Black History Timeline: 1965–1969

The 1968 Olympics
Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos raise their fists in protest at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Getty Images

As the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s moves ahead, Black people continue 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 are growing tired of King's strategies. These young men are interested in a more militant brand of activism that picks up steam after King's assassination.


Malcolm X points finger and frowns during speech
Malcolm X pictured speaking at a rally calling for Black and White Americans to be completely separated.

Bettmann / Getty Images

February 21: Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. Months later, writer Alex Haley publishes "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." A prominent figure during the Civil Rights era, Malcolm X had offered an alternative view to the mainstream Civil Rights movement, advocating for both the establishment of a separate Black community rather than integration and the use of violence in self-defense rather than nonviolence.

March: Several civil protests occur throughout Alabama. On March 7, an estimated 600 civil rights activists hold a march from Selma to Montgomery protesting the denial of Black people voting rights in the state. On March 21, King spearheads a five-day, 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. The protest, retracing the original marches, begins with 3,300 participants and grows to 25,000 marchers by the time it reaches the Alabama capital four days later. Following these actions, President Lyndon Johnson proposes the Voting Rights Act to Congress, which will guarantee Black people the right to vote throughout southern states. In August, the act is signed into law.

March 9: King expresses his sentiments against the Vietnam war for the first time, telling reporters on the TV news program "Face the Nation" that, "millions of dollars can be spent every day to hold troops in South Viet Nam and our country cannot protect the rights of Negroes in Selma," according to the Martin Luther King. Jr. Research Institute at Stanford University. He further states that as a minister, he has “a prophetic function” and as “one greatly concerned about the need for peace in our world and the survival of mankind, I must continue to take a stand on this issue," the institute notes.

In March: The Moynihan Report, also known as “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” is published and released by government officials. It states, in part:

"The United States is approaching a new crisis in race relations.
"In the decade that began with the school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court, and ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the demand of Negro Americans for full recognition of their civil rights was finally met.
"The effort, no matter how savage and brutal, of some State and local governments to thwart the exercise of those rights is doomed. The nation will not put up with it—least of all the Negroes. The present moment will pass. In the meantime, a new period is beginning."

August 11–16: The Watts Riots occur in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Thirty-four people are killed and 1,000 are injured. About 14,000 California National Guard members help quell the riots, which also cause $40 million in property damage. Following the Watts Riots, Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black studies at California State University, Long Beach, establishes the Black Nationalist organization known as Us in Los Angeles, calling it "an act of cultural discovery," according to the University of Northern Colorado.


Lit Kinara candles slided apple and ears of corn for Kwanzaa celebration
Kinara candles for Kwanzaa celebration.

Sue Barr / Image Source / Getty Images

January 18: Robert Weaver becomes the first Black person to hold a cabinet post when Johnson appoints him to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Weaver, whose government service stretches back decades, had been "part of the 'Black Cabinet' in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, (where he) was one of a group of African-Americans who specialized in housing, education and employment," the Chicago Tribune would note in his 1997 obituary.

In May: Stokely 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. After graduating from Howard University in 1964, Carmichael worked full time with the organization registering Black citizens to vote. He will eventually leave the organization to become a leader of the Black Panther Party.

August 30: Constance Baker Motley is the first African American woman to become a federal judge when she is appointed by Johnson to the federal bench in New York City. Motley sets the stage for increased Black representation in government.

In October: The Black Panther Party is founded by Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, and David Hilliard in Oakland, California. The three college students create the organization to provide protection to Black Americans against police brutality.

April–August: Race riots break out in more than 100 cities throughout the nation, according to US News & World Report. On June 16, in Lansing, Michigan, for example, three people are hurt and two are arrested during a skirmish between Black protestors and the police. The next day, starting on June 17, four days of disorder take place in Atlanta, Georgia, following the arrest of Carmichael. One person is killed and three are injured.

December 26: Karenga establishes Kwanzaa, a 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." It becomes an annual celebration observed for seven days from December 26 to January 1 by Black people to honor their heritage.

November 8: Edward Brooke becomes the first Black person to be elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate. Brooke serves the state of Massachusetts. He serves two terms, leaving office on January 3, 1979. Brooke had also served as Massachusetts attorney general from 1963 to 1967.


Thurgood Marshall

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

April 4: King delivers his most important speech concerning the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York. King had been stepping up his antiwar declarations throughout the year, according to Stanford's Martin Luther King Jr. Institute. On this day, he decries "Vietnam’s devastation at the hands of "deadly Western arrogance." He added, "we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor."

In May: Hubert “Rap” Brown becomes national chairman of the SNCC, succeeding Carmichael. He extends "Carmichael’s agenda to develop militancy within (the) SNCC by alienating white members and aligning the organization with the Black Panther Party," according to the National Archives.

June 12: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that states cannot ban interracial marriage in the Loving v. Virginia case. The court finds that such a ban violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

June 29: Renee Powell joins the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, becoming the second Black woman to participate in this capacity. (Althea Gibson was the first Black woman to play on the LPGA when she joined in 1964.) Powell's first tournament is the U.S. Women's Open at the Cascades Course of The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. Though Powell receives death threats from people who do not want a Black person on the LPGA, she will go on to compete in more than 250 professional golf tournaments over a 13-year professional career.

July 12: A riot breaks out in Newark, New Jersey. For the next six days, an estimated 23 people are killed, 725 are injured, and 1,500 are arrested. Also in July, the Detroit Race Riot begins. The riot lasts for five days with 43 people killed, almost 1,200 injured, and more than 7,000 arrested.

August 30: Thurgood Marshall becomes the first Black American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. When Marshall retires from the court decades later, in 1991, Paul Gerwitz, a law professor at Yale University, will write in The New York Times that Marshall—who had lived through the Jim Crow Era, segregation, and racism, and graduated from law school ready to fight discrimination—“really changed the world, something few lawyers can say.”

In October: Albert William Johnson takes over the Ray Oldsmobile car dealership at 74th and Halsted streets in Chicago, becoming the first Black person to be awarded a dealership from a major automobile company. Williams had started selling cars in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1953, later moving to an Oldsmobile dealership in Kirkwood, Missouri, where he was known as "the man who sold cars from a briefcase," according to Johnson's 2010 obituary in the Chicago Tribune.

November 7: Carl Stokes becomes the first Black person elected as mayor of Cleveland, Ohio. On the same day, Richard G. Hatcher becomes the first Black mayor of Gary, Indiana, when he edges Republican Joseph B. Radigan in the general election. He will serve in the post for nearly two decades until 1987.


South Carolina Highway Patrol watches over two injured students, after a group of patrolman and National Guardsman charged a group of protesters at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg.
South Carolina Highway Patrol watches over two injured students, after a group of patrolman and National Guardsman charged a group of protesters at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg.

Bettmann / Getty Images

February 8: Three students at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg are murdered by police officers as part of the Orangeburg Massacre. "Tensions between students and police had gradually escalated over a period of three nights, following efforts by students to desegregate All Star Bowling in downtown Orangeburg," according to the South Carolina Information Highway website. Twenty-eight others are wounded. "None of the students (are) armed and almost all (are) shot in their backs, buttocks, sides, or the soles of their feet," the website notes.

April 4: King is murdered in Memphis. Riots ensue in 125 cities throughout the United States. King had stepped onto the balcony of Memphis' Lorraine Motel when a rifle bullet tore into his face. He dies at St. Joseph's Hospital less than an hour later. King's death brings widespread grief to a violence-weary nation. Within seven days of the assassination, an estimated 46 people are killed and 35,000 are injured.

April 11: The Civil Rights Act of 1968 is established by Congress, banning discrimination in housing sales and rentals. It is an expansion of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also known as the Fair Housing Act, it prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex.

March 19: A five-day sit-in takes place on the campus of Howard University. About 1,000 students hold a rally in front of Douglass Hall and move to the administration building for the sit-in. Students are protesting in opposition to the school's ROTC program and the Vietnam War. They also demand the establishment of a Black studies program.

May 12–June 24: The Poor People’s Campaign galvanizes 50,000 demonstrators to Washington D.C. Held in the wake of King's assassination, under the leadership of King confidante and adviser Ralph Abernathy, it is a call for economic justice for poor people in the United States.

Motown has five songs on the Top 10 records on the Billboard Magazine chart. The record company holds the one, two, and three positions on the charts for a month.

September 9: Tennis player Arthur Ashe is the first Black American to win the men’s singles title at the U.S. Open.

October 16: 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 Black Americans. As a result, both are suspended.

November 5: Shirley Chisolm is the first Black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She will serve in the office until 1983. Chisolm will also run for president on the Democratic ticket in 1972, becoming the first Black person to do so. She is also the first Black person and the first woman to win delegates for a presidential nomination by a major party.

The first Black Studies program is established at San Francisco State University. The program is founded after a five-month student strike, the longest in U.S. history on a college campus.


Jimi Hendrix

Evening Standard / Getty Images

Morgan State University, Howard University, and Yale University are given $1 million by the Ford Foundation to help faculty teach Black studies courses. Harvard University begins offering courses through a Black studies program.

April 29: Duke Ellington, on his 70th birthday, is awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Richard B. Nixon. Ellington began taking piano lessons at age 7 and went on to compose over 2,000 pieces of music over a span of 60 years.

May 5: Photographer Moneta Sleet Jr. becomes the first Black American to win a Pulitzer Prize in photography for his photograph of Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, at King's funeral service.

May 6: Howard N. Lee is elected mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, becoming the first Black mayor of the city. He is also the first Black mayor of a southern city that is predominately White.

August 18: Guitarist Jimi Hendrix headlines the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York.

December 4: Black Panther leaders Mark Clarke and Fred Hampton are killed in Chicago by police officers. The pre-dawn raid carried out in a search for illegal weapons will shake Chicago and "change the nation," The Washington Post will declare decades later in reviewing the event.

October 17: Fourteen Black athletes are kicked off the University of Wyoming football team for wearing black armbands. Though coach Lloyd Eaton's highly successful career "crumbled" after he made the decision to cut the players, he says years later that he has no regrets about his action. The university apologizes to the former players in November 2020 during a dinner in the Wildcatter Stadium Club and Suites at War Memorial Stadium.

October 18: The Temptations “I Can’t Get Next To You,” reaches No. 1 on the pop charts.

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Your Citation
Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1965–1969." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). Black History Timeline: 1965–1969. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Black History Timeline: 1965–1969." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).