Brief Timeline of the American Civil Rights Movement (1954 – 1965)
1954 - Brown v. Board of Education:
In the 1950’s, school segregation was widely accepted throughout the
nation. In fact, law in most Southern states required it. In 1952, the Supreme Court heard a number of school-
segregation cases, including
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
. This case decided unanimously in
1954 that segregation was unconstitutional, overthrowing the 1896
Plessy v. Ferguson
ruling that had set the
“separate but equal” precedent.
1955 – Mississippi and the Emmett Till Case:
The Supreme Court decision fueled violent segregationist backlash
against black citizens by gangs of whites who committed beatings, burnings, and lynchings, usually with impunity,
since all-white juries notoriously refused to convict whites for killing blacks.
“The usual reasons for murder ranged
from stealing food to talking back to a white person” (Williams 39).
However, in 1955, two black men were
murdered for trying to register black voters. But the case that drew the most national publicity was the murder of 14
year old Emmett Till, a teenager from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi that summer.
On a dare
from his pals, Emmett spoke flirtatiously to a white woman, saying “Bye, Baby” as he left a local store. Several
nights later the woman’s husband and her brother forced Emmett into their car and drove away.
Till’s body was
found three days later in the Tallhatchie River. There was barbed wire around his neck, a bullet in his skull, one eye
gouged out, and his forehead was crushed on one side.
Despite overwhelming evidence of guilt based on eye-
witness testimony, Bryant and Milan were found “not guilty” by an all-white, all-male jury.
“The murder of Emmett
Till had a powerful impact on a new generation of blacks.
It was this generation, those who were adolescents when
Till was killed, that would soon demand justice and freedom in a way unknown in America before” (Williams 57).
1955 - Montgomery Bus Boycott:
Rosa Parks, a 43-year-old black seamstress, was arrested in Montgomery,
Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat near the front of a bus to a white man. The following night, fifty leaders of
the Negro community met at Dexter Ave. Baptist Church to discuss the issue. Among them was the young minister,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The leaders organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which would deprive the bus
company of 65% of its income, and cost Dr. King a $500 fine or 386 days in jail. He paid the fine, and eight months
later, the Supreme Court decided, based on the school segregation cases, that bus segregation violated the
1957 - Desegregation at Little Rock: