles, commentaries, and
dissenting views to the website for posting under their byline in the
The Movement, or other sections
(see Submissions Policy).]