- The rights of a country’s citizens are called civil rights. Many African Americans were denied full civil rights for about 100 years after the end of slavery. The struggle for those rights, especially in the 1950's and 1960's, is known as the civil rights movement.
- Before the Civil War most blacks in the United States were slaves, who had no civil rights. After the war ended in 1865, blacks made some progress. Between 1865 and 1870 the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery and gave citizenship and voting rights to former slaves.
- These rights were often ignored, however, especially in the South. To keep poor African Americans from voting, some states made people pay a tax or pass a difficult test before they could vote. Violent groups such as the Ku Klux Klan tried to scare blacks away from the polls. Southern governments passed laws to keep African Americans separate, or segregated, from whites. In many places, for example, black children were not allowed to attend the same schools as white children.
- Some African Americans resisted this unfair treatment all along. But not until the 20th century did blacks organize themselves into a movement. The most important leader in the early years of the civil rights movement was W.E.B. Du Bois. In 1909 he and others formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP used the courts to fight for civil rights for blacks.
- Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)-became Attorney General in January 1961, after his brother John F. Kennedy won election as President of the United States. Robert Kennedy had given a speech expressing the administration's support of civil rights to a Southern white audience a few days after the start of the Freedom Rides on May 6.
- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) King, a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist beginning in the mid-1950's. Among his many efforts, King headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Through his activism and inspirational speeches he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the United States, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. He was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most influential and inspirational African-American leaders in history.
- Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) studied law at Howard University. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools. Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967, and served for 24 years. He died in Maryland on January 24, 1993.
- Rosa Parks (1913–2005)- Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus spurred a city-wide boycott. The city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses. Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the NAACP's highest award Civil Rights Pioneer.
- Brown v. Board of Education (1954)- was a Supreme Court case about segregation in United States public schools. Segregation means keeping blacks and whites separate. In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided that public schools should not be segregated. Before that, many cities, especially in the South, had separate schools for African American and white students. The decision helped to inspire the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s.
- Montgomery bus boycott-was mass protest against the bus system of Montgomery, Alabama started by Rosa Parks, by civil rights activists, and their supporters that led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision declaring that Montgomery’s segregation laws on buses were unconstitutional. The 381-day bus boycott also brought the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., into the spotlight as one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement.
- 1957: Troops end Little Rock school crisis- Nine black children have finally been able to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But they had to be surrounded by more than 1,000 US paratroopers to protect them from segregationist whites. On the orders of President Dwight D Eisenhower, the troops arrived last night in full battledress with fixed bayonets and rifles and took over from local police following three weeks of disturbances. The children, six girls and three boys, had to walk through a cordon to get to the school building. Outside about 1,500 whites demonstrated and at least seven were arrested. Inside, students were warned by the commanding officer, General Walker, that anyone who disrupted the school day would be handed over to local police.
- March on Washington- in full March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, political demonstration held in Washington, D.C., in 1963 by civil rights leaders to protest racial discrimination and to show support for major civil rights legislation that was pending in Congress.