1954-1968: The Civil Rights Era

The Civil Rights Movement started in 1954 following the successful defense of Brown v. Board of Education. With the dismantling of Jim Crow Laws, parts of the county still struggled to see African-Americans as equal citizens, thus sparking the Civil Rights Movement. 

Rosa Parks: 1955

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks sat in the back of the bus in the designated seats for African American’s, complying to Alabama segregation laws at the time. After a white man could not find a seat in the white section of the front of the bus, the driver told Parks and three other African Americans to give up their seat and move farther back. Upon this “request,” Parks refused, as she had been sitting in a seat designated of herself and was not breaking any laws. Though Parks was correct, she was arrested for “civil disobedience” for not abiding by Alabama segregation laws. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in which African Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery as a form of a civil-rights protest against seat segregation. Rosa Parks’ arrest led to the US Supreme Court ordering Montgomery to integrate their bus system. 


Little Rock Nine: 1957

In 1957, following the ’54 Brown v. Board case making school segregation illegal, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, asked for student volunteers from all-black high schools to transfer. Central High School was a formerly all-white school. On September 3, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, nine African-American students willing to transfer were confronted by the Arkansas National Guard, sent by Governor Faubus, denying their entry to the school. Governor Faubus claimed the National Guard was there to protect the students, however, it was blatantly not the case. 

These nine students, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and Carlotta Walls, had participated in extensive counseling sessions believe to prepare them on what to expect once classes began. They also taught them how to respond to hostile situations. Around a month following the first day of school, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine to and from classes to ensure their safety. They continued to face harassment and prejudice.

The Little Rock Nine brought further attention to the issues ensuing from desegregation and influenced many protests regarding both sides. 


Civil Rights Act of 1957

President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law, which made it illegal for anyone to prevent someone from voting. This was the first major civil rights legislation passed into law since Reconstruction. In doing this, President Eisenhower showed commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and his desire to diminish racial segregation in the South. 


Woolworth’s Lunch Counter: 1960

On February 1, 1960, four students in Greensboro, North Carolina, were refused service at the lunch counter and asked to leave. The four students, Ezell A. Blair Jr., Franklin E. McCain. Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond, continued their sit-in until the store closed. Because they had done nothing to disrupt the peace, they remained seated. They returned the next day, and again were refused service. This peaceful sit-in allowed for these students to take a stand against segregation within North Carolina. This also drew national attention, sparking youth-led movements around the county to challenge this inequality throughout the South. Integration did not occur until six months later, only after Woolworth’s saw the heavy financial losses they incurred due to the sit-ins. Not only did the sit-in’s draw attention to much needed change throughout the South, it also sparked youth engagement, including the launch of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), encouraging students to get involved with the civil rights movement. 


March on Washington: 1963

On August 28, 1963, one of the most famous events of the Civil Rights Era took place. This March on Washington was organized by civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. Over 250,000 people, both black and white, attended the event in Washington DC and lead a peaceful march for civil rights legislation and job equality for everyone. A highlight of the march included Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech tied references from the Founding Fathers to the Bible, depicting the struggles of African Americans and striving for his dreams of equality. This phrase “I have a dream” became a prominent slogan for the Civil Rights Movement. 


Civil Rights Act of 1964

On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which had originated by President John F. Kennedy prior to his assassination. This legislation guaranteed equal employment for all, integrated public facilities were now ensured by federal authorities, and limits were placed on the use of literacy tests to vote. 


Freedom Summer: 1964

Though laws were put into place to prevent voter discrimination, this did not stop areas in the South from instilling voter literacy tests and other made up hoops African Americans had to jump through in order to register to vote. Freedom Summer, conceived by Bob Moses, was a volunteer campaign launched in June to register as many African Americans as possible within Mississippi. This project also lead to the creation of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses and community centers throughout Mississippi to aid local African-American populations. 

Two week-long orientation training programs were held from June 14-27 at the Western College for Women, now our very own Western Campus at Miami University. These training sessions were led by prominent civil rights activists including Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis, a current congressman in Georgia. 

On June 21, the first three hundred volunteers arrived in Mississippi. The day before, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman both white and James Chaney African-American, travelled to Mississippi to investigate a church bombing. Their bodies were found six weeks later. They were gruesomely beaten, shot and buried in an earthen dam by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. These murders shook the project, leading activists to resent the lack of federal support and protection.  


Bloody Sunday: 1965

On March 7, 1965, 600 peaceful demonstrators participated in a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. This march was in protest of a previous killing of a black civil rights activist by a white police officer, with hopes of encouraging the government to enforce the 15th amendment. Though this march was peaceful, the protesters were blocked by Alabama state and local police as they neared the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Refusing to let the police stop their march, protesters continued moving forward only to be savagely attacked and beaten, including teargas and water hoses, resulting in many hospitalizations. This incident, which was filmed and aired live on television, became known as “Bloody Sunday.”  


Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson, banned all voter literacy tests and provided federal examiners in certain voting places to ensure equal registration. This act also allowed the Attorney General to contest state and local poll taxes, which were deemed unconstitutional the following year. This updating of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced the federal government to intervene against the racial injustices throughout the South. 


Many books found within Telling A People’s Story reiterate the historical events explained in this post. These books include: 

A Sweet Smell of Roses. Written by Angela Johnson. Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation. Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Greenwillow, 2008.

The Cart that Carried Martin. Written by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Don Tate. Published by Charlesbridge, 2013.

Coretta Scott. Written by Ntozake Shange. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Published by Katherine Tegen Books, 2009.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Words and paintings by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray, 2011.  

Langston Hughes. Edited David Roessel & Arnold Rampersad. (Poetry for Young People). Illustrated by Benny Andrews. Sterling, 2006.

Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Would Grow Up To Become Malcolm X. Written by Ilyasah Shabazz. Illustrated by AG

Ford. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014.

March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World. Written by Christine King Farris. Illustrated by London Ladd. Published by Scholastic Press, 2008.

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Written by Martin Luther King, III. Illustrated by AG Ford. Amistad, 2013.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down. Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Little, Brown, 2010.

This is the Dream. Written Diana ZuHone Shore and Jessica Alexander. Illustrated by James Ransome. Amistad, 2006.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Candlewick, 2015.


Written by Caroline Bastian