‘Jim Crow’ – the system of racism and segregation in the southern states – was legally enforced from the late 19th century until the 1960s. A classic account of the emergence and consolidation of Jim Crow, after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, is
, The Strange Career of Jim Crow  updated and reissued by Oxford University PressOxford, Oxford University Press, , 1966, pp. 272
In the 1940s and 1950s, Jim Crow practices were outlawed at the federal level, partly through the legal challenges pursued by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – culminating in the 1954 ruling that segregated schools were unconstitutional – and the pressure exerted by A. Philip Randolph, leader of the black trade union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. However, in practice Jim Crow remained in force, Southern blacks suffered not just from segregation and exclusion from voting and other rights, but from organised white violence and intimidation.
The year-long 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, which brought Martin Luther King to prominence and gave rise to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), began the more militant movement of nonviolent direct action. There had been earlier, small scale, direct action challenges to southern segregation, especially by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which organised the first freedom rides, but in 1960 large numbers of African American students began to engage in sit-ins and occupations of of segregated facilities, and many other forms of civil disobedience. These tactics spread throughout the South, taken up by all sections of the black population, including school pupils, and were supported by white sympathizers, often from the North. From 1964 there was also a concerted attempt, despite racist violence and intimidation, to register black voters. From 1961 onwards, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which played a major role in organising lunch counter sit-ins and other protests, was active in vote registration, including organising the 1964 Freedom Summer School in Mississippi.
The March on Washington in 1963, where MLK made his ‘I have a dream’ speech, perhaps represented a peak in the mobilization for civil rights Subsequently, especially after 1965, the movement splintered. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act failed to address the discrimination, unemployment and poverty of the African American ghettoes in the north, or the disproportionate numbers of poor blacks drafted and killed in the Vietnam War. From 1966 onwards, ‘Black Power’ became a dominant slogan. Both SNCC and CORE began to restrict the involvement of whites and also moved away from advocacy of nonviolence, many SNCC activists joining the Black Panther Party (founded in 1966).
Civil Rights and Black Power have been exceptionally well documented by journalists, contemporary historians, social movement theorists and many activists themselves. The books listed below try to cover key political and theoretical issues, represent a range of important organisations, campaigns and personalities in the struggle for African American equality, give a voice to women activists, and reflect differing ideological perspectives. There are now increasing numbers of local studies, including oral histories, that indicate the extent of activism and suffering. See for example http://www.voicesofcivilrights.org. The complete works of Martin Luther King Jr are available at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive.