Avery LaValle


In the 20th century, nearly 100 years after the emancipation proclamation, African Americans still suffered from an unequal world. "The descendants of slaves in the United States still find themselves disproportionately represented in negative statistics about poverty, education, single-parenting, wealth creation and life expectancy"(Rougeau, Vincent D.). Segregation in the south was extreme. "Segregation was so widespread that blacks even had to use separate drinking fountains" (Lydia Bjornlund). Civil Rights are the rights of human beings to get equal treatment and to not have unfair discrimination in education, employment, housing, and more. The Civil Rights movement quickly started to gain momentum when African Americans started standing up and expressing their rights. Important events that occurred surrounding the Civil Rights movement in chronological order are, Brown v. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, Birmingham Bombing, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Malcolm X Assassination, and the Dr. Martin Luther King assassination. Although there are many more events that occurred, these are the most important.


All of the previous events are very important because of how they liberated African-Americans and or shows the importance of the Civil Rights movement.
(Photograph of a civil rights march around the 1960's.

Brown v. Board of Education:

In 1954, many schools in the United States had racially segregated schools which was made legal in 1896 by Plessy V. Ferguson which stated that segregated schools were constitutional if white and black schools were equal. Each day, Linda Brown and her sister had to walk through a dangerous railroad switchyard to get to the bus stop for the ride to their all-black elementary school. There was a school closer to the Brown's house, but it was only for white students. by the 1950’s, civil right groups set up problems to racial segregation. There were many class lawsuits on behalf of African American school children and their families to let black students attend white schools. One of these lawsuits was Brown V. Board of Education. It was filed against the Topeka, Kansas board by plaintiff Oliver Brown, a parent of one of the children denied access to one of the Topeka schools. He along with many others claimed that, "the doctrine, “separate but equal” had no place because Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system" (Brown). The supreme court eventually reversed Plessy V. Ferguson by stating that separate schools are by nature unequal.

(Iconic photograph of Nettie and Nickie hunt on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Montgomery Bus Boycott:

On December 5th, 1955, to December 20th, 1956 a boycott started when an African-American woman named Rosa Parks, refused to give her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus.When the white seats of the bus filled, the driver, James Fred Blake asked Rosa and three other African Americans to move. The two others did, but Rosa did not. In 1955, African Americans were still required to sit in the back of city buses and Rosa Parks was arrested and fined from her “offense”. The boycott of public buses by blacks began on the day of Park’s court hearing and lasted a little longer than a year. The boycott was called the first large-scale act against segregation and as the boycott became more and more known, different African-American leaders started lending their support. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ordered Montgomery to change its bus system and one of the leaders of the famous boycott, named Martin Luther King Jr., rose as a strong national leader of the civil rights movement at the beginning of its story."The problem has existed over endless years. For many years now Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fears on buses in our community. On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and impresesed-oppressed-because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. I don't have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion, but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions" (Dr. King).

(Rosa Parks mugshot
(Photo of the Montgomery public bus that Rosa Parks rode. http://blog.thehenryford.org)

Letter from Birmingham Jail:

Letter from Birmingham Jail: The Letter from Birmingham Jail was written by, Martin Luther King Jr after he had been arrested and imprisoned in Birmingham due to protest activities.The letter is addressed to several clergymen who had written a letter criticizing the work of Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during their protests in Birmingham. In the letter, Dr. King tells the men that he was upset about their comments and he wants to address their concerns. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly" (Dr. King). First he says that their claim that he is an outsider who has come to Birmingham to cause trouble is wrong and he defends his right to be there saying that the SCLC operates throughout the entire south. Dr. King also stated that African Americans had waited long enough for civil rights. This letter can be seen as one of the best statements of nonviolence ever written. Dr. King used love as a tool to overcome the hatred from white racists. A month after the letter was written, hundreds of black schoolchildren, marched from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church into the arms of officers arresting them. The police turned on the protesters in a scene that reminded many of Nazi Germany.

(Reading of a snippet of the letter.)


"The bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the deadliest acts of violence to take place during the Civil Rights movement and evoked criticism and outrage from around the world"(University of Georgia). The city of Birmingham, Alabama, was founded in 1871 and quickly became the state’s industrial center. As late as the 1960s, though, it was also America’s most racially discriminated and segregated cities. Alabama’s governor George Wallace was against desegregation and Birmingham had the strongest and most violent chapters of the KKK. By 1963, homemade bombs set off in Birmingham’s black homes and churches were so common that the city had the nickname “Bombingham.” Many civil rights protest marches that took place during the 1960’s began at the 16th Street Baptist Church and KKK members had often called in bomb threats to disrupt civil rights meetings. At 10:22 a.m. on the morning of September 15th, 1963, about 200 church members were in the church attending Sunday school classes before the start of the service when the bomb went off on the church’s east side. Most people were able to evacuate the building, but the dead bodies of four young girls were found beneath the rubble in a basement bathroom and more than 20 people were injured. "They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream"(Unknown).

(Image of the church after the bombing.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation’s civil rights legislation. The act outlawed all discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin, required equal access to public places and employment, and enforced desegregation of public schools and the right to vote. Although the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments banned slavery, provided equal protection under the law, gave citizenship, and gave the right to vote, some states still gave unfair treatment to minorities. In a response to the report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, John F. Kennedy proposed a Civil Rights Act of 1963 and after his assassination in November of 1963, Dr. King, and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson continued to press congress to pass the bill. The House of Representatives debated the bill for days, and rejected about 100 amendments which tried to weaken the bill. It passed the House of Representatives on February 10th, 1964 after many days of public hearings."It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it" (Maya Angelou).

(Signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Death of Malcolm X:

On February 21, 1965, a week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot by Islam members while speaking at a rally of his organization in New York City. Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. His father was a Baptist preacher who preached black ideas over the country. Threats from the KKK forced him and his family to move to Michigan where his father continued to preach. His father was tortured and murdered by a white supremacist group, and Michigan police refused to prison the people responsible. By the time Malcolm was in high school, he moved to Boston and became involved in criminal acts. At the age of 21, he was convicted of burglary and he was sent to jail. In jail. he learned about the ways of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam and he took the last name “X” to represent his stolen African identity. Six years later, he was released from jail and became a strong minister for the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In the early 1960’s he got a more outspoken and philosophized voice than Elijah Muhammad and claimed that Elijah did not support the civil rights movement. Elijah believed that Malcolm had become too powerful so he decided to suspend him from the Nation of Islam. A couple months later, Malcolm left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he affected by the lack of racial difference among Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, where he claimed racism was the enemy of African Americans, not whites. Malcolm’s new movement gained many followers and different philosophies became popular in the civil rights movement. "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery" (Malcom X).

(Photo of Malcolm X.

The Death of Martin Luther King:

In April of 1968, the world was silent with the news that the United States civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King had led the civil rights movement since the 1950’s, starting many movements including, boycotts, sit ins, and protest marches. His assassination led to a large amount of anger among African Americans as well as a mourning across the nation that helped pass the last piece of legislation of the civil rights era. "The FBI’s campaign against MLK was fueled by Hoover’s personal animosity toward King" (Noah Bertlasky). In the last years of Dr. King’s life, he faced much criticism from African American activists who supported a more radical and oppressive way of confronting their racial problems, while Dr. King was a bit more passive. In the spring of 1968, King along with other SCLC members were called the Memphis to support a workers strike. On the night of April 3rd, he gave a speech at the Mason Temple Church and the next night, at 6 p.m. he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, when he was struck in the head by a sniper's bullet. He was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead an hour later. Shock from all over the nation caused riots including looting and burning. When the nation was mourning over King’s death, president Lyndon Johnson urged Americans to “reject the blind violence” that killed King. He also called upon Congress to pass the civil rights legislation instead of having it go through the House of Representatives. "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred" (Dr Kings, I have a dream speech).

(Picture of King in Washington. http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086)
(Picture of Kings assassination. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/04/the-murder-of-martin-luther-king-jr/)


Civil rights became a major social, political, and ethical problem throughout 1950's and 60's. African American's were not able to attend certain schools, have the freedom to sit where they wanted on buses, and even had segregated water fountains. Because of these conflicts, African American civil rights activists felt they needed to do something, which eventually resulted in Brown V. Board of Education, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Letter from Birmingham Jail, "Bombingham", The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Death of Malcolm X, and The Death of Martin Luther King. Knowing that about this movement is important because of what we can learn about the future. I'm very glad I live in a time where mostly everyone is treated equally and I hope throughout my lifetime we learn from the 20th century civil rights movement and learn that we must bring equality to all regardless of race, sex, etc.


Learn More!

Civil Rights (African American) by Alaina Duley:

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Seth Clark:

Civil Rights Court Cases by Aaron Snurkowski:

Klu Klux Klan by Ezra Johnson:

The KKK by Riley Swanson:


- Markman, Abe. "Why are so many unarmed Black Americans killed by the police?" The HumanistJuly-Aug. 2015: 8+. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

- Rougeau, Vincent D. "Freedom bound: the legacy and ongoing challenge of the Civil Rights Act."America 7 July 2014: 14. Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

- Brown, Bryan. "Selma: how the Selma-to-Montgomery marches 50 years ago helped end discrimination against black voters." New York Times Upfront 23 Feb. 2015: 18+. Global Issues in Context. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.

- Bjornlund, Lydia. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Detroit: Lucent, 2008. Print

- Berlatsky, Noah. The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2011. Print.

- Powe Jr., Lucas A. "Brown v. Board of Education (Brown II), 349 U.S. 294 (1955)." Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ed. David S. Tanenhaus. Vol. 1. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. 215-217. U.S. History in Context. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

- "Birmingham Bombing (Sixteenth Street Baptist Church)." Birmingham Bombing (Sixteenth Street Baptist Church). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.

- "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.

- "Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr." The Assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2015.