Civil Rights Milestones
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Major Events on Civil Rights Activities leading Voting Rights Act

Martin Luther King Jr. on Violence and War

1860s: Civil War, end of slavery, Congress passes 14th Amendment guaranteeing blacks equal protection and, seemingly, public accommodation.

1870s-1890s: Southern states turn back freedoms guaranteed to blacks by the 14th Amendment. Supreme Court decides Hall v. DeCuir (1878), which holds that one state cannot enforce an integration law on another state due to the Interstate Commerce Clause, and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which allows segregation so long as facilities are "separate but equal," which in fact they were not. 

April 28, 1941: Arthur Mitchell, a black congressman from Chicago, wins Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in first class travel, establishing that "separate but equal" accommodations must indeed be equal. 

April 1942: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed in Chicago by Jim Farmer, George Houser and Berniece Fisher. Houser and Farmer also work as race relations secretaries for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. 

July 17, 1944: Irene Morgan arrested in Gloucester, Va., for refusing to give up her seat on an interstate bus headed to Maryland. NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood Robinson take her case. 

June 3, 1946: Marshall and Robinson win Morgan v. Virginia in the Supreme Court, basing their argument not on the 14th Amendment, but Hall v. DeCuir. Their logic was if it is an "undue burden on commerce" for one state to enforce an integration law on another, so too would it be for a state to impose its segregation laws on interstate passengers. 

Fall 1946: With few Southern states enforcing the Morgan decision, George Houser, Bayard Rustin and other leaders of the Congress of Racial Equality devise the idea of an interstate "Journey of Reconciliation" to the Upper South, in which whites and blacks would travel together, purposely violating local Jim Crow laws. 

April 9-23, 1947: Rustin and Houser lead eight white men and eight black men in the Journey of Reconciliation through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. A second trip is suggested for an interracial group of women, but does not materialize. 

1949: Rustin, Igal Roodenko and Joe Felmet sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang for violating North Carolina Jim Crow laws on the Journey. 

May 17, 1954: Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and holding segregation unconstitutional. 

August 1955: 14-year-old Emmett Till is lynched in Money, Mississippi. 

December 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a year-long bus boycott there led by the Rev. Martin Luther King. Bayard Rustin serves as an advisor to the boycotters. 

May 1961: Under Jim Farmer, CORE launches a second Journey of Reconciliation, this time called a "Freedom Ride," and this time targeting segregated bus stations as well as the buses themselves. The travelers, which include women and men, head to the Deep South, where they are brutally beaten. Jim Peck is the only veteran of the 1947 journey to participate. 

August 28, 1963: March on Washington held, in which Dr. King gives his "I Had a Dream" speech. The event - then the largest mass protest to date in American history - is largely organized by Rustin. 

November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas. 

1964: Congress passes Civil Rights Act, permanently guaranteeing equal public accommodations. 

1965: Congress passes Voting Rights Act.

  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
    Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963
  • I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
    Speech in Detroit, June 23, 1963
  • The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  • Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation for such a message is love.
  • The first question which the priest and the Levite asked [on the Jericho Road] was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?'But ... the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' 
  • I'd like someone to mention the day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry ... I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness ... I want to leave a committed life behind.
  • The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.
  • The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. 
  • I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. 
  • Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. 
  • Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
  • Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
  • One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.
  • If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.
  • I plan to stand by nonviolence, because I have found it to be a philosophy of life that regulates not only my dealings in the struggle for racial justice, but also my dealings with people, and with my own self.
  • The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.
  • Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
  • I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. 
  • The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
  • We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
  • Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? Expediency asks the question - is it political? But conscience asks the question - is it right? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, popular, or political; but because it is right.
  • Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
  • It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.

    Martin Luther King Jr.
    US black civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 - 1968) 
    Nobel Peace Laureate

Last Update On December 06, 2010  

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