African-American History Timeline: 1965 to 1969

The 1968 Olympics
Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos, 1968 Summer Olympics. Getty Images

As the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s moved ahead, African-Americans continued to fight for equal rights in American Society using Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's nonviolent strategies. At the same time, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were growing tired of King's strategies. These young men were interested in a more militant brand of activism that would pick up steam after King's assassination. 


  • Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Months later, writer Alex Haley publishes The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
  • During the month of March, several civil protests occurred throughout Alabama. On March 7, an estimated 600 civil rights activists held a march from Selma to Montgomery protesting the denial of African-American voting rights in the state. On March 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. spearheads a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. The protest retraced the original marches and began with 3300 participants and grew to 25,000 marchers by the time it reached the Alabama capital four days later. Following this actions, President Lyndon Johnson proposes the Voting Rights Act to Congress, which would guarantee African-American voting throughout southern states. In August, the Act is signed into law.
  • The Moynihan Report, also known as “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” is published and released by government officials.
  • The Watts Riot occurs in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Thirty-four people are reportedly killed and one thousand are injured in a riot that lasted five days.
  • Following the Watts Riots, Maulana Karenga establishes the Black Nationalist organization known as US in Los Angeles.


  • Robert Weaver becomes the first African-American to hold a cabinet post when Lyndon Johnson appoints him to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Constance Baker Motley becomes the first African-American woman to become a Federal judge when she is appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson to the Federal bench in New York City. Motley set the stage for increased black representation in government.
  • Stokley Carmichael becomes the chairperson of SNCC and immediately changes its focus to the idea of black power, a definite break from historical civil rights tactics.
  • The Black Panther Party is founded in California by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.
  • King delivers his first speech concerning the Vietnam War.
  • Race riots take place in Lansing, Mich., and Cleveland.
  • Karenga establishes Kwanzaa, an African-American holiday to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominate society."
  • Edward Brooke becomes the first African-American to be elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate. Brooke serves the state of Massachusetts. 


  • H. Rap Brown becomes chairperson of SNCC.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rules that states cannot ban interracial marriage in the Loving v. Virginia case.
  • A riot breaks out in Newark on July 12. For the next six days, an estimated 23 people are killed, 725 injured and 1500 are arrested.
  • Also in July, the Detroit Race Riot begins. The riot lasts for five days with 43 people killed, almost 1200 injured and more than 7000 arrested.
  • Thurgood Marshall becomes the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Carl Stokes becomes the first African-American to be elected in Cleveland. Richard G. Hatcher becomes the first African-American mayor Gary, Ind.
  • Renee Powell joins the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, becoming the first African-American woman to participate in this capacity.
  • Albert William Johnson opens an Oldsmobile dealership in an African-American neighborhood in Chicago. He is the first African-American to be awarded a dealership from a major automobile company.


  • Three students at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg are murdered by police officers as part of the Orangeburg Massacre.
  • King is murdered in Memphis. Riots ensue in 125 cities throughout the United States. Within seven days of King’s assassination, an estimated 46 people are killed and 35,000 are injured.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1968 is established by Congress, banning discrimination in housing sales and rentals.
  • A five day sit-in takes place on the campus of Howard University with students holding rallies and protests in opposition to its ROTC program, the Vietnam War and demanding an African-American studies program.
  • Motown has five songs on the Top 10 records on the Billboard Magazine chart. The record company holds the 1, 2, and 3 positions on the charts for a month.
  • The Afro hairstyle becomes popularized throughout the United States.
  • Shirley Chisolm is the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • The Poor People’s Campaign galvanizes 50,000 demonstrators to Washington D.C.
  • After winning first and third place respectively at the Olympics in Mexico City, Tommy Smith and John Carlos raise clenched fists in solidarity with other African-Americans. As a result, both are suspended.
  • Arthur Ashe is the first African-American to win the Men’s Singles at the U.S. Open.
  • The first Black Studies program is established at San Francisco State University.


  • Morgan State University, Howard University and Yale University are given one million dollars by the Ford Foundation to help faculty teach African-American studies courses. Harvard University begins offering courses through an African-American studies program.
  • Photographer Moneta Sleet, Jr. becomes the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Photography.
  • Howard N. Lee becomes the first African-American may of Chapel Hill, NC. He is also the first African-American mayor of a southern city that is predominately white.
  • Black Panther leaders Mark Clarke and Fred Hampton are killed in Chicago by police officers.
  • Guitarist Jimi Hendrix headlines the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York.
  • Fourteen African-American athletes are kicked off the University of Wyoming football team for wearing black armbands.
  • Duke Ellington is awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Richard B. Nixon.
  • The Temptations “I Can’t Get Next To You,” reaches No. 1 on the Pop Charts.