The Civil Rights Movement

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Black History
An era dedicated to activism for equal rights and treatment of African Americans in the United States. During this period, people rallied for social, legal, political and cultural changes to prohibit discrimination and end segregation.


Civil rights are defined as "the nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially those guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress" (Merriam-Webster Online). The 13th amendment of the Constitution abolished slavery in the U.S., and the 14th amendment insured African Americans of their legal citizenship and equal protection under the law (National Archives Experience).

Movement is defined in part as "a series of organized activities working toward an objective; also: an organized effort to promote or attain an end" (Merriam-Webster Online).

The Civil Rights Movement was an era dedicated to activism for equal rights and treatment of African Americans in the United States. During this period, people rallied for social, legal, political and cultural changes to prohibit discrimination and end segregation.

Historic Roots (a partial list)

Many important events involving discrimination against African Americans proceeded the era known as the Civil Rights Movement. The importation and enslavement of Africans marked the beginning of the black experience in America. 

  • In 1808, there was a ban on the import of slaves. The prohibition was in vein because the trade continued.

  • In1863, the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln officially ended slavery. However, the proclamation could not instantly transform attitudes of many citizens or the legacy of a country that had considered African Americans as less than human.

  • In 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was confirmed by the 13 th amendment of the Constitution which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude.

  • In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson established a policy of separate but equal accommodations for African Americans.

  • In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, presented by Thurgood Marshall, overturned Plessy v. Ferguson. It was an important step in initiating integration.

  • In 1957, the governor of Arkansas attempted to prevent nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the court order.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1957 protected the freedom of African Americans to vote.

  • 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation was illegal in interstate bus and train stations. A group of citizens called Freedom Riders tested this ruling by traveling throughout the southern portion of the country on buses. The Freedom Riders encountered violence in Alabama. President Kennedy intervened to ensure their safety.

  • In1962, President Kennedy sent federal troops to the University of Mississippi so that rioters would not prevent James Meredith, the school's first black student, from attending.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade discrimination in public places and by any program that receives federal government funding. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a U.S. government agency that takes employment discrimination complaints to court, in an effort to enforce laws that prohibit job discrimination.

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspended the use of voter qualification tests, creating a sharp increase in black voter registration. These tests had been used to disqualify African Americans from their voting rights.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The Civil Rights Movement greatly contributed to and benefited from the nonprofit sector and philanthropy. Many nonprofit organizations were created during this era specifically to assist in the orchestration of events. These organizations, many staffed mostly by volunteers, acted as facilitators for change.

Philanthropy assisted many legal and political endeavors that were necessary to promote change in the government. Without philanthropic aid, many of the nonprofit organizations created during the Civil Rights Movement would not have been able to carry out their missions.

Key Related Ideas

Affirmative Action programs seek to enhance the diversity of the classroom or workplace, often to remedy the cumulative effect of prejudice. 

Black Power is a term that refers to the goal of black self-determination. This idea was supported by African Americans who wanted control over their own communities as well as schools, institutions, services and products.

Disfranchisement refers to the denial of voting rights-most often to African Americans. Despite the illegality, many southern states employed strategies to prohibit African American voters.

Integration during the Civil Rights Movement refers to the incorporation of African Americans outside of areas that were usually designated by race, for example, public schools.

Jim Crow refers to laws and policies that enforced the discrimination of African Americans by designating the use of many places such as parks, schools, and restaurants for 'whites only' or for 'coloreds.'

Segregation refers to the intentional (usually by law) separation of African Americans from whites.

Sit-ins were a tactic often used by African American students during the Civil Rights Movement. Students would sit at the counters of restaurants designated for 'whites only' in an effort to force desegregation. These sit-ins were successful, leading to the end of Jim Crow at many establishments.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Ella Baker: Baker was an important early advisor to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was also a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). Baker believed that civil rights activism should be focused on individual African American communities.

  • Stokely Carmichael: Carmichael, known as Kwame Ture after 1979, supported ideas of Black Power and is known as the originator of the term. He became the Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966 and incorporated Black Power into the civil rights group. he also aligned with the Black Panther Party. He wrote a book titled Black Power with Charles Hamilton.

  • Medgar Evers: Evers was the first Field Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was assassinated in front of his house in Jackson, Mississippi.

  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: King is considered the most prolific leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a founder of the SCLC and was known for his nonviolent approach towards ending discrimination. Martin Luther King delivered his famous 'I Have a Dream Speech' at the March on Washington in 1963, a demonstration of 250,000 people to promote civil rights. The next year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968. His birthday is celebrated as an official U.S. holiday on the third Monday in January.

  • Thurgood Marshall: Marshall became the first African American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Marshall was the chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1938 to 1950.

  • Rosa Parks: Parks is credited with the launch of the Bus Boycotts. This protest by the black community occurred after she violated a city ordinance in refusing to give her seat to a white man on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The buses were desegregated over a year later.

  • Malcolm X: X was born Malcolm Little. He changed his name after being released from prison and joining the Nation of Islam, which was led by Elijah Mohammed, who believed in black separatism.  Later, he left the NOI and started the Organization of Afro American Unity. He was assassinated in 1965 while delivering a speech.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was formed in 1942. The group originally focused on integration, but changed to support ideas of black power by the mid 1960's. CORE participated in sit-ins, Freedom Rides, voter education, and the March on Washington. They organized the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project which helped to register African Americans voters ( ).

  • The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909 by a group of black and white people. The NAACP usually fought to achieve rights for African Americans through the legal system. It is one of the most prominent organizations that supported the Civil Rights movement ( ).

  • The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was formed in 1957 by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other southern Christian supporters of civil rights. The SCLC helped coordinated many protests and programs dedicated to peacefully achieving civil rights for African Americans

  • The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) : formed in 1960 by black and white college students; it has since disbanded. The SNCC opposed U.S. participation in the Vietnam War; contributed to the Mississippi Project, which assisted African Americans in registering to vote; and recruited young people to participate in desegregation activities. The group was especially influential in organizing sit-ins.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • AARP. "Voices of Civil Rights." 
  • Black Lives Matter
  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

  • website

  • National Archives Experience. "Constitution of the United States." U.S. Government.
  • The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Website, at


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at Grand Valley State University.