Civil Rights Movement Timeline From 1960 to 1964

Important Dates and Events to Know From the Early 1960s Fight for Equality

President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after handing him one of the pens used in signing the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964 at the White House in Washington.
U.S. Embassy New Delhi/ Flickr CC

This civil rights movement timeline chronicles important dates during the struggle's second chapter, the early 1960s. While the fight for racial equality began in the 1950s, the non-violent techniques the movement embraced began to pay off during the following decade. Civil rights activists and students across the South challenged segregation, and the relatively new technology of television allowed Americans to witness the often brutal response to these protests.

President Lyndon B. Johnson successfully pushed through the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a number of other groundbreaking events unfolded between 1960 and 1964, the span covered by this timeline.

1960

  • On Feb. 1, four young African-American men, students at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College, go to a Woolworth in Greensboro, N.C., and sit down at a whites-only lunch counter. They order coffee. Despite being denied service, they sit silently and politely at the lunch counter until closing time. Their action marks the start of the Greensboro sit-ins, which sparks similar protests all over the South.

  • On April 15, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee holds its first meeting.

  • On July 25, the downtown Greensboro Woolworth desegregates its lunch counter after six months of sit-ins.

  • On Oct. 19, Martin Luther King Jr. joins a student sit-in at a whites-only restaurant inside of an Atlanta department store, Rich's. He is arrested along with 51 other protesters on the charge of trespassing. On probation for driving without a valid Georgia license (he had an Alabama license), a Dekalb County judge sentences King to four months in prison doing hard labor. Presidential contender John F. Kennedy phones King's wife, Coretta, to offer encouragement, while the candidate's brother, Robert Kennedy, convinces the judge to release King on bail. This phone call convinces many African-Americans to support the Democratic ticket.

  • On Dec. 5, the Supreme Court hands down a 7-2 decision in the Boynton v. Virginia case, ruling that segregation on vehicles traveling between states is unlawful because it violates the Interstate Commerce Act.

1961

  • On May 4, the Freedom Riders, composed of seven African-American and six white activists, leave Washington, D.C., for the rigidly segregated Deep South. Organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), their goal is to test Boynton v. Virginia.

  • On May 14, Freedom Riders, now traveling in two separate groups, are attacked outside Anniston, Ala. and in Birmingham, Ala. A mob throws a firebomb onto the bus in which the group near Anniston is riding. Members of the Ku Klux Klan attack the second group in Birmingham after making an arrangement with the local police to allow them 15 minutes alone with the bus.

  • On May 15, the Birmingham group of Freedom Riders is prepared to continue their trip down south, but no bus will agree to take them. They fly to New Orleans instead.

  • On May 17, a new group of young activists join two of the original Freedom Riders to complete the trip. They are placed under arrest in Montgomery, Ala.

  • On May 29, President Kennedy announces that he has ordered the Interstate Commerce Commission to enact stricter regulations and fines for buses and facilities that refuse to integrate. Young white and black activists continue to make Freedom Rides.

  • In November, civil rights activists participate in a series of protests, marches, and meetings in Albany, Ga., that come to be known as the Albany Movement.

  • In December, King comes to Albany and joins the protesters, staying in Albany for another nine months.

1962

  • On Aug. 10, King announces that he is leaving Albany. The Albany Movement is considered a failure in terms of effecting change, but what King learns in Albany allows him to be successful in Birmingham.

  • On Sept. 10, the Supreme Court rules that the University of Mississippi must admit African-American student and veteran James Meredith.

  • On Sept. 26, the governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, orders state troopers to prevent Meredith from entering Ole Miss's campus.

  • Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, riots erupt over Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi, or "Ole Miss."

  • On Oct. 1, Meredith becomes the first African-American student at Ole Miss after President Kennedy orders U.S. marshals to Mississippi to ensure his safety.

1963

  • King, SNCC and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organize a series of 1963 civil rights demonstrations and protests to challenge segregation in Birmingham.

  • On April 12, Birmingham police arrest King for demonstrating without a city permit.

  • On April 16, King writes his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in which he responds to eight white Alabama ministers who urged him to end the protests and be patient with the judicial process of overturning segregation.

  • On June 11, President Kennedy delivers a speech on civil rights from the Oval Office, specifically explaining why he sent the National Guard to allow the admittance of two African-American students into the University of Alabama.

  • On June 12, Byron De La Beckwith assassinates Medgar Evers, the first field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi.

  • On Aug. 18, James Meredith graduates from Ole Miss.

  • On Aug. 28, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is held in D.C. Around 250,000 people participate, and King delivers his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • On Sept. 15, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham is bombed. Four young girls are killed.

  • On Nov. 22, Kennedy is assassinated, but his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, uses the nation's anger to push through civil rights legislation in Kennedy's memory.

1964

  • On March 12, Malcolm X leaves the Nation of Islam. Among his reasons for the break is Elijah Muhammad's ban on protesting for Nation of Islam adherents.

  • Between June and August, SNCC organizes a voter registration drive in Mississippi known as Freedom Summer.

  • On June 21, three Freedom Summer workers--Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman--disappear.

  • On Aug. 4, the bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman are found in a dam. All three had been shot, and the African-American activist, Chaney, had also been badly beaten.

  • On June 24, Malcolm X founds the Organization of Afro-American Unity along with John Henrik Clarke. Its aim is to unite all Americans of African descent against discrimination.

  • On July 2, Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination in employment and public places.

  • In July and August, riots break out in Harlem and Rochester, N.Y.

  • On Aug. 27, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDM), which formed to challenge the segregated state Democratic Party, sends a delegation to the National Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, N.J. They ask to represent Mississippi at the convention. Activist Fannie Lou Hamer, spoke publicly and her speech was broadcast nationally by media outlets.  Offered two nonvoting seats at the convention, in turn, the MFDM delegates reject the proposal. Yet all was not lost. By the 1968 election, a clause was adopted requiring equal representation from all state delegations. 

  • On Dec. 10, the Nobel Foundation awards King the Nobel Peace Prize.

Updated by African-American History Expert, Femi Lewis