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Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, 1960-1964

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President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.
U.S. Embassy New Delhi/ Flickr CC

While the non-violent movement for civil rights started in the 1950s, it was during the early sixties that non-violent techniques began to pay off. Civil rights activists and students across the South challenged segregation, and the relatively new technology of television allowed Americans to witness the often brutal response to these protests.

By 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson was able to push through the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. This timeline of the early 1960s Civil Rights Movement reveals just what an impressive number of historic events happened between 1960 and 1964.

1960

  • On February 1, four young African-American men, students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College, go to a Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sit down at a whites-only lunch counter. They order coffee. Despite being denied service, they sit silently and politely at the lunch counter until closing time. Their action marks the start of the Greensboro sit-ins, which sparks similar protests all over the South.

  • On April 15, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee holds its first meeting.

  • On July 25, the downtown Greensboro Woolworth desegregates its lunch counter after six months of sit-ins.

  • On Oct. 19, Martin Luther King, Jr., joins a student sit-in at a whites-only restaurant inside of an Atlanta department store, Rich's. He is arrested along with 51 other protesters on the charge of trespassing. On probation for driving without a valid Georgia license (he had an Alabama license), a Dekalb County judge sentences MLK to four months in prison doing hard labor. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy phones King's wife, Coretta, to offer encouragement while his brother, Robert Kennedy, convinces the judge to release King on bail. This phone call convinces many African-Americans to support the Democratic ticket.

  • On December 5, the Supreme Court hands down a 7-2 decision in the Boynton v. Virginia case, ruling that segregation on vehicles traveling between states is unlawful because it violates the Interstate Commerce Act.

1961

  • On May 4, the Freedom Riders, composed of seven African-American and six white activists, leave Washington, D.C. for the rigidly segregated Deep South. Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), their goal is to test Boynton v. Virginia.

  • On May 14, Freedom Riders, now traveling in two separate groups, are attacked outside Anniston, Alabama and in Birmingham, Alabama. A mob throws a firebomb onto the bus that the group outside Anniston is riding. Members of the Ku Klux Klan attack the second group in Birmingham after making an arrangement with the local police to allow them 15 minutes alone with the bus.

  • On May 15, the Birmingham group of Freedom Riders is prepared to continue their trip down south, but no bus will agree to take them. They fly to New Orleans instead.

  • On May 17, a new group of young activists join two of the original Freedom Riders to complete the trip. They are placed under arrest in Montgomery, Alabama.

  • On May 29, President Kennedy announces that he has ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to enact stricter regulations and fines for buses and facilities that refuse to integrate. Young white and black activists continue to make Freedom Rides.

  • In November, civil rights activists participate in a series of protests, marches and meetings in Albany, Georgia, that come to be known as the Albany Movement.

  • In December, King comes to Albany and joins the protesters, staying in Albany for another nine months.

1962

  • On August 10, King announces that he is leaving Albany. The Albany Movement is generally considered a failure in terms of effecting change, but what King learns in Albany allows him to be successful in Birmingham, Alabama.

  • On September 10, the Supreme Court rules that the University of Mississippi must admit African-American student and veteran James Meredith.

  • On September 26, the governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, orders state troopers to prevent Meredith from entering Ole Miss's campus.

  • Between September 30 and October 1, riots erupt at over Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi or "Ole Miss."

  • On October 1, Meredith becomes the first African-American student at Ole Miss after President Kennedy orders U.S. marshals to Mississippi to ensure his safety.

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