Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon
Althea Gibson is the first African American woman to win both the U.S. Nationals and Wimbledon titles in 1957 and she defended both titles in 1958. Throughout her career, Gibson wins a combined 11 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles and is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. In 1963, Gibson becomes the first Black golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and played 171 events between 1963 and 1977.
Willie O’Ree Breaks the color barrier in the NHL
In 1958, the Boston Bruins call up O’Ree for two games, making him the first Black player in NHL history. Persevering through racism and an injury that left him nearly blind in his right eye, O’Ree begins his NHL career with a win over the Montreal Canadiens. Pro hockey is slow to recognize O’Ree’s accomplishments, but that does not stop him from taking a hands-on role in promoting diversity in the sport. Devoting his life to make the sport more diverse and inclusive, in 1998 O’Ree becomes the director of youth development for the NHL/USA Hockey Diversity Task Force. It isn’t until 2018 that he is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and 2021 that the Bruins retire his number. The NHL would also institute the annual Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award in his honor, given to an individual working to positively impact his or her community, culture or society through hockey.
Wilma Rudolph makes history at the 1960 Olympic Games
After making history as the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics, Rudolph refuses to attend any segregated celebratory events, making her homecoming parade the first integrated event in her hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. In 1963, Rudolph joins other Clarksville citizens in an attempt to integrate a local Shoney’s restaurant. Despite being a hometown and national hero, she’s denied entry because she is Black.
Students from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from Washington, D.C. to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South.
Bill Russell hosts first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi
Medgar Evers, the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent civil rights activist that worked to enforce Brown v. Board of Education and investigated the murder of Emmett Till, is assassinated in his driveway on June 12, 1963. Following Evers’ murder by a Klansman — who wouldn’t be convicted of the murder until 31 years later — NBA star Russell travels to Mississippi on the invitation of Evers’ brother, Charles, to host an integrated basketball camp in segregated Mississippi. In a 2011 interview, Charles Evers recalls how members of the Ku Klux Klan stood across the street from the playground in efforts to intimidate Russell and organizers. The night before the camp, Charles, rifle in hand, was standing guard in Russell’s hotel room as there were several threats of violence.
NAACP Leader Medgar Evers is assassinated
Medgar Evers was the first state field secretary of the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent civil rights activist. Through his work he fought for the enforcement of the Brown v. Board of Education, was instrumental in gathering evidence and witness for the investigation of the murder of Emmett Till and, led voter registration efforts. He was assassinated in the driveway of his on home and the outrage following his death increased support for legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 demonstrators took part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital. The march was successful in pressuring the administration of United States President John F. Kennedy to initiate a strong federal civil rights bill in Congress. During the event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. Athletes such as Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson also participated in the march.
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington
The “I Have a Dream” remains one of the most famous speeches in history. King uses universal themes to depict the struggles of African Americans before closing with an improvised riff on his dreams of equality. The eloquent speech endures as one of the signature moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
Cassius Clay wins first heavyweight title
Cassius Clay won his first heavyweight title after defeating Sonny Liston. After the fight Clay announced that he had converted and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Ali would later become the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions; successfully defending his title 19 times and cementing his place in history as “The Greatest.”
Freedom Summer – Volunteers campaign to register as many African American voters in Mississippi as possible and are met with violence.
Freedom Summer was a 1964 voter registration project in Mississippi, part of a larger effort by civil rights groups such as the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to expand black voting in the South. The national attention garnered from the violence volunteers encountered is seen as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement.