Civil Rights Timeline (2023)



civil rights photography

Photography played a crucial role in the civil rights movement. Powerful images, captured by professional and amateur photographers alike, spread awareness across the country of the ongoing fight for equality. Due to the principle of nonviolent resistance, photos showed civil rights activists quietly and peacefully enduring abuses, often violent, at the hands of those in authority. These photographs trace both major and minor events in the 1956-1967 movement.


Looking Inside Outside, Mobile, Alabama

Civil Rights Timeline (13)

1956,LifeThe magazine published a photo essay titled "The Restraints: Open and Hidden" by Gordon Parks, the magazine's first African-American photographer. The disturbing and poignant color photographs documented the reality of life under segregation in Jim Crow South. The chain link fence in this image acts as a physical barrier, preventing the young girls from entering the manicured playground on the opposite side, but also as a metaphorical one. As Parks' title suggests, the children "face from the outside looking in" at the kind of lives denied them by institutionalized discrimination.

Gordon Parks
American, 1912-2006
Looking Inside Outside, Mobile, Alabama, 1956, printed 2012
Pigmented inkjet print
Gift of the Gordon Parks Foundation, 2014.386
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Elisabeth Eckford

Civil Rights Timeline (14)

One of the most iconic images of the civil rights era, this photo shows 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford walking alone in front of Little Rock High School while being taunted by a menacing, hateful mob. Eckford was alone because she had not received notification that the desegregation date had been pushed back a day. The next morning, the nine students selected to integrate the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School returned together under armed guard.

Unknown photographer
Elizabeth Eckford enters Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from Sandra Anderson Baccus in loving memory of Lloyd Tevis Baccus, M.D., 2007.108
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(Video) History of the Civil Rights Movement


Martin Luther King Jr. verhaftet, Montgomery, Alabama

Civil Rights Timeline (15)

On September 3, 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to attend a hearing for civil rights activist Ralph David Abernathy at the Montgomery, Alabama courthouse when he was violently arrested. Photographer Charles Moore followed the commotion from the street to the police station, where King was booked to loiter. Once inside, Moore recalled, "I saw an opening on the other side of the counter. I ran there quickly. Nobody stopped me."

From his privileged seat behind the police counter, Moore captured this image of King being manhandled by arresting officers while Coretta Scott King looked on. The Associated Press circulated Moore's photo across the country, sparking national outrage.

Charles Moore
American, 1931-2010
Martin Luther King Jr. verhaftet, Montgomery, Alabama, 1958
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection, 1994.63
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Firefighters use hose to push back crowd protesting Central High School integration

Civil Rights Timeline (16)

Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine successfully enrolled in Central High School in 1957, but protests against the integration of the Southern schools continued for years. In this press photo, firefighters use hoses to quell the forward movement of pro-segregationist protesters with American flags.

Many photographs from the period show such violent crowd suppression techniques being used against civil rights protesters, but here the firefighters are aggressively spraying activists on the other side of the issue. The photographers stood directly behind the firefighter and police chief, who are separated from the protesters by a large, white wall of water. By framing the image in this way, the photographer subtly engages the viewer in the violence.

Unknown photographer
Firefighters use hoses to push back crowds protesting Central High School's integration, 1959
gelatin silver print
Promised gift from Joe Massey
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(Video) Civil Rights and the 1950s: Crash Course US History #39


Passive Resistance Training, SNCC

Civil Rights Timeline (17)

Nonviolent resistance was a key tenet of the civil rights movement. dr Martin Luther King Jr. went ahead after studying the strategies used by Mahatma Gandhi in India. By refusing to move or fight back, activists exposed the barbarism of segregation and institutionalized racism.

James Karales' photo shows the rigorous training that young people underwent to prepare for activism by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). These civil rights activists learned not to respond to even the most extreme provocations, including aggressive verbal abuse and vigilantism, which were common at demonstrations and sit-ins. At the same time, activists were asked to embrace a deep belief in the possibility of human transformation through peace and love.

James Karales
American, 1930-2002
Passive Resistance Training, SNCC, 1960
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from Sherri and Jess Crawford in honor of John Lewis, 2007.245
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Dad, I want to be free too

Civil Rights Timeline (18)

Ernest Withers was one of the first African Americans allowed to join the Memphis Police Department in the 1950s. At the same time, he joined the civil rights movement early on as an organizer and photographer.

In this photo, the encounter between police and a peaceful protester with his daughter reflects Withers' own conflict between his role as a protester and the racist laws he was put in charge of upholding as an officer. In 2010, an investigation revealed that Withers had worked as a paid informant for the FBI during his years in the movement, a fact that further complicates the legacy of this important Southern photographer.

Ernst Wither
American, 1922-2007
Dad, I want to be free too (William Edwin Jones pushes daughter Renee A. Jones during a protest march on Main Street) Memphis, August 1961, 1961
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from the Directors' Circle, March 24, 2002
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SNCC Secretary of State John Lewis and others pray during a demonstration

Civil Rights Timeline (19)

The balanced, thoughtful body language of these young protesters praying during a demonstration demonstrates the effectiveness of their passive resistance training. By remaining calm and peaceful in situations that could often become violent and chaotic, the protesters sent a powerful message to the world by not engaging in the brutality they faced.

At the time this picture was taken, SNCC photographer DannyLyon was just 20 years old; His subject, future Congressman John Lewis, was 22 years old. The photo's formal elegance and Lewis' poised focus suggest his strong sense of purpose and natural leadership qualities.

Danny Lyon
American, born 1942
SNCC Secretary of State John Lewis and others pray during a demonstration, 1962
gelatin silver print
Gift of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 2006.238.3
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Police dog attack, Birmingham, Alabama

Civil Rights Timeline (20)

Bill Hudson captured this shocking altercation between police officer Dick Middleton, 15-year-old Walter Gadsden and a police dog from just feet away, immersing viewers in the brutal immediacy of the scene. The use of attack dogs was one of many harsh techniques ordered by Bull Connor, a fervent segregationist and Birmingham public safety officer, to disperse a peaceful protest at Kelly Ingram Park made up mostly of children and teenagers.

The photos released that day led to greater national support for the civil rights movement from both public and federal lawmakers, who signed the Civil Rights Act into law a year later. Hudson's photo inspired a sculpture honoring the protesters to be placed in the park where these events took place.

Bill Hudson
American, 1932-2010
Police dog attack, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from Sandra Anderson Baccus in loving memory of Lloyd Tevis Baccus, M.D.
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Freedom Bus Riders, Sommer ’64

Civil Rights Timeline (21)

During the summer of 1964, more than 1,000 volunteers from across the country traveled on freedom rides like the one pictured in this photo. They went to Mississippi to participate in a massive voter registration and education initiative organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in a project called Freedom Summer.

Over the summer, 1,062 attendees were arrested, 80 Freedom Summer staffers were beaten, 37 churches were bombed or burned, 30 black homes and businesses were bombed or burned, 4 civil rights activists were killed, and at least 3 black Mississippi residents were murdered in support of the civil rights movement.

(Video) civil rights timeline

Steve Schapiro
American, born 1936
Freedom Bus Riders, Sommer ’64, 1964
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from the H.B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust, 2007.217
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Freedom Song, Selma, Alabama

Civil Rights Timeline (22)

Freedom songs were fundamental to the civil rights movement, particularly at marches and public demonstrations. These hopeful pieces of music expressed the difficulty of the struggle and the collective longing for freedom and equality. Charles Moore's photograph shows a group of civil rights protesters—including (left to right) James Orange, Bob Mants, John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and other Amelia Boynton—singing ahead of their march to the Edmund Pettus Bridgeon Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.

Charles Moore
American, 1931-2010
Freedom Song, Selma, Alabama, 1965
gelatin silver print
Purchased with funds from Sherri and Jess Crawford in honor of John Lewis, 2007.252
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boy, man and graffiti

Civil Rights Timeline (23)

Though not a conventional civil rights documentary filmmaker, Roy DeCarava approached photography to chronicle the life experience of black people in New York City. In New York, segregation was not the law of the country like it was in the South, but the presence of overt and institutional racism struck him deeply.

DeCarava also actively fought for equal rights and appreciation for the work of black photographers. He protested Life Magazine's lack of diversity among its photographers and co-founded The Black Photographers Annual, a publication that celebrated and disseminated the work of black photographers across the country.

Roy DeCarava
American, 1919-2009
boy, man and graffiti, 1966
gelatin silver print
Donated by the artist, 1998.66
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Negro leaders call on White House

Civil Rights Timeline (24)

President Johnson and several key black leaders of the day, including (left to right) Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP; James Farmer, National Director of the Congress on Racial Equality; dr Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and UrbanLeague leader Whitney Young met at the White House to discuss the President's war on poverty and concerns about the high percentage of poverty among black people across the country. Johnson later signed the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which built on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Unknown photographer, United Press International
Negro leaders call on White House, 1967
gelatin silver print
Purchased with the Elton John Acquisition Fund for Photography, 2008.42
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(Video) Civil Rights Turning Points in Every Decade | History by The Decade


1. Civil Rights Movement Timeline
(Black History People)
2. The History of Civil Rights in the US and Canada: Every Year
3. Civil Rights Timeline - Moments To Remember
(The Historical Diaries Blog Channel)
4. Major events of the Civil Rights Movement
5. Civil Rights Movement Timeline.
(Irene Vara)
6. Student Civil Rights Activism: Crash Course Black American History #37
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