The civil rights movement began in the early twentieth century and had greatly ramped up activity in the 1950s. By the 1960s, its leaders and activists were ready to take even greater action to impact the social and political landscape of the United States. The successes of boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and political lobbying during the previous decade had laid out a framework for action and identified leaders and key organizations by the 1960s.
The first major civil rights development of the decade occurred with the Freedom Rides of May 1961. This action, undertaken by hundreds of activists, became a highly visible example of civil disobedience that put the previous year's Supreme Court ruling of Boynton v. Virginia to the test.
Perhaps the most emblematic civil rights event of the period was the March on Washington in 1963. This event established Dr. Martin Luther King as the preeminent spokesperson of the movement. It also led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This new legislation was the most sweeping new set of laws protecting minorities that the country had seen at the time.
Despite these advances, or perhaps because of them, there was significant pushback against the civil rights movement. Its leaders were often disparaged, accused of being communists, attacked, and even murdered. In March of 1965, hundreds of peaceful marchers in Alabama were violently attacked in what is known as Bloody Sunday.
It would be incorrect to see the civil rights movement of this period as a completely united front. Throughout this period, various leaders and activists diverged over their tactics and their goals. Malcolm X and Dr. King, for instance, are often seen as being leaders of two different approaches to the fight for equal rights in America. Despite this, differing factions sometimes worked together towards achieving a common cause.