Unit 14 Civil Rights and Black Power Era: Gains and Losses, 1954-1970


A watershed in black American history was reached in May of 1954 when, in a landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal as applied to public education was unconstitutional. This decision had a tremendous psychological effect on black Americans. In lifting their spirits and emboldening them to try to dismantle the entire Jim Crow system, it gave impetus to the modern civil rights movement.

The Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on school integration also hardened and intensified the opposition of southern whites who favored segregation. They removed their children from public schools and established private all-white “academies.” Segregationists organized White Citizens Councils (the first one in Mississippi in July 1954) and they attempted to outlaw the NAACP. They threatened violence against civil rights leaders and called for economic reprisals against blacks and whites who were active in the fight to desegregate schools. A few states, like Georgia, incorporated the Confederate flag into the state flag as a symbolic gesture of defiance. In September 1957, one of the most celebrated instances of white resistance to school integration exploded upon the national scene. Menacing white mobs and the Arkansas National Guard deployed by Governor Orval Faubus barred nine black teenagers from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The admission effort was spearheaded by Daisy Bates, NAACP state president. President Eisenhower was thus forced to federalize the Arkansas National Guard, removing it from Faubus’s control, and to send in army troops and federal marshals to restore order and compel Faubus’s compliance with a court order admitting the students to the school. A somewhat similar incident involved the efforts of James Meredith to integrate the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1962. When Governor Ross Barnett, after being found in contempt of court, failed to prevent Meredith’s admission, a student mob took over the campus. In the rioting that ensued two men were killed. Again federal troops had to be deployed to force compliance with desegregation. This time they were called in by President John F. Kennedy.

December 1, 1955, can be viewed as another turning point in the recent African American past. On that date, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to obey an order by a driver on the segregated bus system that she yield her seat to a white passenger and stand in the rear Jim Crow section. Five days following her arrest, and in the wake of calls for protest action by community activists JoAnn Robinson of the Montgomery Women’s Council and E.D. Nixon, a leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and former state and local NAACP president, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began. Its leader was the young Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., acting under the aegis of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Despite bombings and the arrest of Dr. King for violating a state law against boycotts, the MIA boycott succeeded because of community-wide black support (blacks constituted 75 percent of the pre-boycott bus ridership). In November 1956 the Supreme Court sealed the boycott’s victory by upholding a lower court decision that racial segregation in local transportation violated an individual’s fundamental right of citizenship. Consequently, on December 21, 1956, African Americans rode integrated Montgomery buses for the first time. The boycott brought Dr. King to the fore as a civil rights leader, catapulting him into national and international prominence.

The modern civil rights movement, which emphasized nonviolent direct action, and whose undisputed leader King became, expanded quickly. In January 1957 the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a black church — led protest organization headed by King, was established to continue the nonviolent crusade against racial discrimination in other parts of the South. That year also witnessed the passage of the first civil rights bill since 1875. Seeking mainly to prevent the denial of voting rights to blacks, it allowed the attorney general to file federal suits against officials (registrars) who prevented blacks from voting and federal courts to try and convict violators. It also created a Commission on Civil Rights to investigate charges of deprivation of voting rights because of color, race, religion, or national origin.

During the late 1950s the tempo of nonviolent direct action increased; there occurred more direct challenges to segregation in such forms as boycotts of segregated bus systems (Tallahassee and Birmingham, for example) and of local merchants because of racially motivated disfranchisement (Tuskegee). A factor affecting this tempo was blacks’ increased awareness of the limited usefulness and slow pace of legal and legislative action. Also, due in part to the rise of independent African nations, American blacks began to acquire a new self-image, a new confidence in the future: a sense of rising expectations. In short, blacks no longer felt inclined to accept the humiliations of second-class citizenship. And more white Americans during the late 1950s began to oppose racial segregation, many realizing in particular that it had an especially baneful effect in the African-Asian world, where the ideological battle of the Cold War was being waged with the Soviet Union.

In 1960 another crucial step forward in the modern civil rights movement was taken, one that also enhanced the technique of nonviolent direct action. On February 1, 1960, four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College students sat down at a Greensboro variety store’s segregated lunch counter after being refused service. This marked the beginning of the sit-in movement, which spread rapidly during the spring and summer of 1960, especially among black college students throughout the South. Some of the participants in these sit-ins were members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), established in April 1960 with the assistance of SCLC and its then executive secretary, Ella Baker. This upsurge in protest attributable to black youths helped to inaugurate a period of direct-action campaigns, as well as a spirited rivalry among the various civil-rights organizations, each of which sought to outdo the other in accelerating the pace of social change. CORE, for example, engaged in the much publicized Freedom Rides to Alabama and Mississippi in the spring of 1961 as a way of dramatizing the continued segregation of bus and train depots in these states. This resulted in a bus burning in Alabama, hundreds of Freedom Riders spending a month or more in Mississippi prisons, and a 1962 Interstate Commerce Commission order desegregating all facilities used in interstate transportation. SNCC, which separated from SCLC in 1961, moved beyond its sit-in activities and began to focus on voter registration, the establishment of Freedom Schools and community centers, and eventually, in 1964, the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, whose most riveting spokesperson was Fannie Lou Hamer. SCLC, in its campaign in Albany, Georgia, between December 1961 and August 1962, made extensive use of the boycott in attempting to desegregate the bus system and compel white businesses to hire African Americans. And even the NAACP, although it retained its traditional emphasis on court litigation, engaged in direct-action campaigns through some of its branches.

The year 1963 was marked by an escalation in the level of violence by prosegregation southern whites against blacks. Perhaps the most graphic display of white immoderacy occurred in Birmingham (in April and May) in the response led by the city’s Public Safety Commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Connor, to the SCLC-led demonstrations to desegregate downtown stores. Television brought into millions of American living rooms much of the violence used against the peaceful Birmingham demonstrators, such as dogs and high-pressure water hoses. Such incidents, along with King’s personal discipline and incarceration, which produced the famous “Letter from a Birmingham jail,” helped the civil rights movement to experience a growth in organizational strength and national and international support. King, for example, was designated 1963 “Man of the Year” by Time, and in 1964 he received the Nobel Peace Prize, at age thirty-five the youngest recipient ever. Largely because of events in Birmingham, President Kennedy became convinced of the need for a new civil rights bill and in June he called for one. Within twenty-four hours of his call, however, violence appeared again in the form of the assassination of the Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers.

In an effort to pressure Congress into passing Kennedy’s civil rights legislation, the historic March on Washington was organized. Held on August 28, it drew more than 250,000 black and white demonstrators (one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the nation’s capital) and witnessed the delivery of Dr. King’s stirring “I Have a Dream” speech. Little more than two weeks later, on September 15, a bomb tore through a Sunday school classroom in a black church in Birmingham, killing four young black girls. Two other African Americans were killed in the unrest that followed. And, of course, the violence that had marked much of the year resonated again in November with the assassination of President Kennedy.

During the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, the civil rights movement achieved its highest legislative goals; by 1966 there was no enforceable law in the United States that discriminated against blacks on the basis of race. The Kennedy civil rights bill became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the most far-reaching and comprehensive civil rights law ever enacted. It forbade racial discrimination in most places of public accommodation and gave the attorney general additional power to protect citizens against discrimination and segregation in voting. It also outlawed racial discrimination in employment by employers and labor unions, establishing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the power to receive, initiate, and investigate charges of discrimination, to bring action in a federal court, and to refer cases to the justice Department for legal action. A complainant could also bring a private action in a federal court. Another legislative gain in 1964 was the ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment (passed in 1962), which made unconstitutional the requirement of the poll tax in federal elections. Finally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for all practical purposes eliminated the literacy test as a requirement for voting. It suspended it and similar devices in states and counties that had used them and where less than 50 percent of the adults had voted in 1964. The attorney general was authorized to send federal examiners to register African American voters if local registrars were found to be negligent in this regard.

President Johnson also made two notable appointments involving blacks. In 1966 he made Robert C. Weaver the first black cabinet member and the first secretary of housing and urban development; in 1967 Johnson named Thurgood Marshall the first black justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And another first that made African Americans extremely proud during Johnson’s presidency, though the president was not responsible for it, was the election in 1968 of Shirley Chisholm of Brooklyn, New York, as the first black woman to serve in Congress.

Johnson had not been in office a year when, in addition to civil rights activity in the South, African American anger and dissent assumed another form: the eruption of riots in the nation’s urban black ghettos. Some argued that the collective violence manifested was mainly the work of social misfits, criminals and riffraff guided by impulses of opportunism and destruction. Others contended that the urban riots were expressions of political protest that both revealed the lack of access to effective channels for redressing grievances and sought to effect social change.

Those who viewed the urban disturbances, begun in the summer of 1964, as political acts argued that the main causes of such unrest lay in the sense of frustration, hopelessness, and despair born of such social and economic ills as high unemployment and underemployment rates, poor and overcrowded housing, large numbers of high school dropouts, and frequent instances of police brutality. New York City (Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant), Rochester, Philadelphia, Chicago, and three New Jersey cities (Paterson, Elizabeth, and Jersey City) were among the urban communities affected by civil disorders in 1964. By the end of the 1960s over four hundred disorders, often fueled by the cry of “Burn Baby Burn” and varying in degree of seriousness, had occurred. The most severe in terms of fatalities took place in 1965 in the Watts section of Los Angeles (34 deaths) and in 1967 in Detroit (43 deaths) and Newark (26 deaths). The Newark incident was by far the most devastating, considering how many died in comparison to the size of Newark’s black population. It began on July 12 after a black cab driver in the predominately black Central Ward was arrested for a traffic violation and allegedly beaten by the police. The event reinforced a long-held impression of police brutality against black Newarkers. In the next few days there was widespread looting, and numerous fires were set in the Central Ward. The state police and national guard were called in to quell disorders, which ended on July 17. Property damage exceeded 10 million. Other New Jersey urban centers where disturbances occurred after 1964 were Englewood (1965), Plainfield (1966), New Brunswick (1966) Camden (1967), and Atlantic City (1967).

The launching of the War on Poverty, as part of President Johnson’s Great Society, involved increased federal spending on programs designed to aid the nation’s neediest citizens, but did little to quell the urban unrest. Only when it became evident that the destruction in black neighborhoods hurt blacks more than whites, that mostly black deaths occurred, and that violence did not bring appreciable improvement in the lives of ghetto residents, did the disorders cease. Racial disturbances declined sharply in both number and severity after 1968.

One major consequence of the riots was the almost immediate exodus of whites in large numbers from the nation’s urban centers. This “white flight” had been historically aided and abetted by federal policies that supported suburban development, such as government subsidies for highway construction and government- guaranteed-mortgage loans from savings and loan associations. With the continued massive influx of southern blacks into northern and western cities, an in-migration pattern that ended by 1970, black ghettos expanded considerably and by the end of the 1960s, African Americans became the majority population in some cities, notably Newark, Detroit, and Gary, Indiana.

Helping to fuel the ghetto riots was a defiant, militant, and aggressive mood among many urban blacks, especially in cities outside the South. The popularity in these places of the slogan “Black Power,” which first appeared in 1966, symbolized this mood. Part of this slogan’s appeal lay in its myriad meanings for those who embraced it. For some it meant black political control of ghettos. Others saw it as emphasizing self-help and racial unity, ranging from the creation of independent, self-sufficient black businesses to control of public schools in black ghettos. To still others, among the most militant, it meant retaliatory violence, ranging from the legal right of self-defense to the justification of looting and arson by rioters to guerilla warfare and armed rebellion. The influence in the cities of organizations that espoused black nationalism, such as Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, with its forceful spokesman Malcolm X, or militant liberationism, such as the Black Panthers (organized in Oakland, California, in 1966), left little room for support of the message of passive resistance among the nation’s black urbanites.

The Selma, Alabama (Pettus) Bridge Compromise (March 9, 1966) also contributed to the decline of Dr. King’s stature in the civil rights movement, The compromise grew out of a decision to march to the governors office in Montgomery as a way of highlighting the campaign to end discrimination in voter registration practices in Selma. After the first march was brutally thwarted by state troopers and the Selma police, Dr. King led a second march. However, unknown to the marchers or the leaders of the other participating organizations (SNCC and CORE), King, in the face of a federal court order enjoining the second march, promised emissaries from President Johnson that the march would be halted after crossing the Pettus Bridge. Despite the successful federally authorized march to Montgomery twelve days later, some Movement blacks (especially young militants) saw this compromise as a sellout and began to view King as being too dependent on the goodwill of liberal whites and the federal establishment.

In response to criticism that he was too moderate, as well as his growing awareness of the deep relationship of racism to economics and poverty and his increased maturation as a protest leader, King expanded his targets of protest. For example, at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, he voiced unequivocally his opposition to the Vietnam War. This position earned him the enmity of President Johnson and criticism from other African American leaders, who felt he jeopardized the civil rights cause by linking it with such a controversial issue.

Earlier, in January 1966, King had opened the “northern phase” of SCLC’s work, launching a campaign to eliminate housing discrimination in and around Chicago. Ending in a stalemate, it further eroded his influence. Finally, in February 1968, he inaugurated the Poor People’s Campaign, which he envisioned as a trek to Washington of massive numbers of disadvantaged poor people of all races to demand an end to poverty and all forms of discrimination through a domestic program of intrinsic social and economic reform. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, effectively aborted this campaign and virtually killed the civil rights movement. Following his assassination, violence broke out in approximately 125 cities, claiming forty-six lives. Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago were the cities most devastated by this rioting.

Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, in which American involvement deepened after 1964 and which was the first war in the nation’s history fought on a completely racially integrated basis, underscored the war’s significant impact on black Americans. First, because the war was increasingly fought by those who were poor and less educated (for example, those unable to obtain college deferments or flee the country to escape the draft), blacks were well represented in the war; 274,937 of the approximate total of 2.8 million Americans who served in the war were black. Moreover, during the war’s bloodiest fighting (1968 to 1970), African Americans made up a disproportionate number (21 percent) of the casualties. By the end of hostilities, however, 5,681 black lives had been lost, roughly 12.6 percent of the total 65,869 American casualties.

Second, there was considerable division within the black community over the war. In addition to citing the unfairness of the fewer opportunities blacks had to avoid the war, black war critics charged that the monies spent in pursuing the war could be better utilized in alleviating many of the country’s urban problems. In perhaps the most controversial case of black opposition to the war, Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion and a member of the Nation of Islam, refused to be drafted and sought status as a conscientious objector; he received a sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a fine of ten thousand dollars before his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1971. African Americans who supported the war often did so out of a sense of patriotic duty and, in the case of black servicemen, often out of a desire to build a career in an integrated military. In 1967, for example, blacks reenlisted at three times the rate of whites.

Finally, reflecting in part the racial turmoil at home, there was considerable tension between black and white servicemen in Vietnam, especially in the late 1960s when many black draftees held Black Power sentiments. Hate-filled graffiti, written by both blacks and whites, and fights at military bases, sometimes provoked by the flaunting of the Confederate flag and the burning of crosses by white racist servicemen, were among the signs of racial conflict in Vietnam. Many black Vietnam veterans would find that the scars from such racial experiences, as well as those related to combat and drug use, would require years to heal. Indeed, when they returned home, where jobs were scarce and where the general public, including many African Americans, did not regard them as heroes, many veterans had trouble adjusting to civilian life. Some suffered from depression and struggled with drug and alcohol abuse.

In several significant ways the black experience in New Jersey typified that of the larger black population. The ubiquitous ghetto riot was certainly no stranger to the state. Few states, in fact, had more disturbances of this kind than New Jersey, perhaps because it is the nation’s most urbanized state. And even the nonviolent direct action approach used to fight racial segregation in the South found expression in New Jersey. One dramatic example of this was the 1962-63 struggle to desegregate the Englewood elementary schools. As part of this protest effort, African American parents withdrew their children from the all-black Lincoln School and enrolled them in improvised Freedom Schools that were established in private homes. The parents even held sit- ins with their children at the three all-white elementary schools before these schools were finally integrated in the fall of 1963 by an order of the state commissioner of education.

Nonviolent methods to eradicate racial discrimination were also seen in the work of the NAACP, in southern New Jersey in particular. In the late 1950s the NAACP in communities like Vineland, Bridgeton, and Glassboro, aided by Dr. Ulysses S. Wiggins, president of the NAACP Camden branch, took the initiative in breaking down racial barriers in elementary schools and public accommodations (such as movies and restaurants). In the early and mid-1960s the focus of black activism in these communities switched to discrimination in employment and public services.

In the early and mid-1960s New Jersey also reflected the strides made in eliminating racial discrimination in housing, perhaps the most dramatic example of this occurred in Willingboro, a planned suburban community established in 1958. By 1962, owing largely to litigation efforts backed by the NAACP, Willingboro had its first African American residents.

The movement to suburbia by New Jersey blacks, as revealed in Willingboro’s integration, also mirrored another national pattern. This was the rapid expansion of the black middle class, due in large part to the civil rights movement’s success in removing racial barriers in employment, as well as the many well-paying positions African Americans occupied in the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration. In New Jersey, as elsewhere, however, the migration of middle-class blacks from cities to suburbs weakened the social and economic stability of urban black neighborhoods. Additionally, it meant that for the first time affluent blacks were physically separated from the poorer ranks of the race, denying the latter their traditional proximity to viable mainstream role models.

Black New Jerseyans, like their kith and kin across the nation, were also affected by the advent of the postindustrial age. Indeed, structural changes in the economy leading to the decline in unskilled and semiskilled jobs and the expansion of the service sector contributed in large part to the appearance of what was termed an underclass. These were urban African Americans who, lacking any permanent connection to the work force, appeared locked in a seamless life of poverty and social misery characterized by violence, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, poor academic performance, and welfare dependency. Thus, by the end of the 1960s in New Jersey and elsewhere, a disturbing trend was apparent: groups within the black community were beginning to experience very unequal opportunities for upward mobility. The social classes at the community’s two polar extremes — the non-working poor and the privileged — were growing the fastest; the socioeconomic gap among blacks was widening.

Finally, New Jersey during this period foreshadowed a key development in the political realm: the election of African Americans to significant public offices. Newark perhaps illustrated this better than any other New Jersey city. In 1970, Kenneth Gibson was elected the first black mayor of Newark, the state’s largest city.



While the direct action nonviolent protest efforts (sit-ins, boycotts, marches) of African Americans led to the dismantling of the legal base for American racial segregation by 1970, especially in the South, rioting by blacks, as an expression of dissatisfaction with the conditions they faced, brought the plight of black urban America to the attention of the nation and spawned the creation of a variety of social welfare programs to better these conditions. The 1954-1970 period also witnessed certain key social and economic developments, such as the shift of the economy into a postindustrial phase, with a concomitant reduction in employment opportunities for working-class blacks, and the widening of the socioeconomic gap between the black poor and the black elite.

Materials and Preparation

Students should read either chapters 29-32 in The African American Experience: A History (“Gains and Losses in the Postwar Years, 1945-1960s,” “The Battle for Civil Rights, 1954-1963,” “New Directions in the Civil Rights Movement, 1964-1972,” and “Marching Off to Vietnam, 1963-1972”) or chapters 35-38 in African American History (“Rights Reaffirmed,” “The Struggle for a Dream,” “Styles of Dissent,” and “Struggles in Asia”).

Students should read the summary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s discussion of nonviolent resistance .

Students and the teacher should read pages 68-77 in Afro-Americans in New Jersey: A Short History.

The teacher should read chapters 22 and 23 in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (“African Americans in the Cold War Era” and “The Black Revolution”).

Time Period

Each of the activities below will take one class period.



  1. Explain the work of the civil rights movement in the South, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and ending with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Point out to the students that the civil rights movement in the South used nonviolent protest. Have them read the summary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s discussion of nonviolent resistance which sets forth his belief that nonviolence resistance is the most desirable form of protest. Then divide the class into two groups, one supporting Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence and the other opposing it. Have each group argue the merits of its position, Dr. King’s position is laid out in the summary. Those opposed to it can suggest that successful nonviolent resistance requires a certain kind of oppressor. For example, if one is dealing with an oppressor who lacks a moral conscience (such as a Hitler), then such an approach risks extermination. Thus, it can be argued that nonviolent resistance should be employed only in those situations where it is likely to prove effective.
  2. Evaluation: Divide the class into several groups and have each group role-play a particular situation where southern African Americans faced discrimination (lunch counters, waiting rooms at bus stations, voter registration, employment at department stores, seating on city buses). Have each group depict the methods used by civil rights activists in desegregating each of the situations listed (boycotts, marches, sit-ins, pickets, freedom rides).


  1. Describe the causes and consequences of the urban riots of the 1960s. Lead the students in a discussion that makes them aware of the grievances blacks had that gave rise to the urban disorders of the 1960s. Among these were high rates of black unemployment, police brutality, and poor housing conditions. Students should be informed, too, of the white flight from cities and the social welfare programs (War on Poverty) that occurred as a consequence of the urban riots. Students should also be told that these urban riots have been interpreted in different ways. Some persons have seen them as revolts and rebellions, as acts directed against authority symbols such as the police. Others, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, see nothing political about these disturbances and submit that they are simply the deeds of thugs and the criminal element in the black community. They point to the acts of looting and stealing as evidence of this. Divide the class into two groups, one arguing that the riots were politically motivated expressions of the desire to overthrow the existing political system, while the other group counters that these disorders were essentially the work of criminals and others who, caught up in the hysteria of mob rule, committed acts of vandalism and looting. Make the students aware of the possibility that there is some truth in both positions, that persons involved in these disturbances might have had different motives.
  2. Evaluation: Have students research New Jersey newspapers for articles on a civil disorder that occurred in New Jersey during the 1960s (for example, the Newark riot of 1967). Based on this research, have them write a 500-word essay about the event, pointing out its causes, the area(s) of the city affected, the number of fatalities, the number of arrests, and so on. The students should also indicate how the riot was interpreted by the press: a rebellion or the collective acts of criminals.

Supplemental Activities

  1. Show students the television film series Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, a comprehensive history of the people, stories, events, and issues of the civil rights struggle in America. The series can be obtained from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Media Resource Center, 28 West State Street, Sixth Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608 (609-695-4838). Individual sixty-minute segments are available:
    • “Awakenings: 1954-1956” (Episode 1) Events in post World War II American history that led to the modern black freedom struggle. The episode depicts southern race relations prior to 1954 and illustrates patterns of racial discrimination that prevailed at the beginning of the civil rights movement.
    • “Fighting Back: 1957-1962” (Episode 2) Law as both a tool for change and resistance to change, particularly as it relates to education. This program examines the political, social, and psychological implications of school segregation and desegregation.
    • “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails: 1960-1961” (Episode 3) This segment links four related stories of the period: the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960; the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; the impact of the sit-ins on the Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign; and the freedom rides of 1961.
    • “No Easy Walk: 1962-1966” (Episode 4) Major protest efforts in three American cities: Albany, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; and the march on Washington, D.C.
    • “Mississippi: Is This America?: 1962-1964” (Episode 5) Starting in 1961, Mississippi became a testing ground of constitutional principles and of the human spirit as the civil rights movement focused its energies on the right to vote.
    • “Bridge To Freedom: 1965” (Episode 6) Ten years after the Montgomery bus boycott the civil rights leadership had become sophisticated in the use of protest strategy. This program explores efforts by civil rights activists in Selma to sustain nonviolent street protest to generate nationwide sympathy and federal intervention, thereby bringing about better conditions for blacks.
  2. Show students the film I Have a Dream: The Life of Martin Luther King (35 minutes), which explores the factors that shaped his life and led him to a place of leadership among black citizens. The film also chronicles the modern civil rights movement in America, identifying the gradual evolution of the movement from the boycott stage through attempts to build political power with the vote, the introduction of the sit-in, the use of freedom riders, mass demonstrations, and the emergence of the call for black power as an ideology competing with King’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance. The film can be obtained from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Media Resource Center, 28 West State Street, Sixth Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608 (609-695- 4838).

Key Persons

Muhammad Ali. World heavyweight boxing champion and member of Nation of Islam who, because he became a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, was stripped of the championship.

Shirley Chisholm. In 1968 became the first black woman elected to Congress.

Medgar Evers. Leader of the NAACP in Mississippi who was assassinated by southern racists in 1963.

Kenneth Gibson. Elected Newark’s first black mayor in 1970.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Baptist minister who became the acknowledged leader of the modern civil rights movement and the winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Thurgood Marshall. A leading lawyer for the NAACP who argued many of its key cases (including Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas), he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in becoming the first black justice.

James Meredith. Integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962.

Elijah Muhammad. Leader of the Nation of Islam, a religious group that espoused a form of black nationalism and contributed much to the conversion of many black Americans to the Islamic faith.

E.D. Nixon. Montgomery community activist who urged that Rosa Parks’ arrest be used to test the constitutionality of Montgomery’s segregated bus system.

Rosa Parks. Seamstress who refused to obey an order by a driver on segregated bus system that she give up her seat to a white passenger. Her arrest prompted the successful Montgomery bus boycott by blacks.

JoAnn Robinson. Community activist in Montgomery who initiated the call for a boycott of the city’s bus system after the arrest of Rosa Parks.

Robert C. Weaver. A Harvard-trained economist who began in 1933 to hold a number of key positions in the federal government, he was appointed secretary of housing and urban development in 1966, becoming the first African American cabinet member.

Malcolm X. Converted to the Nation of Islam, he became its forceful spokesman and an influential figure in raising the level of black political awareness in the early 1960s.

Annotated Bibliography and Suggested Reading


Bartley, Numan V. 1969. The Rise of Massive Resistance.
Recounts the growth of organized white opposition to public school desegregation and the civil rights movement.
Brown, Claude. 1965. Manchild in the Promised Land.
An autobiographical account of growing up in Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s.
Burk, Robert. 1984. The Eisenhower Administration and Black Civil Rights.
Examines political expediency and the growing influence of the civil rights movement, 1953-1960, on President Eisenhower, otherwise a benign opponent of racial change.
Carson, Clayborne. 1981. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s.
An in-depth study of the rise, development, and demise of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Farmer, James. 1985. Lay Bare the Heart.
Farmer, one of CORE’s founders, provides in this autobiography a candid and revealing account of the civil rights struggle.
Garrow, David J. 1986. Bearing the Cross.
Pulitzer Prize-winning, controversial, and revealing biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Notable for the author’s access to FBI files and his exhaustive research.
Haley, Alex. 1965. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
The compelling life of the black nationalist leader as told by him to journalist Alex Haley. A triumphant but sad story of Malcolm’s rise and fall at the hands of black and white enemies.
Kluger, Richard. 1976. Simple Justice.
An account of the school desegregation cases legally represented by the NAACP which culminated in the Supreme Court’s pivotal Brown decision in 1954.
Lawson, Steven R. 1976. Black Ballots.
___. 1985. In Pursuit of Power.
These two volumes trace the struggle for and results of’ southern black political representation and empowerment from the 1950s to the 1980s. The volumes constitute the most comprehensive study of the entire southern crusade.
Lincoln, C. Eric. 1961. Black Muslims in America.
One of the earliest studies of the Nation of Islam’s growth and espousal of a distinctive brand of religion and nationalism under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad aided by Malcolm X.
Rowan, Carl T. 1993. Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Justice Thurgood Marshall.
An excellent biography of the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, a leading exponent of civil rights law.
Sitkoff, Harvard. 1981. The Black Struggle for Equality.
Best short general history of the civil rights movement between 1948 and 1980.
Washington, James. M., ed. 1985. A Testament of Hope.
Comprehensive collection of Dr. King’s speeches and writings. Well edited, with informative introductions.


Aldred, Lisa. 1990. Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Bates, Daisy. 1962. The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
A first-person account of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and the early 1960s in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Cagin, Seth, and Philip Dray. 1988. We Are Not Afraid: The Murder of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi.
An account of the tragic murders of three civil rights activists by white supremacists in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.
Clark, Kenneth B. 1965. Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power.
An examination of mid-1960s Harlem as a black ghetto with such problems as drugs, suicide, crime, infant mortality, and homicide.
Hull, Mary. 1994. Rosa Parks: Civil Rights Leader.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Halasa, Malu. 1990. Elijah Muhammad: Religious Leader.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Jakoubek, Robert. 1990. Martin L. King Jr: Civil Rights Leader.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Marshall, Paule. 1959. Brown Girl Brownstone.
In this story about racial and cultural conflict, the brown girl of the book’s title is a daughter of immigrants from Barbados, and the brownstones are the once socially desirable houses in a section of Brooklyn they have moved into.
Meredith, James. 1966. Three Years in Mississippi.
A first-person account of what it was like to integrate the University of Mississippi.
Moore, Yvette. 1991. Freedom Songs.
In this first-person narrative, fourteen-year-old Sheryl and her family leave their comfortable Brooklyn home for an Easter visit with Sheryl’s grandmother in North Carolina. When Sheryl’s nineteen-year-old uncle announces plans to become a Freedom Rider that summer, the entire family is shaken. His tragic death causes Sheryl to pursue her fundraising objectives in New York with even more dedication and conviction.
Peck, James. 1962. Freedom Ride.
A first-person account of the Freedom Rides by a white participant.
Raines, Howell. 1977. My Soul is Rested.
An oral history account of the civil rights movement from 1955 to 1968, it includes accounts by James Farmer, Rosa Parks, Bayard Rustin, Julian Bond, and Joseph E. Lowery.
Rummel, Jack. 1988. Muhammad Ali: Heavyweight Champion.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
__. 1989. Malcolm X.: Militant Black Leader.
Part of the Black Americans of Achievement series.
Shange, Ntozake. 1985. Betsey Brown.
A novel about a thirteen-year-old girl who comes of age in Saint Louis in 1959 in the midst of court-ordered integration, racism, and class conflict within the African American community.
Wallace, Terry. 1985. Bloods: An Oral History of the Viet Nam War by Black Veterans.
Oral testimonies from black veterans of the Vietnam War provide a sense of what they experienced during this war.
Williams, Juan. 1987. Eyes on the Prize.
The companion volume to the PBS television series Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, it contains profiles and interviews of outstanding personalities associated with the civil rights movement, as well as important documents pertaining to it.


Summary: The Nonviolent Resistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Digitized by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
Copyright 2003 by the New Jersey Historical Commission,
New Jersey Department of State.
All rights reserved.
Please direct questions and comments to Deborah Mercer.
Updated:Wednesday, April 23, 2003