Listed below is a Black history timeline of important events of the civil rights movement. These events led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The fiction and non-fiction books listed bring the events and people to life. Take a book walk through history to learn about these determined, brave people who stood together so no one stood alone.
At the age of six Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. This Is Your Time is a new book for kids written by Ruby herself and is a great introduction to one of the key moments in the Black history timeline. It is a letter she has written to children today, more than 60 years after her historic first, to share her story and share her thoughts on what children can do to effect change. As Ruby says, “what can inspire tomorrow often lies in our past.”
This Is Your Time includes many historical photos, some from Ruby’s private collection. I especially enjoyed learning about Ruby’s first grade teacher that year and the photo of Ruby and her teacher at school, as well as the recent picture of the two of them together.
The image on the book’s cover is “The Problem We All Live With,” a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell that shows Ruby being escorted to school by four US Marshals. In 2011 President Barack Obama arranged to borrow the painting from the Norman Rockwell museum. He had it hung outside the Oval Office and invited Ruby to come see it. Watch this video carefully to hear President Obama say something important:
“I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn’t be looking at this together.”
He said something very similar during his campaign for the presidency in 2007.
“I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.” ~Speech, Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration in Selma, Alabama, March 4, 2007
Black History Timeline
The books suggested in the Black history timeline below make great selections every day, but are especially meaningful on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, and on January 18th, the National Day of Racial Healing. On these days we turn our attention to specifically remember history and re-commit to the goal of racial justice.
Brown v. Board of Education was a very important United States Supreme Court case. The Court decided state laws that separated Black students from white students in public schools were unconstitutional. In other words, the Court said this separation of students was not legal. The decision by the Court was unanimous (9–0). Unanimous means all of the supreme court justices agreed.
The Murder of Emmett Till – Accused of offending a white woman at a grocery store, Emmett was a 14-year-old Black boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted highlighted the long history of violent persecution of African Americans. Like Ruby Bridges, Emmett became an icon of the civil rights movement.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest against segregated seats on the public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Back then Black people had to ride in the seats at the back of the bus, and if the seats were all full and a white person got on the bus, a Black rider would have to give their seat to the white person. A boycott a tactic people use to point out something they think is not right. They stop buying something or stop using something to draw attention to the problem. In this case, people boycotted the buses; they stopped paying to ride them.
The Little Rock Nine was a group of Black students who signed up to go to Little Rock Central High School. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had already said it was not legal to separate Black students from white students in public schools, officials blocked these Black students from entering the school. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne and the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students to school.
The Greensboro Sit-ins were nonviolent protests against segregated seating in restaurants. The sit-ins began in Greensboro, North Carolina when four Black men sat down in the white section of a restaurant. No one would take their order because they were not sitting in the “right” seats. They sat quietly until the restaurant closed. Because they were sitting in the seats, white people could not sit in the seats and make an order. The next day more people came and did the same thing, filling up the seats. More people joined each day at more restaurants and in more cities. The restaurants did not make any money. Eventually, the restaurants changed their segregation rules so that they could do business again.
Ruby Bridges was the first Black student to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Four federal marshals escorted Ruby and her mother for the entire school year.
Freedom Riders were people who rode on buses to protest segregated seating. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled that it was illegal to separate Black people from white people on public buses. The authorities did not enforce the law. To protest this, groups of people, both Black and white, rode the buses together to challenge the rules. The riders drew attention to the states that were not following federal law.
The Birmingham Children’s March was a march by hundreds of school children in Birmingham, Alabama. The children left school and walked downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation. Authorities used fire hoses and police dogs to try to stop the march. Many children were arrested. This event inspired President Kennedy to publicly support federal civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
The March on Washington took place in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. At the march, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The march helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 15, 1963 killed four little girls and injured 22 other people. Three Klansmen were thought by the FBI to be responsible and were eventually prosecuted for the crime, but not until 1977, 2001 and 2002. A fourth man died before he could be prosecuted. The bombing contributed to support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Act enacted on July 2, 1964. It is a landmark law in the United States that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The Selma to Montgomery Voting Marches were three protest marches along a 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery. Black citizens who were being prevented from exercising their constitutional right to vote organized the marches. The marches contributed to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. While his death silenced his own voice, it did not end the civil rights movement. The movement continues to this day as people work to ensure and preserve opportunities for racial equity, inclusion, justice, and peace.
To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.