| United States Civil
Rights Time Line
1830 Congress passes and President Andrew Jackson
signs the controversial Indian Removal Act calling for American
Indians in the East to be forced from their homes to lands west
of the Mississippi River.
1831 Slave preacher Nat Turner leads 20 followers
in a bloody revolt through Southampton County, Va., near the North
Carolina border. The North Carolina militia is called out to assist
in stopping the rebellion.
1832 The Supreme Court rules that the Cherokee
Nation constitutes a sovereign nation within the state of Georgia,
subject only to federal law. That ruling remains the basis for American
Indian tribal sovereignty.
1835 A small, unauthorized group of men signs the
Cherokee Removal Treaty. The Cherokee Indians protest the treaty,
and Chief John Ross collects more than 15,000 signatures, representing
most of the Cherokee population, on a petition requesting the U.S.
Senate to withhold ratification. The petition fails.
1836 The U.S. House of Representatives passes the
first "gag rule," designed to prevent the introduction,
reading, or discussion of any antislavery bill or petition.
1838 Approximately 17,000 Cherokee are forcibly
removed from North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama to
the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, along the 1,200-mile
"Trail of Tears." Some 4,000 to 8,000 Cherokee die during
the removal process, about a quarter to half of the total population.
1857 North Carolina native Hinton R. Helper publishes
an antislavery book, The Impending Crisis of the South, in New York.
The Supreme Court issues the Dred Scott decision, which states that
blacks are not considered citizens and that slaveholder's
can legally take slaves into the western territories. The Court's
decision angers antislavery northerners.
1859 Abolitionist John Brown seizes the U.S. Arsenal
at Harpers Ferry, Va., in an attempt to incite a slave insurrection.
Two free African Americans from North Carolina, Lewis Sheridan Leary
of Fayetteville and John Anthony Copeland of Raleigh, join Brown's
forces. Leary is killed when federal troops capture the insurgents.
Copeland is tried and executed for treason, along with Brown and
1860 Abraham Lincoln, who opposes the expansion
of slavery in the western territories, wins the presidential election.
The Republican ticket, which he heads, does not appear on the ballot
in North Carolina and other southern states. After the election,
seven southern states leave the Union by the following March.
1861-65 Civil War.
1863 President Lincoln issues the Emancipation
Proclamation, freeing slaves in the seceded states.
African American men are allowed to join the U.S. Army and serve
in segregated units under white officers.
1864 Fugitive slave laws are repealed.
1865 The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
1866 Congress passes a Civil Rights Act, which
declares people of color to be United States citizens and nullifies
the states' "black codes."
1867 The Congressional Reconstruction Acts grant
voting and other rights to men of color and place the Southern states,
including North Carolina, in military districts under Federal army
1868 The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
grants citizenship to "all persons born or naturalized in the
1870 The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
gives all men the right to vote.
1870-71 Congress passes the Enforcement Acts to
control Ku Klux Klan activity and to protect the civil and political
rights of people of color.
1875 Congress passes a Civil Rights Act, which
provides for social rights, such as equal treatment in public places,
and political rights, including access to jury duty, for people
1883 The Supreme Court declares the Civil Rights
Act of 1875 invalid for protecting social rights.
1887 The Dawes Act allows the federal government
to partition Indian reservations and assign the parts to individual
tribal members in an attempt to establish private ownership of Indian
1896 The Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson
that "separate but equal" accommodations are constitutional.
1905 The Niagara Movement, forerunner of the NAACP,
is founded in upstate New York and renounces Booker T. Washington's
accommodations policies. W. E. B. Du Bois, one of its leaders, demands
immediate racial equality and opposes all laws that discriminate
against African Americans.
1909 The NAACP forms in New York.
1910-30 In the most active years of the Great Migration,
huge numbers of African Americans move away from the South to escape
Jim Crow and search for higher wages in the Northeast and Midwest.
An estimated total of 3.5 million leave between 1890 and 1930.
1914-18 World War I.
1915 The Supreme Court outlaws the "grandfather
1917 The nation enters WWI. Many Indians and African
Americans serve in Europe, the former in white units and the latter
in segregated units.
1920 The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
grants voting rights to women.
1922 The Dyer Anti-lynching Bill passes in the
U.S. House of Representatives but fails in the Senate.
1924 Federal law declares all Indians to be citizens.
1929 A stock market crash begins the Great Depression.
1938 After a black student is denied admission
to the University of Missouri law school on the basis of race, the
Supreme Court rules in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada that the
state must provide equal educational facilities for him.
1939-45 World War II.
1941 The nation enters WWII following the attack
on Pearl Harbor. Many African Americans serve in the military in
segregated units. All black marines train at Montford Point, the
segregated section of Camp Lejeune.
A. Philip Randolph calls for a march on Washington to protest the
unfair treatment of blacks in war industries. Pres. Franklin D.
Roosevelt responds with an executive order that forbids employment
discrimination in the defense and government contract industries.
1942 CORE, a civil rights group dedicated to direct
action through nonviolence, is founded in Chicago.
1943 CORE stages the first successful sit-in demonstration
1948 Pres. Harry Truman approves desegregation
of the military and creates the Fair Employment Board.
1950-53 In the Korean War, minorities serve in
1954 The Supreme Court overturns the Plessy v.
Ferguson decision by ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
that segregated public schools are unconstitutional.
1955 The Montgomery Bus Boycott begins in Alabama
after NAACP member Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat in the
front section of a bus for a white passenger. The boycott lasts
until the buses are desegregated the next year.
The Interstate Commerce Commission orders integration of buses and
trains and their waiting rooms for interstate travel.
1956 The "Southern Manifesto," signed
by 101 congressmen from the South, protests school desegregation.
Congress passes the "Lumbee Bill," which recognizes the
Lumbee as an Indian tribe but denies them services from the Bureau
of Indian Affairs.
The Supreme Court outlaws the segregation of tax-supported colleges
1957 Congresses passes a Civil Rights Act aimed
at ensuring that all people can exercise their right to vote. It
establishes a bipartisan Commission on Civil Rights to investigate
and intervene in cases of denial of voting rights and equal protection
under the law because of race. This is the first civil rights legislation
in 82 years and the first in the 20th century.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Charles K. Steele, and Fred L. Shuttlesworth
establish the SCLC to coordinate local efforts in the South to work
for civil rights.
Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower sends federal troops to enforce desegregation
at the formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
They escort the nine African American students who first integrate
1960 Congress passes a Civil Rights Act that establishes
penalties for obstructing anyone's attempt to register to vote or
1961 CORE sponsors Freedom Rides across the South
to enforce the 1955 Interstate Commerce Commission order for integration
of interstate public transportation.
1963 The March on Washington to support civil rights
legislation draws some 250,000 people. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
delivers his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Four young African American girls are killed in the bombing of the
16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., the site of civil
rights mass meetings. Riots follow in the city.
After police arrest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other ministers
demonstrating in Birmingham, Ala., and turn fire hoses and police
dogs on the protesters, King pens his "Letter from a Birmingham
Jail" urging clergy across the country to support the Civil
1964 The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
outlaws the poll tax.
Congress passes a Civil Rights Act that outlaws discrimination in
employment, public facilities, and education.
Congress passes the Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of
Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty." The act provides
for job training, adult education, and loans to small businesses,
and its programs include VISTA, the Job Corps, Head Start, Adult
Basic Education, and Economic Development.
COFO, a network of civil rights groups that includes CORE and SNCC,
launches a massive effort to register black voters during the "Freedom
1965 Police attack crowds of men, women, and children
as they cross Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on a march toward Montgomery.
"Bloody Sunday" inspires a series of protest marches throughout
the Southeast. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a successful march
from Selma to Montgomery a few weeks later.
Congress passes a Voting Rights Act prohibiting interference in
anyone's right to vote.
Malcolm X, a former minister with the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist,
and founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, is assassinated
in Harlem, N. Y.
1965-75 In the Vietnam War, minorities serve in
1965-68 Urban racial riots take place in Los Angeles,
Newark, Detroit, and Chicago.
1966 The Black Panther Party is founded in Oakland,
CORE and SNCC adopt the "black power" concept.
1967 The Supreme Court overturns a Virginia law
prohibiting interracial marriage.
1968 Congress passes a Civil Rights Act prohibiting
racial discrimination in the sale or rental of housing.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.
1969 The Supreme Court rules that school districts
must end racial segregation at once.
1972 Congress passes the Equal Rights Amendment,
and it goes to the states for ratification. Because it is not ratified
by the required number of states, it does not become constitutional
Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run
1978 The Supreme Court rules in Bakke v. Regents
of the University of California that racial quotas to achieve student
body diversity are unconstitutional, but that race can be a factor
in university admissions decisions.
1979 The American Indian Religious Freedom Act
guarantees religious freedom to members of Indian tribes, including
the right to hold traditional ceremonies.
Time line reprinted by
permission from Tar Heel Junior Historian 44 (fall 2004), copyright
North Carolina Museum of History,
Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History,
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.