Black History from 1950 to 1959

Thurgood Marshall and Little Rock Students
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

From the Brown vs. Board of Education decision to the murder of Emmitt Till and the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, these are the pivotal historical events in Black history that occurred in the decade spanning 1950 through 1959.


  • Ralph Bunche wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his ability to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.
  • Gwendolyn Brooks receives the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She is the first Black person to receive such a distinction.
  • Chuck Cooper, Nathaniel Clifton, and Earl Lloyd become the first Black people to play for the National Basketball Association.
  • Juanita Hall becomes the first Black person to win a Tony Award for her portrayal of Bloody Mary in "South Pacific".


  • Racial segregation in Washington D.C. restaurants is declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • An estimated 3500 Whites try to keep a Black family from moving into an apartment building in Cicero. As a result, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson calls the state’s national guard to protect the family.
  • Florida NAACP official Harry T. Moore is killed by a bomb.
  • Johnson Publishing Company prints its first issue of Jet.


  • For the first time in more than 70 years, the Tuskegee Institute finds that there are no lynchings reported in the United States.
  • Writer Ralph Ellison publishes " Invisible Man".


  • In June, Black residents of Baton Rouge establish a boycott of the city’s segregated transportation system.
  • James Baldwin publishes his first novel, "Go Tell It On The Mountain".
  • Willie Thrower joins the Chicago Bears and becomes the first Black quarterback in the National Football League (NFL).


  • The U.S. Supreme Court declares segregation in public schools unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
  • Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. is the first Black person to be appointed as an Air Force general after serving in the Korean War.
  • Malcolm X becomes Minister of the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 7 in New York City. 
  • Frankie Muse Freeman becomes the first Black woman to win a major civil rights case after serving as the lead attorney for the NAACP in the Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority case. The ruling ended racial discrimination in public housing in St. Louis.


  • While visiting family in Money, Miss., 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till is killed by White men.
  • Rock 'n roll artist Chuck Berry records the hit song "Maybellene" with Chess Records.
  • Rosa Parks is arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery Bus to a White patron.
  • Marian Anderson is the first Black woman to perform with the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. is elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The organization leads a year-long boycott against Montgomery’s segregated transportation system.


  • Nat King Cole becomes the first Black person to host a primetime show on national television.
  • Harry Belafonte’s album "Calypso" is the first record to sell more than one million copies.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Gayle v. Browder case declares it is unconstitutional to segregate transportation on intrastate travel. This ruling supports those participating in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.


  • Congress establishes the Civil Rights Act of 1957. This is the first legislative act protecting the rights of Black people since the Reconstruction period by establishing the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors are now able to get court injunctions against those who interfere with the right to vote. Under this act, the Federal Civil Rights Commission is also established.
  • Dorothy Irene Height is elected president of the National Council of Negro Women. Height holds this position for 41 years.
  • Federal troops are sent to Little Rock, Ark by Dwight Eisenhower to enforce the desegregation of Central High School. The troops are also instructed to protect nine Black students who are enrolled in the school and remain for the entire academic year.
  • The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) was established in Birmingham.
  • Perry H. Young becomes the first Black pilot of a commercial passenger airline.



  • Motown Records is formed by Berry Gordy Jr. in Detroit.
  • Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis records "Kind of Blue"The work is considered Davis' masterpiece. 
  • "A Raisin in the Sun", a play written by Lorraine Hansberry opens on Broadway. The play is the first to be produced by a Black woman on Broadway.
  • Three days before he is scheduled to stand trial for raping a pregnant White woman, Mack Charles Parker is beaten by a mob in his jail cell. Parker is lynched near Poplarville, Miss.