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Civil rights history from the year you were born

  • 1941: The Tuskegee Airmen

    The Tuskegee Airmen were the first Black pilots to fight in the U.S. Air Force. The group’s many accomplishments disproved the idea that Black people could not operate sophisticated machinery and proved to be a starting point in the desegregation of U.S. military forces.

    [Pictured: Tuskegee airmen Woodrow W. Crockett and Edward C. Gleed in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.]

  • 1942: The Congress of Racial Equality is founded

    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is a civil rights organization that played a pivotal role in the events of the civil rights movement, using nonviolent tactics to fight against race relations and Jim Crow laws. CORE is widely known for setting up rides as early as the late 1940s on the interstate transit, seating both Black and white people. These would later be known as the Freedom Rides.

    [Pictured: James Farmer, national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, leads a CORE demonstration during opening day ceremonies at the World’s Fair on April 22, 1964.]

  • 1943: The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed

    As an ally to the United States, China could not ignore the laws that were prohibiting Chinese people from entering the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the United States, until the Magnuson Act, which permitted 105 Chinese immigrants annually. The act became a blueprint for a country that once welcomed immigration from around the world.

    [Pictured: A teacher at PS1 in Manhattan stands with newly immigrated students in 1964.]

  • 1944: White primaries are struck down

    White primaries began in the 1920s and were a way to prevent Black participation in political events in the country. The “whites-only” primaries were ruled unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme Court case Smith v. Allwright. Lonnie Smith, a Black man, was denied voting rights and argued his 14th Amendment right—citizenship to all people born in the United States, and his 15th Amendment right, which granted Black men the right to vote.

    [Pictured: Black Americans vote in the Mississippi Democratic Primary on July 4, 1946, for the first time since the adoption of the State Constitution in 1890.]

  • 1945: First issue of Ebony magazine is published

    Ebony magazine was the first Black-oriented publication to gain national success. The magazine was a response to the lack of Black representation in American media and highlighted a majority of Black entertainment, fashion, and sports stories.

    [Pictured: John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony Magazine and owner of Johnson Publishing Company in 1974.]


  • 1946: The last Japanese internment camp closes

    In response to World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese heritage were confined to isolated camps. Japanese Americans, many of which were citizens, lost their personal belongings, their assets were frozen, and they were forced to relocate to the camps. After the war, the camps closed down, but many Japanese people still endured post-war prejudices.

    [Pictured: The Santa Anita Assembly Center in California during the Japanese American internment.]

  • 1947: Jackie Robinson joins the Brooklyn Dodgers

    In the height of racial segregation, Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color line when he integrated into the Brooklyn Dodgers’ team. Before this, Black players were limited to the Negro leagues. For his accomplishments in the league, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

    [Pictured: Jackie Robinson poses with Brooklyn Dodger teammates during his first official game on Opening Day April 15, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York.]

  • 1948: Segregation in the Armed Forces ends

    The Army became the country’s largest national employer to minorities. There were about 2.5 million Black males registered in the draft, and more than 1 million Black men and women served in the armed forces during World War II. Yet, Black veterans continued to experience discrimination and injustices due to racial segregation. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which banned the separation of white and Black troops and other outright bans against Black people.

    [Pictured: Segregated Marine troops in May 1963.]

  • 1949: The first Black-owned radio station airs

    Jesse B. Blayton Sr. made history in 1949 when he purchased WERD, the first black-owned radio station, in Atlanta. The radio station hosted relevant news to the Black community and held multiple interviews with Black professionals and civil rights leaders.

  • 1950: The Mattachine Society supports LGBT community

    An early LGBT activists group, the Los Angeles-based Mattachine Society protected the rights and freedom of expression for gay men. The group evolved as a response to the Lavender Scare, a time where people of the LGBTQ+ community were targeted in government positions. Members of the group offered support and legal help for charges against people in the community.

    [Pictured: Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the driving force behind the Lavender Scare, chats with his attorney Roy Cohn during Senate Subcommittee hearings in 1941.]


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