Civil Rights Movement History

We'll Never Turn Back

"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

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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 Movement.

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 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 SNCC

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 second-class semi-citizenship.

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 religion, goes:
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 everywhere.

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 property.

Historical Context

National Civil Rights Organizations

NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1909-1970
NCNW: National Conference of Negro Women (1935-1970)
CORE: Congress of Racial Equality (1942)
SCEF: Southern Conference Education Fund (1942)
LDF: NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (aka "Inc Fund") 1930s-1970
SCLC: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1957)
SNCC: Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (1960)

Year-by-Year Chronology


Pilgrimage for "Martinsville Seven" Richmond VA (1951)
Student Strike at Moton High VA (1951)
Students and Parents Challenge School Segregation (1951-1952)
NAACP Builds the Case (1951-1954)
"We Charge Genocide" Petition to the United Nations (1951)
Murder of Harry & Harriette Moore (Dec, 1951)
Regional Council of Negro Leadership Established in Mississippi>


Baton Rouge Bus Boycott (June)


Brown v. Board of Education (May)
"Massive Resistance" to Integration
White Citizens Council Formed (July)
Murder Trial of Ruby McCollum (Oct)
Citizenship Schools (1954-196?)


Baltimore Sit-In Victory (Jan)
Rev. George Wesley Lee Murdered (May)
The "All Deliberate Speed" Decision (AKA "Brown II") (May)
Lamar Smith Murdered (Aug)
Emmett Till Lynched (Aug)
John Earl Reese Murdered (Oct)
Montgomery Bus Boycott (Dec 1955-Dec 1956)


Southern States Try to Destroy NAACP (1956-1964)
Mississippi Sovereignty Commission
Autherine Lucy at the Univ. Alabama (Feb)
Fred Shuttlesworth and the Birmingham Resistance (1956-1962)
Tallahasee Bus Boycott (May 1956-Jan 1958)
Student Protests & Boycotts — Orangeburg, SC (April - May)
Clinton TN & Desegregation of First White Schools in the South


Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Founded (Jan)
Robert Williams & Armed Self-Defense in Monroe NC
Tuskegee Merchant Boycott (1957-1961)
Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, Washington, DC (May)
Royal Ice Cream Sit-in — Durham, NC (June)
Nashville "Grade-a-Year" School Desegregation Scheme
Civil Rights Act of 1957 (September)
The Little Rock Nine (September)
SCLC Crusade for Citizenship, 1957-1960


Oklahoma City Sit-Ins & Boycotts (1958-1964)
Atlanta Police Murder of Joseph Jeter (Sept)
Youth March for Integrated Schools — Washington, DC (Oct)


Fayette County Tent City for Evicted Voters (1959-1963)
Second Youth March for Integrated Schools — Washington, DC (April)
Clyde Kennard Framed and Jailed in MS (Sept)
CORE Sit-Ins, Miami, FL (Sept)
Prince Edward County, VA, Closes It's Public Schools
The Rising of the Bread


Sit-In Background & Context
The Greensboro Sit-Ins (Feb)
Sit-ins Sweep Across the South (1960-1964)
Durham Sit-ins and Protests (1960-61)
Charlotte-Rock Hill Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)
Nashville Student Movement (1960-1964)
Tallahassee Students Gassed & Arrested (Feb-March)
Richmond Desegregation Campaign (1960)
Mass Arrest of Student Protesters, Orangeburg, SC. (Feb-March)
Montgomery Sit-ins Suppressed (Feb)
Alabama Attacks Black Leaders (1960-1964)
Baltimore Sit-ins & Protests (1960)
Atlanta Sit-ins (Mar-Oct)
Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) Howard University
Savannah Sit-ins & Boycott (1960-62)
Baton Rouge Sit-ins & Student Strike (Mar-April)
New Orleans Merchant Boycotts & Sit-ins (1960-1963)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Founded (April)
Civil Rghts Act of 1960 (May)
Jacksonville Sit-ins & 'Ax-Handle Saturday' (Aug)
Dr. King, JFK, and the 1960 Election (Oct-Nov)
New Orleans School Desgregation (Nov)


University of Georgia Desegregated (Jan)
Rock Hill SC, "Jail-No-Bail" Sit-ins (Feb-Mar)
Tougaloo Nine and Jackson State Protest (Mar)
Freedom Rides (May-Nov)
Frame-up, Escape, & Exile of Robert F. Williams (1961-1969)
Mississippi — the Eye of the Storm
Voter Education Project (VEP) (1961-1968)
Direct Action or Voter Registration? (Summer)
Voter Registration & Direct Action in McComb MS (Aug-Oct)
Herbert Lee Murdered (Sept)
Desegregate Route 40 Project (Aug-Dec)
Albany GA, Movement (Oct 1961-Aug 1962)
Savannah Boycott Victory (Oct)
Christmas Boycott in Clarksdale MS (Dec)
Baton Rouge Student Protests (Dec 1961 - Jan 1962)


Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Formed in Mississippi
"Criminal Anarchy" in Louisiana (Feb)
Cambridge MD — 1962
Maryland Eastern Shore Project (Summer)
Diane Nash Defies the Mississippi Judicial System (April-May)
Freedom Highways in the Tarheel State (1962-63)
Freedom Highways in Durham and Greensboro (Summer-Fall)
Cairo IL, Protests (SNCC) (June)
Mississippi Voter Registration — Greenwood
James Meredith Desegregates 'Ole Miss (Sept-Oct)
The Campaign for a Second Emancipation Proclamation
Greenwood Food Blockade (Winter)
Jackson MS, Boycotts (Winter-Spring)
Operation Breadbasket — SCLC

1963 Jan-June

Alabama Governor Wallace Takes Office (Jan)
Northwood Theatre — Baltimore (Feb)
Marching For Freedom in Greenwood (Feb-Mar)
Cambridge MD, Movement — 1963
Birmingham — the Children's Crusade (April-May)
The Mailman's March (Murder of William Moore) (April)
Voter Registration Movement Expands in Mississippi (Spring)
Mass Action in Durham (May)
Mass Action in Greensboro (May-June)
Jackson Sit-in & Protests (May-June)
Danville VA, Movement (May-Aug)
Atrocity in Winona (June)
Standing In the Schoolhouse Door (June)
Kennedy's Civil Rights Speech (June)
Medgar Evers Assassination (June)
Medical Committee for Civil Rights Pickets the AMA (June)
Medgar's Funeral & End of Jackson Movement (June)
Selma — Breaking the Grip of Fear (Jan-June)

1963 July-Dec

St. Augustine FL, Movement — 1963
Savannah GA, Movement (June-Dec)
Farmville VA and the Program of Action (July-Sept)
Struggle for the Vote Continues in Mississippi (July-Aug)
Savage Repression in Gadsden AL (Aug)
Americus GA Movement & "Seditious Conspiracy" (July-Aug)
Federal "Jury Tampering" Frameup in Albany GA (Aug)
Kennedys Appease the Segregationists (Aug)
Man-Hunt in Plaquemine LA (Aug-Sept)
Orangeburg SC, Freedom Movement (Aug-Sept)
March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (Aug)
Birmingham Church Bombing (Sept)
Freedom March in New Orleans (Sept)
Mary Hamilton and the "Miss Mary" Case (Sept)
FBI's COINTELPRO Targets the Movement (Oct)
Freedom Day in Selma (Oct)
Free Southern Theater (Oct)
Freedom Ballot in MS (Oct-Nov)
Assasination of President Kennedy (Nov)
SNCC Meets Kenyan Freedom Fighter in Atlanta (Dec)

1964 Jan-June

Atlanta Sit-ins & Mass Arrests (Dec-Feb)
Freedom Day in Hattiesburg (Jan)
24th Amendment Ends Poll Tax in Federal Elections (Jan)
Louis Allen Murdered (Jan)
Civil Rights Act Passes in the House (Feb)
Freedom Day in Canton
St. Augustine FL, Movement — 1964
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) Founded (April)
Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC) (April)
Cambridge MD & the "White Backlash" (May)
Repression and Resistance in Tuscaloosa (June-Aug)
Civil Rights Act — Battle in the Senate (March-June)

1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Events (June-Aug)
(Compilation of these articles into a 108-page PDF pamphlet.)

Mississippi Summer Project
[Sidebar] Organizational Stucture of Freedom Summer
Lynching of Chaney, Schwerner, & Goodman (June)
Freedom Schools (Summer)
Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) (Summer)
The McGhees of Greenwood (July-Aug)
McComb — Breaking the Klan Siege (July '64-March '65)
MFDP Challenge to Democratic Convention (Aug)
Wednesdays in Mississippi (1964-1965)

1964 July-Dec

Civil Rights Act of 1964 Signed into Law (July)
Effects of the Civil Rights Act
The Selma Injunction (July)
Lemuel Penn Murdered (July)
Deacons of Defense & Justice (July)
Impact of Northern Urban Rebellions on Southern Freedom Movement
Massive Evasion of School Integration ("Freedom of Choice")
Integrating Americus High School (Fall)
Delta Ministry Founded in Mississippi (Sept)
SNCC Delegation to Africa (Sept-Oct)
MFDP Congressional Challenge (Nov '64-Sept '65)
Hoover Attempts to Destroy Dr. King (Nov-Dec)
Dr. King Awarded Nobel Prize (Dec)
Virginia Students Civil Rights Committee
Scripto Strike, Atlanta (Nov-Dec)
Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (Dec)
ASCS Elections — A Struggle for Economic Survival (Dec)

1965: Selma & The March to Montgomery

Selma Voting Rights Campaign (Jan-Mar)
The March to Montgomery (Mar)
Murder and Character Assasination of Viola Liuzzo (Mar)

1965 (Remainder)

Confronting the Klan in Bogalusa With Nonviolence & Self-Defense (Jan-June)
Issues of Poverty, Exploitation, and Economic Justice
Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (Jan)
Issaquena County School Boycott (Feb-May)
Passage of the Voting Rights Act (Mar-Aug)
Cracking Lowndes County (Mar-Aug)
Jackson, MS Protests (June)
Summer Community Organization Political Education Project (SCOPE)
The Southern Courier (July '65-Dec '68)
Americus GA Protests (July)
Murder of Jonathan Daniels (Aug)
The Vietnam War and the Assembly of Unrepresented People (Aug)
Natchez MS — Freedom Movement vs Ku Klux Klan
ASCS Election Campaigns (Fall)
Poor Peoples Corporations, Cooperatives, & Quilting Bees
Crawfordville GA School Bus Struggle (Jun-Oct)
Birmingham Voter Registration Campaign (Dec-Mar)

1966 (Jan-June)

War on Poverty
The Murder of Sammy Younge (Jan)
Vietnam and the Draft: Taking a Stand
Julian Bond Denied Seat in GA Legislature (Jan)
The Murder of Vernon Dahmer (Jan)
Greenville Air Force Base Occupation (Feb)
State Poll Taxes Ruled Unconsitutional (Mar)
Lowndes County: Roar of the Panther
White House Conference on Civil Rights (June)
Meredith Mississippi March and Black Power (June)

1966 (July-Dec)

Chicago Freedom Movement & the War Against Slums
Grenada MS Freedom Movement (June-Dec)
Clarence Triggs Murdered (Jul)
Civil Rights Act of 1966 Killed by Senate Fillibuster (Sept)
ASCS Elections in Alabama — The Struggle Continues
1966 Alabama Elections
     The Election in Lowndes County
     The Election in Dallas County (Selma)
     The Election in Macon County (Tuskegee)
Keeping On — From Co-Ops to Pigford


Assasination of Wharlest Jackson (Feb)
The Killing of Benjamin Brown (May)
Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, Dr. King and the Vietnam War (April)
Miscegenation Laws Ruled Unconstitutional (June)
Supreme Court Jails King in "Birmingham Letter" Case (June)
Stand Off in Prattville, Alabama (June)
Cambridge MD — Black Power Speech (TBD) (July)
Robert Clarke elected to MS Legislature (TBD) (???)
Federation of Southern Cooperatives Formed (TBD) (Aug???)
Bogalusa to Baton Rouge March (Aug)
Poor Peoples Campaign (Dec)


Orangeburg Massacre (TBD) (Feb)
Natchez Protests (TBD) (Feb???)
Memphis Garbage Workers Strike (TBD) (Feb-April)
Dr. King Assasinated in Memphis (TBD) (April)
Tuskegee Expells All Students (TBD) (April)
Fair Housing Act of 1968 (TBD) (April)
The Fall of Resurrection City (TBD) (May-June)
End of Dual White & "Colored" School Systems (TBD)
Wallace Campaign and the "Southern Strategy"(TBD)
Campus Uprisings Nationwide (TBD) (1968-1972)

See also:

Our Words — Articles & speeches by Movement veterans written at the time.
Letters & Reports From the Field — By Movement veterans.
Documents — Movement publications, reports, organizing, strategy, etc.
Photo Album — Movement photos, posters, etc.
Our Thoughts — Retrospectives and later analysis by Movement veterans.
Our Stories — Memories, narratives & interviews of Movement veterans.
Our Thoughts — Analyses and commentaries by Movement veterans.
Discussions — Transcripts of group discussions by veterans.

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