This Is What 100 Years Of Protests For Racial Justice Looks Like In America

From the 1917 silent protests in the streets of Manhattan to the recent national unrest following the killing of George Floyd, these pictures capture the long and tumultuous struggle for racial justice in the US.

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As demonstrators across the US are raising their voices following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police, powerful images of these protests are circulating throughout the world. These photos can define a movement for years to come, and become the foundation from which future generations are able to frame their own struggles for civil liberties.

“Most Americans today learn about the Civil Rights Movement through photographs,” wrote historian Mark Speltz in Time following the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling by two white police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Photographs from modern America’s defining social justice struggle are critical touchstones in the visual narrative of our nation’s past.”

The struggle for civil rights has a long visual history. For the sake of simplicity, we focused on the past 100 years, starting with 1917 when thousands of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan in mournful silence, in response to the East St. Louis race riots, which killed dozens of Black people and left thousands more homeless.

A century later, and in stark contrast to the silent protest of 1917, are the photographs captured in the days after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. There, demonstrators were met with severe force, reminiscent of the major flashpoints of the civil rights era in the 1960s — moments like the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Those pictures are seared into our collective memory and offer a visual roadmap of what has been accomplished and what is left to be done.

These images also reveal how little has changed in the decades since. “Despite the distance of the decades,” Speltz wrote in 2016, “the moving imagery of the emerging Black Lives Matter movement builds upon a visual narrative of protest and struggle that remains all too relevant in the present.”

These pictures chronicle over one century of protests for racial justice in America.

Underwood Archives / Getty Images

A silent march in New York City to protest the police treatment of Black people during riots in St. Louis, 1917. Thousands marched down Fifth Avenue without saying a word. They chanted no chants, sang no protest songs. The only sounds were the disconcertingly mournful thuds of muffled drums and, of course, the marchers' footsteps on the hot pavement. It was a parade of silent protest.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

More than 3,000 people carried signs in Washington, DC, urging the end of lynching in America, 1922.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Protesters stand outside the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum with signs and nooses around their necks, Jan. 1, 1934.

Afro Newspaper / Getty Images

Black protesters hold signs and march in a protest against police brutality after the shooting death of a Black man in Washington, DC, July 16, 1938.

Afro Newspaper / Getty Images

In the Harlem neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, a group of Black youth smile and walk down the street, just prior to the start of a protest against racial injustice on Aug. 7, 1943.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

State troopers beat a man leaving a concert by Paul Robeson at the Old Hollow Brook Golf Club in Cortlandt Manor, New York, Sept. 4, 1949. Troopers and police, who were supposed to protect concertgoers from anti-Robeson protesters, joined them in harassing them instead.

Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted after her refusal to move to the back of a bus to accommodate a white passenger touched off the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, 1956.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school on Sept. 6, 1957. She was one of the nine Black students whose integration into Little Rock's Central High School was ordered by a Federal Court following legal action by NAACP.

Shel Hershorn - Ha / Getty Images

A police officer speaks with Black protesters during a sit-in at Brown's Basement Luncheonette in Oklahoma, 1958.

Francis Miller / Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses a crowd of demonstrators outside the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, DC, Aug. 28, 1963.

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Firefighters use fire hoses to subdue the protesters during the Birmingham Campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, May 1963.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Two terrified Black girls flee police officers during unrest in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, July 21, 1964.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

State troopers watch as marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma, Alabama, as part of a civil rights march, March 9, 1965. Two days before, troopers had used excessive force driving marchers back across the bridge, killing one protester.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Police drag away one of several demonstrators arrested outside the school administration building when over 1,000 protesters got into a scuffle with police, Nov. 17, 1967.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

A police officer guards students at Texas Southern University, a historically Black college, arrested during civil unrest, May 20, 1967.

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People gather at the end of the Poor People's March in Washington, DC, June 19, 1968. The Poor People's Campaign was organized in 1968 by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to demand economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Civil rights activists are blocked by National Guard officers brandishing bayonets while trying to stage a protest in Memphis, 1968.

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USA gold medalist Tommie Smith (center) and bronze medalist John Carlos give the Black Power salute as they stand on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.


The Black Panthers march in protest of the trial of cofounder Huey P. Newton in Oakland, July 22, 1968.

Keystone-France / Getty Images

The Third World Women's Alliance marches in support of Angela Davis, who was accused by the FBI of plotting to liberate members of the Black Panthers, Aug. 26, 1970.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Demonstrators protest the outcome of the Howard Beach trial in which four white young people were cleared of murder charges in the racially motivated killing of Michael Griffith, Dec. 21, 1987.

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Protesters speak during an anti–police brutality demonstration in Oakland, 1985.

Lindsay Brice / Getty Images

A mother and child observe the aftermath of unrest following the arrest and beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, April 30, 1992.

Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images

Seven thousand Haitians march in protest of the treatment of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was assaulted and brutalized by New York City police officers after being arrested outside a Brooklyn nightclub, Aug. 29, 1997.

Jason Green / Getty Images

Protesters hold up signs as they march from Brooklyn to Manhattan in New York City during a protest against police brutality, April 15, 1999. The march came in the wake of the police killing of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by police while he stood in the vestibule of his apartment in the Bronx.

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Yero Odinakachaw holds a photograph at the Avenging the Ancestors demonstration in Philadelphia, July 3, 2002. Eight descendants of people enslaved by George Washington, as well as other enslaved Africans, demonstrated to expose the history of slavery in the city.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Protesters rally at Columbia University in New York City, Oct. 10, 2007, after a Black professor discovered a noose on her office door.

Allison Joyce / Getty Images

People along with New York City Council members attend a press conference to call for justice in the Feb. 26 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on the steps of City Hall in New York City, March 28, 2012.

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Tear gas rains down on a woman kneeling in the street with her hands in the air after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 17, 2014.

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Police force protesters from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 11, 2014.

Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the police department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 9, 2016.

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People march on Hollywood Boulevard in protest of the decision in New York not to indict a police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Los Angeles, Dec. 6, 2014.

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Antoine Bethea (#41) and Rashard Robinson (#33) of the San Francisco 49ers raise their first during the anthem as Eli Harold (#58), Colin Kaepernick (#7), and Eric Reid (#35) take a knee, prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, California, Oct. 2, 2016.

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Police monitor activity as protesters demonstrate outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia, April 15, 2018. Police arrested two Black men who were waiting inside the Center City Starbucks, which prompted an apology from the company's CEO.

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Hundreds of protesters gather in Manhattan's Foley Square to protest the death of George Floyd, New York City, May 29.

Lawrence Bryant / Reuters

Fireworks explodes over a protestor with his hands up during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri against the death of George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody, May 30, 2020.

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A crowd marches to protest the killing of George Floyd in police custody, on the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, May 31. The protest was disrupted after a man drove a tanker truck into the crowd.