Part Three: 1957-1960.
1957 Jan 10 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is organized in Atlanta, its stated goal to coordinate and support non-violent direct action as a method of desegregating bus systems across the South. Martin Luther King Jr., 28, is chosen its first president.
1957 Mar Tennessee State University defeats Southeast Oklahoma at the NAIA Basketball Tournament, 92-73, to become the first black college to win a white-dominated national title.
1957 Spring Of the 517 black students eligible to attend Little Rock Central High School, 80 express an interest in doing so and go through a series of interviews with school officials. Of the 17 students who are selected, 8 decide to remain at the all-black Horace Mann High School, leaving a group at Central who will become known as the “Little Rock Nine.”
1957 May 17 On the third anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Bobby Cain graduates from Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee, becoming the first African-American graduate of a state-supported public integrated high school in the South.
1957 Tennis player Althea Gibson wins both singles and doubles titles at the U.S. Open, the Australian Open, and Wimbledon.
1957 Aug 27 During the summer, opponents of school integration have organized into groups, the most vocal being the Capital Citizens Council and the Mothers League of Central High School. On this date one of the mothers files a motion in Chancery Court asking for a temporary injunction against school integration. Pulaski County Chancellor Murray Reed grants the injunction “on the grounds that integration could lead to violence.” Three days later Federal District Judge Ronald Davies nullifies the injunction.
1957 Sep 2 On Labor Day, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus calls out the Arkansas National Guard to protect the school against extremists. The next day, Judge Ronald Davies orders that integration begin on September 4. This will be the first important test of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
1957 Sep 4 The nine enrolled black students attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School but are turned away by National Guardsmen.
1957 Sep 9 On March 11, 1956, President Eisenhower, responding to the racial unrest that follows Brown V Board of Education and following the recommendations of President Truman’s 1947 Civil Rights Committee, urges Congress to pass the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, both Texans, guide the Civil Rights Bill through Congress, despite the objections of many Southern politicians (most notably Strom Thurmond, whose 24-hour-18-minute filibuster still stands as the Senate record). Despite the uproar over its passage, the bill is much weaker than Eisenhower has hoped – it does little more than to expand the authority of the U.S. Justice Department to enforce civil rights and voters’ rights, and to add a new assistant attorney general to oversee the division of a new Justice Department division responsible for civil rights issues.
1957 Sep 20 Judge Davies rules that Gov. Faubus has used the National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school and not to protect them. The Guardsmen are removed, and the Little Rock Police Department takes responsibility for keeping the school peaceful.
1957 Sep 23 Nine African-American teenagers enter Little Rock Central High for the first time, out of sight of an angry crowd of 1000 protesters. In a short while they are removed for their own safety when the mob grows unruly. The following day the mayor asks the president for help.
1957 Sep 25 President Eisenhower sends 1000 members of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock and federalizes the Arkansas National Guard. The nine black students return to school with a military escort.
1958 Mar The Nashville Christian Leadership Conference (NCLC) holds its first workshop on non-violent tactics against segregation under the leadership of the Reverend Kelly Miller Smith. The workshops will continue into 1960.
1958 May 27 Ernest Green becomes the first African American student to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. With police and Federal troops standing by, the graduation ceremony takes place in peace and dignity.
1959-1962 Throughout the 1950s very few African Americans have been registered to vote in Fayette and Haywood counties, Tennessee, and Democratic party leaders declare the primaries to be “whites only.” In 1959 John and Viola McFerren, Harpman Jameson, and other young black leaders form the Fayette County Civic and Welfare League, register black voters, and file a federal lawsuit to end restricted primaries. In response, the White Citizens Council publishes lists of black voters and their white supporters. Merchants and others refuse to sell them food, clothing, gasoline, insurance, or medical care. Banks and land owners evict scores of black share-croppers, hoping they will leave the area. However, farmers Shepherd Towles and Gertrude Beasley offer space on their land for a “tent city.” An unnamed white merchant provides the first 14 tents, and, when the local Red Cross chapter refuses to help, the AFL-CIO, UAW, SNCC, Southern Conference Education Fund, Society of Friends, and National Baptist Convention provide aid and support to the “Freedom Villages.” The Justice Department’s lawsuit to halt the evictions and other retaliation against voters and their sympathizers is finally successful in 1962.
1959 Nov James Lawson, a Vanderbilt University divinity student, and Kelly Miller Smith, the young minister of the First Colored Baptist Church on 8th Avenue North, continue the workshops to train Nashville high school and college students in the techniques of nonviolence and peaceful protest.
1959 Dec Lawson, Smith, and student leaders John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, and others make early, though unsuccessful, attempts to desegregate the lunch counters at Harvey’s and Cain-Sloan department stores in Nashville.
1960 Feb 1 Four African-American college freshmen bring attention to the unequal treatment of the races when they take seats at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. More students arrive the next day, and news services begin to take interest in the story.
1960 Feb 13 Nashville students begin their first full-scale sit-ins at downtown businesses. Convening in the Arcade on 5th Avenue shortly after noon, they move out to the Kress, Woolworth’s, and McClellan’s stores, where they make purchases and then take seats at the lunch counters. Two hours later the stores close their lunch counters, and the students leave without incident.
1960 Feb 19 Thirty Chattanooga high school students (most from Howard High School) take seats at the lunch counters of three downtown variety stores. Their hand-written rules, circulated to all the participants, include “please be on best behavior,” “no loud talking,” “no profanity,” and “try to make small purchase.” They continue the sit-ins throughout the month of February, drawing more student participants each time.
1960 Feb 27 White students attack the Nashville lunch-counter demonstrators. Police arrest the black students, but others move in quickly to take their seats. The students are represented in court by Nashville city councilman and attorney Z. Alexander Looby with his associates Avon Nyanza Williams and Robert E. Lillard. By Mid-May lunch counters will be opened to customers of any race; by October Looby will have convinced a judge to dismiss the charges against 91 students for conspiracy to disrupt trade and commerce.
1960 Mar 3 James Lawson, whom Martin Luther King has called “the leading strategist of non-violence in the world,” is expelled from Vanderbilt University for his efforts in organizing the Nashville sit-ins. (He will complete his degree program at Boston University.) The dean and faculty members of the Vanderbilt Divinity School resign in protest.
1960 Apr 17 The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is founded at a series of student meetings led by Ella Baker at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. Baker insists on a two-part organization – one part for direct action (sit-ins) and one part for voter registration. Marion Barry is the first chairman; other early members are Diane Nash, John Lewis, James Lawson, James Bevel, Charles McDew, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael.
1960 Apr 19 After Z. Alexander Looby’s Nashville home is destroyed by a dynamite blast, 2,500 students and community members stage a silent march to City Hall, where Mayor Ben West meets them on the steps. Student leader Diane Nash asks him, “Do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color?” West says yes, later explaining, “It was a moral question – one that a man had to answer, not a politician.”
1960 May 6 President Eisenhower introduced a second civil rights bill in late 1958, in reaction to violence against Southern schools and churches. Once again Southern politicians react against what they see as Federal interference in state business – 18 Southern Senators form a filibustering “team” and produce the longest filibuster in history: over 43 hours. Majority leader Lyndon Johnson holds the Senate in 24-hour session until the Civil Rights Bill of 1960 is passed. Eisenhower signs the bill into law on May 6, thus creating a Civil Rights Commission, establishing federal regulation of local voter registration polls, and providing penalties for anyone interfering with a citizen’s effort to vote or to register to vote.
1960 May 10 Six Nashville lunch counters begin serving black customers.
1960 Jul 31 Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, calls for the establishment of a separate state for blacks.
1960 Sep 7 Wilma Rudolph from Clarksville, Tennessee, is the first American woman, black or white, to win three gold medals in the Olympics, winning the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, and the 400-meter relay, in which she runs the anchor leg.
1960 Oct 12 Thurgood Marshall, who will later become a Supreme Court justice himself, pleads the case of Boynton v. Virginia before the Court. The case involves a black interstate bus passenger who was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only section of a bus station restaurant. Marshall claims such arrests violate the Interstate Commerce Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
1960 Dec 5 In Boynton v. Virginia the Supreme Court rules that restaurant facilities in bus terminals that primarily exist to serve interstate bus passengers cannot discriminate based on race according to the Interstate Commerce Act. The decision is a landmark event because it ties the future of the Civil Rights movement to the Federal Government.
1960 Dec 31 By the end of 1960, 70,000 people have participated in sit-ins, and 3,600 have been arrested.
Adapted from a timeline created by Kathy B. Lauder for the TN State Library and Archives, 2013.