The era of the American civil rights movement was characterized by grassroots nonviolent protests and civil disobedience involving students, activists, and a large contingent of participants in African American religious culture. These protests and acts of civil disobedience regularly targeted exemplary forms of racial discrimination. Sit-ins at segregated venues like the Greensboro, North Carolina, sit-ins (1960), and boycotts like the Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott (1955–
56) directly challenged legal segregation, bringing national and global attention to the civil inequities. This group faced substantive opposition from local and state law enforcement agencies in the American south, as well as political and judicial elements.
Violence, murder, and intimidation, combined with prosecution and imprisonment, were deployed against the movement participants. In 1954, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregated schools unconstitutional and later ordering the system of segregation dismantled “with all deliberate speed.” Subsequent challenges to the Montgomery bus system (1955–56, ending with Browder v. Gayle), the segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas (1957–58, ending with Cooper v. Aaron), and others marked the progress of the movement. However, a campaign to take nonviolent action into the heart of the segregated south resulted in escalating violence. Freedom Rides in 1961 in South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi were
particularly brutal. A bus was firebombed, and police allowed members of the Ku Klux Klan to attack another group.
A substantial number of Freedom Riders were arrested and imprisoned, and still more were beaten by mobs. In addition to Freedom Rides, various organizations within the movement organized and advanced a voter registration project, harnessing the black voter strength long reduced by white intimidation. The response from the southern opponents was brutal and violent, including murder. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, given a burst of public support by shock over the murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi, made the premier components of racial discrimination illegal, including barriers to voter registration and barriers to equal access to public accommodations. In addition, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 more finely combed the list of barriers to suffrage and also required states
with a history of discrimination in voting rights to clear any proposed change to voting requirements with the federal government.