African American Timeline

Florida Migrants on their way to New Jersey by Jack Delano, 1940.

Florida Migrants on their way to New Jersey by Jack Delano, 1940.

1916 – The Great Migration begins and lasts until 1940. Approximately one and a half million African Americans move from the Southern United States to the North and Midwest. More than five million migrate in the Second Great Migration from 1940 to 1970, which includes more destinations in California and the West.

1919 – Race riots occur in Chicago, Washington, D.C.; Knoxville, Indianapolis, Omaha, and Arkansas.

1920s – The Harlem Renaissance, known as the “New Negro Movement”, begins. This was an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion centered in Harlem, New York.

1945 – The Civil Rights Movement begins, which will last through the next three decades.

Colored Waiting Area at Bus Station in Durham, North Carolina by Jack Delano, 1940.

Colored Waiting Area at Bus Station in Durham, North Carolina by Jack Delano, 1940.

1946 –  In Morgan v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates provisions of the Virginia Code which require the separation of white and colored passengers were applied to interstate bus transport.

1948 – President Harry S. Truman issues Executive Order 9981 ordering the end of racial discrimination in the Armed Forces.

1950 – In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a public institution of higher learning could not provide different treatment to a student solely because of his race.

In Henderson v. the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court abolishes segregation in railroad dining cars.

School Segregation Banned

School Segregation Banned

1951 – Maryland legislature ends segregation on trains and boats; meanwhile Georgia legislature voted to deny funds to schools that integrate.

A Federal Court ruling upholds segregation in South Carolina public schools.

The United States Army’s high command announces it will desegregate the Army.

1953 – The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down segregation in Washington, DC restaurants.

1954 – Brown v. Board of Education case: strikes down segregation as unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the background

1955 – In Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks is arrested for breaking a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act gives initial momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.

1956 – Governors of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia agree to block integration of schools.

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down segregation on buses nationwide.

1957 – Martin Luther King, Jr. and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement.

Georgia Senate votes to declare the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution null and void in that state.

The New York Times reports that in three years since the decision, there has been minimal progress toward integration in four southern states, and no progress at all in seven.

President Dwight Eisenhower federalizes the National Guard and also orders US Army troops to ensure Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas is integrated. Federal and National Guard troops escort the Little Rock Nine.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is signed by President Eisenhower.

Florida and Texas legislatures vote to close any school if federal troops are sent to enforce integration.

Lunch Counter Sit-In, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Lunch Counter Sit-In, Greensboro, North Carolina.

1958 – In Cooper v. Aaron the U.S. Supreme Court rules that all states were bound by the Court’s decisions regarding integration. In response, governors in Arkansas and Virginia shut down schools. The U.S. Supreme Court then rules that states may not use evasive measures to avoid desegregation.

1960 – Non-violent sit-ins begin at lunch counters in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Texas. San Antonio, Texas becomes the first city to integrate lunch counters.

In Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that racial segregation in bus terminals is illegal because such segregation violates the Interstate Commerce Act. This ruling effectively outlaws segregation on interstate buses and at the terminals servicing such buses.

1961 – The Interstate Commerce Commission issues new rules ending discrimination in interstate travel. All interstate buses required to display a certificate that reads: “Seating aboard this vehicle is without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin, by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission.”

1962 – Segregated transportation facilities, both interstate and intrastate, ruled unconstitutional by U.S. Supreme Court.

The Defense Department orders full racial integration of military reserve units, except the National Guard.

President Kennedy upholds the 1960 presidential campaign promise to eliminate housing segregation by signing an Executive Order banning segregation in Federally funded housing.

Baptist Street Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963

Baptist Street Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963

1963 – A double bombing occurs in Birmingham, Alabama, probably conducted by the Ku Klux Klan in cooperation with local police, precipitates rioting, police retaliation, the intervention of state troopers, and finally mobilization of federal troops.

Birmingham, Alabama City Schools are integrated by National Guardsmen under orders from President Kennedy.

1964 – Civil Rights Act is signed, banning discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” in employment practices and public accommodations.

1965 – The Voting Rights Act is passed, outlawing the practices used in the South to disenfranchise African American voters.

Following the accusations of mistreatment and police brutality by the Los Angeles Police Department towards the city’s African-American community, the Watts riots erupt in South Central Los Angeles which lasted over five days. Over 34 were killed, 1,032 injured, 3,438 arrested, and cost over $40 million in property damage in the Watts riots.

1967 – Edward W. Brooke becomes the first African American U.S. Senator since Reconstruction. He serves two terms as a Senator from Massachusetts.

Thurgood Marshall is the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Detroit Riot, 1967

Detroit Riot, 1967

The Detroit riot erupts in Detroit, Michigan, for five days following a raid by the Detroit Police Department on an unlicensed club patronized mostly by African Americans. More than 43 (33 were black and ten white) were killed, 467 injured, 7,231 arrested, and 2,509 stores looted or burned during the riot. It was one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in United States history.

1968 – Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In response, riots break out in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and more than 150 U.S. cities.

Shirley Chisholm becomes the first black female U.S. Representative. A Democrat from New York, she was elected in November and served from 1969 to 1983.

2008 – Barack Obama becomes the first African American to win the U.S. presidential race.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2020.

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy.

Also See:

African American History

African-Americans – From Slavery to Equality

The Emancipation Proclamation & the 13th Amendment

Slavery In the United States


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