Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: Important Events From 1954 to 1968

Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement: Important Events From 1954 to 1968
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The Civil Rights Movement Makes Progress

After World War II, White Americans made important gains in quality if living; unfortunately, black Americans did not enjoy the same gains. Segregation laws ensured whites and blacks were kept separate and blacks denied social equality and rights. The period between the landmark Brown vs. Board of education victory in 1954 until King’s assassination in 1968 marked great progress in civil rights. The Civil Rights movement made huge gains in their struggle for equality during this 14 year period. The following timeline highlights important dates in the civil rights struggle.

Timeline of Civil Rights Movement: 1954 – 1960


May 1954: Brown vs. Board of Education declares segregation illegal.

December 1955: African-Americans boycott bus service in Montgomery, Alabama after Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat to a white man.

January 1957: Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for nonviolent integration. Followers were encouraged to use nonviolent resistance at demonstrations.

September 1957: School opens at Little Rock Central High. Nine African-American students are denied access to the school by an angry mob. It takes three weeks, presidential intervention and over 10,000 federalized Arkansas National Guard to achieve integration.

April 1960: Student activism grows on college campuses; sit-ins erupt. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is organized.

1961- 1968

The March on Washington was the largest civil rights demonstration to ever gather.

May 1961: The first Freedom Ride takes off from Washington D.C. In December 1960 the Supreme Court rules that all bus stations and terminals serving interstate travelers be integrated. Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) workers take Freedom Rides to ensure segregation. Despite sentencing and violence, volunteers continue the rides until the attorney general petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue a ruling against segregation of interstate facilities.

September 1962: James Meredith requires federal protection to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

June 1963: President Kennedy sends the Alabama National Guard to enforce integration at the University of Alabama.

August 1963: More than 200,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in a massive protest march on Washington. It was the largest civil rights demonstration. Martin Luther King gives his famous “I have a dream” speech at the demonstration.

July 1964: A comprehensive Civil Rights Act is signed into law.

February 1965: Civil Rights leader Malcolm X is assassinated as he speaks in Harlem.

August 1965: The Voting Rights Act is signed into law. In three years, 740,000 African-Americans voters are registered.

August 1965: The Watts section of Los Angeles breaks out in riots. The riots last six days and leave 34 people dead, 1072 injured and 4000 arrested. Close to 1000 buildings were destroyed and nearly $40 million in damage was done.

April 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old.


  • Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Davepape (Library of Congress image), Wikimedia Commons/Aude (National Archives image)
  • Nash, Gary B. American Odyssey: The United States in the Twentieth Century. McGraw-Hill: New York, 1977