Change doesn’t come without sweat and tears. And all too often, change comes incredibly slowly and only after people bind together – or march together or sit together or boycott together – to show they support that change.
This is a lesson our country has learned time and time again. Yet, far too many of us still refuse to catch on.
1. July 26, 1948
President Harry Truman issued executive order No. 9981, stating “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
The order also established the Fahy Committee to investigate and advise civilian leadership on implementing the new policy.
A number of military leaders openly defied the order – most notably Secretary of the Army Kenneth Claiborne Royall, who was forced into retirement in 1949.
2. May 17, 1954
Throughout the South, politicians opposed the ruling. In Virginia, opponents tried shutting down schools instead of integrating them. The governor of Arkansas used the National Guard to block Black students from schools in Little Rock.
President Dwight Eisenhower then sent federal troops to ensure the nine students could enroll. This led to more litigation and, eventually, yet another Supreme Court case.
In 1958’s Cooper v. Aaron, the court ruled states were constitutionally required to implement integration.
3. Dec. 1, 1955
After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white passengers, the NAACP organized a boycott: About 75 percent of riders were black. Whites retaliated by firebombing homes of leaders.
One of the leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was arrested for conspiring to interfere with a business. He spent two weeks in jail, but the protest continued.
In June 1956, a federal court ruled segregation on buses was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld that decision that November and the boycott ended Dec. 20, 1956.
4. Feb. 1, 1960
Four students from North Carolina A&T University visited a Woolworth store in downtown Greensboro, buying toothpaste and other items. They then purposely sat down at the whites-only lunch counter, where they were refused service.
The next day, 20 students participated. Whites came to heckle and harass the protesters, who stayed each day until closing. Eventually, more than 300 students were involved. Similar demonstrations sprang up in other Southern cities.
On July 25, Woolworth lunch counters began serving Black customers.
5. Aug. 28, 1963
While marches, protests and brutal countermeasures by police forces helped bring the struggle for civil rights to light, it was a moving speech by King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that made for the movement’s most iconic moment.
At the urging of singer Mahalia Jackson, King departed from his prepared notes. “I have a dream,” King said, “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Millions of Americans, watching on live national TV, took note.
6. July 2, 1964
In June 1963, President John F. Kennedy called for Civil Rights legislation and worked for the rest of that year for its passage. A segregationist Democrat, however, chaired the House Rules Committee and kept the bill bottled up until after Kennedy’s assassination.
A filibuster by Southern senators caused the bill to get watered down, but it did pass. With King looking on, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin and ending segregation in schools, workplaces and places where the public is served.
Sources: United States Courts, United States Senate, U.S. Dept. of Defense, National Park Service, Library of Congress, CongressLink, ConstitutionalFacts.com, the Oyez Project, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Civil Rights Movement Veterans, International Civil Rights Center & Museum, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, North Carolina History Project, Greensboro News & Record, Encyclopedia Brittanica, the History Channel, PBS, Chicago Tribune