January: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bemoans the “unprincipled force which will spare no home or community in its quest for illicit profits.” Writing in the January issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Hoover says: “The time for half-hearted, oblique action against depravity is past. Although this despicable trade reaps $500 million a year, this diabolical business is costing the Nation much more than money. It is robbing our country and particularly our younger generation of decency — it is a seedbed for delinquency among juveniles and depravity among all ages.” Hoover cites a statistic that a reported rape occurred every thirty-six minutes in the U.S. in 1958, and says, “This truly shocking and shameful state of affairs is made even more deplorable by the knowledge that sex crimes and obscene and vulgar literature often go hand in hand.”
Jan 18: Maj. Gen. Jacques Massu, commander of the French Army in Algeria, criticizes President Charles de Gaulle in an interview published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Massu had led a French coup in Algeria in 1958 that helped to bring down the Fourth Republic and bring de Gaulle to power as head of the Fifth Republic. With de Gaulle’s recent acknowledgement that the solution to Algeria’s ongoing unrest may lie in a degree of “self-determination” for the Arab population, Massu says, “Perhaps the Army made a mistake” in bringing de Gaulle to power.
Jan 24: French residents in Algiers, along with elements of the Home Guard, launch an insurrection known in France as La semaine des barricades (“the week of barricades”), in which they seal off parts of Algiers. French Army leaders tell Prime Minister Michel Debre that they will not obey orders to attack the insurgents. In clashes with local police, 24 people are killed and 136 are injured.
Jan 29: France’s Charles de Gaulle appears on television wearing his Army uniform “to stress that I am speaking as General de Gaulle as well as chief of state.” He says that he will not recant his position that the future of Algeria should be left to Algerians, and he won’t give in to European settlers “who dream of being usurpers.” The French Army, which had been reluctant to enter combat against French citizens, is persuaded to order home guardsmen inside the barricades to report to their barracks. When they refuse, the Army moves to end the rebellion.
Feb 1: Four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University begin a sit-in at a segregated Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro. Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Ezell Blair, Jr. are refused service, but they are allowed to stay at the counter. The protest triggers a wave of similar sit-ins throughout the South.
Feb 3: The French National Assembly authorizes President Charles de Gaulle to rule by decree to remove French Algerian leaders from power. The next day, de Gaulle will fire the Deputy Prime Minister for Algeria, Jacques Soustelle.
Feb 8: Inspired by the Greensboro sit-in, students from North Carolina College in Durham begin sit-ins at three lunch counters in Durham. Several white Duke University students join them. Three years earlier, African-American protesters had conducted a sit-in at Royal Ice Cream by sitting in a section reserved for whites. Other sit-ins take place in Fayetteville and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Feb 10: The sit-in movement expands beyond the North Carolina state line when students from Hampton Institute begin sit-ins in Hampton, Virginia. Over the next several days, students will stage more sit-ins in the neighboring cities of Newport News, Norfolk and Portsmouth.
Feb 11: Jack Paar temporarily quits The Tonight Show because his monologue had been edited the night before to remove a joke about a British lady and a “W.C.” (the British term for a bathroom). Parr walks out to the audience at the beginning of the show, says “There’s got to be a better way to make a living,” and then walks off the stage, leaving his sidekick, Hugh Downs, to complete the remaining 85-minutes of broadcast time. After network executives apologize personally, Parr will resume hosting the program a month later. His first show back will start with the words “As I was saying before I was interrupted… When I walked off I said that there must be a better way to making a living than this. Well, I’ve looked, and there isn’t.”
Feb 12: Sit-ins begin in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the first in that state. Students from Friendship Junior College sit down at lunch counters at Woolworth’s and McCrory’s. Both stores will close their counters indefinitely. When they re-open again on February 23, the sit-ins will resume, and continue through the year.
Feb 13: Students from Fisk University begin sit-ins at lunch counters and restaurants in downtown Nashville. Over the next three months, more than 150 students will be arrested and the home of the students’ lawyer firebombed. Nashville’s lunch counters will be desegregated three months later.
Feb 13: Students from Florida A&M University launch a sit-in at a Tallahassee Woolworth lunch counter. They remain at the counter for 2½ hours without being served or arrested. They will return one week later. White students from Florida State University will join the weekly protests in March.
Mar 12: Over the past week, lunch counter sit-ins have spread to Austin, TX; Galveston, TX, Jacksonville, FL; Knoxville, TN, Little Rock, AR, and New Orleans, LA. Another sit-in will take place in San Antonio, TX the next day.
Mar 15: Orangeburg, South Carolina police arrest 389 African-American protesters who had converged on the town’s lunch counters to protest segregation. The Kress 5&10 removes its stools to prevent further sit-ins.
Mar 15: Students from Atlanta’s six historically black colleges start a series of carefully orchestrated sit-ins at ten lunch counters and cafeterias throughout the city. Police arrest 77 of the 200 students, but no violence occurs. Other sit-ins occur in Corpus, Christi, TX, St. Augustine, FL; and Statesville, NC.
Mar 19: Sit-ins begin at two drug store lunch counters in Arlington, VA, just a stone’s throw from the nation’s Capitol. Both counters close rather than serve their new customers. The students will return the next day. In just the past four days, sit-ins have taken place in Memphis, TN; New Bern, NC; Savannah, GA; and Wilmington, NC.
Mar 21: The Sharpeville massacre in South Africa results in more than 69 dead (19 of them children), and 300 injured. The massacre occurs when white police officers fire into a crowd of unarmed black protesters. Most the victims are shot in the back as they try to flee.
Mar 25: U.S. Postal authorities seize 400 “physique” magazines, declaring them obscene and unmailable. Seized were 255 copies of the MANual, 75 copies of Trim and another 75 copies of Grecian Guild Pictorial. The Post Office contends that the magazines, which feature photos of nearly-nude males, are obscene because they are intended to appeal to homosexuals. The seizure sets up a series of court fights that will result in a landmark 1962 Supreme Court decision declaring photos of nude men are not inherently more obscene than photos of nude women.
Mar 26: Students from Wiley College and Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, begin a sit-in at the downtown Woolworth’s lunch counter. On March 30, police will arrest twenty students at three different lunch counters.
Mar 28: Seven Southern University students sit down at the Kress lunch counter in downtown Baton Rouge. They are immediately arrested, charged with disturbing the peace, and jailed with bail set at $1,500 each (about $12,700 today). The next day, seven more students will be arrested at a Sitman’s lunch counter and at the Greyhound station.
Mar 30: Five thousand African-American students from Southern University walk out of classes and march through Baton Rouge to the state Capitol to protest discrimination and arrests of protesters by police.
Mar 30: After police in Marshall, Texas arrested twenty student the day before for staging sit-ins at white-only lunch counters, students from Bishop and Wiley Colleges gather in front of the courthouse and sing protest songs. A crowd of whites gathered and began taunting the students. The city fire department clears the crowd by unleashing fire hoses on the demonstrators. Police arrest 37 more students. With tempers in the are reaching dangerous levels, the sit-ins will end, and talk of a boycott of white-owned businesses fizzle.
Apr 14: The musical Bye Bye Birdie opens at the Martin Beck Theater on Broadway. The Tony Award-winning musical features Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Michael J. Pollard, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Chita Rivera.
Apr 15: Inspired by the Greensboro and Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, Ella Baker organizes a meeting at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. That meeting is attended by 300 students from 58 colleges, and results in the establishment of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Apr 24: The “Bloody Wade-In” takes place in Biloxi, Mississippi, when 125 black men, women, and children gather on the beach. Biloxi police recruit a mob of whites to confront the African-American bathers. Police stand back as the mob attacks with gunshots and rock-throwing. Two white men and eight black men suffer gunshot wounds. Dr. Gilbert Mason, who attempted an earlier “wade-in” in 1959, is arrested and convicted of disturbing the peace for organizing the wade-in.
Apr 26: Responding to a week of massive protests, South Korean President Syngman Rhee resigns after twelve years of dictatorial rule. He and his wife are flown out of the country and begin their exile in Hawaii.
May 7: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev makes a surprise announcement that the Soviets have captured an American U-2 pilot “alive and well” near Sverdlovsk, and the Soviets have recovered Soviet currency and film taken by Powers of Soviet military bases. U.S. authorities express “amazement” at the Soviet’s charge that Francis Gary Powers was flying a spy mission.
May 11: Four Israeli Mossad agents abduct fugitive Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. He will be held captive for ten days before agents are able to fly him to Israel. Eichmann’s capture will be announced on May 23.
Jun 9: The sit-ins taking place in Arlington, Virginia, since March 19 have been mostly peaceful. But things threaten to get out of hand at the Drug Fair on Lee Highway when a crowd of white teenagers showed up and started harassing the group. American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell shows up to confront Dion Diamond. In addition to Rockwell’s racist spew, Diamond had to endure lit cigarettes tossed at him. Diamond later tells the Washington Post, “I’ve heard that term, ‘nigger’, so much in the last few days — more than I’ve ever heard it before. But I kept thinking that if I struck back, I’d be defeating my purpose.” The next day, Diamond and Laurence Henry will be arrested for trespassing at an Arlington Howard Johnson. Within two weeks, the business community will negotiate an end to segregation in Arlington. The rest of Fairfax county will do the same a short time later.
Jun 15: Thousands of Japanese protesters, angry over the ratification of a security treaty with the U.S., storm the parliament building. One female student is killed, and more than 600 are injured. Nationwide, about 5.8 million people participate in protests. President Eisenhower cancels a planned trip to Tokyo, set for June 19, at the request of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.
Jun 16: Portuguese troops fire on a crowd of African protesters in Mueda, Portuguese East Africa (later Mozambique), killing more than six hundred people. This shooting will become known as the Mueda Massacre.
Jun 30: The Belgian Congo gains its independence from Belgium. At the Independence ceremony, King Boudouin of Belgium gives a speech praising the “genius” of his great-granduncle, the genocidal King Leopold II. Congo’s new prime minister Patrice Lumumba responds with an impromptu and fiery speech denouncing Belgium’s notoriously brutal colonial rule.
Jul 1: Ghana gains its full independence from Britain. British rule had ended in 1957 when the Crown Colony of the Gold Coast became a self-governing dominion under a mostly-ceremonial British Governor-General.
Jul 4: After the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state, a new 50-star American flag is officially flown over Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, and the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
Jul 11: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is published.
Jul 16: The Sino-Soviet split is confirmed when the Soviet Union notifies the People’s Republic of China that all 1,390 Soviet advisers will be withdrawn. Over the next month, the Soviets will cancel twelve economic and technological agreements and 200 joint projects.
Jul 17: Dissatisfied with U.N. and Western foot-dragging in helping to restore peace in the Congo, Congo leaders say they will invite Soviet troops to restore order if Belgian troops refuse to withdraw.
Aug 6: Cuban leader Fidel Castro nationalizes all American and foreign-owned property in Cuba. This comes in response to a U.S. arms embargo against Cuba, a reduction in the sugar import quota from Cuba and a ban on refined oil exports to the island.
Aug 15: New York Mirror Column Blasts New York Mattachine Society. Gossip columnist Lee Mortimer publishes a small item alerting readers to the presence of a local chapter of the Mattachine Society: “I now ask whether it is in the best of American traditions to encourage the degenerates who roam our streets at night. I say these so-called ‘unfortunates’ are no defenseless minority but a huge, well-organized, wealthy, defiant, politically powerful, intelligent community, spreading across national borders, with loyalty to no country, no law or no code, except their fellow deviates.”
Aug 15: The Republic of the Congo, formerly known as the French Congo, becomes independent. With two neighboring African countries using the same Congo name, the former French colony is often referred to Congo (Brazzaville), to distinguish it from Congo (Léopoldville).
Aug 24: The Sabin polio vaccine is approved for use in the United States. Developed by the University of Cincinnati’s Dr. Albert Sabin, the oral vaccine will replace the injections developed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Jonas Salk. The Salk vaccine had been in use since 1955.
Aug 27: In Jacksonville, Florida, two hundred white men, including Klan members, armed with baseball bats and axe handles, attack black protesters conducting sit-ins at Morrison’s Cafeteria, Woolworths, and other stores around Hemming Park. Fifty people are injured and 62 arrested, 48 of them African-Americans, in what becomes known as “Ax Handle Saturday.” Despite the attacks, sit-ins will continue until the businesses are integrated in 1961.
Sep 26: Vice President Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy appear in the first televised presidential debate, from Chicago’s WBBM-TV studios. Nixon had been hospitalized due to an infected knee injury, and he looks pale, underweight and sickly. He is also tired because he insisted on campaigning just a few hours before the debate began. To top it off, he refuses to wear makeup, which makes his stubble more noticeable. Kennedy, on the other hand, is well-prepared, rested, tanned, relaxed and confident. Kennedy looks directly into the camera; Nixon looks off to the side toward the reporters.
Oct 13: The third televised Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate takes place, with Kennedy in New York and Nixon in Los Angeles. A split-screen is used to bring the two candidates together. The moderator is in Chicago.
Oct 19: Rev. Martin Luther King is arrested in Atlanta, along with 280 students, during a sit-in at Rich’s department store. King is sentenced to four months at hard labor at Reidsville State Prison for violating terms of parole form an earlier traffic violation. He will be released three days later after Robert F. Kennedy personally appeals to Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver.
Nov 2: A London court finds Penguin Books not guilty of obscenity for publishing D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover.
Nov 8: Sen. John F. Kennedy narrowly defeats Vice President Richard Nixon to become President of the United States. Kennedy comfortably wins the Electoral College, 303-219 (15 unpledged electors from Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma vote for segregationist Sen. Harry F. Byrd). But the popular vote is the closest in history: 34,220,984 to 34,108,157, a margin of just 0.17%.
Dec 5: In Boynton v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that segregation in public transportation violates the Interstate Commerce Act. By restricting its holding to interpreting the Interstate Commerce Act, the Court is able to avoid deciding any constitutional questions in the case.
Dec 16: A United Airlines DC-8 collides in mid-air with a TWA Lockheed Constellation over Staten Island in New York City. All 128 passengers and crew members on the two airliners, and eight people on the ground, are killed.