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Civil Rights: Timeline of Events

Civil rights ensure equality and include protection from unlawful discrimination. Many civil rights in the United States stem from actions in response to the Civil Rights Movement. But many significant events were affecting civil rights that preceded that era. Many followed, striving for freedom and equality and preserving civil rights.

Below is a summary of key events relevant to American civil rights.

1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford
A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all Black people, whether enslaved or free.

Emancipation Proclamation
President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation takes effect, proclaiming freedom from slavery for African Americans.


13th Amendment Passes
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution becomes law, abolishing slavery in the United States.


14th Amendment Passes
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gets ratified, guaranteeing due process and equal protection rights to all.


15th Amendment Passes
The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gets ratified, guaranteeing the right to vote for all U.S. citizens.


Wyoming Becomes First State to Grant Women the Right to Vote


Plessy v. Ferguson
The U.S. Supreme Court's "separate but equal" decision approved laws requiring racial segregation, as long as those laws didn't allow for separate accommodations and facilities for Black people that were inferior to those for white people.


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Founded


19th Amendment Passes
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution becomes law, granting women the right to vote.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Founded


Roosevelt Issues Order Relocating Japanese-Americans
On Feb. 19, 1942 (shortly after the U.S. entered World War II), President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues an executive order designating much of the West Coast a "military area." The order required the relocation of most Japanese-Americans from certain West Coast states. The government forced many of the more than 100,000 people relocated to live in internment camps.


Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
This U.S. Supreme Court decision requires racial desegregation in public schools.


Montgomery Bus Boycotts
The arrest of Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, after her refusal to move to the back of a bus triggers a citywide boycott of the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka II, Kansas
This U.S. Supreme Court decision implemented the anti-segregation provisions mandated in Brown I and ordered that states use "all deliberate speed" in desegregation to promote greater racial equality.

1957 Little Rock Nine
A group of African-American students enrolled in what was formerly an all-white school known as Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent troops to escort the students into school during the process of racial integration.
1960 Sit-In Campaign/Movement
 A group of Black students organized a series of sit-ins at area lunch counters to protest racial segregation.

Bailey v. Patterson
The Supreme Court declares that segregation in transportation facilities is unconstitutional. Protest efforts by activists led up to this decision.


Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream"
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the historic "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, D.C., where other civil rights leaders and a large crowd of marchers gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Equal Pay Act
After passing Congress in 1963, the Equal Pay Act became a federal law. Signed into law by President John F. Kennedy, the act requires employers to pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of gender.


Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gets signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibiting racial discrimination in many settings. These settings include voting, public accommodations, public facilities, public education, federally assisted programs, and employment. The act establishes the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 bans denying or restricting the right to vote. It also forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide. It became law shortly after a march from Selma, Alabama, to the state's capital led by Martin Luther King, Jr. that became known as Bloody Sunday for the violent beatings state troopers did to peaceful protesters.

Malcolm X Assassinated
This happened in New York City.

Watts Riots in Los Angeles
Beginning as a community-wide reaction to the arrest of three African-Americans in central Los Angeles, the Watts Riots continued for six days. The riots serve as a key precursor to the "Black Power" movement of the late 1960s.


Loving v. Virginia
The U.S. Supreme Court decision declares that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional. The plaintiff was a white man who had married a woman of mixed African-American and Native American-descent.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated in Memphis


Equal Rights Amendment Passes in Congress
Passes in Congress The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution intended to guarantee equality to all persons, regardless of gender explicitly. After passing in Congress, the Amendment didn't get enough votes for ratification by individual states. The Amendment never became law.


Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 
This U.S. Supreme Court decision holds that college admission standards giving preferential consideration to minority applicants are constitutional.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act Signed
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits employment discrimination against workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant. The act bans discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.


Americans with Disabilities Act
Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life. Protected areas include employment, education, and access to public accommodations.


Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, gives employees the right to take time off work to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child. It also allows for time off to care for an ill family member.


Lawrence v. Texas
This U.S. Supreme Court decision declares unconstitutional a Texas statute that criminalizes same-sex sexual activity.


Shelby County v. Holder 
The U.S. Supreme Court declares Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Section 4 required states with discriminatory histories to get preclearance from Congress before changing their voting laws.


Obergefell v. Hodges
This U.S. Supreme Court decision declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.


Murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests

On May 25, 2020, police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, arrested George Floyd, an African-American. Floyd died during the arrest as three police officers pinned him down with a knee pressed against his neck. Videos of the arrest sparked protests, including rioting and arson. The unrest spread to other cities nationwide as the issue became a focal point for Black Lives Matter demonstrations.


Get Professional Legal Help With Your Civil Rights Claim

The United States has had many important civil rights events in its history. These events affect the civil rights protections we have today. If you suspect someone has deprived you of your civil rights, contact a civil rights attorney.

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