Part Two: 1947-1956.
1947 Apr 15 Jackie Robinson becomes the first African American to join a white professional baseball team when he is hired by the Dodgers. He will win the first MLB Rookie Award later the same year, and the Major League MVP Award in 1949.
1947 Fall Indiana University integrates its basketball team when it adds William Garrett to its roster. He is the first black player in the Big Ten and will be named an All-American in 1951. As other schools follow Indiana’s lead over the next few years, an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement” evolves, limiting to three the number of black players on the floor at any one time.
1947 Dec President Truman’s Civil Rights Committee issues its report, “To Secure These Rights,” which positions America’s harsh treatment of its black citizens against our criticism of Communism’s destruction of its citizens’ individual rights. Among other things, the report, which at the time is considered quite radical, calls for segregation to be abolished (first and foremost in government and the military), for lynching to become a federal crime, for poll taxes to be outlawed, for voting rights to be guaranteed for all citizens, and for a United States Commission on Civil Rights to be established.
1948 May 3 Sipes v. McGhee, a Michigan case, leads to Shelley v. Kraemer, in which the Supreme Court rules that, although no statute prohibits racially restrictive covenants in property deeds [written to block Asians, Jews, or African Americans from purchasing property in a neighborhood], no state or federal court can enforce them.
1948 Jul 26 President Harry S Truman signs Executive Order 9981, which establishes the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. It is accompanied by Executive Order 9980, creating a Fair Employment Board to eliminate racial discrimination in federal employment. [This will require an additional change in Department of Defense policy. See entry for July 26, 1963.]
1949 William Henry Hastie is the first African American to be appointed a federal judge, when President Truman names him judge of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hastie, a native of Knoxville, graduated first in his class from Amherst and took his law degree at Harvard University. One of his law students at Howard University was Thurgood Marshall.
1950-1960 During this decade over 100 Native American tribes are legally terminated, resulting in federal takeover of native lands, relocation of thousands of Indians, and the weakening of tribal governments nationwide. One example is the powerful Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina, which was recognized by Congress in 1848 and 1854. In 1959 the federal government terminates them as a tribe. Not until 1993 is this decision reversed, after they win a settlement for longstanding land claims they have disputed since 1904, and they are established once again as a Federal Tribe with full treaty status.
1950 African-American diplomat Ralph J. Bunche receives the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Arab-Israeli truce. He had also played a critical role in the formation and administration of the United Nations, chartered in 1945.
1950 Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African-American writer to receive the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1950 Nov 1 Chuck Cooper becomes the first African-American professional basketball player when he takes the floor with the Boston Celtics against the Fort Wayne Pistons.
1951 The University of Tennessee admits its first African-American students.
1952 The first year since 1881 without a recorded lynching. However, lynchings will continue to occur in America, the last on record being that of Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981.
1952 The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) passes a resolution introduced by the Yale Law School faculty two years earlier, making racial integration a requirement for membership in the organization.
1953 Fall Vanderbilt University admits its first African-American student.
1954 May 17 The unanimous decision on Brown v. Board of Education overturns previous rulings, beginning with Plessy v. Ferguson(58 years earlier, almost to the day), by ruling that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students deny equal educational opportunities to the black children – “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The decision bans segregation in public schools.
1954 Sep 30 The last remaining all-black units are disbanded by the U.S. Military.
1955 Mar 2 Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African American is arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Local black leaders consider using this as the test case for a major protest movement, but reject the idea when Colvin becomes pregnant.
1955 Mar Black basketball players K. C. Jones and Bill Russell lead the University of San Francisco to the NCCA championship.
1955 May 24 The Little Rock School Board votes unanimously to adopt Superintendent Virgil Blossom‘s plan of gradual integration, to start in September 1957 at the high school level and add the lower grades over the next six years. Mr. Blossom is named “Man of the Year” by the Arkansas Democrat for his work on desegregation.
1955 July Rosa Parks receives a scholarship to attend a school desegregation workshop for community leaders. She spends several weeks at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN, later saying that the workshop was the first time in her life she had felt a sense of being in “an atmosphere of equality with members of the other race.”
1955 Aug 28 On a dare, 14-year-old Emmett Till, visiting relatives near Money, Mississippi, flirts with a white woman in a general store. Later he is beaten to death by a group of men, including the woman’s husband. Soon after the two men tried for murdering Till are acquitted by a local jury, they sell a story to Look magazine in which they confess to the murder.
1955 Sep 3 Emmett Till’s mother, schoolteacher Mamie Till Bradley, insists on keeping Emmett’s casket open during his funeral, even though his face is so swollen and disfigured by the beating that he is unrecognizable: “Let the people see what I have seen. I think everybody needs to know what happened to Emmett Till.”
1955 Nov 7 In Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company the Interstate Commerce Commission outlaws segregation on interstate buses.
1955 Dec 1 Rosa Parks is arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. The next day JoAnn Robinson and other community activists make and distribute flyers encouraging the African-American community to boycott city buses.
1955 Dec 5 On the first day of the bus boycott, the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) is established. Members elect a young minister, the Reverend Martin Luther King, 26, as president.
1956 Jan 30 Dr. King’s home is bombed. Over the next two months, MIA attorneys file a federal suit challenging the constitutionality of segregated seating on public buses; a Grand Jury indicts 90 MIA members for breaking an anti-boycott law; Dr. King is convicted and fined $1,000. The MIA’s appeal draws nation-wide media attention.
1956 Mar The Southern Manifesto, opposing racial integration in public places, is signed by 101 Senators and Congressmen, all from Southern states. Refusing to sign are Senators Albert Gore Sr. and Estes Kefauver from Tennessee and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas. Other Congressmen who elect not to sign are Representatives William C. Cramer and Dante Fascell of Florida; Richard Chatham, Harold D. Cooley, Charles Dean, and Charles R. Jonas of North Carolina; Howard Baker Sr., Ross Bass, Joe Evins, J. Percy Priest, and B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee; and seventeen members of the Texas delegation, including Speaker Sam Rayburn. Their decision to oppose the Southern Manifesto will cost several of these individuals any chance of reelection.
1956 Jun 5 A Federal court rules bus segregation unconstitutional. Montgomery city officials quickly appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the bus boycott continues, and city officials concentrate on finding a legal way to prohibit the MIA’s carpool system, a home-grown network of alternative transportation provided by drivers both black and white.
1956 Summer African-American tennis player Althea Gibson reaches the finals of the U.S. Open. She wins both singles and doubles in the French Open, becoming the first African American to win a Grand Slam tennis title.
1956 Aug 28 After 27 African-American students fail in their efforts to register in the all-white Little Rock city schools, the NAACP files a lawsuit on their behalf. On this date, Federal Judge John E. Miller dismisses the suit, stating that the Little Rock School Board has acted in “utmost good faith” in following its announced integration plan. Although the NAACP appeals, a higher court upholds Miller’s ruling. Meanwhile, during the same period of late summer, the city’s public buses are quietly desegregated.
1956 Fall Although Vanderbilt University Law School has enrolled Native American, Asian, and Hispanic students for decades, new students Frederick T. Work and Melvin Porter are the first African-Americans admitted to a private law school in the South. Both will graduate in 1959.
1956 Nov 13 In Browder v. Gayle, the Supreme Court upholds the lower court ruling finding Montgomery’s bus segregation unconstitutional. On December 20, U.S. marshals officially serve the Supreme Court order on Montgomery city officials.
1956 Dec 21 The Montgomery bus boycott comes to a successful end. After 381 days and the combined efforts of 50,000 people, black residents of Montgomery are now free to choose any seat on city buses.
Adapted from a timeline created by Kathy B. Lauder for the TN State Library and Archives, 2013.