Part Five: 1966–2012.
1966 Jan 13 Robert Clifton Weaver, nominated by President Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the first African American named to a presidential cabinet.
1966 Mar Texas Western College (now called University of Texas at El Paso), with its all-black starting line-up, defeats the powerful University of Kentucky team to win the NCAA championship. The game is the inspiration for the 2006 film Glory Road. The entire team is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
1966 Jun 16 SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael rallies a crowd in Greenwood, Mississippi, with the cry, “We want black power!” Martin Luther King’s concerns that the phrase carries “connotations of violence and separatism” are borne out by splits in the civil rights movement between those favoring the use of nonviolent methods and those leaning more toward conventional revolutionary tactics like armed self-defense and black nationalism.
1966 Fall In college football, Jerry LeVias, a student at Southern Methodist University, is the first black scholarship athlete in the Southwest Conference. African-American athletes Greg Page and Nate Northington join the University of Kentucky football team. When Page dies after a blow to the back during practice, Northington transfers to Western Kentucky University, which integrated its classes in 1956 and has fielded black players since 1963.
1966 Fall Seven African-American students attend Vanderbilt University. Among them is Nashville native Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball scholarship student and player in the SEC. Although Wallace would play for only three years (1968-1970), he remains the school’s second leading rebounder.
1966 Oct The militant Black Panther organization is founded in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale.
1966 Nov 8 Edward W. Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican, becomes the first African American elected by popular vote to the U.S. Senate.
1967 In the worst summer of racial violence in the nation’s history, more than 40 riots and 100 other upheavals occur across the country. The most destructive take place in Newark (July 12-16) and Detroit (July 23-30).
1967 Jun 12 In Loving v. Virginia the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declares Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional, thus prohibiting all legal marital restrictions based on race.
1967 Aug 30 Judge Thurgood Marshall, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, is confirmed by the Senate as the 96th Supreme Court Justice. He becomes the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court.
1967 Fall Wilbur Hackett Jr. joins the University of Kentucky football team. He will become the first African-American team captain in the SEC two years later.
1967 Nov Carl Stokes, Cleveland, Ohio, becomes the first African American to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city.
1968 Feb 12 Demanding better pay and working conditions, job equality with white workers, and city recognition of their union, 1300 black sanitation workers in Memphis walk off their jobs. Although 500 white workers march with them, they get little support from the community and ask Martin Luther King to support their cause.
1968 Mar Winston-Salem State University becomes the first black college to win an NCAA basketball championship.
1968 Apr 4 Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. Violence breaks out in cities across America. James Earl Ray confesses to the murder, but later recants, working until the end of his life to clear his name, supported even by members of the King family who doubt his guilt. The mayor of Memphis, fearing further violence, agrees to recognize the sanitation workers’ union, permits a dues check-off, grants them a pay raise, and introduces a system of merit promotions.
1968 Apr 11 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex. On the same date,
1968 Apr 11 On the same date, President Johnson also signs the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, granting Native American people full constitutional access. Prior to this date, the Bill of Rights has not applied to those living on tribal lands. Now, for the first time, Native Americans are guaranteed the right to trial by jury, along with freedom of religion, freedom from unlawful imprisonment, and all other privileges granted to citizens under the Bill of Rights.
1968 Jun 5 Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, on the night of his victory in the California Democratic Primary, is shot to death in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab nationalist.
1968 Summer Arthur Ashe wins the U.S. Open in tennis. He will go on to win the Australian Open in 1970 and the Wimbledon championship in 1975.
1968 Fall Lester McClain becomes the first black athlete on the University of Tennessee football team. Two years later he will be joined by African-American quarterback Condredge Holloway.
1968 Sep 17 With the premiere of Julia, Diahann Carroll becomes the first African-American woman to star in a television series in which she does not play a domestic servant. In 1962 Carroll was the first black performer to win a Tony Award, for her performance in the musical No Strings.
1968 Nov 5 Shirley Chisholm, a Democrat from New York, is the first African-American woman elected to Congress. Republican Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin to become President.
1969 Jan Avon N. Williams Jr. (Nashville) and J. O. Patterson Jr. (Memphis) take their seats as the first two African American candidates ever popularly elected to the Tennessee State Senate.
1970 Sep 12 USC fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham’s stellar performance against the all-white Alabama team opens the door for Alabama coach Bear Bryant to recruit black players. In fact, Wilbur Jackson, watching the game from the stands, has already been offered a scholarship to Alabama, although most fans are still unaware of his status. NCAA rules make him ineligible to play as a freshman.
1970 Dec Perry Wallace, Vanderbilt basketball star, is named to the All-South-Eastern-Conference team and wins the Sportsmanship trophy after a vote by league players.
1971 Jan 12 All in the Family begins its eight-year run. The number-one TV sitcom for five years, the show generates a number of other programs that deal with race relations and other controversial subjects in realistic and humorous ways.
1971 Apr 20 In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court moves to end de facto segregation in schools where segregation occurs as a consequence of neighborhood segregation and proximity to schools, even when the schools themselves have no policy requiring segregation. The solution in most cases is to reassign students and to bus them to the newly integrated schools. Although the plan is met with disfavor and sometimes violence, court-ordered busing will continue in some cities until the late 1990s.
1971 Fall The University of Alabama, one of the last schools to integrate its athletic teams, recruits John Mitchell, who will become both co-captain of the football team and an All-American the following year.
1972 Sep For the first time, all grades in the Little Rock Public Schools are integrated.
1974 Sep 3 Surprisingly, the strongest opposition to enforced busing occurs in Boston. A federal court finds that Boston school districts were originally drawn to produce racial segregation; other courts rule that racially imbalanced schools are unfair to minority students and require the racial composition of each school in a district to mirror the composition of that district as a whole. Opponents of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had worried about using forced busing to achieve racial quotas in schools, Senator Hubert Humphrey insisting “it would be a violation [of the Constitution], because it would be handling the matter on the basis of race and we would be transporting children because of race.” When Boston schools open in 1974, police in riot gear accompany the buses. Some black children face abusive language and a storm of rocks and bottles as they enter their schools.
1975 During the late 1960s Native American activists have begun to take a more aggressive stance, leading to the occupation of Alcatraz (1969-1970), the development of the American Indian Movement (AIM, 1968), and a violent encounter at Wounded Knee, South Dakota (1973), following a series of fierce conflicts between opposing Indian factions on the Pine Ridge Reservation that have left more than 100 people dead. The shootings of two FBI agents by AIM members lead to a federal crackdown on the violence, and the organization is considerably weakened.
1977 Jan Indiana becomes the 36th and last of the 38 states required to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would give equal rights to women. First introduced in Congress in 1921, the amendment simply states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In the face of strong opposition, led by Phyllis Schlafly and others, no other states agree to ratify, and five (Idaho, Kentucky, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Tennessee) will presently rescind their earlier ratifications.
1978 The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is enacted after the federal government becomes aware of how many Native American children are being systematically removed from their families at a much higher rate than other children – often without evidence of abuse, neglect, or other grounds for removal – and placed with non-native families. The effect, and perhaps even the intent, of these actions is to deprive the children of their native family or culture. The ICWA becomes a key component in protecting the rights and the culture of American Indian and Alaska Native families and children.
1978 Jun 26 In a controversial 5-4 decision on Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that racial quotas must be eliminated in education. The decision is tempered by Justice Lewis Powell’s statement (he votes with the majority but writes an opinion supporting the minority view as well): “Race can be a factor, but only one of many to achieve a balance.” Thus, affirmative action policies might continue if they are more clearly defined.
1978 Sep 29 Seattle becomes the largest city in the United States to desegregate its schools without a court order. The “Seattle Plan” involves busing almost one-fourth of the school district’s students.
1979 Former governor George Wallace recants his earlier segregationist statements and apologizes to black civil rights leaders, saying, “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.”
1984 Jul 7 Returning from church in Bangor, Maine, Charlie Howard, a 23-year-old gay man, is beaten and kicked by three teenagers, who shout homophobic slurs before throwing him off a bridge even as he screams that he can’t swim. His body is found several hours later. He has drowned.
1989 Aug 10 General Colin Powell becomes chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
1989 Nov 5 The Civil Rights Memorial is dedicated at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Designed by architect Maya Lin, it honors 41 people who died between 1954 and 1968 during the civil rights movement in the U.S.
1989 Nov 7 Douglas Wilder of Virginia is elected to serve as the nation’s first African American state governor.
1991 Nov 22 President George H.W. Bush, having first threatened a veto, signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening existing civil rights laws and providing for damages in cases of intentional job discrimination.
1992 Apr 29 When a predominantly white jury acquits four LAPD officers in the beating of a black man named Rodney King, a huge riot breaks out in Los Angeles. The beating, videotaped by a bystander, combines with existing racial unrest in the city to spark five days of violence, ending only after the deployment of Federal troops. Fifty-three people die: 25 blacks, 16 Latinos, 8 whites, 2 East Asians and 2 West Asians. Approximately 3,600 fires are set, destroying 1,100 buildings. Close to 10,000 people are arrested. Stores owned by Asian immigrants are widely targeted, as are, to a lesser degree, those of whites and blacks.
1993 Oct 7 Black author Toni Morrison wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.
1994 Feb 5 In Jackson, Mississippi, thirty-one years after the 1963 shooting of Medgar Evers, Byron De La Beckwith, now 73, is finally found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In December 1997 the Mississippi Supreme Court will uphold this verdict following De La Beckwith’s appeal.
1997 Apr 2 The Tennessee General Assembly ratifies the 15th Amendment, becoming the last state in the nation to do so.
1998 Oct 7 College student Matthew Shepard, 21, is robbed, beaten, and left for dead, tied to a fence in a remote area of Wyoming by two men who have been heard plotting “to rob a gay man.” He dies on October 12 without regaining consciousness.
2000 Mar 7 In honor of the 35th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” Rep. John Lewis (now a U.S. Congressman from Georgia), and Hosea Williams cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in the company of President Bill Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and several hundred others. Lewis commented, “This time when I looked there were women’s faces and there were black faces among the troopers. And this time when we faced them, they saluted.”
2000 Dec 16 President George W. Bush nominates General Colin Powell as Secretary of State. When Powell is confirmed in January, he becomes the first African American to hold that office.
2003 Jun 23 In Grutter v. Bollinger the Supreme Court rules that race can be one of many factors considered by colleges when selecting their students because it furthers “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”
2005 Jan 20 Condoleezza Rice succeeds Colin Powell as Secretary of State. She is the second woman and first African American woman to serve in that office.
2005 Jun 21 On the 41st anniversary of the murders of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman (and as the result of remarkable investigative work by a newspaper reporter and three high school girls preparing a National History Day project) Edgar Ray Killen, 80, a leader of the killings, is finally found guilty of three counts of manslaughter. Following his 2007 appeal, the Supreme Court of Mississippi upholds Killen’s sentence of 3-times-20-years in prison.
2005 Oct 24 Rosa Parks dies. She is the first woman to be honored by lying in state in the U. S. Capitol Rotunda.
2007 Feb Emmitt Till’s 1955 murder case, reopened by the Department of Justice in 2004, is officially closed. Both confessed murderers have died, and there is insufficient evidence to pursue further convictions.
2007 May 10 James Bonard Fowler is indicted for the 1965 murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. On November 15, 2010, Fowler pleads guilty to one count of second-degree manslaughter, insisting that he was acting in self-defense. He is sentenced to six months in prison but is released after five months because of health problems requiring surgery.
2008 Sep 18 Fourteen Freedom Riders, expelled from Tennessee State University in 1961 because of their protest activities, receive honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters (three posthumously) in an emotional ceremony.
2008 Nov 4 Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a black African father and a white American mother, is elected President of the United States.
2009 May 11 During an awards ceremony at Chattanooga’s Howard High School, the Chattanooga History Center dedicates a mural honoring the students who took part in the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins, many of whom were members of Howard’s 1960 graduating class. The mural will be on permanent exhibit at the school.
2009 Jul 20 President Barack Obama signs into law the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which specifies penalties for any crime in which someone targets a victim because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
2012 Nov 6 Barack Hussein Obama becomes the first African American to win re-election to the office of President of the United States.
2021 Dec 8 One final note: There have been more than 200 unsuccessful attempts since 1900 to codify lynching as a federal crime. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Emmett Till Antilynching Act (H.R. 55) in the 115th Congress. It passed the House of Representatives on February 26, 2020, by a vote of 410-4, with overwhelming bipartisan support; however, it was blocked in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who objected to the language of the bill. Rush reintroduced H.R. 55 on the first day of the 117th Congress (Jan. 4, 2021), and it has moved forward with 179 bipartisan sponsors. On this date, Dec. 8, 2021, the bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee by voice vote and advanced to the House Floor. This story will be updated as the bill moves through the House and on to the Senate.
Adapted from a timeline created by Kathy B. Lauder for the TN State Library and Archives, 2013.