The 2024 Black History Month Exhibit in the New York State Capitol.

1964: New Yorkers Who Shaped History

2024 Black History Month Exhibition
1964 New Yorkers Who Shaped History
Exhibition Information
1964: New Yorkers Who Shaped History

Black and white image of a protest with a banner stating 'We March With Selma"

Sixty years after the historic passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, this exhibition looks back and shines a light on New Yorkers who, through courage and determination, helped pave the way for millions of Americans to see their equal rights under the Constitution acknowledged.

Each individual and group highlighted here had crucial roles in building powerful coalitions that took the message and challenge to the street, the media, and the government. Concerts and benefits heightened awareness in the public and raised money to support rights workers across the country.

1964 was an extraordinary year for civil rights, but the battles that followed were hard, and many remain unfinished. In these, New Yorkers will undoubtedly be leading the good fight for justice.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin was one of the most prolific advocates during the civil rights movement and an avid follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. In 1964, he organized one of the largest demonstrations of the civil rights movement: The New York City School Boycott, also known as The Freedom Day Boycott.

Rustin lived openly as a gay man but is remembered as the “Socrates of the Civil Rights Movement” and as a stealth, “intellectual engineer behind the scenes” who played a role in almost every major milestone of the civil rights movement leading to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After the act was passed, he continued his advocacy, focusing on LGBTQ+ rights. In 2003, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bayard Rustin Headshot
New York City School Boycott

In 1954, the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled school segregation unconstitutional, but it was difficult to enforce in areas such as New York City, where non-legislated segregation often existed in forms of housing, social, or economic discrimination, also known as redlining.

After a decade of community leaders, teachers, and parents advocating for desegregation and improvement to schools with little progress, community leader Reverend Milton Galamison called for a public school boycott, and activist Bayard Rustin assisted in organizing it.

On February 3, 1964, in the chilling cold, more than 450,000 students and teachers either left school, stayed home, or marched to show support for The Freedom Day Boycott. demonstrations took place at over 300 public schools throughout the city, and Freedom Schools were provided at parks, churches, and homes by boycotting teachers. 

Images of an NYC School Boycott poster and protestors on a bridge
Image courtesy of the Queens College Civil Rights Archives

A. Philip Randolph

In September 1964, Asa Philip Randolph was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, acknowledging a lifetime of service and advocacy.

As well as his stature as a civil rights leader, Randolph was a keen political strategist and labor and union organizer. While still a young man in 1925, he was elected president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union. Under his leadership, the union became the first majority-Black labor union recognized by the American Federation of Labor. In 1955, Randolph became vice president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and remained associated with the organization until 1974.

Randolph was also a key figure in developing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which took place in Washington, D.C. but was planned in headquarters located on 170 West 30th Street in Harlem, New York City.
Black and white image of A. Philip Randolph

Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height worked tirelessly behind the scenes and devoted her life to bringing about change and equal rights.

Alongside founding the YWCA organization’s Center for Racial Justice in New York City, she served as counsel to President Johnson and led the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. as president for over 10 years. Height was a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and shared the stage with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Dorothy Height is credited for merging Black rights with women’s rights and, in 1964, as president of the National Council of Negro Women, she formed the group Wednesdays in Mississippi, creating a dialogue between women activists from the North and Black women of the South. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
Dorothy Height Headshot
The 1964 World's Fair CORE Protests

On April 22, 1964, the New York World’s Fair opened, boasting of peace and progress, but many called out the glaring inconsistency with the fair’s message and the lack of equal rights granted in the state and nation.

Black and white photo of protestors at the New York State World's Fair
Members of National CORE organizations protest at the New York State World’s Fair, 1964

Isiah Brunson, chairman of the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), originally proposed a stall-in protest halting all traffic to the fair’s opening day.
The stall-in did not happen. Instead, protestors, organized by National CORE’s chairman James Farmer, picketed the fair’s pavilions and loudly protested during President Johnson’s opening-day speech, frequently interrupting with chants of “Freedom Now!” and “Jim Crow Must Go!”

Black and white photo of cars and people rehearsing for a planned "stall-in"
Rehearsing for planned “stall-in”

The city and the state have seen fit to spend millions and millions of dollars to build the World’s Fair, but have not seen fit to eliminate the problems of Negroes and Puerto Ricans in New York City.” - Isiah Brunson (Brooklyn CORE)


Anna Arnold Hedgeman

Anna Arnold Hedgeman had planned for a career in teaching but was drawn instead into a lifelong commitment to activism and advocacy for civil rights, poverty relief, and education.

She served as executive director for many city branches of the then-segregated YWCA, including the branch in Harlem, and in 1944, was appointed executive director of the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). Her advocacy for the under-represented brought her to serve as the only woman on the planning committee for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, Hedgeman continued to live a life directed by her faith and commitment to social justice, contributing to many civil rights causes, including co-founding the National Organization for Women.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman Portrait

Ella Baker

Ella Baker was committed to a life of social activism from an early age and earned a reputation in college fighting against unfair practices. She moved to New York City after graduating, where she became involved with the Young Negroes Cooperative League, becoming its director in 1930.

In 1940, she began work with the NAACP. In the years leading up to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Baker was at the center of activity, co-founding In Friendship in 1955, a group that took on Jim Crow laws. After joining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Baker served as interim director.

After leaving the SCLC, Baker co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), working in New York City alongside veterans Diane Nash and Julian Bond and mentoring young activists such as Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture).
Ella Baker Headshot

Coretta Scott King

Freedom Concert: NYC Town Hall

On November 15, 1964, Coretta Scott King took the stage at the New York City Town Hall for her first of many Freedom Concerts, which helped to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
A Freedom Concert with Coretta Scott King poster

Nina Simone

Carnegie Hall, NY

Nina Simone appeared on March 22, 1964, to record a selection of powerful civil rights-driven songs, including “Old Jim Crow,” “Go Limp,” and a historic performance of “Mississippi Goddam,” which she had written in direct response to the Alabama church bombing that killed four your girls in Birmingham.
Nina Simone Headshot

The Freedom Singers, Dick Gregory, Nina Simone

Carnegie Hall, NY

Stand-up comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory appeared with the renowned Freedom Singers in Carnegie Hall for a Freedom Concert sponsored by the New York City chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Nina Simone made a surprise appearance and donated her performance to the cause.
The Freedom Singers

Miles Davis

Philharmonic Hall, NYC

Miles Davis’s now legendary performance at Philharmonic Hall was one of a series of concerts billed as a benefit to support voter registration in the Deep South. The recordings were released in 1965 as two live LPs: “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More.”

Miles Davis photographed by Tom Palumbo
Miles Davis Photo

Freedom Spectacular

Madison Square Garden, NY

On May 14, 1964, New York’s Madison Square Garden hosted the Freedom Spectacular, a two-hour, star-studded entertainment extravaganza for the NAACP, with the proceeds used to provide bail money for civil rights activists working in the South. The show was broadcast in over 50 U.S. cities and featured performers such as Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Lena Horne, and Jazz great Cannonball Adderley.

Image of Harry Belafonte
Portrait of Harry Belafonte
Post-1964: Up The Hill

1964 was more than just a pivotal year in the struggle for Americans’ equal rights. A fire had been lit, and after decades of activism, there was clear affirmation from the highest levels of government that meaningful change was necessary for the survival of American democracy.

In post-1964 America, civil disobedience, sit-ins, protests, marches, boycotts, and, unfortunately, violence served as reminders that many still do not have the rights, freedoms, or opportunities that others have.

But since its signing, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has been revisited and broadened many times. The following year, the Voting Rights Act passed, and in 1968, the Fair Housing Act targeted specific discrimination against people of color.

New Yorkers have exemplified and celebrated diversity from the state’s beginning as a Dutch Colony. By acknowledging the hard-fought battles and sacrifices of these heroes, they continue to be on the front lines for civil rights and carry their pledge of service into the future.

Image of a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City featuring raised fists
Black Likes Matter Protest, New York City