An Abbreviated Civil Rights Time Line

Michael J. Rosenfeld, 2003

Sources include:

Piven and Cloward's Poor Peoples' Movements

Massey and Denton's American Apartheid

Gitlin The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

Viorst Fire in the Streets



Other Events


WWII, Second Great Black Migration North.


Pres. Roosevelt establish the Fair Employment Practices Commission, under threat of a national march organized by the sleeping car porters



Race riots between Blacks and Whites in Detroit, and in Harlem



The Great Wave of Suburbanization in the U.S., fostered by a variety of federal programs.



U.S. Supreme Court strikes down racially restrictive covenants (Shelley v. Kraemer)


Henry Wallace runs as a progressive and the Democrat party splits into Northern Democrats and pro-segregation Southern Democrats led by Strom Thurmond. The beginning of the end of Democratic party dominance over the South.


Truman Elected



Eisenhower elected to first of 2 terms



In Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down explicit state sponsored school segregation.



In Montgomery, Alabama Rosa Parks is denied her seat on the bus, and the Blacks of Montgomery organize a year- long boycott of public transportation.



Lyndon Johnson, an historically pro segregation congressman from Texas begins to form a national political strategy that includes Civil Rights.





First lunch counter sit-it by Black students in Greensboro, NC. In Atlanta, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is formed with Martin Luther King, Jr. as leader. SCLC later helps to form SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee)


Kennedy (and Johnson) elected over Nixon.



At a meeting in Michigan, progressive and radical students in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) meet, debate, and distribute the 'Port Huron Statement'



May, SCLC and SNCC target Birmingham, AL for marches. There is a violent response.


August, The March on Washington, King's 'I have a dream' speech.


Pres. Kennedy makes a national TV appeal for a new Civil Rights bill, and the next day Medgar Evars is killed.


November, President Kennedy assassinated.




Johnson pushes through the most comprehensive Civil Rights Act in US history.


Gulf of Tonkin resolution commits the U.S. to an undeclared war in Vietnam.


Freedom Summer. Goodman, Cheney and Shwerner among the first volunteers, killed.


California repeals the Rumford Act (a fair housing law)


November. Johnson reelected in a landslide over Goldwater.



February 21, Malxolm X assassinated in Harlem.


Voting Rights Act is passed, the most enforceable and effective of all Civil Rights legislation.


The March for Selma to Montgomery, and police riots against the marchers.


Massive riots in Los Angeles, starting in Watts, starts with a traffic arrest



Riots in Newark and Detroit.





April 4, Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis, riots follow in black ghettos and across the nation.


Federal Fair Housing Act was passed, woefully lacking in enforcement mechanisms.


June 5, Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning for Democratic nomination, is assassinated in Los Angeles.


In the summer, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago is beset by anti-war protestors. Chicago's Mayor Daley turns the police against the mostly peaceful protests, and a wild melee ensues.


Worldwide Context: Tlatelolco. Paris. Tet Offensive. Prague Spring.


Riots in Oakland and Berkeley against draft induction centers.


Federal Commission ('the Kerner Commission') reports on the riots of 1965-1967, and recommends a national policy of Civil Rights enforcement and investment in the ghettos.


Nixon defeats Democrat Humphrey for president, while former Alabama Governor George Wallace runs as a segregationist third party candidate.



Chicago held a trial of the 'Chicago 7', activists who had helped organize and incite the protests against the Democratic National Convention a year earlier. The accused turn the trial into a platform for their own political expression. The Chicago jury handed down some convictions but these were all later overturned.


To protest the 'Chicago 7' trial, the Weathermen, a militant fringe group of the SDS returns to Chicago with the express intent of battling the police in the 'Days of Rage.'


Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI initiate the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) which sharply increases the FBI's longstanding policy of infiltration and harassment of student groups and Civil Rights groups


Late in the night of December 4, Chicago Police officers acting on a tip from an FBI informant storm the headquarters of the Black Panther Party of Chicago and shoot and kill Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their beds. No convictions result from the incident.


May 4, Ohio National Guard fires on antiwar protesters at Kent State, killing 4