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Civil Rights: Timeline of Events

Civil rights ensure equality and include protection from unlawful discrimination. Many civil rights in the United States stem from action in response to the Civil Rights Movement, but there were many significant occurrences affecting civil rights that proceeded that era and there are many that followed that strive for freedom and equality and the continued preservation of civil rights. Below are summaries of key events to relevant to American civil rights.


Dred Scott v. Sanford (Denial of Basic Rights to Blacks)

A major precursor to the Civil War, this controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision denied citizenship and basic rights to all blacks -- whether slave or free.


Emancipation Proclamation
President Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" takes effect proclaiming freedom from slavery for African-Americans.


13th Amendment Passes
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, abolishing slavery in the United States.


14th Amendment Passes
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, guaranteeing due process and equal protection rights to all citizens.


15th Amendment Passes
The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, guaranteeing the right to vote for all U.S. citizens.


Wyoming Becomes First State to Grant Women the Right to Vote


Plessy v. Ferguson (Approval of "Separate but Equal" Facilities)
The U.S. Supreme Court "separate but equal" decision in Plessy v. Ferguson approved laws requiring racial segregation, as long as those laws did not allow for separate accommodations and facilities for blacks that were inferior to those for whites.


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Founded


19th Amendment Passes
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, granting women the right to vote.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Founded


Roosevelt Issues Order Relocating Japanese-Americans
On February 19, 1942 (shortly after the U.S. entered World War II) President F.D. Roosevelt issued an executive order designating much of the west coast a "military area", and requiring relocation of most Japanese-Americans from certain west coast states. Many of the more than 100,000 persons who were relocated were forced to live in "interment" or "relocation" camps.


Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (De-Segregation in Education)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ended legal racial segregation in public schools.


Montgomery Bus Boycotts
African-American woman Rosa Parks's arrest after her refusal to move to the back of a bus triggers a citywide boycott of the bus system.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka II, Kansas (De-Segregation in Education)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas II implements the anti-segregation provisions that had been mandated in Brown I, and orders that states comply with "all deliberate speed."


Bailey v. Patterson (De-Segregation in Transportation)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bailey v. Patterson declares that segregation in transportation facilities is unconstitutional.


Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream"
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers the historic "I Have a Dream" speech.

Equal Pay Act
Passing Congress in 1963, the Equal Pay Act is a federal law requiring that employers pay all employees equally for equal work, regardless of whether the employees are male or female.


Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in a number of settings: voting, public accommodations, public facilities, public education, federally-assisted programs, and employment and establishes the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


Voting Rights Act of 1965
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits the denial or restriction of the right to vote, and forbids discriminatory voting practices nationwide.

Malcolm X Assassinated in New York City

Watts Riots in Los Angeles
Beginning as a community-wide reaction to the arrest of three African-Americans in central Los Angeles, the Watts Riots continue for six days and is a key precursor to the "Black Power" movement of the late 1960's.


Loving v. Virginia (Inter-Racial Marriage)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia declares that laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage are unconstitutional.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassinated in Memphis


Equal Rights Amendment Passes in Congress
The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to explicitly guarantee equality to all persons, regardless of gender. After passing in Congress, the amendment did not receive enough votes for ratification by the individual states, and was never signed into law.


Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (Affirmative Action)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke holds that college admission standards giving preferential consideration to minority applicants are constitutional.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act Signed
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits employment discrimination against female workers who are (or intend to become) pregnant -- including discrimination in hiring, failure to promote, and wrongful termination.


Americans with Disabilities Act
Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in many aspects of life, including employment, education, and access to public accommodations.


Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), passed in 1993, gives employees the right to take time off from work in order to care for a newborn (or recently adopted) child, or to look after an ill family member.


Lawrence v. Texas (Rights of Same-Sex Couples)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas declares unconstitutional a Texas statute that criminalizes same-sex sexual activity.


Shelby County v. Holder (Voting Rights)
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, declares unconstitutional Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which requires states with discriminatory histories to get preclearance from Congress before changing their voting laws.


Obergefell v. Hodges (Rights of Same-Sex Couples)
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

Get Professional Legal Help with Your Civil Rights Claim

The United States has had many important civil rights events in its history. These events affect the civil rights protections that we have today. If you suspect that you have been deprived of your civil rights, then you should talk to an attorney. Go to FindLaw's attorney directory to find a civil rights lawyer near you.

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