Martin Luther King Program

Office of the Provost

Civil Rights History

Civil RIghts marchers

A historical timeline

For over 500 years people of African American descent have helped shape the course of American history.

Did you know?

  • In 1492 a black navigator, Pedro Alonso Niño, traveled with Christopher Columbus’s first expedition to the new world?
  • In 1770 Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave, became the first Colonial soldier to die for American independence when he was killed by the British in the Boston Massacre.
  • In 1807 Congress banned the importation of slaves into the United States, but the law was largely ignored in the South.
  • In 1834 Henry Blair became the first African American to receive a patent for inventing a cotton-planting machine.
  • In 1893 African American physician Daniel Hale Williams performed the world’s first successful open-heart surgery.
  • In 1903 Sarah Breedlove MacWilliams, better known as Madam C.J. Walker, started an African American hair-care business in Denver and eventually became America’s first self-made woman millionaire.
  • In 1954 the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, ruled unanimously against school segregation.
  • In 1961 the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides throughout the South to try to de-segregate interstate public bus travel.
  • In 1963 more than 200,000 people participated in the March on Washington, the largest civil rights demonstration ever.  Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech there.
  • In 1966 Stokely Carmichael, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, called for “black power” in a speech that ushered in a more violent civil rights stance.
  • In 1971 fifteen African American members of Congress formed the Congressional Black Caucus to present a unified African American voice in Congress.
  • In 1978 the Supreme Court ruled against universities using fixed racial quotas in making admissions decisions, a challenge to affirmative action.
  • In 1985 the Philadelphia State Police bombed a house occupied by the African American activist organization called MOVE.  The bombing killed 11 people and triggered a fire that left 300 people homeless.
  • In 1991Congress passed a civil rights act that made it easier for employees to sue their employers for job discrimination.
  • In 2000 after a massive protest rally and NAACP boycott, the governor of South Carolina moved the Confederate flag on top of the statehouse to a less conspicuous place.

These facts and many more are found at African American World, an excellent resource for learning about the events and people that shaped the American Civil Rights Movement and those continuing to promote social justice in modern times.    

Civil rights icons including Stokely Carmichael, Crispus Attucks