The Watsons Go to Birmingham takes place in 1963, at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement. During this period, minorities were fighting for equal rights in the United States, but were facing extreme prejudice from white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. American society, primarily in the South, was extremely segregated, with separate schools, bathrooms, churches, and transportation options for whites and minorities. The following is a timeline of key events in the American Civil Rights Movement as it unfolded over the course of the 20th century.
1948 - President Harry Truman signs an executive order which declares that the armed forces will provide equal opportunities regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin.
1954 - The famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case declares that "separate but equal" will never be equal, overturning the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling.
1955 - Activist Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus even though the front of the bus is typically reserved for whites. She is subsequently arrested, a measure that causes outrage and bus boycotts in the activist community.
1957 - Martin Luther King, Jr. is made president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which advocates nonviolence and civil disobedience in the fight for equal rights. In the same year, President Eisenhower is forced to send federal troops in order to desegregate a school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
1960 - The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee is founded at Shaw University in order to get young African Americans involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
1962 - James Meredith becomes the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
1963 - 200,000 people join the March on Washington, listening as Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his famous "I have a dream" speech. In the same year, the Birmingham church bombing described in The Watsons Go to Birmingham occurs, killing four innocent little girls.
1964 - President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination of all kinds and gives the federal government the power to enforce desegregation.
1965 - Activist Malcolm X. is shot to death. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is passed, making it easier for Southern blacks to register to vote.
1968 - Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated as he stands on a balcony outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.
Though the movement was most prominent in the 1950s and 1960s, new civil rights legislation continued to be passed throughout the last decades of the 20th century and into the new millennium. Today, civil rights in the United States have come a long way; however, there are still areas in need of improvement.