To the Mountaintop was written by Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Charlayne was one of the first black students allowed to go to the University of Georgia in 1961. In this book, Charlayne tells the story of how it felt to have other students gathering outside her dorm room and shouting about how they did not want her there. She also tells the stories of other children and young adults who played very important roles in the civil rights movement. One of the people Charlayne talks about is Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruby was in elementary school, Charlayne was in college, both were brave enough to do something first.
Ruby, in particular, became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. An icon is a person who represents something bigger. One of the things that helped make Ruby an icon is this painting by Norman Rockwell. The painting shows Ruby being escorted to school by four US Marshals. It took four law enforcement officers to protect her. It is really hard to understand that a child would need escorted to school like that. The painting is called "The Problem We All Live With". In 2011 President Barack Obama arranged to borrow the painting from the Norman Rockwell museum. He had it hung outside the Oval Office and invited Ruby to come see it. Watch this video carefully to hear President Obama say something important:
"I think it's fair to say that if it hadn't been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn't be looking at this together."
He said something very similar during his campaign for the presidency in 2007.
"I'm here because somebody marched. I'm here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants." ~Speech, Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration in Selma, Alabama, March 4, 2007
Listed below is a timeline of important events of the civil rights movement. These events led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. For each event a few books are listed, both fiction and non-fiction, that bring the events and people to life. Take a book walk through history to learn about these fascinating, determined, brave people who stood together so no one stood alone.
Brown v. Board of Education was a very important United States Supreme Court case. The Court decided state laws that separated black students from white students in public schools were unconstitutional. In other words, the Court said this separation of students was not legal. The decision by the Court was unanimous (9–0). Unanimous means all of the supreme court justices agreed.
The Murder of Emmett Till - Emmett was a 14-year-old African American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. He was accused of offending a white woman at a grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted highlighted the long history of violent persecution of African Americans. Like Ruby Bridges, Emmett became an icon of the civil rights movement.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest against segregated seats on the public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Back then black people had to ride in the seats at the back of the bus, and if the seats were all full and a white person got on the bus, a black rider would have to give their seat to the white person. A boycott is when people stop buying something or stop using something to point out something they think is not right. In this case, people boycotted the buses; they stopped paying to ride them. The boycott began when Rosa Parks, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person.
The Little Rock Nine was a group of black students who were signed up to go to Little Rock Central High School. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had already said it was not legal to separate black students from white students in public schools, these black students were prevented from entering the school. President Eisenhower had to send the 101st Airborne and the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students to school.
The Greensboro Sit-ins were nonviolent protests against segregated seating in restaurants. The sit-ins began in Greensboro, North Carolina when four black men sat down in the white section of a restaurant. No one would take their order because they were not sitting in the "right" seats. They sat quietly until the restaurant closed. Because they were sitting in the seats, white people could not sit in the seats and make an order. The next day more people came and did the same thing, filling up the seats. More people joined each day at more restaurants and in more cities. The restaurants did not make any money. Eventually, the restaurants changed their segregation rules so that they could do business again.
Ruby Bridges was the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Ruby and her mother were escorted to school by four federal marshals for the entire school year.
Freedom Riders were people who rode on buses to protest segregated seating. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled that it was illegal to separate black people from white people on public buses, but the law was not enforced. To protest this, groups of people, both black and white, rode the buses together to challenge the rules. The riders drew attention to the states that were not following federal law.
The Birmingham Children's March was a march by hundreds of school children in Birmingham, Alabama. The children left school and walked downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation. Fire hoses and police dogs were used to stop the march. Many children were arrested. This event inspired President Kennedy to publicly support federal civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
The March on Washington took place in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. At the march, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. The march helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 15, 1963 killed four little girls and injured 22 other people. Three Klansmen were thought by the FBI to be responsible and were eventually prosecuted for the crime, but not until 1977, 2001 and 2002. A fourth man thought to be involved died before he could be prosecuted. The bombing contributed to support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Civil Rights Act was enacted on July 2, 1964. It is a landmark law in the United States that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
The Selma to Montgomery Voting Marches were three protest marches along a 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery. The marches were organized by African American citizens who were being prevented from exercising their constitutional right to vote. The marches contributed to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. While his death silenced his own voice, it did not end the civil rights movement. It continues to this day as people work to ensure and preserve opportunities for racial equity, inclusion, justice, and peace.
To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.