As the USA commemorates with fanfare the so-called “March on Washington in August 1963” by black Americans, here follows some of the milestones on the road to equal rights between blacks and whites in the United States:
December 1955 -MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT: Rosa Parks, an African American from Montgomery, Alabama, became an icon of the civil rights movement. Age 42 at the time, she refused to vacate her bus seat for white passengers. She was arrested and sentenced to a fine for violating segregation laws. Black people led by the clergyman Martin Luther King Jr organised a boycott of the city’s buses in protest. Thirteen months later, the Supreme Court in Washington ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.
September 1957 – LITTLE ROCK NINE: Nine black students became the first African Americans to be admitted into a previously all-white public high school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor deployed the National Guard to prevent them from attending the school. US president Dwight D Eisenhower federalised the National Guard and established his own command above the governors, and deployed soldiers to enforce integration. A 1954 ruling by the Supreme Court in Washington had officially ended racial segregation in public schools, but it took years until that was fully implemented within individual states. February 1960 – RESTAURANT SIT-IN: Four African American students sat at a restaurant counter reserved for whites only in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their sit-in was the start of many nonviolent actions across the South to demand the end of segregation in public places. This group evolved into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
August 1963 – MARCH ON WASHINGTON: Around 250,000 people rallied in Washington to protest discrimination in jobs and living, at the time the largest demonstration in the history of the United States. The highlight of the event was Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he demanded that blacks and whites live as equals. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his non-violent fight to end segregation. Four years later at age 39, he was felled by an assassin’s bullet.
March 1965 – SELMA-MONTGOMERY MARCHES: Civil rights groups launched in Selma, Alabama, a programme to register blacks to vote. On March 7, 600 people started to march from Selma to the Alabama state capital Montgomery, 86 kilometres away. Police attacked participants. The so-called “Bloody Sunday” left scores of people injured, and single participants were later killed. The second march also failed to reach its desired destination. After a third march that was protected by the National Guard, King addressed 25,000 people in Montgomery in March 24. In August 1965, US president Lyndon B Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which banned poll taxes and literacy tests that kept blacks from registering to vote. Millions signed up after the act passed. – dpa