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Civil Rights Hot Spots

In the 1950s, the civil rights movement found its voice in places that routinely discriminated against blacks: schools, lunch counters, public buses and terminals.

Travel to civil rights hot spots on this map, and track the movement through its most tumultuous years.



1. May 17, 1954 | Topeka, Kansas
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregated schools are unconstitutional after an African American man, Oliver Brown, sues the Topeka Board of Education to admit his daughter Linda to a neighborhood school.

2. September 23, 1955 | Sumner, Mississippi
With the nation and journalists from around the world watching, two white men are acquitted of having lynched Emmett Till, a black boy from Chicago. They will later admit to the brutal crime. Emmett Till's murder angers many who seek civil rights.

3. December 1, 1955 | Montgomery, Alabama
A 43-year-old African American woman, Rosa Parks, is arrested after refusing to give up her seat to whites on a public bus. A local Baptist minister, Martin Luther King Jr., leads a year-long bus boycott that results in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Court-ordered bus desegregation will finally take effect on December 21, 1956.

4. September 4, 1957 | Little Rock, Arkansas
Despite court-ordered school desegregation, Arkansas National Guardsmen and an ugly mob prevent nine African American students from entering Central High School. President Dwight Eisenhower sends federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine to school.

5. February 1, 1960 | Greensboro, North Carolina
Four African American teenagers sit down at a Woolworth's whites-only lunch counter. Non-violentsit-ins spread to over 100 Southern cities as young people confront segregationist businesses and demand change. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.) emerges out of the sit-in movement.

6. October 19, 1960 | Atlanta, Georgia
Martin Luther King Jr. is arrested along with 35 other people at an Atlanta sit-in. The minister is sentenced to four months' labor on a road gang. Presidential candidate  John F. Kennedy risks angering Southern white supporters by pressing for King's release. African Americans turn out to vote for Kennedy several weeks later, when he is elected president by a slim margin.

7. May 14, 1961 | Anniston, Alabama
Interracial groups of bus passengers organized by the Congress of Racial Equality travel from Washington, D.C. through the South, challenging segregation. Met along the way by angry whites — including Ku Klux Klan members -- many of the non-violent Freedom Riders are beaten brutally. A Mother's Day attack in Anniston, Alabama, is the first major incident to make headlines worldwide. Despite the assaults, Freedom Riders continue through the fall until the federal government intervenes to enforce desegregation.

8. December 16, 1961 | Albany, Georgia
Arrested with over 250 other non-violent demonstrators, Martin Luther King Jr. obtains an oral agreement from the city to end discrimination. The city drags its feet and, when King leads more protests in summer 1962, the city attorney obtains a federal injunction preventing more demonstrations. Unable to contest a federal ruling, civil rights leaders retreat, recognizing they need a better strategy.

9. October 1, 1962 | Oxford, Mississippi
James Meredith becomes the first black student to integrate the University of Mississippi, following a Supreme Court decision in his favor. A violent mob of enraged white people rises up the night of September 30, after Meredith arrives in Oxford. By morning, two people are dead and 160 federal marshals are injured.

10. January 14, 1963 | Birmingham, Alabama
Elected governor by a landslide, George Wallace calls for "segregation forever." Several months later, Birmingham police attack nonviolent protesters with dogs, clubs, and high-pressure fire hoses. In June, Wallace will make a "stand in the schoolhouse door," blocking black students from the University of Alabama.

11. June 12, 1963 | Jackson, Mississippi
Just hours after President John F. Kennedy asks Americans, in a nationally-televised speech, to examine their consciences and support civil rights, a white supremacist named Byron De La Backwith murders Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. Beckwith will escape conviction until 1994.

12. August 28, 1963 | Washington, D.C.
More than 250,000 people assemble on the Mall during the peaceful March on Washington. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his impassioned "I Have a Dream" speech, widely regarded as one of the greatest American speeches ever made.

13. September 15, 1963 | Birmingham, Alabama
On a Sunday morning, Klansmen bomb the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four African American girls. Local FBI agents name suspects in their report, but Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover blocks prosecutorial action. Bomber Robert Chambliss will not be convicted until 1977; Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry will not face justice until 2000.

14. June 21, 1964 | Philadelphia, Mississippi
Activists launch the Freedom Summer campaign. Thousands of white college students volunteer to register voters and teach in the South. In an environment of threats and harassment, civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner are murdered by white supremacists. Race riots erupt that summer in Harlem and other Northern locations.

15. March 21-25, 1965 | Selma, Alabama
Following "Bloody Sunday," a violent assault in which state troopers, local policemen and others attack nonviolent protesters with clubs, whips, and tear gas in front of the media, federal troops protect Martin Luther King Jr. and other demonstrators on a march from Selma to Montgomery.

16. August 11-16, 1965 | Los Angeles, California
A black neighborhood erupts in violence after police stop a black motorist. The Watts Riots rage for days; in the end over 30 people are dead, and 1000 wounded.

17. June 6, 1966 | Hernando, Mississippi
James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi four years earlier, begins a 220-mile March Against Fear. He plans to walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, but is shot by a white man, Aubrey James Norvell. Meredith survives the attack and later completes the march; Norvell is sentenced to five years in prison.

18. September 4, 1966 | Cicero, Illinois
Martin Luther King Jr. and other peaceable demonstrators are heckled and assaulted by whites in a suburb of Chicago which has always been especially hostile to blacks. King had moved to Chicago to address Northern poverty and segregated housing earlier that year, and had also spoken out against the war in Vietnam.

19. July 23-27, 1967 | Detroit, Michigan
Riots erupt after police break up a party in a black neighborhood. Like the Watts riots of 1966, and a similar uprising in Newark just days earlier, the Detroit unrest signals deep unhappiness among black Americans about social, economic, and political inequality. After five violent days in Detroit, 43 are dead, nearly 1200 injured, and 7000 people have been arrested.

20. April 4, 1968 | Memphis, Tennessee
In Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated by a sniper at the Lorraine Motel. James Earl Ray will be later be convicted of the crime. Although presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy calls for prayer and compassion, in the subsequent days people riot in over 100 American cities.

21. December 4, 1969 | Chicago, Illinois
Police storm Black Panther leader Fred Hampton's Monroe Street apartment in an early-morning raid, killing Hampton and another man, Mark Clark, and wounding others. Thousands attend Hampton's funeral. Although police claim they acted in self-defense, a subsequent investigation proves the Panthers had offered no resistance.

22. September 9, 1971 | Attica, New York
Over 1000 inmates -- mostly African American and Puerto Rican —take over the Attica State Penitentiary. They issue demands including improved living conditions, call the prison administration "racist," and criticize the "ruthless brutalization" of prisoners. Governor Nelson Rockefeller orders the prison retaken by force in a bloody, punitive operation.

23. September 9, 1974 | Boston, Massachusetts
Opposed to enforced desgregation of Boston schools, a group called Restore Our Alienated Rights (R.O.A.R.) holds a rally at City Hall Plaza a few days before the start of school. When their senator, Ted Kennedy, takes the stage to speak in favor of busing, the crowd reacts in anger. Protests and violence will continue in Boston for three years.

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