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Important Dates and Figures in Civil Rights History

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If you’re studying recent American history, knowing important dates in Civil Rights history is a must. Civil Rights leaders in the 1960s did groundbreaking work towards fighting for and accomplishing major strides in racial equality. However, sadly, the work they started is not yet finished — and there’s plenty of work yet to be done. Though many people might think that racial inequality is “over,” as late as 2015, statistics show that on average, black families are about 13 times poorer than white families and African Americans are discriminated against daily, often at the cost of their lives. So who are some of the best known Civil Rights leaders and what do we need to know about them? What lessons can they teach us about not just our past but our future?

What Was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Civil Rights movement is best known for the period between 1954 and 1968, though efforts to end racial segregation and discrimination towards African Americans had been going on before this period and continued after. The movement hoped to procure legal recognition — and protection — of their citizenship rights guaranteed them by the Constitution and (technically) the federal law.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Civil Rights movement was perhaps its adherence to non-violent civil disobedience — that is, the active refusal to follow the laws or edicts of a government peacefully. For example, if citizens were told to disband from a meeting place by the police and refused — without violence — that would be an act of civil disobedience.

Pictures of sit-ins, marches, and other gatherings became famous, as did the violent, often brutal reactions of whites who wanted to keep the current order and way of life towards these nonviolent protestors. Ultimately, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in public facilities and schools. Some of the most prominent examples meant no separate drinking fountains or bathrooms and integration in public schools.

Who Were Key Figures in the Civil Rights Movement?
One of the best known figures of the Civil Rights movement is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister from Alabama, who went on to speak at over 2,500 public events during his lifetime. He delivered as many as 450 speeches a year during his time with the Civil Rights movement from 1955-1968. He was sent to jail 29 times and his “I Have a Dream Speech” as well as his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are two of his most famous addresses.

Rosa Parks was a seamstress who in 1955, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, as was expected. The driver of the bus had her arrested, which started the boycott of the Montgomery public buses, which lasted for almost a year. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that the segregation on buses was unconstitutional.

Thurgood Marshall was a prominent Civil Rights lawyer and later the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Between 1938 and 1961, he brought over 30 Civil Rights cases to the Supreme Court — and won 29 of them. One of the most notable cases was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, which stopped segregation in public schools.

What Were Important Dates in Civil Rights History?

Some important dates in Civil Rights history include the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Little Rock Nine successfully ending segregation in Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas in 1957, and the Montgomery bus boycott. Other important dates in Civil Rights history are the Freedom Riders (1961), groups of blacks and whites alike, who rode buses into the South to oppose segregation, the murder of Medgar Evers in 1963, the March on Washington in 1963. Ultimately, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and a year later, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was approved.

Knowing one’s history is important as it shows us mistakes we’ve made in our past that we should avoid repeating. If we acknowledge our past, we can let it shape a better future, if we take action in the present.