The mass movement for racial equality in the United States known as the civil rights movement started in the late 1950s. Through nonviolent protest actions, it broke through the pattern of racial segregation, the practice in the South through which black Americans were not allowed to use the same schools, churches, restaurants, buses, and other facilities as white Americans. The movement also achieved the passage of landmark equal-rights laws in the mid-1960s intended to end discrimination against people because of their race. This article provides an overview of some of the main events of the civil rights movement. To read about the movement in greater depth in its historical context, see Black Americans.
When the United States first became a country, the majority of the blacks who lived there were slaves; they were not considered citizens and so were not granted the basic rights of citizens in the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1788. This was changed several decades later with three amendments to the Constitution: the 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery, the 14th (1868) granted citizenship to former slaves, and the 15th (1870) gave blacks the same voting rights as whites (in other words, the men could vote but the women could not). In the South, however, new laws were passed to effectively prevent blacks from voting and to reinforce segregation practices (see Reconstruction Period). In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned racial segregation by allowing “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896).
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, lawyers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) argued a series of desegregation cases before the Supreme Court. They culminated in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.). In that case, the Court ruled on May 17, 1954, that having separate schools for blacks made the schools inherently unequal and was thus...
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