In the United States, racial segregation was practiced until the mid-20th century, but as a result of the fight for the civil rights movement – which started with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ended with the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968-, and with the support of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, which prohibited the unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, in the workplace and facilities that serve the general public. A year later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, following the well-known “Bloody Sunday” in the city of Selma a few months earlier.
Despite these important advances, modern American history is tinged with episodes of racism; the latest being the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, who died after being strangled by a Minneapolis police officer, an incident that unleashed the fury and outrage of thousands of people around the world.
The following is a timeline, from the 1960s to the present day, of major racial unrest in the United States.
Despite Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring words at the Lincoln Memorial during Washington’s historic March for work and freedom in August 1963, violence against blacks in the segregated South continued to indicate the strength of white resistance to the ideals of justice and racial harmony that King embraced.
In mid-September of that year, white supremacists bombarded the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama during Sunday services. Four young African American women were killed in the explosion. The church bombing was the third in 11 days after the federal government had ordered the integration of the Alabama school system.
In the summer of 1964, civil rights organizations, including the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), urged Northern white students to travel to Mississippi to help register black voters and build schools for black children. The organizations believed that the participation of white students in the so-called “Freedom Summer” would increase the visibility of their efforts.
However, the summer had only just begun when three volunteers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both white New Yorkers, and James Chaney, an African American from Mississippi, disappeared on their return from investigating the burning of an African American church by the Ku Klux Klan.
After a massive FBI investigation (codenamed “Mississippi on Fire”) their bodies were discovered on August 4, 1964, buried in a dirt dam near Philadelphia, in Neshoba County, Mississippi
1965: Los Angeles
The arrest by white police officers of a young black man, Marquette Frye, during a traffic control followed by an altercation with family members, triggered a revolt in the Watts ghetto in Los Angeles in 1965.
For six days, from August 11 to 17, this disadvantaged neighborhood became a war zone where national guards patrolled jeeps armed with machine guns under a curfew.
The cost was high: 34 dead, 4,000 arrests, and damages totaling tens of millions of dollars.
Police suppress protests over the death of George Floyd in Boston, MassachusettsPolice suppress protests over the death of George Floyd in Boston, Massachusetts Source: AFP
An altercation between two white police officers and a black taxi driver led to riots in Newark, New Jersey. For five days, from July 12 to 17, 1967, the violence shocked the neighborhood, which was struck by poverty and the extreme heat of that summer. The incident killed 26 people and left at least 1,500 injured.
Riots broke out in Detroit after a police intervention on 12th Street, where mostly black families lived. Army and National Guard troops were deployed, generating clashes with citizens between July 23 and 27, which left 43 dead and more than 2,000 wounded.
The disorders spread to several states, including Illinois, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland.
1968: the murder of Martin Luther King
Following the murder of Pastor Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, perpetrated by James Earl Ray – a petty thief who bore the brunt of killing myth and whose jump from criminal to cold-blooded and methodical killer It remains a mystery today that worries experts and family members of the leader of the civil rights of black Americans, violence erupted in 125 cities, leaving at least 46 dead and some 2,600 wounded.
In Washington, a city then inhabited by two-thirds of African-Americans, fires were started and multiple looting occurred. President Lyndon B. Johnson appealed to the army to calm the riots, which also intervened in Chicago, Boston, Newark, Cincinnati.
From May 17 to 20, three days of riots left 18 dead and more than 400 wounded in the black district of Liberty City in Miami (Florida). Violence erupts after the acquittal in Tampa of four white police officers prosecuted for beating a black motorcyclist to death who had missed a red light.
1989: New York
One of the cases that caused the most impact in recent years in the United States due to racial discrimination occurred in 1989, when five young people (four African-Americans and one Latino), who were between 14 and 16 years old at the time, were sentenced to prison after being accused of raping and beating a woman in Central Park, New York City.
The youths were jailed despite not having committed the crime. In 2002, when some remained behind bars and others had served their sentences, a man confessed to having been the true aggressor.
People demonstrate to demand justice for George Floyd and other Afro-descendants who lost their lives due to police brutality people demonstrate to demand justice for George Floyd and other Afro-descendants who lost their lives to police brutality.
1992: Los Angeles
On April 29, the acquittal of four white police officers who had killed a black motorist, Rodney King, on March 3, 1991, inflamed the megalopolis. The violence spread to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and New York, leaving 59 dead and 2,328 wounded.
On April 7, 2001, a 19-year-old black man, Timothy Thomas, was killed in Cincinnati by a white cop during a manhunt. The reaction: four days of violence in which 70 people were injured. Calm returned after the establishment of the state of emergency and the curfew.
2014: Staten Island
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died on Staten Island, New York City, after he was strangled by a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer while he was being arrested.
The New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s Office attributed his death to suffocation by strangulation and was listed as homicide. On December 3, 2014, the Richmond County grand jury exonerated the police officer. The incident sparked public protests and demonstrations across the country against police brutality against African Americans.
Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, talks to a group of people gathered outside of Cup Foods, where George Floyd was killed in police custody, on May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, talks to a group of people gathered outside of Cup Foods, where George Floyd was killed in police custody on May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota Source: AFP
The death of an 18-year-old young man of African descent, Michael Brown, shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked violent riots that spanned 10 days from August 9 to 19, 2014, with clashes with security forces who resorted to assault rifles and armored vehicles.
In late November, the announcement of the drop of the charges against the police sparked a new outburst of anger.
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black youth, died on April 19, 2015, a week after suffering a fractured cervix while being transported in a police van in Baltimore, Maryland.
The circulation of videos of witnesses to Gray’s arrest, which occurred due to an exchange of words with a police officer, triggered violent riots and looting in this city of 620,000 inhabitants, of whom almost two-thirds are black.
A state of emergency was declared and the authorities called the soldiers of the National Guard to ensure order.
Violent protests erupted in Charlotte, North Carolina in September following the death of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man who died after descending from a vehicle intimidated by police.
According to the police version, he was mortally wounded by a shot for refusing to drop his firearm. But his relatives claimed that he only had a book in hand and that he was quietly waiting for his son at a bus stop.
After several nights of tense protests, the governor declared a state of emergency and called for reinforcements from National Guard soldiers.