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About this collection

The Civil Rights Collection is a compilation of materials from numerous sources, including the following manuscript collections: Frank Holloman Collection, George W. Lee Collection (speeches and documents), A.W. Willis, Jr. Collection, Arthur L. Webb Collection, and the Catholic Human Relations Council Papers.  Material will continue to be added to this collection.


I Am A Man



Civil Rights in Memphis: A Timeline


January 8, 1873: Alexander H. Dickerson sworn in as the first elected African American member of the city council.


1890: Poll Tax enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly to restrict voting.


1901: Tennessee General Assembly establishes separate schools based on race.


July 4, 1905: ‘Jim Crow’ law legalizing segregation goes into effect at midnight.


August, 1906: Tennessee Supreme Court rules segregated public transportation is constitutional.


1943: Censorship policy in Memphis is revised to restrict all films “in which an all negro cast appears or in which roles are depicted by negro actors or actresses not ordinarily performed by members of the colored race in real life.”


October 1948: WDIA begins black programming and hires first African American disc jockey.


October 29, 1948: African American policemen are hired for the first time in the 20th century.


September 7, 1955: The first African American firefighters begin work at the segregated Fire Station No. 8 on Mississippi Boulevard.


June 27, 1958: O.Z. Evers’ lawsuit to desegregate public transportation in Memphis is dismissed by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.


August 15, 1958: Jesse H. Turner files a lawsuit to desegregate public libraries.


Fall, 1958: The Memphis Committee on Community Relations forms.


July 10, 1959: Memphis State University is ordered to desegregate its student body after all appeals have been exhausted. The first eight African American students enroll on September 10th.


July 31, 1959: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Daisy Bates speak at the Freedom Rally for the Volunteer Ticket, which included Russell Sugarmon, Benjamin Hooks, Roy Love, and Henry Bunton.


August 21, 1959: The “Volunteer Ticket” of African American candidates is defeated.


September 26, 1959: ‘Colored Waiting Room’ signs are removed from the Greyhound Bus Station.


December 12, 1959: The Memphis School Board receives a petition from the NAACP requesting that public schools be desegregated.


March 18, 1960: Memphis’ first sit-in demonstrations take place as students occupy seats at McClellan’s lunch counter in downtown Memphis.


March 19, 1960: Forty-one LeMoyne College students stage sit-ins at Memphis public libraries.


March 21, 1960: 2,000 African Americans gathered at Mt. Olive Cathedral at a mass gathering organized by Vasco Smith, Jr. and other leaders of the NAACP.


May, 1960: Citizens in Memphis file Watson v. Memphis to force desegregation of all city facilities and parks.


September 12, 1960: The Memphis Transit Authority announces an end to desegregation on city buses.


October 13, 1960: Memphis Public Libraries are desegregated.


December 2, 1960: The desegregation of the Overton Park Zoo and the Brooks Memorial Art Gallery is announced.


April 5, 1961: Maxine Smith becomes the Executive Secretary of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP.


July 22, 1961: Judge William E. Miller orders that the restrooms at the public library must be desegregated.


October 3, 1961: 13 children enroll in white schools.  Parents of 53 African American children had submitted applications for their children to attend all-white schools.  All were initially denied.  


November, 1961: Sit-in demonstrations come to an end with an agreement from downtown stores to desegregate lunch counters and restaurants and to begin hiring African American personnel.


January 27, 1962: Richard Lacey becomes the first African American graduate of Memphis State University.


February 6, 1962: Eating facilities at downtown restaurants desegregate.


March 26, 1962: J.H. Turner v. Memphis, et. al. forces desegregation of restaurants at the Memphis airport.


May 27, 1963: US Supreme Court in Watson v. City of Memphis orders the Park Commission to desegregate all facilities immediately.


June 12, 1963: Twenty-one students file a lawsuit to integrate Shelby County Schools.


1964: A.W. Willis, Jr. is elected to the Tennessee General Assembly, becoming the first African American man since Reconstruction to win a seat.


February 1, 1968: Two sanitation workers are crushed to death by a trash truck.


February 12, 1968: More than 1,100 of a possible 1,300 black sanitation workers begin a strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition.


March 18, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks at a rally in Memphis.


March 28, 1968: A march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. turns violent, resulting in 1 death, 62 injuries and more than 300 arrests.


April 4, 1968: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis to lead demonstration of striking sanitation workers, is killed by an assassin.


April 16, 1968: The city settles with the sanitation workers, recognizes their union, and agrees to a modest raise.


October 13, 1969: The first Black Monday - 62,518 students were absent from predominantly black schools.  The protests continue for at least 5 weeks, bleeding over into commerce and business. The boycotts are called off by African American leaders in November after lawsuits are filed.


February 20, 1972: Members of Citizens Against Busing (CAB) stage a 97-car funeral procession to mourn the end of neighborhood schools.


March 22, 1972: Citizens Against Busing bury a bus at 2150 James Road to further protest threats of busing.  


April 20, 1972: Federal Judge Robert McRae, Jr. orders the busing of 13,789 students, as 128 of the 162 city schools are still 90% white or black.


January 24, 1973: Court-ordered busing begins in the Memphis City Schools.




See Also:


The following digital collections also contain items pertaining to the history of civil rights in Memphis:

Integrating the Libraries

Arthur Webb Collection

The M Files

Perre Magness Collection

George W. Lee Collection (photographs)


Much of our primary source material is also available in the Crossroads to Freedom Digital Archive.


Students and teachers might also want to view Strides for Equality: A Resource Guide for the Civil Rights Struggle in Memphis, developed by Destiny Smith and Allyson Topps.



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