After the successful outcome of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, its leader, Martin Luther King wrote Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958). The book described what happened at Montgomery and explained King's views on non-violence and direct action and was to have a considerable influence on the civil rights movement.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, a small group of black students read the book and decided to take action themselves. On 1st February, 1960, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair, started a student sit-in at the restaurant of their local Woolworth's store which had a policy of not serving black people. In the days that followed they were joined by other black students until they occupied all the seats in the restaurant. The students were often physically assaulted, but following the teachings of King they did not hit back.
Later that month about forty college students staged a sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter in Nashville, Tennessee. Stokely Carmichael later recalled: "When I first heard about the Negroes sitting in at lunch counters down South, I thought they were just a bunch of publicity hounds. But one night when I saw those young kids on TV, getting back up on the lunch counter stools after being knocked off them, sugar in their eyes, ketchup in their hair - well, something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning."
Franklin McCain later recalled: "On the day that I sat at that counter I had the most tremendous feeling of elation and celebration. I felt that in this life nothing else mattered. I felt like one of those wise men who sits cross-legged and cross-armed and has reached a natural high. Nothing else has ever come close. Not the birth of my first son nor my marriage. People go through their whole lives and they don't get that to happen to them. And here it was being visited on me as a 17-year-old. It was wonderful but it was sad also, because I know that I will never have that again. I'm just sorry it was when I was 17."
As Raymond Arsenault, the author of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006) pointed out: "Unlike the scattered and short-term sit-ins in the 1950s, the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in that began on February 1, 1960, drew the rapt attention of national civil rights leaders, especially after the scale of the protest widened beyond anyone's expectations. As the number of participants multiplied, from twenty-nine on the second day to more than three hundred on the fifth." On 16th May, 1960, Matthew Walker, Peggy Alexander, Diane Nash and Stanley Hemphill became the first blacks to eat lunch at the Post House Restraurant in Nashville.
This non-violent strategy was adopted by black students all over the Deep South. Within six months these sit-ins had ended restaurant and lunch-counter segregation in twenty-six southern cities. Student sit-ins were also successful against segregation in public parks, swimming pools, theaters, churches, libraries, museums and beaches.
In October, 1960, students involved in these sit-ins held a conference and established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The organization adopted the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action. This included participation in the Freedom Rides during 1961. Leading figures in the organization included Robert Moses, James Lawson, Marion Barry, Charles McDew, James Forman and John Lewis.
The campaign to end segregation at lunch counters in Birmingham, Alabama, was less successful. In the spring of 1963 police turned dogs and fire hoses on the demonstrators. King and large number of his supporters, including schoolchildren, were arrested and jailed.
During the 1960 presidential election campaign John F. Kennedy argued for a new Civil Rights Act. After the election it was discovered that over 70 per cent of the African American vote went to Kennedy. However, during the first two years of his presidency, Kennedy failed to put forward his promised legislation.
Kennedy's Civil Rights bill was brought before Congress in 1963 and in a speech on television on 11th June, Kennedy pointed out that: "The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day; one third as much chance of completing college; one third as much chance of becoming a professional man; twice as much chance of becoming unemployed; about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year; a life expectancy which is seven years shorter; and the prospects of earning only half as much."
In an attempt to persuade Congress to pass Kennedy's proposed legislation, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organized the famous March on Washington. On 28th August, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. At the end of the march Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Kennedy's Civil Rights bill was still being debated by Congress when he was assassinated in November, 1963. The new president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had a poor record on civil rights issues, took up the cause. Using his considerable influence in Congress, Johnson was able to get the legislation passed.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects involving federal funds could now be cut off if there was evidence of discriminated based on colour, race or national origin.