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Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, 1965-1969

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Race Riots In Washington D.C.

A federal trooper stands on watch and holds a rifle on a street during riots which took place after the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr, Washington D.C., April 6, 1968.

Pictorial Parade / Staff/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images
Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement, 1965-1969

By the mid-1960s, the Civil Rights Movement had succeeded in convincing the federal government to end legalized segregation, which was accomplished with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the urban cities of the North suffered from "de facto" segregation, or segregation that was the result of economic inequality rather than of discriminatory laws.

De facto segregation was not as easily addressed as the legalized segregation that had existed in the South, and Martin Luther King, Jr., spent the mid-to-late sixties prior to his death working on behalf of of both black and white Americans living in poverty. African Americans living in northern cities became increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of change, and a number of cities experienced riots.

Some turned to the black power movement, feeling that it had a better chance of rectifying the sort of discrimination that existed in the North. By the end of the decade, white Americans had moved their attention away from the Civil Rights Movement to the Vietnam War, and the heady days of change and victory experienced by Civil Rights activists in the early 1960s came to an end with King's assassination.

1965

  • On February 21, Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem at the Audubon Ballroom apparently by Nation of Islam operatives, although other theories abound.

  • On March 7, six hundred civil rights activists, including Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), leave Selma, traveling eastward on Route 80 toward Montgomery. They are marching in protest of the killing of Jimmy Lee Jackson, an unarmed protester who was killed during a march the prior month by an Alabama state trooper. State troopers and local police stop the marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, beating them with clubs as well as spraying them with water hoses and tear gas.

  • On March 9, King leads a march to the Pettus bridge, turning the marchers around at the bridge.

  • On March 21, three thousand marchers leaves Selma for Montgomery, completing the march without opposition.

  • On March 25, around twenty-five thousand people join the Selma marchers at the Montgomery city limits.

  • On August 6, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law, which illegalizes discriminatory voting requirements, like requiring a literacy test before registering to vote, that white Southerners had used to deprive black Southerners of the vote.

  • On August 11, a riot breaks out in Watts, an African-American suburb of Los Angeles, California, after a fight erupts between a white traffic officer and an African-American man accused of drinking and driving. The officer arrests the man and some of his family members who had arrived at the scene. Rumors of police brutality, however, result in six days of rioting in Watts. Thirty-four people, mostly African Americans, die during the riot.

1966

  • On January 6, SNCC announces its opposition to the Vietnam War. SNCC members would feel increasingly sympathetic towards the Vietnamese, comparing the indiscriminate bombing of Vietnam to racial violence in the United States.

  • On January 26, King moves into an apartment in a Chicago slum, announcing his intention to start a campaign against discrimination there. This in response to the increasing unrest in Northern cities over prejudice and de facto segregation. His efforts there are ultimately deemed unsuccessful.

  • On June 6, James Meredith embark on a "March Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage black Mississippians to register to vote. Near Hernando, Mississippi, Meredith is shot. Others take up the march, joined on occasion by King.

  • On June 26, the marchers reach Jackson, Mississippi. During the last days of the march, Stokely Carmichael and other SNCC members clash with King after they encourage the frustrated marchers to embrace the slogan of "black power."

  • On October 15, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. They want to create a new political organization to better the conditions of African Americans; their goals include better employment and educational opportunities as well as improved housing.

1967

  • On April 4, King makes a speech against the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York.

  • On June 12, the Supreme Court hands down a decision in Loving v. Virginia, striking down laws against interracial marriage as unconstitutional.

  • In July, riots break out in northern cities, including Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey.

  • On September 1, Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.

  • On November 7, Cal Stokes is elected as the major of Cleveland, making him the first African-American to be elected mayor of a major American city.

  • In November, King announces the Poor People's Campaign, a movement to unite the poor and disenfranchised of America, regardless of race or religion.

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