Fannie Lou Hamer,
a share - cropper in
Mississippi, became an
activist in the
civil rights movement
and leader of the
Mississippi Freedom
Democratic Party in
the early 1960s.

The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which made it unconstitutional to segregate children by race in public schools, jump-started the modern civil rights era. In subsequent years, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the Congress of Racial Equality organized bus boycotts and led sit-ins in segregated facilities to press for civil rights and voting rights legislation. More than a quarter million people of all races heard Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech inWashington, D.C., in 1963.


Malcolm X holds up a news-
paper at a Nation of Islam rally in
August 1963.

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in employment and public facilities based on race, sex or religion. Reinforcement of African-Americans’ right to vote followed the tumultuous year of 1964. The Mississippi Freedom Summer saw the murder of three young civil rights activists, James Chaney, a black Mississippian, and two white college students, Michael Schwerner of Columbia University and Andrew Goodman of Queens College/CUNY. Also that summer Fannie Lou Hamer, a leader of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, made a powerful speech on television at the 1964 Democratic Party convention – broadcast live - that led many Americans to recognize the need to protect voting rights. In March 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.

Marchers calling for racial
equality and school
desegregation at the
March on Washington
on August 28, 1963.

The path to racial equality and economic justice for all still remained tortuous. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Other leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, took their place but the dramatic changes of 40 years ago have been succeeded by slower incremental gains.




Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks at a protest during the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., on August 24, 1964. Behind him are posters of the murdered civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner.

Rev. Jesse Jackson surrounded by marchers carrying signs advocating support for the Hawkins-Humphrey Bill for full employment on January 15, 1975.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery from Selma, Ala., on March 21, 1965. They are marching for voting rights for African-Americans. Dr. King is fourth from right, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, is third from right. They are wearing leis given by a Hawaiian group.