Major Highlights, Speeches and Writings of the Civil Rights Movement

When did the civil rights movement start and forever change the nation

It's difficult to know where to begin when researching a topic as rich as the civil rights movement. Studying the era means identifying when the civil rights movement started and the protests, personalities, legislation and litigation that defined it. Use this overview of the civil rights movement as a guide through the highlights of the period, including the major speeches and writings that continue to shape public dialogue about race relations today.

Rosa Parks on bus
Rosa Parks on bus. Getty Images/Underwood Archives

The civil rights movement got its start in the 1950s as returning African-American veterans from World War II began demanding equal rights. Many questioned how they could fight to protect a country that refused to honor their civil rights. The 1950s also saw the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nonviolent protest movement. This timeline of the civil rights movement's first chapter explains the events leading up to and following Rosa Parks' groundbreaking decision in 1955 to give up her bus seat to a Caucasian man in Montgomery, Ala.  More »

Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy
Civil rights leaders meet with President John F. Kennedy. Getty Images/Three Lions

The early 1960s brought the civil rights movement into its prime. The efforts of civil rights activists began paying off as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson finally addressed the inequality that blacks faced. Television coverage of the violence civil rights activists endured during protests throughout the South shocked Americans as they watched the nightly news. The viewing public also became familiar with King, who became the leader, if not the face, of the movement. More »

Protesters at the Open Housing March, Chicago
Protesters at the Open Housing March, Chicago. Getty Images/Chicago History Museum

The victories of the civil rights movement raised the hopes of African-Americans living all over the country. But segregation in the South was in some ways easier to combat than segregation in the North. That's because Southern segregation was enforced by the law, and laws could be changed. On the other hand, segregation in Northern cities originated in the unequal conditions that led to disproportionate poverty among African-Americans. Nonviolence techniques had less effect in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles as a result. This timeline tracks the shift from the nonviolent phase of the civil rights movement to the emphasis on black liberation. More »

King Speech In NYC
Martin Luther King, Jr. speech In NYC. Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives

As civil rights made the national agenda in the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr., along with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, gave major speeches shown on live television. King also wrote throughout this period, patiently explaining the morality of direct action to detractors. These speeches and writings have gone down in history as some of the most eloquent expressions of the principles at the heart of the civil rights movement. More »

Wrapping Up

The civil rights movement will always be remembered as one of the greatest social movements in American history. Given the significant impact the the fight for racial equality had on politics and race relations, the movement is one with which the public should be familiar. Use the resources above as a starting point to expand your knowledge about this social struggle.