A State by State History of 20th Century American Civil Rights – Interactive Map

No issue has threatened to divide the USA more than race relations. Slavery split the country into two warring sides, but the Civil War did not resolve their differences.

Typically the development of race relations post-1865 follows this pattern – After Reconstruction the ex-Confederate states erected Jim Crow laws mandating segregation and relegating their black populations to second-class status. In the Northern states the picture was mixed, with de-facto segregation proving a massive hurdle, but not nearly as bad as the South.

Hopefully this map can introduce some nuance to that analysis. Each state featured is assigned a short quote, story or fact that should illuminate that state’s civil rights record.   [xyz-ihs snippet=”usamap”]


Proclaimed by Governor George Wallace as ‘the Cradle of the Confederacy’, Alabama was home to many intense racial conflicts. Birmingham, Alabama played host to several high-profile protests, including the Project C initaitive against Police Commissioner Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor that prompted a wave of national protest, the burning of buses during the Freedom Rides, and the Alabama University crisis. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963, in which four young black girls died, perhaps best embodies the ugly, brutal racial conflict that affected the state.


After a history of forced integration and persecution, Alaska underwent its own civil rights crisis with its native population. Elizabeth Petrovych worked on behalf of Alaskan natives to see the USA’s first Anti-Discrimination Act, passed in 1945.


“I would rather tear, screaming from her mother’s arms, my little daughter and bury her alive than to see her arm in arm with the best nigger on earth” – Three-term Governor Jeff Davis, 1904. Although best-known for the 1957 Little Rock Crisis, this was merely a flashpoint in a deep and bitter racial conflict. Arkansas’ black population, confined by punitive land laws to the Arkansas Delta, was a consistent political target. However it was the intervention of the 89ths Airborne division in the registration of the ‘Little Rock Nine’ at a high school in the state that first placed the federal government firmly against traidtional southern prejudice.


In the 1960s, once the Civil Rights movement had hit its stride, Phoenix was considered the ‘Mississippi of the West’, a heavily segregated KKK stronghold. The Ragsdales, a black couple with ties to the highest echelons of the movement, led a sustained campaign against segreated facilities that led to the passage, in 1964, of a Public Accomodations Bill that pre-empted the federal government’s. Phoenix was also the first city in the USA to de-segregate its schools, a full year before the Brown decision.


California embodied the mixed reception in non-Confederate states to the Civil Rights movement. On the one hand, many stores with racist policies were boycotted, and many whites joined sympathetic protests. However, the KKK did make inroads in California and like most of the USA it was still a racial battleground.


In 1939, by a ruling of Connecticut’s Superior Court, Connecticut law created a cause of action – in favor of persons deprived, on account of alienage, race or color, of the full and equal enjoyment of privileges of places of public accommodation, or discriminated against, on that account, in the price of the enjoyment of such privileges.


Delware was home to one of the latest incidences of organized busing, when the US District Court in Evans vs. Buchanan (1976) ordered the coalescence of all the New Castle County school districts. This allowed the District Court to co-ordinate a re-balancing of the racial divide in Wilmington schools, and although the unite was abandoned in 1981 the forced busing continued until 2001.


As an ex-Confederate state Florida passed a series of Jim Crow laws in the aftermath of the Civil War, finishing in 1902. It subsequently became a bitter battleground in the fight for Civil Rights. In the first half of the century, Florida led the nation with the highest number of lynchings per capita. Mobs of unmasked white men targeted and attacked Florida’s black communities like Ocoee on November 2, 1920, and Rosewood in January of 1923. Bombings became the favoured method of initimidating civil rights activists – Harry Tyson Moore was organizer, president, and state coordinator of the Florida branch of the NAACP. Moore and his wife Henrietta were killed in a bombing at their home on Christmas Eve.Bus bycott in 1956. Took until 1964 for concrete laws to be brought in, and many more for a measure of real equality to be established.


Georgia, an ex-Confederate State, was a key battleground for civil rights activists. Savannah and Atlanta had hosted protests long before the apex of the movement in the mid twentieth century. Resistance was heightened in the post World War era. In King v. Chapman et al (1944) the exclusive privilege of whites to vote in a Democratic primary was abolished. In Atlanta and other major cities blacks were able to wield their vote to some limited effect. In the 60s era of mass protest, Albany became most notorious as host of the Albany Movement (1961-2.) Under Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership the large, sustained, peaceful protest floundered and then failed in achieving a citywide de-segregation agreement. There were more successful movements in Savannah, Macon, Brunswick and Rome. Relief for Georgia’s black population did not come with the passage of legislation. It’s largest race riot occured in 1970, and the systemic, cultural heritage of sugregation proved difficult to redress.


Although it is the most remote land mass on Earth, Hawaii managed to make a stellar contribution the civil rights stuggle. Hawai` established a Civil Rights Commission and was the first state to enact an Equal Rights Amendment. JFK also made the last speech before his June 11 speech in Hawaii, declaring that “the cause is just” and noting that “Hawaii is what the rest of the world is striving to become.


In 1961 Idaho passed a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in employment and public accommodations because of race, creed, color, or national origin. In 1969 the Legislature passed a law banning discrimination based on race, sex, color, religion, and national origin in housing, public accommodations, education, and employment, and created the Idaho Commission on Human Rights to enforce the law.


Iowa claims a strong legacy of equality. In 1868 the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on the landmark Clark v. The Board of Directors case that separate was not equal. Iowa was consistently ahead of the rest of the country on civil rights issues, and athough an NAACP chapter was established there was rarely called upon to attack anything other than flashpoints of racial intolerance.


The Chicago Freedom Movement, run from 1965-7 by Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel and Al Raby, is largely credited with inspiring the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Perhaps the most ambitious civil rights campaign attempted in the North, its basic intention was to end the existence of slums in the city. This was the standout in Illinois relatively minor role in the civil rights movement, although it harboured a large amount of de facto discrimination.


Lack of support in the Kentucky legislature for a strong public accommodations title to the 1964 Civil Rights Bill led to a mass march on Frankfort. More than 10,000 people, led by Martin Luther King Jr. , baseball’s Jackie Robinson, and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, demonstrated in support of civil rights legislation. By contrast in 1966 the Kentucky General Assembly passes the ‘Kentucky Civil Rights Act’, which King calls ‘the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state.’


Kansas played host to possibly the most significant Supreme Court case over civil rights; Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The plaintiffs (13 Topeka parents, named plaintiff Oliver L Brown) successfully argued that the ‘seperate but equal’ doctrine established in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1898) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and paved the way for a sequence of de-segregation cases that would change the federal government’s approach to civil rights in the early 1960s.


Ex-Confederate Louisiana suffered from typical patterns of Jim Crow segregation and efforts at black disenfranchisement well into the 1960s. Baton Rouge was the site of the first bus boycott (in June 1953) that would serve as a model for the more famous Montgomery bus boycott.


The demographic of Massachussetts was profoundly affected by the migration of southern blacks above the Mason-Dixon line throughout the early twentieth century, searching for new industrial jobs, Following a pattern established in other northern states, de-facto segregation coloured the cities, a product of economic competition and the pursuit of racial homogeny. Employers avoided emloying blacks, realtors avoided selling to Blacks. In Springfield, MA, The majority of the African-American community in Springfield was confined to three inner city neighborhoods, where blacks paid higher rents and lived in lower-quality housing than their white counterparts.In June 1961 the NAACP began to lobby for a correction of the racial imbalance in Boston schools, In 1965 the State Racial Imbalance Act was introduced then withdrawn, and this together with an incident of police brutality precipitated summer of protest.


In the words of its own Civil Rights Commission, Michigan ‘ranks as a progressive state’ with an ‘illustrious’ history with civil rights relative to other states. With interracial marriage legal in 1883, and equal access to public accomodations secured in 1885, it is difficult to dispute this assertion.


Civil Rights in Missouri also suffered from inner-city conflict over employment and housing opportunities. In Kansas City during an eighteen year period (1940-1958) only 106 building permits were issued for new single-family dwellings for blacks. As in many other states, the Brown decision unleashed a slew of egalitarian reforms. In 1960, Jefferson City, St. Louis and Kansas City opened their restaurants and cafes to all segments of the public after a series of demonstrations, However the main cities would occasionally be rocked by race riots throughout the 60s, espacially after the April 4 1968.


Montana’s greatest contribution to the civil rights struggle, given that the state itself was historically egalitarian, was the ruling of Senator Lee Metcalf, which sustained House Majority Leader Mike Mansfield action to bypass a segregationist committee, an action was essential to the Bill’s prospects.


One of the most notorious acts of racism toward Maine’s black community occurred in 1912, with the forced removal of lifelong residents from Malaga Island, which was met with little public outcry at the time.


Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall was a crusading civil rights lawyer for the NAACP who became the first black US Supreme Court Justice, he prosecuted Brown vs Board of Education. Maryland was home to the second oldest NAACP branch in the country.


Home to Senator and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, who once said, ‘There are those who say to you – we are rushing this issue of civil rights. I say we are 172 years late.’


Mississippi is regarded along with Alabama as the most notoriously oppositional state. On August 28th 1955 fourteen year-old Emmett Till was murdered for flirting with a white woman. It also played host to mob attacks on the Freedom Riders in 1961, and in 1962 the Ole Miss crisis – a protest against the registration of the black James Meredith at the state’s university – saw federal marshals deployed and two people killed. Greenwood became a battleground for voting rights activists, and even after the twos acts of 1964-5 the violent targeting of civil rights workers continued unabated.


Omaha,Nebraska was home to four major racial riots in the late 1960s. On March 4th 1918 a meeting held for the presidential campaign for George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, was met woth counter-protests. The police brutally suppressed the riots, leading to the death of one black youth.


Even though I was highly motivated to extend civil rights to Nevada’s black citizens, without constant urging from people who were directly involved in the movement I might not have been as committed as I was to advancing the cause – Governor Grant Sawyer

New York

The civil rights struggle in New York encapsulated the typical elements of the northern effort as opposed to the southern. The nexus between Communists, trade-unionists and civil rights activists was much stronger than in the South, as was the de-facto segregation maintained by ‘red-lining’ accomodation and job discrimination. It proved a hub for the black nationalism championed by Malcolm X among others. However, New York lacked the systemic, blatant dscrimination of the southern states.

New Jersey

A recent analysis of New Jersey print media and its attitude towards civil rights has highlighted the remarkable depth and tenacity of the issue even in a relatively liberal state. Most articles concern the dangers of integration in schools and neighbourhoods. The feelings are reciprocal – on August 11 1961 a black schoolteacher claimed his wife’s life was threatened because the couple planned to move to an all-white neighbouhood.

North Carolina

As another state harbouring the tyranny of Jim Crow, North Carolina look to evade the Brown decision using the Pearsall Plan, The black community responded with sit-ins. In 1957 seven blacks demanded service in the white section of a Durham ice cream parlor. Another sit-in at Greensboro in 1960 gained national attention, and set a compelling precedent. Four N.C. A & T State University students walked to the downtown Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, sat in the white section of the store’s restaurant, and demanded service. In the mid-1960s North Carolina also saw a clear transition from nonviolent protest to militant, black nationalist methods.

South Carolina

South Carolina was home to Democrat Senator Strom Thurmond, one of the most infamous segregationist senators. He sensed the deep public opposition to de-segregation in his home state, and after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act he took the decision to switch parties.


Clara Luper, one of many prominent women in the civil rights movement, led the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-In Movement, one which successfully overturned segregation laws for local stores. Otherwise Oklahoma escaped the highly-publicised protests that hit other southern states.


The 3-day Jackson bus boycott , a series of lunch-counter sit-ins and several mass arrests indicate at a distinctly racially fractious Tennessee in the early 1960s. However perhaps its most significant contribution was the death of Martin Luther King Jf, who was shot dead by James Earl Ray on April 14 1968 on a Memphis hotel balcony.


As in other ex-Confederate states, black Texans were steadily dis-enfranchised and segregated de jure, as well as violently suppressed by the KKK, Texas Rangers and law officials. Although it did not host many protests of national profile, throughout the 1960s black activists steadily eroded racial fiats. Ironically, Texas was home to the ovement’s greatest presidential champion – Lyndon Johnson.


Although Virginia is often overlooked as an arena for black activism, the NAACP filed more suits in Virginia in any other state, and Senator Harry Hyrd’s program of Massive Resistance (desgined to halt school de-segregation) was a formidable bstacle to realsing equal treatment.

West Virgina

West Virginia was very slow to de-segregate after Brown. In 1958, the West Virginia’s first chapter of CORE was formed in Charleston and began boycotts of the Woolworth, Kresge, and Newberry five-and-ten-cent stores which refused to serve black Americans at their lunch counters. The following month, the stores integrated. Boycotts led to the integration of restaurants, department stores, and cinemas in other cities, although some businesses remained segregated until the late 1960s. In 1961, 50 percent of restaurants, 70 percent of hotels, and 85 percent of pools in the state still discriminated against black Americans.

Alex Browne studied History at Kings College London and is an Assistant Editor at Made From History. He specializes in post-war history in the USA and Central America.