A summary of the Civil Rights Movement in America

The White House, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X.

Slavery in the USA was abolished in 1865, but black Americans did not have equality:

  • The Ku Klux Klan attacked and lynched black people.
  • Black people were not allowed to use white public facilities such as schools and parks. This was called 'segregation'.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution granted newly freed slaves equal citizenship to white people. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), that facilities for black and white people had to be 'separate but equal'. In reality, black people’s facilities were almost always worse than that of white people’s.

There had been successful attempts to improve the status of black people before the 1950s – for example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was set up in 1909. They funded lawyers for black people who were treated very badly by the courts.

However, it was in the 1950s and 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement – led by Martin Luther King Jr – challenged white supremacy:

  • In 1954, Rev Brown won the right to send his child to a white school. In a huge and unprecedented decision, ( Brown v Board of Education, 1954) the Supreme Court finally ruled that segregation could not ever be equal.
  • In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person, inspiring the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • In 1957, nine black students, with military protection, went to a white school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • In 1963, after campaigns of restaurant sit-ins, Freedom Rides on interstate buses and bloody civil rights marches – a quarter of a million people marched to the Lincoln Memorial to hear King's 'I have a dream' speech.

Martin Luther King Jr explains the philosophy and aims of non-violent protest

The Civil Rights Movement gave black Americans legal equality:

  • The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed segregation in schools, public places or jobs.
  • The Voting Rights Act (1965) gave all black people the vote.
  • The Fair Housing Act (1968) banned discrimination in housing.

However, black Americans did not achieve economic equality, and still remain a socially disadvantaged group.