Learn American History through 50 pop songs

Civil Rights Fights


The Civil Rights Movement was a mass protest movement against racial segregation and discrimination in the United States, especially the southern United States that came to national prominence during the mid-1950s. This movement had its roots in the centuries-long efforts of African slaves and their descendants to resist racial oppression and abolish the institution of slavery. Although American slaves were emancipated as a result of the Civil War and were then granted basic civil rights through the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the US Constitution, struggles to secure federal protection of these rights continued during the next century. Through nonviolent protest, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s broke the pattern of public facilities’ being segregated by “race” in the South and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation for African Americans since the Reconstruction.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

So Oliver Brown versed the Topeka Board of Education
To send his little girl Linda to a neighborhood school, all Caucasian
Not bussed away out of town to another school, all brown
Thurgood Marshall prosecuted against separatism deeply rooted
Chief Justice Warren ruled integration now at schools

But in Little Rock, Arkansas the governor felt no obligation
He sent the National Guard to Central High, all Caucasian
So Eisenhower shut him down and let the students in, all brown
Little Rock had resisted, the federal government insisted
Like every school across the nation, you must now end segregation

We’re gonna fight for our rights
We’re gonna stand tall and proud
We’re gonna march in the streets
We’re gonna sing it out loud
That all men by nature are equal and free
We’ve got unalienable right of life and liberty
And the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of happiness

On a bus ride in Alabama Rose Parks faced aggravation
When a bus driver said “Get up out your seat for this man, he’s Caucasian”
Rosa Parks did not let him sit down, she sat with dignity and pride, all brown
But pretty quick she was arrested, the NAACP protested
And throughout Montgomery a bus boycott came to be

Dr. Martin Luther King inspired peaceful confrontation
Like the sit-ins at counters in restaurants once reserved only for Caucasians
It’s time to end this run around, we’ll show our courage, all brown
With civil disobedience, a method of non-violence
Martin from the Good Book read that Jesus turned his cheek instead

We’re gonna fight for our rights
We’re gonna stand tall and proud
We’re gonna march in the streets
We’re gonna sing it out loud
That all men by nature are equal and free
We’ve got unalienable right of life and liberty
And the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of happiness


Civil Rights— Civil rights are rights and freedoms that protect individuals from unwarranted action by government, private organizations, and individuals, and ensure one's ability to participate in civil and political life without discrimination or repression.

Oliver Brown— Oliver L. Brown (July 2, 1903- 1961) was the plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of 1954. The Court overturned the doctrine of separate but equal for public schools. Brown's daughter Linda, a third grader, had to walk six blocks to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, her segregated black school one mile away, while Sumner Elementary, a white school, was seven blocks from her house.

Topeka Board of EducationBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, (1954), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and denying black children equal educational opportunities unconstitutional.

Thurgood Marshall— Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Before becoming a judge, he was a lawyer who was best remembered for the victory in Brown v. Board of Education.

Chief Justice Warren— Earl Warren (March 19, 1891– July 9, 1974) was the 14th Chief Justice of the United States. As Chief Justice he saw the landmark rulings which affected, among other things, the legal status of racial segregation and civil rights.

Integration— Racial integration, or simply integration includes desegregation (the process of ending systematic racial segregation). In addition to desegregation, integration includes creating equal opportunity regardless of race.

“He sent the National Guard to Central High”— Little Rock Central High School was a focal point of integration in 1957 when nine African-American students, known as the Little Rock Nine, were denied entrance to the school in defiance of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering integration of public schools.

Eisenhower— Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was a five-star general in the United States Army and the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961.

Segregation— Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, included the racial segregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines. The expression refers primarily to the legally or socially enforced separation of African Americans.

Rosa Parks— Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist whom the U.S. Congress later called the "Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement." On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Parks' action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks' act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.

NAACP— The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, usually abbreviated as NAACP and pronounced N-double-A-C-P, is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States.

Montgomery bus boycott— The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system.

Sit-ins at counters— On February 1, 1960, four African American students – Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Leinhail Richmond, Joseph Alfred McNeil, and Franklin Eugene McCain – from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (A&T) , a historically black college, sat at a segregated lunch counter in the Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth's store launching a wave of anti-segregation sit-ins across the South and opened a national awareness of the depth of segregation in the nation. Within weeks, sit-in campaigns had begun in nearly a dozen cities.

Civil disobedience— Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws using no form of violence. It is one of the primary methods of nonviolent resistance.

Dr. Martin Luther King— Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States, and he has become a human rights icon.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

Explain what the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s was.

Name 3 significant events that took place during the Civil Rights Movement.

Tier 2 Questions

Compare and contrast the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s to the black activist movement of the 1800s.

Tier 3 Questions

Explore and express the differences and similarities between Ida B Wells and Rosa Parks and between Booker T Washington, WEB DuBois, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Test Prep Questions

1) The president acted as commander in chief in response to which event of the civil rights movement?

  • (1) refusal of the governor of Arkansas to obey a federal court order to integrate public schools in Little Rock
  • (2) desegregation of the city bus system in Montgomery, Alabama
  • (3) arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. during protests in Birmingham, Alabama
  • (4) assassination of Medgar Evers in Mississippi

2) Lunch counter sit-ins and the actions of freedom riders are examples of

  • (1) steps taken in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • (2) programs dealing with affirmative action
  • (3) violent acts by the Black Panthers
  • (4) nonviolent attempts to oppose segregation

3) Which conclusion about the success of efforts to end segregation in public schools in the 1950s and 1960s can be drawn from the map?

  • (1) In 1964, a majority of southern states had no integrated schools.
  • (2) State governments were slow to integrate public school systems.
  • (3) A higher percentage of African American students attended integrated public schools in Arkansas than in Oklahoma.
  • (4) Prior to 1964, a majority of African American students attended integrated schools in former Confederate States.

4) The information on the map shows how southern states responded to

  • (1) demands for affirmative action programs
  • (2) civil rights legislation to ban segregation in restaurants
  • (3) state programs to implement school busing initiatives
  • (4) the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

5) Which strategy did African-American students use when they refused to leave a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960?

  • (1) economic boycott
  • (2) hunger strike
  • (3) petition drive
  • (4) civil disobedience

6) During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, activities of the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) illustrated that

  • (1) all civil rights groups use the same tactics
  • (2) different approaches can be used to achieve a common goal
  • (3) organizational differences usually lead to failure
  • (4) violence is the best tool for achieving social change

7) In 1954, the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka advanced the civil rights movement by

  • (1) guaranteeing equal voting rights to Africa Americans
  • (2) banning racial segregation in hotels and restaurants
  • (3) declaring that racial segregation in public schools violated the 14th amendment
  • (4) upholding the principle of separate but equal public facilities

8) “. . . I was disappointed not to see what is inside Central High School. I don’t understand why the governor [of Arkansas] sent grown-up soldiers to keep us out. I don’t know if I should go back. But Grandma is right, if I don’t go back, they will think they have won. They will think they can use soldiers to frighten us, and we’ll always have to obey them. They’ll always be in charge if I don’t go back to Central and make the integration happen. . . .”

— Melba Beals, Warriors Don’t Cry, an African American student, 1957

President Dwight D. Eisenhower reacted to the situation described in this passage by

  • (1) forcing the governor of Arkansas to resign
  • (2) allowing the people of Arkansas to resolve the problem
  • (3) asking the Supreme Court to speed up racial integration
  • (4) sending federal troops to enforce integration

9) “We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . . .”

— Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

This quotation illustrates the Supreme Court’ power to

  • (1) uphold previous decisions
  • (2) overrule state laws
  • (3) check the powers of the executive branch
  • (4) provide for educational funding

10) Martin Luther King, Jr. first emerged as a leader of the civil rights movement when he

  • (1) led the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama
  • (2) refused to give up his seat on a bus to a white man
  • (3) challenged the authority of the Supreme Court
  • (4) was elected as the first black congressman from the South


Historical Context: Between 1953 and 1969, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court was Earl Warren. Supreme Court decisions made during the “Warren Court” era led to significant changes in various aspects of life in the United States. Several important court cases affected equal protection under the law, separation of church and state, and the rights of individuals accused of crimes.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document.

  • Discuss how decisions of the Warren Court affected American society

Based on this photograph and caption, what is the significance of the Brown v. Board of Education decision?


Historical Context: The woman’s suffrage movement of the 1800s and early 1900s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had many similar goals and used similar methods to achieve these goals. Yet these movements also had many different goals and used different methods to achieve them.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document.

  • Discuss the similarities and/or the differences between the woman’s suffrage movement of the 1800s and early 1900s and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in terms of

— the goals of the movements and
— the methods used by the movements to achieve these goals

. . . At these meetings [about the treatment of African Americans on buses], we discussed not only the two women who had been arrested, but also a number of additional bus incidents that never found their way into court, no doubt because the victims were black passengers. Several of the white drivers were determined to harass our people at every opportunity. For example, when the bus was even slightly crowded, they would make blacks pay their fare, then get off, and go to the back door to enter. Sometimes they would even take off with a squeal as a passenger trudged toward the rear after paying. At least once a driver closed the back door on a black woman’s arm and then dragged her to the next stop before allowing her to climb aboard. Clearly this kind of gratuitous [unnecessary] cruelty was contributing to an increasing tension on Montgomery buses. We tried to reason with local authorities and with bus company officials. They were polite, listened to our complaints with serious expressions on their faces, and did nothing. On December 1, 1955, Mrs. Parks took her now-famous bus ride and set events in motion that would lead to a social revolution of monumental proportions. . . .

Source: Ralph David Abernathy, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Harper & Row

According to Ralph David Abernathy, what was a goal of African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama?

According to Ralph David Abernathy, what was one method used by African Americans to address their concerns?

Left: College students face a hostile crowd at asouthern “Whites Only” lunch counter in 1963.
Right: African American college students wait for service or forcible removal from a “Whites Only” lunch counter.

Based on these photographs, identify one method used by these civil rights activists to achieve their goals.

What was one specific goal of the civil rights activists shown in these photographs?

April 16, 1963
Birmingham, Alabama
. . . You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered [free] realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies [activists] to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. . . .

Source: Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963

According to Martin Luther King, Jr., what was one method of achieving the goals of the civil rights movement?

According to Martin Luther King, Jr., what was a specific goal of the civil rights movement?