Martin Luther King and the protests of 1963-65

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Key Themes

  • Methods and activities of Martin Luther King
  • The Birmingham Peace marches April-May 1963
  • The March on Washington, 28th August 1963
  • Kennedy’s Assassination, 22nd November 1963
  • The Mississippi Freedom Summer, 1964
    • The murders of Michale Scherner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney (members of Core)
    • The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP)
    • The Civil Rights Act, 1964
  • The March on Selma, 1965
    • Bloody Sunday – 7th March
    • Second March – 9th March – called off by Martin Luther King
    • March completed – 21st March
  • The Voting Rights Act, August, 1965

Timeline of key events

  • 1963
    • February-March – King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organize a set of protests and demonstrations to fight segregation in Birmingham, Alabama.
    • 12th April – the Birmingham police arrest Martin Luther King, Jr. for demonstrating in the city without a city permit.
    • 16th April – Martin Luther King, Jr. writes “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” where he famously responds to eight white ministers from Alabama who begged him to end the protests and to just be patient with the judicial process for overturning segregation.
    • 2nd May – Children’s Crusade – the first large children’s march took place; some as young as six; some were critical that children were being used as protesters; but they were more shocked by the treatment meted out to them by Bull Connor and the Birmingham Police. By the end of the day 1000 children had been arrested.
    • 3rd May – more children marched, but this time, because the jails were full, Bull O’Connor changed tactics and ordered his police to set dogs on the protestors and then called in the fire department to use powerful hoses on them. Connor’s actions meant that the civil rights groups got the publicity they wanted. Television footage and photographs of young people being attacked by dogs and fire hoses were shown throughout the world.
    • 10th May – President Kennedy sent a negotiator to Birmingham to help work out an agreement but , and the mayor and protest leaders began talks. This stirs up violence including bombings of African American homes and businesses.
    • 11th and 12th May – The extreme violence results in black rioting takes place; Kennedy calls in the Federal troops to restore calm. Most of the white businesses preferred to make concessions rather than continue to lose money through lost trade;
    • 11th June – President Kennedy delivers a speech from the Oval Office, discussing civil rights and explaining why he sent the National Guard in order to allow two African-American students into the University of Alabama.
    • 28th August – The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurs on August 28 in Washington D.C. where nearly 250,000. Here, King famously delivers his “I have a dream” speech.
    • 22nd November – Kennedy is assassinated, but Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, uses the country’s anger to pass civil rights legislation, using the legacy of Kennedy’s memory to do so.
  • 1964
    • From June to August, the SNCC organizes a voter registration drive in Mississippi, which is now called the Freedom Summer. It is often considered a failure in that only 1,600 more African Americans were successfully registered to vote in Mississippi (although over 17,000 tried to do so). Most failed to register even though they could pas the literacy tests; they were intimidated by the threat of violence and some were physically attacked or had their property attacked; others had the threat of dismissal from work. There were some successes, however, with the creation of 30 Freedom schools and the setting up of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). More importantly, it brought the issue of voter registration to national attention.
    • 21st June – Three Freedom Summer workers disappear: Michael Schwerner, James Chaney
    • 4th August – The bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman are found in a dam. All three people had been shot, while Chaney had also been beaten badly.
    • 2nd July – Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act bans discrimination in public places and in employment.
    • 10th December – Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1965
    • January – Local Civil Rights groups invited Martin Luther King and the SCLC to campaign in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama, over voting rights.
    • 21st February – Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.
    • 9th March – King leads a march from Selma to Montgomery to highlight voter rights but the march is stopped by police at the Pettus bridge, just outside Selma. State troops and police then attacked the protesters with tear gas, horses, clubs and electric cattle sticks. It became known as ‘bloody sunday’.
    • 17th March – President Johnson submitted a voting rights bill to Congress; then took control of Alabama National Guard.
    • 21st March – 3000 marchers leave Selma for Montgomery and complete the march without opposition
    • 25th March – nearly 25,000 people join the Selma marchers on March 25th at the city limits of Montgomery
    • 6th August – President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act into law on August 6, which renders all discriminatory voting requirements, such as requiring literacy tests before registering to vote, illegal.

Kennedy’s 1963 Televised Address, 11th June, 1963

Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech

The Mississippi Freedom Summer

Memory of the March from Selma to Montgomery, from John Lewis


  1. Explain the significance of the Civil Rigths Legislation of the 1960s
  2. To what etent was the the Freedom Summer a failure?
  3. C style question: ‘The main achievement of the civil rights movement was that it increased awareness of the unfair ways that African Americans were treated.’ How far do you agree? Explain your answer.You may use the following in your answer:
    • Awareness of the treatment of African Americans
    • the Civil Rights Act (1964).

    You must also use information of your own (16 marks)

Eyes on the Prize, Part 5: Mississippi – is this America?

Eyes on the Prize, Part 6: Bridge to Freedom

Eyes on the Prize, Part 7: 1964-66 The time has come

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