Movements for civil rights were a worldwide series of political movements for equality before the law that peaked in the 1960s. In many situations it took the form of campaigns of civil resistance aimed at achieving change through nonviolent forms of resistance. In some situations it was accompanied, or followed, by civil unrest and armed rebellion. The process was long and tenuous in many countries, and many of these movements did not fully achieve their goals, although the efforts of these movements did lead to improvements in the legal rights of previously oppressed groups of people.
Below are files of prominent people and events.
Declassified Civil Rights Movement FBI Files
The following file is archived here for historical reference, and may contain language and references that are offensive to some people.
The Communist Party and the Negro, February 1953 – [ 114 Pages, 4.75 MB ] – Excerpt: Since its organization in this country in 1919, the Communist Party, USA, has devoted an inordinate portion of its time, funds, propaganda and personnel to recruiting members from among the fifteen million Negroes who comprise almost ten percent of our total population. The failure of its efforts in this respect is best attested to by the fact that it can be estimated that there are at present only 1,994 active, disciplined, dues-paying Negro members in the Communist Party. Of course, in addition to this figure, there are approximately 18,000 other Negroes who have some contact with the Party, and its front groups, and who, to a certain degree, influenced directly or -indirectly by its program, propaganda and agitation.
|16th Street Baptist Church Bombing – [ 242 Pages, 12.45 MB ] – The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 as an act of racially motivated terrorism. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the United States 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.|
|Abernathy, Ralph – [ 1,558 Pages, 52MB ] – Ralph David Abernathy, Sr. (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, a minister, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest friend. In 1955, he collaborated with King to create the Montgomery Improvement Association, which would lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In 1957, Abernathy co-founded, and was an executive board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Following the assassination of King, Abernathy became president of the SCLC. As president of the SCLC, he led the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. during 1968. Abernathy also served as an advisory committee member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE). He later returned to the ministry, and in 1989 — the year before his death — Abernathy wrote, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography, a controversial autobiography about his and King’s involvement in the civil rights movement.|
|Allen, Lillie Belle – [ 45 Pages, 1.39 MB ] – On July 21, Lillie Belle Allen, a black woman from Aiken, S.C., who was visiting York with her parents, was riding in a car driven by her sister, Hattie Dickinson. Dickinson turned the car onto North Newberry Street and was looking for a grocery store when she saw a man with a gun leaning out of a second-story window. Multiple members of two all-white gangs, the Newberry Street Boys and the Girarders, were on the street that night, and many of them were armed. Dickinson began to turn around in the intersection of Newberry Street and Gay Avenue but the car stalled. As more armed white men began coming onto their porches, Dickinson panicked. Her parents, who were in the back seat, beging praying. Her older sister, Lillie Belle Allen, jumped out of the car to get to the driver’s seat and take the wheel. She flailed her arms screaming, “Don’t shoot!” Multiple shooters opened fire from the street, rooftops and windows, fatally wounding Allen. More than one hundred rounds were fired at the car, and Allen was shot by several different types of bullets.|
|Allen, Louie – [ 93 Pages, 7.87 MB ] – Louis Allen (April 25, 1919 – January 31, 1964) was an African American logger and civil rights activist in the small town of Liberty, Mississippi. He allegedly witnessed the murder of a fellow activist by a white state legislator, and was himself murdered when he approached federal authorities about the killing. Despite a consensus among investigators that Allen was killed by Amite County’s sheriff, no one has been prosecuted for the murder.|
|Anderson, Marian – [ 122 Pages, 8.93MB ] – Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said “Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.” Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. Although offered roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined, as she had no training in acting. She preferred to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals. Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid-twentieth century.|
|Barrett, Richard – [ 242 Pages, 12.45 MB ] – Richard Anthony Barrett Richard Anthony Barrett (1934-2010) was a leader of several white supremacist groups. In 1987, following a rally in Cummings, Georgia, Barrett received a death threat that he reported to the FBI. This release consists of five different investigations conducted between 1967 and 2003 in which Barrett was either a subject of the case or was mentioned in another investigation|
|Black Guerilla Family – [ 456 Pages, 17.18 MB ] – The Black Guerrilla Family (also known as the Black Family or the Black Vanguard) is a prison and street gang founded in 1966 by George Jackson and W.L. Nolen while they were incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California, north of San Francisco.|
|Carmichael, Stokely – [ 456 Pages, 20.12 MB ] – Stokely Carmichael (also Kwame Ture; June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998) was a Trinidadian-American black activist active in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. Growing up in the United States from the age of eleven, he graduated from Howard University and rose to prominence in the civil rights and Black Power movements, first as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”) and later as the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party.|
|Chavez, Cesar – [ File #1 | File #2 | File #3 | File #4 | File #5 | File #6 | File #7 | File #8 | File #9 | File #10 | File #11 | File #12 | File #13 | File #14 | File #15 | File #16 | File #17 ] – Cesar Chavez (born César Estrada Chávez, (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist, who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union, UFW).|
Dee, Ruby [1 Pages, 0.5MB] – Ruby Dee (October 27, 1922 – June 11, 2014) was an American actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and civil rights activist. She is perhaps best known for originating the role of “Ruth Younger” in the stage and film versions of A Raisin in the Sun (1961). Her other notable film roles include The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), and Do the Right Thing (1989).
Unfortunately, the National Archives found hundreds of pages on Ruby Dee, but are charging me .80 cents per page. I am archiving this here so others know this file is available either at the NARA branch itself (reference this FOIA request and file number) or via payment. If you’d like to “sponsor” the retrieval of this document, please CONTACT me.
|DuBois, William E.B. – [ File #1 | File #2 | File #3 | File #4 | File #5 ] – William E.B. DuBois, former Director of Publications of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was of interest to the FBI due to his affiliation with communist front groups.|
|Evers, Medgar – [ 236 Pages, 17.55 MB ] – Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an African-American civil rights activist from Mississippi involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his secondary education, he became active in the civil rights movement. He became a field secretary for the NAACP.|
|Fard, Wallace – [ File # 1 | File # 2 | File # 3 | File # 4 | File # 5 | File # 6 | File # 7 ] – Miscellaneous information about Wallace D. Fard, who is said to be the original founder of the Black Muslim movement.|
|Farmer, James L. – [ 338 Pages, 18.58 MB ] – James Leonard Farmer, Jr. (January 12, 1920 – July 9, 1999) was a civil rights activist and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. He was the initiator and organizer of the 1961 Freedom Ride, which eventually led to the desegregation of inter-state transportation in the United States. In 1942, Farmer co-founded the Committee of Racial Equality, which later became the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an organization that sought to bring an end to racial segregation in the United States through nonviolence. Farmer was the organization’s first leader, serving as the national chairman from 1942 to 1944. He was an honorary vice chairman in the Democratic Socialists of America.|
|Freedom Riders – [ File #1 | File #2 | File #3 | File #4 | File #5 | File #6 | File #7 | File #8 | File #9 | File #10 | File #11 | File #12 | File #13 | File #14 | File #15 | File #16 | File #17 | File #18 | File #19 | File #20 | File #21 | File #22 ] [ 4,285 Total Pages] – Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and following years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C., on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.|
|Hamer, Fannie Lou – [ 554 Pages, 28.68 MB ] – Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a voting rights activist and civil rights leader. In June 1963, she and several other voting rights activists were arrested at a Mississippi bus station. This release concerns the FBI’s investigation into possible civil rights violations relating to that arrest.|
|Hampton, Fred – [ 194 Pages, 8.01 MB ] – Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969) was an African-American activist and deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP). He was killed while sleeping in his apartment during a raid by a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hampton’s murder was chronicled in the 1971 documentary film The Murder of Fred Hampton, as well as an episode of the critically acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize.|
|Hooks, Benjamin – [ 223 Pages, 10.65 MB ] – Benjamin Lawson Hooks (1925-2010) was a civil rights leader who served as the director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for more than a decade. This release consists of a background investigation file with materials dated 1972-1980 and several investigative files concerning threats against Hooks or the NAACP between 1987 and 1990.|
|Jones, Claudia – [ 805 Pages, 42.85 MB ] – Claudia Cumberbatch Jones (15 February 1915—24 December 1964) was a Trinidadian journalist, who became a political activist and black nationalist through Communism.|
|King, Coretta Scott – [ 976 Pages, 19.76MB ] – Coretta Scott King (April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006) was an American author, activist, and civil rights leader. The widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King helped lead the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Mrs. King played a prominent role in the years after her husband’s 1968 assassination when she took on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself and became active in the Women’s Movement and the LGBT rights movement.|
|King, Rodney – [ 725 Pages, 53 MB ] – Rodney Glen King (1965-2012) was the victim of an abusive arrest by Los Angeles police officers on March 3, 1991. Two officers involved in the arrest were found guilty of depriving King of his civil rights. This 725-page release of material from the FBI’s color of law investigation consists almost exclusively of news clippings related to the case.|
|King, Jr., Martin Luther – [ File #1 | File #2 ] – Martin Luther King Jr. (born Michael King Jr., January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.|
|Ku Klux Klan – [ 676 Pages, 22.57 MB ] – The first Ku Klux Klan flourished in the Southern United States in the late 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s. Members adopted white costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be outlandish and terrifying, and to hide their identities. The second KKK flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920s, and adopted the same costumes and code words as the first Klan, while introducing cross burnings. The third KKK emerged after World War II and was associated with opposing the Civil Rights Movement and progress among minorities. The second and third incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent reference to the USA’s “Anglo-Saxon” blood, harking back to 19th-century nativism and claiming descent from the original 18th-century British colonial revolutionaries.|
|Lee, George Washington – [20 Pages, 13.7MB] – George Washington Lee (December 25, 1903 – May 7, 1955) was an African-American civil rights leader, minister, and entrepreneur. He was a vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership and head of the Belzoni, Mississippi, branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was assassinated in 1955 for organizing African Americans to try to register to vote. Since 1890 they had been effectively disenfranchised in Mississippi due to a new state constitution; other states across the South passed similar acts and constitutions, excluding millions of people from the political system and establishing one-party states.|
|Lingo, Albert J. – [90 Pages, 29.88 MB] – Colonel Albert J. Lingo, also known as Al Lingo (January 22, 1910 – August 19, 1969) was a career Alabama Highway Patrolman who served as Director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety from 1963 to 1965, including the turbulent early 1960s years marked by marches and demonstrations that characterized the civil rights movement in the U.S. South. Lingo’s service under Alabama governor George Wallace with regard to the Selma to Montgomery marches has been characterized in a negative light, though Lingo himself disputed that characterization, stating that he was following orders as required by his oath of office. He resigned as director effective October 1, 1965, and later ran for election to be sheriff of Jefferson County, Alabama; he died at age 59 on August 17, 1969. (Source: Ernie Lazar)|
|Liuzzo, Viola – [ 1,535 Pages, 76.47 MB ] – Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo (April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965) was a Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist from Michigan, who was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama. One of the Klansmen in the car from which the shots were fired was a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant. Liuzzo’s name is one of those inscribed on a civil rights memorial in the state capital. She died at the age of 39.|
|Malcolm X – [ Part 01 | Part 02 | Part 03 ] – Malcom X was the Minister of the Nation of Islam up to March 1964. He left the Nation of Islam and formed the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Malcom X was assassinated in 1965 while delivering a speech in New York City. Norman Butler, Thomas Johnson and Talmage Hayer were convicted of Malcom X’s murder and all three were sentenced to life in prison. The FBI investigated Malcom X to verify communist influence.|
|Mississippi Burning (MIBURN) – [ 1,049 Pages, 55.13 MB ] – Three American civil rights’ workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, were shot at close range on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County’s Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote. Their murders sparked national outrage and a massive federal investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation referred to this investigation as Mississippi Burning (MIBURN), and eventually found the bodies 44 days later in an earthen dam near the murder site. After the state government refused to prosecute, the federal government initially charged 18 individuals but was only able to secure convictions for seven of them, who received relatively minor sentences for their actions. However, outrage over their deaths assisted in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.|
|NAACP (Summary) – [ 732 Pages, 26.06 MB ] – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States, formed in 1909. Its mission is “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination”. Its name, retained in accordance with tradition, uses the once common term colored people. The NAACP bestows the annual Image Awards for achievement in the arts and entertainment, and the annual Spingarn Medals for outstanding positive achievement of any kind, on deserving black Americans. It has its headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.|
|Nation of Islam – [ 321 Pages, 14.26 MB ] – The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a syncretic new religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930. The Nation of Islam’s stated goals are to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African Americans in the United States and all of humanity. Its critics accuse it of being black supremacist and antisemitic. The Southern Poverty Law Center states NOI’s “theology of innate black superiority over whites and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.”|
|National Council of Churches – [ File #1 51.71MB | File #1A 37.24MB | File #2 17.90MB | File #3 16.69MB | File #4 16.87MB | File #5 28.59MB | File #6 26.53MB | File #7 18.98MB | File #8 32.84MB | File #9 24.15MB | File #10 30.77MB | File #11 23.28MB | File #12 30.71MB | File #13 15.52MB | File #14 26.67MB | File #15 23.94MB | File #16 30.00MB | File #17 16.40MB | File #18 25.32MB | File #19 26.51MB | File #20 21.98MB | File #21 31.37MB | File #22 26.55MB | File #23 17.92MB | File #24 20.96MB | File #25 18.95MB | File #26 16.76MB | File #27 20.66MB | File #28 15.41MB | File #29 20.38MB | File #30 16.50MB ] – [ 6,530 Total Pages ] – The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, usually identified as the National Council of Churches (NCC), is an ecumenical partnership of 37 Christian faith groups in the United States. Its member denominations, churches, conventions, and archdioceses include Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, African American, Evangelical, and historic peace churches. Together, they encompass more than 100,000 local congregations and 45 million adherents. It began as the Federal Council of Churches in 1908, and expanded through merger with several other ecumenical organizations to become the National Council of Churches in 1950. The NCC’s influence peaked in the 1950s, deriving its strength from a commitment to ecumenism, while the NCC’s strident antiwar position against the Vietnam War in the 1960s alienated the laity leading to a decline in influence thereafter. (Source: Ernie Lazar)|
|Parker, Mack Charles – [ 377 Pages, 20.58 MB ] – Mack Charles Parker (1936 – April 24, 1959) was an African-American victim of lynching in the United States. He was accused of ramping a pregnant white woman in northern Pearl River County, Mississippi. Three days before he was to stand trial, he was kidnapped from his jail cell in the Pearl River County Courthouse by a mob, beaten and shot. His body was found in the Pearl River, 20 miles west of Poplarville, 10 days later. Despite evidence compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and indictment by a federal grand jury, the men who killed him were released.|
|Perez, Leander – [ 285 Pages, 19.49 MB ] – Leander Henry Perez, Sr. (July 16, 1891 – March 19, 1969), was the Democratic political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes in southeastern Louisiana during the middle third of the 20th century. Officially, he served as a district judge, later as district attorney, and as president of the Plaquemines Parish Commission Council. He was known for his staunch support of segregation.|
|Randolph, A. Phillip – [ File #1 7.06MB | File #2 17.38MB ] [ 265 Total Pages ] – Asa Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was a leader in the African-American civil-rights movement, the American labor movement and socialist political parties. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly black labor union. In the early civil-rights movement, Randolph led the March on Washington Movement, which convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II. After the war Randolph pressured President Harry S. Truman to issue Executive Order 9981 in 1948, ending segregation in the armed services. (Source: Ernie Lazar)|
|Robeson, Paul – [ File #1 84.04MB | File #2 102.10MB | File #3 60.84MB ] – [ 2,840 Total Pages ] – Paul Leroy Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an African-American singer and actor who became involved with the Civil Rights Movement. At university, he was an outstanding American football player, then had an international career in singing, as well as acting in theater and cinema. He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, Fascism, and social injustices. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with Communism, and his criticism of the US government caused him to be blacklisted during McCarthyism. Ill health forced him into retirement from his career. He remained an advocate of the unpopular political stances he took until his death.|
|Rustin, Bayard – [ 434 Pages, 25.46MB ] – Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a civil rights activist and counselor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. Rustin was investigated for his ties to the Communist Party of the USA. These files are primarily dated during the 1960s.|
|Savio, Mario – [ File #1 12.86MB | File #2 10.94MB | File #3 2.05MB | File #4 20.42MB | File #5 0.5MB | File #6 16.53MB | File #7 7.66MB | File #8 15.35MB | File #9 20.15MB ] – [ 1,409 Total Pages ] – Mario Savio (1942-1996) was a political and human rights activist from the University of California at Berkeley who became the voice of the Free Speech Movement. He was investigated by the FBI from July 1964 until January 1975, following his arrest in March 1964 at a civil rights demonstration in San Francisco.|
|Shabazz, Betty – [ 400 Pages, 16.94 MB ] – Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) born Betty Sanders, aka “Betty X”, was a civil rights advocate and the wife of Malcolm X. The files in this release range from 1958 to 1970.|
|Till, Emmett – [ 291 Pages, 9.53 MB ] – Emmett Till Emmett Louis Till (1945-1955) was murdered while visiting relatives in LeFlore, Mississippi. In 1955, two suspects were tried for the murder, but acquitted. In May 2004, the FBI reopened the investigation to determine if other individuals were involved. This release consists of the FBI’s 2006 “Prosecutive Report” on the matter and includes a type-copy of the transcript of the first trial as an appendix.|
|White Supremecist Groups – [ 78 Pages, 10.94MB ] – White supremacy is the belief of, and/or promotion of the belief, that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore whites should politically, economically and socially dominate non-whites. The term is also used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial dominance of whites. Different forms of white supremacy have different conceptions of who is considered white, and different white supremacist identify various groups as their primary enemy.|
|Wilkins, Roy – [ 1,035 Pages, 48.05 MB ] – Roy Wilkins (August 30, 1901 – September 8, 1981) was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. Wilkins’ most notable role was in his leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). (Source: Ernie Lazar)|
| Williams, Franklin Hall – FBI Release [170 Pages, 92.7MB ]
Williams, Franklin Hall – National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Release #1 [5 Pages, 0.9MB ]Franklin H. Williams (1917–1990) was a lawyer and civil rights leader in the United States. As an assistant to Thurgood Marshall he represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before courts in criminal cases throughout the South. In 1950 he was appointed director of the NAACP’s western region where for 9 years he directed drives involving open housing, school desegregation and civil rights.
|Wright, Richard – [ 180 Pages, 9.34 MB ] – Richard Nathaniel Wright (September 4, 1908 – November 28, 1960) was an African-American author of sometimes controversial novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially those involving the plight of African Americans during the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. His work helped change race relations in the United States in the mid-20th century.|