Special Report

The Most Important Moments of the Civil Rights Movement

The quest for racial equality and justice in the United States has been long and divisive.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 17, 2022, 24/7 Tempo has created a list of the most important moments of the civil rights movement. We reviewed source material from the websites of the Southern Poverty Law Center and National Constitution Center, as well as from media sources to compile this list.

Click here to see the most important moments of the civil rights movement

Three amendments to the Constitution enacted during the Civil War and in the Reconstruction era abolished slavery and provided legal and civil rights for African Americans. At least in theory. In practice, black Americans continued to be subjected to brutal treatment by whites in mostly southern states.

So-called Jim Crow laws passed in the South prevented blacks from voting, attending the same schools as whites, dining in certain restaurants, and limited where they could live. To this day, certain cities in the United States do not provide as many opportunities for blacks to succeed as others. These are the worst cities for black Americans.

The first stirrings of the civil rights movement began prior to World War II when African Americans threatened to march on Washington to appeal for equal job rights in 1941. Blacks served in the military with distinction — such as the Tuskegee airmen — during World War II despite institutional segregation. Many African Americans questioned why they were fighting a war for freedom abroad while they were denied it at home.

President Harry Truman’s executive order ended segregation in the military in 1948. This helped  set in motion the civil rights movement, which started as a grassroots initiative and built to a full-fledged cause in the 1950s, leading to landmark legislation that provided better opportunities for African Americans and produced some of America’s greatest civil rights heroes


To create a list of the most important moments of the civil rights movement, 24/7 Tempo reviewed source material from the websites of the Southern Poverty Law Center; the Civil Rights Digital Library; Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute; the National Constitution Center; the National Archives Foundation, as well as articles from media sources.

We focused on boycotts, Supreme Court decisions, sit-ins, marches, legislation, integration of schools, and crimes that helped initiate social change during the civil rights movement, which began after World War II and grew into the most powerful political movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

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