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Civil rights history from the year you were born

  • 1951: Robert Russa Moton High School walkout

    Barbara Johns and John Arthur Stokes, both 16, led their classmates out of their segregated high school in response to the poor school conditions, becoming one of the cases reviewed in the Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate Black and white schools. Virginia’s Robert Russa Moton High School became a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

    [Pictured: The Robert Russa Motion High School historical marker in Farmville, Virginia.]

  • 1952: Alabama accepts, denies, and reaccepts a Black student

    Autherine Lucy was the first Black student to attend the University of Alabama. After applying to the segregated university in 1952, Lucy received her acceptance letter soon after, though she was rejected once officials learned that she was Black. After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Lucy was able to attend the university, but she was not allowed to live on campus or eat in the cafeteria.

    [Pictured: Autherine Lucy at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in February 1956.]

  • 1953: Baton Rouge bus boycott

    This nonviolent protest was organized to fight against the segregated seating systems in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the time. Black people were required to sit in the back of the bus, even when the front seats were not occupied. After the protests, the city allowed Black people to occupy seats in the front if there were no more seats in the back of a bus, as long as Black and white people did not sit next to each other.

    [Pictured: Black residents of Tallahassee, Florida, use a carpool pick up station during the bus boycott on June 2, 1956.]

  • 1954: Brown v. Board of Education

    Brown v. Board of Education is widely known as one of the most monumental moments in Black history. This ruling established segregation in public schools unconstitutional and allowed Black students to integrate into better equipped and conditioned school systems. This ruling was the stepping stone to disproving the “separate but equal” sentiment in other services as well.

    [Pictured: Nettie Hunt and her daughter Nickie sit on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court after the high court's ruling in the Brown Vs. Board of Education case on May 1, 1954.]

  • 1955: Montgomery Bus Boycott

    After the murder of Emmett Till, which took place in the same year, the civil rights movement was kicked off with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Black riders refused to ride the city buses in protest of racial segregation. Rosa Parks became the symbol of the protest after refusing her seat to a white man a few days earlier. A year later, the federal courts ruled that segregated buses violated the 14th Amendment.

    [Pictured: Rosa Parks after being arrested on Feb. 22, 1956 during the Montgomery bus boycott.]


  • 1956: The Clinton 12

    Twelve Black students in Clinton, Tennessee, became the first students to integrate a public high school in the American South. Racial tension flared as the students made their way into the school, causing the governor at the time to get involved. Bobby Cain, a member of the group of 12, became the first Black student to graduate from an integrated school in the South.

    [Pictured: A line of African American boys walk through a crowd of white boys at Clinton High School during the integration conflicts on Dec. 6, 1956.]

  • 1957: The Little Rock Nine

    Nine Black students were integrated into an all-white public school in Little Rock, Arkansas, as a test to the new Brown v. Board of Education ruling. The national uproar, violent threats, and racial bullying gained the event national attention and widespread exposure to the civil rights movement.

    [Pictured: Nine Black students attending Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, are shown leaving the school under protection of National Guardsmen on Oct. 9, 1957.]

  • 1958: The first Black newscaster on television

    Louis Lomax was the first African American journalist to be shown on television. He was widely known to discuss issues surrounding, and brought awareness to, the Nation of Islam. Because of this, some white people learned of the religion, The Black Panther Party, and the teachings of Malcolm X for the first time.

  • 1959: Motown Records makes its mark

    Motown Records, founded in Detroit by songwriter Berry Gordy, left a cultural mark in the world of music as one of the most significant accomplishments of the 20th century with influential Black artists such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, and many others. Motown was the largest Black-owned company at that time and worked to break down racial barriers in the industry. It also released Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

    [Pictured: Motown’s The Marvelettes perform live with the Motortown Revue circa 1964.]

  • 1960: The Greensboro sit-ins

    Four Black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, staged the first sit-in, a nonviolent protest that defied the racial segregation of public spaces, at the Woolworth lunch counter. The college students would not leave the counter until they were served and received many physical threats and abuse because of it. Diners slowly began to become integrated as a result of the nationwide protests that followed.

    [Pictured: Civil rights protesters at a Durham, North Carolina, sit-in dated Feb. 10, 1960.]


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