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Boycotts, Movements and Marches

Events that initiated social change during the civil rights movement

View of the front line of demonstrators during the March on Washington over clasped hands

Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images

The front line of demonstrators during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington D.C., August 28, 1963.

The 1950s and '60s were the height of the civil rights movement and the continued struggle for social and racial justice for African Americans in the United States. The Civil War abolished slavery, but it did not end discrimination. African Americans, along with help from many white colleagues, mobilized and began an unprecedented journey for equality. Here are the major boycotts, movements and marches instrumental in bringing social change during the civil rights movement.

group of men holding umbrellas walking down a street during a bus boycott

Grey Villet/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

A group of African American commuters walked to work on the 'Day of Pilgrimage,' a protest that was part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

1. 1955 — Montgomery Bus Boycott

This boycott was born after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., to a white male passenger. The next day, Dec. 1, 1955, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. proposed a citywide boycott against racial segregation on the public transportation system. African Americans stopped using the system and would walk or get rides instead. The boycott continued for 381 days and was very effective. In June 1956, a federal court ruled that the laws in place to keep buses segregated were unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court eventually agreed. The Montgomery bus boycott was one of the first major movements that initiated social change during the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King, Jr. leads a line of African-American protesters down a street in Albany, Georgia

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After being arrested by Albany Police Chief Laurie Pritchett, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a line of protesters down an Albany, Georgia street.

2. 1961 — Albany Movement

This movement protested the segregation policies in Albany, Ga. Many groups took part in the Albany movement, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), local activists and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King’s goal was to offer counsel rather than become a participant, but he was jailed during a demonstration and was given a sentence of 45 days or a fine. He chose jail to push for change but was released three days later. Some concessions were made to the coalition, but the movement eventually disbanded after nearly a year of protests without accomplishing its goals.

police dogs jump at a man with torn pants during a demonstration in birmingham, alabama

Charles Moore/Getty Images

Police dogs, held by officers, jump at a man with torn trousers during a non-violent demonstration, Birmingham, Alabama, May 3, 1963.

3. 1963 — Birmingham Campaign

The goal of the Birmingham campaign was to end discriminatory economic policies in the Alabama city against African American residents. They faced deep financial disparities and violent reprisal when addressing racial issues. The campaign included a boycott of certain businesses that hired only white people or maintained segregated restrooms. Protesters used nonviolent tactics such as marches and sit-ins with the goal of getting arrested so that the city jail would become crowded. Police used dogs and high-pressure water hoses against protesters. This campaign came to a successful end when many signs of segregation at Birmingham businesses came down and public places became accessible to people of all races.

martin luther king waves to supporters on the washington mall during the march on washington

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The civil rights leader Martin Luther King waves to supporters on August 28, 1963, on the Mall in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington.

4. 1963 — March on Washington

This was the largest political rally for human rights ever in the United States. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 participants converged on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, to protest for jobs and freedom for African Americans. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The March on Washington is credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

man being beaten by police during march in selma, alabama

AP

John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (in the foreground) is being beaten by a state trooper during the march in Selma, Ala., March 7, 1965.

5. 1965 — Bloody Sunday

This march went down in history as Bloody Sunday for the violent beatings state troopers inflicted on protesters as they attempted to march peacefully from Selma, Ala., to the state capital, Montgomery. The march was aimed at fighting the lack of voting rights for African Americans. Approximately 600 protesters were to travel from Selma on U.S. Highway 80 to the state capital on March 7, 1965, led by John Lewis, then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Police violence against protesters brought the march to a shocking end. Footage of the brutality broadcast across the nation sparked public outrage and boosted support for the civil rights movement.

large group marches down city street with martin luther king in chicago

Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

Hundreds of supporters and members of the Chicago Freedom Movement march along State Street, Chicago, Illinois, July 26, 1965.

6. 1965 — Chicago Freedom Movement

The Chicago Open Housing Movement, also called the Chicago Freedom Movement, was formed to protest segregated housing, educational deficiencies, and employment and health disparities based on racism. The movement included multiple rallies, marches and boycotts to address the variety of issues facing black Chicago residents. By Jan. 7, 1966, King announced plans to get involved in the Chicago Freedom Movement, and on Aug. 5, 1966, King led a march near Marquette Park in a white neighborhood. The marchers were met with rocks, bottles and firecrackers. Approximately 30 people were injured, including King, who was hit in the head with a brick. After negotiations with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, an agreement was announced on Aug. 26, 1966, to build public housing in predominately white areas and to make mortgages available regardless of race or neighborhood. The Chicago Freedom Movement continued through 1967 and was credited with inspiring the Fair Housing Act, passed by Congress in 1969.

martin luther king marches, arms locked, in protest of the vietnam war

Frank Hurley/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Dr. Benjamin Spock and Rev. Martin Luther King protest against the Vietnam War along Central Park West.

7. 1967 — Vietnam War Opposition

Many groups and individuals vehemently opposed the Vietnam War in the massive peace movement of the 1960s and '70s. King compared the antiwar movement to the civil rights movement and denounced U.S. involvement in a series of speeches, rallies and demonstrations. His first public speech against the war, called “Beyond Vietnam,” was delivered in April 1967 in front of 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York. He called for a stop to all bombing in North and South Vietnam, as well as a declaration of a unilateral truce and a move toward peace talks. His stance cost him many allies, including President Lyndon Johnson, but King maintained his antiwar position until his assassination exactly one year to the day after he delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

aerial view of encampment with view of the washington monument

Bettmann/Getty Images

Resurrection City, a plywood and canvas encampment that housed approximately 3,000 participants in the Poor People's March on Washington.

8. 1968 — Poor People’s Campaign

The goal of the Poor People’s Campaign was to gain more economic and human rights for poor Americans from all backgrounds. A multicultural movement, the campaign included Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans and whites along with African Americans. A march on Washington was planned for April 22, 1968, but when King was assassinated on April 4, the movement was shaken and the march postponed. By May 12, approximately 50,000 demonstrators had converged on the Mall in Washington and erected a tent city, called Resurrection City, in what became a live-in. The campaign's major march occurred at the Solidarity Day Rally for Jobs, Peace and Freedom on June 19. The occupation lasted six weeks and ended when bulldozers arrived and mowed down Resurrection City on June 24. The bill of rights the campaign strived to establish never became law, but the federal government enacted several programs to end hunger.

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