The Civil Rights Movement was a multi-decade movement intended to achieve equal rights and treatment for African Americans. The movement is considered to have taken place from 1954–1968, though it drew on a long history of protest against the mistreatment of African Americans. As Woodson notes multiple times in the book, even after the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, Jim Crow laws and general prejudice prevented African Americans from equal treatment in many arenas.
Many see the end of World War II as the impetus for the Civil Rights movement. Many African Americans fought in World War II, a war predicated upon the United States's commitment to freedom. This made the blatant discrimination they faced upon returning home to the United States all the more salient. Tensions from the post-war 1940s spilled over into the 1950s, and a series of non-violent protests were carried out. Famous examples include a walk out at a Virginia high school that led to the Brown v. Board of Education case, the Montgomery bus boycott (in 1955, just after the Civil Rights Movement is considered to have begun), and the Greensboro diner sit-ins in 1960. Non-violent protest was a major element of the early Civil Rights Movement, and many see this as key to the movement's success.
On August 28, 1963 one of the key events of the Civil Rights Movement took place: the March on Washington. More than 200,000 people, both black and white, peacefully marched on Washington in protest, and many famous Civil Rights leaders attended. It was on this day that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Brown Girl Dreaming states that Jacqueline Woodson was born on February 12, 1963, meaning she was born just 6 months before this important event.
As the 1960's progressed, the Civil Rights Movement suffered significant, violent setbacks. On March 7, 1965, 50 peaceful marchers were injured by a vigilante gang; the event is now called Bloody Sunday for the immense and senseless violence. In 1965 the Organization of Afro-American Unity founder Malcolm X was assassinated, and in 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as well. In 1965, the Black Power Movement began grew in response to the setbacks encountered by the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement. A wave of riots and violent protests occurred over the next decade, driving some white support from the movement.
It is clear from Black Girl Dreaming that the Civil Rights Movement and its famous leaders had a great impact on Jacqueline Woodson. Some of the figures mentioned in the book are Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis. Their legacies live on in Woodson's writing and in contemporary United States culture.