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Explore 1963: The Struggle for Civil Rights to learn the inside story of key events in civil rights history. By examining primary source material from the Kennedy Library, you can enter into the  tumultuous year of 1963, and discover civil rights history through the words and actions of the people who lived it. As you  listen to press conferences, examine letters from civil rights leaders and US citizens of all ages, see photographs of protests and the violence that ensued, and view film footage of the peaceful March on Washington, you will witness the complexity of this historical period, including the variety of perspectives and attitudes that existed at that time.

Why 1963? Up until that time, President Kennedy had been cautious in his approach to civil rights; he was reluctant to lose southern support for legislation on many fronts by pushing too hard on civil rights legislation. However, the struggle for equal rights intensified in 1963. In May, a series of protests in Birmingham erupted in violence; several weeks later, George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama blocked the registration of two African-American students to the University of Alabama. President Kennedy was compelled to take a bold stand and made it clear that the United States could no longer tolerate racial injustice. On June 11, 1963, he delivered his Address to the American People on Civil Rights and the following week submitted civil rights legislation to Congress. These events, and several others, made 1963 a pivotal year in civil rights history. The seven chapters of the site were selected because of their historical significance and specifically, what they reveal about the Kennedy administration’s role in the fight for equal rights.

In addition to background essays on each event, 1963: The Struggle for Civil Rights has more than 230 primary sources, historical evidence in the form of documents, photographs, and audio and video recordings. To help you investigate and analyze these materials, click on the links below to access worksheets on various kinds of primary sources.

A Note for  Younger Students

We recommend investigating two events which have documents, photographs, and letters appropriate for younger students: Chapter Four: Address to the American People and Chapter Six: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. We also encourage you to explore several of the events to find letters from young Americans ranging in age from elementary to college age: Chapter One: To Vote in Mississippi, Chapter Four: Address to the American People, Chapter Five: The Bill, Chapter Seven: The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Photographs in all of the chapters will help you learn about the leaders and events that made civil rights history in 1963. For additional resources, see Bibliography for Younger Readers.

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The Right to Vote in Mississippi

Civil rights groups work to increase the number of blacks who are registered to vote in Mississippi, and face continuing harassment and violence. 

To learn more:

Chronology 

Bibliography


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Project C

In order to draw national attention to the treatment of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth and other civil rights activists launch a campaign of mass protests, known as Project C (for confrontation).

To learn more:

Chronology

Bibliography


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The Integration of the University of Alabama

Governor George Wallace upholds his promise to defend “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” when he tries to block two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

To learn more:

Chronology

Bibliography


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Address to the American People on Civil Rights

President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation, defining the civil rights crisis not only as a constitutional and legal issue, but as a moral one as well. He announces that major civil rights legislation will be submitted to the Congress.

To learn more:

Chronology

Bibliography


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The Bill

President John F. Kennedy sends a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress and seeks support from congressional leaders and ordinary Americans.

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Chronology

Bibliography


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The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

More than 200,000 Americans of all races join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

To learn more:

Chronology

Bibliography


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The Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church

A bomb explodes in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killing four young African American girls.

To learn more:

Chronology

Bibliography