A Brief History of Protest In America

As a community, blacks have staged marches as a means of protest against racial and social injustices that have throughout this nation’s history, oppressed the lives of black people and their communities. Considering the condition of the quality of life that the majority of blacks in today’s society experience, has protest marching been an effective tool?

 “Animals Have More Rights In Our Country Than Black People”

Dick Gregory

On June 11, 2015, I attended the Tenth Annual Conference of the Southern Association of Women Historians, which was held on the Citadel Campus, at the Alumni House.  Keynote Speaker, Dr. Renee Romano PhD, Oberlin College, lectured on  “The Limits of Commemoration:Civil Rights Memory and the Enduring Challenge of Innocence.”

The lecture was co-sponsored by Clemson University, The Citadel: Military College of South Carolina, and the College of Charleston.  The lecture was also made possible by funding from the Carolina Low country and Atlantic World Program’s (CLAW). The session was free and open to the public.

I felt especially privileged that the lecture was open to the public, and that I was given the opportunity to hear Dr. Romano’s lecture. As she spoke, I thought “kindred spirits.” If interested, some of her lectures, like the one below, can be found on Youtube.


In discussing the recent protest under the declaration that “Black Lives Matter,” she spoke of the murders of black boys and men including Timir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, and Walter Scott who had been killed by police officers.

“A Timeline of unarmed black men killed by police”


She argued,”black lives do not matter enough,” as she spoke of “death, poverty, and the isolation of black communities, black unemployment rates, the fact that black children are poor and live below the poverty line, and the rate of mass incarcerations within the black community, as opposed to whites and other races that are incarcerated.”

“Our past,” she said “continues to plaque us.”  She affirmed that it plaques us through the silence of whites who feel disconnected to the racial problems that causes unrest in our society; unrest created over the course of history by generations of whites who enslaved, lynched and disenfranchised blacks.

She spoke of changing narratives, for instance memorializing lynching instead of celebrating the Civil Rights Movement, which is determined by many as a successful and already achieved effort, as realized with the election of President Barack Obama, as a means of making poignant the legacy of continued injustices against blacks in America.

She highlighted the work of Brian Stevenson, Executive Director – The Equal Justice Initiative, who is working to place markers at the sites where blacks were lynched in America. Her lecture resonated within me because of my efforts to create art in memory of women and girls lynched in America.


“Police Attack Blacks Teens At Pool Party In Texas”



Because of the killing of black boys and men, by police officers in our country, people across the globe are outraged.  In the United States we have seen protesters take to the streets to make their voices heard.  With signs in hand and the chanting of protest songs, demonstrators in New York City and in states around the country have shown that citizens of this country are unified in their efforts to put an end to police brutality.

Michael Eric Dyson wrote this article in the New Republic concerning the issue of “Black Lives Matter.”


The momentum of the protesters has grown, as have the number of people involved in the demonstrations.


What’s happening in the streets today however is not a new phenomenon, as the act of staging rallies, and conducting protest marches in the United States as well as globally has largely been a method used to voice opposition to social, political and economic injustices by many different races of people.  .

[Protest against child labor in a labor parade]

“Many immigrant Jews worked in the garment industry under unfair labor practices.”

Abolish Child Slavery 1909

Library of Congress

Silent protest parade in New York [City] against the East St. Louis riots, 1917

Silent Protest Parade New York City 1917, East St. Louis Riots

Library of Congress

“In May of 1917 mob violence broke out when a local aluminum plant in St. Louis brought in black workers to replace white workers who were on strike.” Alex Park, August 18, 2014.


St. Louis Missouri/ Ferguson Missouri A History of Racial Tensions


 America During the 1960’s

The 1960’s In America was a time of war, rebellion, and a time when different races of people marched together in a unified fight for racial equality for African-Americans.

One march known to many is the march that took place from Selma to Montgomery Alabama in 1965. Thousands marched in protest of voters rights.  The demonstration was lead by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It took place over 5 days and 54 miles.


[Participants, some carrying American flags, marching in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965]

March From Selma To Montgomery Alabama 1965

Library of Congress

[The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965]

Civil Rights March From Selma To Alabama 1965

Library of Congress


Policeman confronts a group at Seventh Ave. and 126th St. during renewed violence in Harlem

Policeman Confronts a group at Seventh Avenue and 126th Streets during renewed violence in  Harlem  1964.

Library of Congress

“In 1964, race riots broke out after the shooting death of fifteen year old James Powell by a white off duty police officer on July 18, 1964.”  An estimated eight thousand Harlem residents took to the streets to protest what was considered police brutality.”


“50 years after Harlem Riot Police Brutality Still a Concern.”

Frederick Reese



The Vietnam War ignited a united presence in streets all across America and they were victorious.  In protest of the Vietnam War, protest in particular by the middle class, produced results in changing the political arena in America when Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection.

[Crowd of people holding candles, including African Americans, at a march at night to the White House, lead by Coretta Scott King as part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam which took place on October 15, 1969]

March lead by Coretta Scott King at Night to the White House in Protest of the Vietnam War

Library of Congress

[Anti-Vietnam war protest and demonstration in front of the White House in support of singer Eartha Kitt]

Protest Against the War and in Support of Singer Eartha Kitt


[Muhammad Ali, bust portrait]

Muhammad Ali Refused To fight In The Vietnam War



Kent State Massacre Student Protest Over the Vietnam War



Kent State

Kent State University Shooting 2

Human Rights Protest

[African Americans demonstrating for voting rights in front of the White House as police and others watch; sign reads

 Library of Congress

Pictures from the Civil Rights Movement

  Protest In America for Human Rights March 12, 1968

The 1960’s Was Also A Time of International Protest

Protest did not only take place in America, protest were sparked internationally. “Students in France protested, students in Japan, in Germany, Mexico, Ireland, Italy,  China all took to the streets protesting for everything from  student power and end to the war in Vietnam, and more freedom.  In France workers united with students and almost toppled the government.”

Revolts in Japan


Revolts in France


Protests in Europe


Actor, Singer, Political Activist, Paul Robeson Fought Against injustices in America and Internationally


Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson Documentary

March On Washington

I have a Dream Speech Washington, D. C.



On April 4, 1968, the black community mourned the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. with many across the world.  While many seeking liberation were successful in their protests blacks experienced many set backs in their fight for civil rights because of the assassination of so many black men who were leaders in the black community.


Our community continues to experience the shooting of unarmed men and boys by police officers.  Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, and in the year 2014, blacks are still marching and protesting and fighting for human rights. In 2014, we have still not “overcome.”