Important Cities in Black History

Little Rock, Arkansas

Dan Reynolds Photography / Getty Images

Black Americans have contributed tremendously to the culture of the United States. First brought to America hundreds of years ago to work as enslaved people, Black Americans won their freedom after the 19th century Civil War. However, many Black Americans remained very poor and moved throughout the country seeking better economic opportunities. Unfortunately, even after the Civil War, many White people still discriminated against Black people. Blacks and White people were segregated, and the education and living conditions of Black people suffered. However, after several historic, sometimes tragic events, Black people decided to no longer tolerate these injustices. Here are some of the most important cities in Black history.

Montgomery, Alabama

In 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to obey her bus driver’s order to surrender her seat to a White man. Parks was arrested for disorderly conduct. Martin Luther King Jr. led a boycott of the city bus system, which desegregated in 1956 when segregated buses were deemed unconstitutional. Rosa Parks became one of the most influential and famous female civil rights activists, and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery now displays her story.

Little Rock, Arkansas

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional and that schools should soon integrate. However, in 1957, the governor of Arkansas ordered troops to forcibly prevent nine Black students from entering Little Rock Central High School. President Dwight Eisenhower learned of the harassment the students experienced and sent National Guard troops to aid the students. Several of the “Little Rock Nine” eventually graduated from high school. 

Birmingham, Alabama

Several important civil rights events occurred in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. In April, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” King argued that citizens have the moral duty to disobey unjust laws such as segregation and inequality.

In May, law enforcement officers released police dogs and sprayed fire hoses on a crowd of peaceful protesters in Kelly Ingram Park. Images of the violence were displayed on television and shocked viewers.

In September, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killed four innocent Black girls. This particularly heinous crime incited riots across the country.

Today, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute explains these events and other civil and human rights issues.

Selma, Alabama

Selma, Alabama is located about sixty miles west of Montgomery. On March 7, 1965, six hundred Black residents decided to march to Montgomery to peacefully protest voting registration rights. When they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, law enforcement officers stopped them and abused them with clubs and tear gas. The incident on “Bloody Sunday” enraged President Lyndon Johnson, who ordered National Guard troops to protect the marchers as they successfully marched to Montgomery a few weeks later. President Johnson then signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, the National Voting Rights Museum is located in Selma, and the path of the marchers from Selma to Montgomery is a National Historic Trail.

Greensboro, North Carolina

On Feb. 1, 1960, four Black college students sat down at the “Whites-only” restaurant counter of Woolworth’s Department Store in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were refused service, but for six months, despite harassment, the boys regularly returned to the restaurant and sat at the counter. This peaceful form of protest became known as a “sit-in.” Other people boycotted the restaurant and sales dropped. The restaurant was desegregated that summer and the students were finally served. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is now located in Greensboro. 

Memphis, Tennessee

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Memphis in 1968 to try to improve the working conditions of sanitation workers. On April 4, 1968, King stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel and was hit by a bullet fired by James Earl Ray. He died that night at the age of thirty-nine and is buried in Atlanta. The motel is now the home of the National Civil Rights Museum.

Washington, D.C.

Several crucial civil rights demonstrations have occurred in the capital of the United States. The best-known demonstration was probably the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, when 300,000 people heard Martin Luther King give his I Have a Dream speech.

Other Important Cities in Black History

Black culture and history are also displayed in countless more cities across the country. Harlem is a significant Black community in New York City, the largest city in America. In the Midwest, Black Americans were influential in the history and culture of Detroit and Chicago. Black musicians such as Louis Armstrong helped make New Orleans famous for jazz music.

Struggle for Racial Equality

The civil rights movement of the 20th century awakened all Americans to the inhumane belief systems of racism and segregation. Black Americans continued to work hard, and many have become enormously successful. Colin Powell served as the United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005, and Barack Obama became the 44th US President in 2009. America’s most important Black cities will forever honor the courageous civil rights leaders who fought for respect and better lives for their families and neighbors.

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Richard, Katherine Schulz. "Important Cities in Black History." ThoughtCo, Oct. 24, 2020, Richard, Katherine Schulz. (2020, October 24). Important Cities in Black History. Retrieved from Richard, Katherine Schulz. "Important Cities in Black History." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).

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