Civil Rights Movement: 1954–1974



Compared to the relatively prosperous and placid 1950s in America, the 1960s were a tumultuous time of social and political activism. The civil rights movement, which generally refers to efforts made by African Americans and their allies, dominated news coverage as generally peaceful black protesters challenged race-based segregation, discrimination, and denial of civil rights. Other civil rights movements, including those of women, Chicanos, and American Indians, gained steam halfway through the decade and pressed on well into the 1970s.

At A Glance

  • African American leaders laid the foundations for the civil rights movement with their push for racial equality in civilian life and the armed forces throughout the Great Depression and World War II.
  • During World War II the struggle for racial equality continued in both civilian life and the armed forces.
  • In the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that the accepted policy of "separate but equal" was "inherently unequal" when it came to public education.
  • In the first half of the 20th century, four civil rights organizations led the charge for racial equality: CORE, NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC. All employed methods of nonviolent protest.
  • Beginning in 1955 African American and white activists staged nonviolent protests and demonstrations nationwide to call attention to the injustice of segregation.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on an individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in the presidential election of 1964 on a platform of equal rights and expanded social assistance for the poor. The election marked a shift in the political platforms of the two major parties as well as a shift in the voter base to which each appealed.
  • Beginning in 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the War on Poverty to include new social reforms in education, health care, and immigration.
  • In March 1965 tensions flared and lives were lost when demonstrators led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in protest of discriminatory voting laws.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended unfair laws and practices meant to prohibit African Americans and other minorities from voting.
  • The Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned discrimination based on race, religion, or country of origin in the selling, renting, and buying of residential real estate.
  • The counterculture of the late 1960s was embodied by groups such as hippies, who embraced a life unrestricted by established American social mores, and their politically active counterparts, the yippies.
  • Activist counterculture groups such as the yippies staged protests and used attention-grabbing tactics such as guerrilla theater to get their antiwar message across.
  • The counterculture movement peaked in 1969 and then faded as the counterculture became the norm, complete with commercialism, violence, and discontent.
  • The women's rights movement was led by the National Organization for Women, which advocated for the end of gender-based discrimination.
  • The Chicano civil rights movement focused on farmworkers' rights, recovery of ancestral lands, and equality in education.
  • The American Indian Movement drew attention to the terrible living conditions on Indian reservations and highlighted the inhumane treatment of native peoples by the U.S. government.