Reliving The Civil Rights Movement, In 55 Powerful Photos

Published May 16, 2017
Updated September 27, 2018
Angry Crowd Following Girl
Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. She was one of the nine African-American students whose integration into Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School was ordered by a federal court following legal action by the NAACP. September 6, 1957.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Scared Kids Running
Two terrified African-American girls flee police officers during a race riot in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, itself sparked by rioting over police brutality in nearby Harlem, on July 21, 1964.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Bus Hold Hands
Two young girls join hands while riding the bus together during the initial phases of the integration of the school system in Boston, Massachusetts. September 15, 1975.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Harlem 1964 Police Street
In late July 1964, police beat a man during the Harlem riots sparked by the questionable shooting of a 15-year-old African-American boy by a police officer. Dick DeMarsico/New York World Telegraph & Sun/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

King Mouth Open
Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a rally for the Chicago Freedom Movement at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on July 10, 1966.

The movement, the largest civil rights campaign in the North, sought fair housing, healthcare, transportation, and so on for African-Americans.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Tear Gas
Civil rights marchers stay close to the ground as Mississippi Highway Patrolmen use tear gas on the protestors. Canton, Mississippi. June 23, 1966.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Rosa Parks Arrest Cop
Rosa Parks has her fingerprints taken after being arrested for boycotting public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama. February 1956.Associated Press/Wikimedia Commons

Eye Bandages
Twelve-year-old Sarah Jean Collins lies in a hospital bed following the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.

The bombing, carried out by four members of the Ku Klux Klan, killed Collins' sister and three other girls as her Sunday school class was ending.
Frank Dandridge/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

King Last Speech Podium
On April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his now famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech to 2,000 people.

This would be the last speech he would ever give. He was assassinated the following day.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

King Assassination Balcony Point
Civil rights leader Andrew Young (left) and others standing on the balcony of Memphis' Lorraine Motel point in the direction of the then unknown assailant just after the fatal bullet struck Martin Luther King Jr., who is lying at their feet. April 4, 1968.Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Cleaning Up Blood
Theatrice Bailey, brother of the Lorraine Motel's owner, scrapes the blood of Martin Luther King Jr. from the motel balcony following King's assassination on that very spot. Memphis, Tennessee. April 4, 1968.Henry Groskinsky/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Troops Fire Jeep
Troops survey the flaming terrain on Washington, D.C.'s Seventh Street on April 6, 1968 amid the rioting caused by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Segregation Sign
Seventeen-year-old student John Carter stands outside Clinton High School in Tennessee while holding a sign in protest of integration on August 27, 1956.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Young Girl In Car
A first-grade girl is escorted by US Federal Marshals to a grade school that is being guarded by city police on the first day of school integration by order of the federal court. New Orleans, Louisiana. November 14, 1960.Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Nervous Girl In Classroom
A nervous young girl sits in the front row of her newly desegregated class, in which she is the only African-American. Tennessee. September 1957.Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Olympic Salute Black Power
In Mexico City on October 17, 1968, American Olympians Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise their gloved fists in the Black Power salute to express their opposition to racism back home during the U.S. national anthem, after receiving their medals for first and third place, respectively, in the men's 200m race.-/AFP/Getty Images

X King Meeting
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet for the first and only time following the former's press conference in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1964.Marion S. Trikosko/U.S. News & World Report/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Shampoo Test
Congress of Racial Equality trainees endure an "egg shampoo" exercise in preparation for remaining calm during nonviolent demonstrations. Location unspecified. August 11, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Finger Point
Fifteen-year-old Johnny Gray points a warning finger at one of the two white boys who tried to force him and his sister, Mary, from the sidewalk as they walked to school in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 16, 1958.

The argument ended in a fist fight, with Gray chasing the white boys down the block.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Black And White Together
Demonstrators rally in support of jailed civil rights leader Wally Nelson. Location unspecified. Circa 1965.MPI/Stringer/Getty Images

Freedom Riders Beaten
A mob beats Freedom Riders who've arrived at the bus station in Birmingham, Alabama. May 1961.

Bull Connor, head of Birmingham’s police, made a pact with the Klan that the police would stay away from Birmingham’s bus terminal for fifteen minutes after the Freedom Riders arrived, enough time to severely beat some of the Riders into the hospital.

This photo was reclaimed from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed.
Federal Bureau of Investigation/National Endowment for the Humanities/Wikimedia Commons

Three Linking Hands
Three demonstrators join hands to build strength against the force of water sprayed by riot police in Birmingham, Alabama, during a protest of segregation practices. May 4, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Holding Signs Walking
On March 29, 1968 in Memphis, U.S. National Guard troops faced off with Civil Rights marchers wearing placards reading, "I am a man."

This was the third march in as many days. Martin Luther King Jr. had been there on the first day to participate.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Surrounded By Batons
Police subdue a rioter during the third night of race riots in Paterson, New Jersey. August 14, 1964.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Faces Of Marchers
Demonstrators hold signs and join hands during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.National Archives and Records Administration

King Hand Up Crowd
Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, at which he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.-/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Tear Gas Exposure
A civil rights marcher suffering from exposure to tear gas holds an unconscious Amelia Boynton Robinson, noted activist, after mounted police officers attacked marchers in Selma, Alabama as they were beginning a 50-mile march to Montgomery to protest race discrimination in voter registration. March 8, 1965.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Newark Bayonet Protest
Several African-Americans confront National Guardsmen during the Newark, New Jersey riots in response to police brutality on July 14, 1967. -/AFP/Getty Images

Crying Woman
On July 20, 1964 in Harlem, Anna Powell breaks down in tears as she leaves the funeral home following services for her 15-year-old son, James, who had been killed by a policeman four days earlier. His death set off a series of riots in Harlem as demonstrators protested police brutality.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Cops In Foreground
Police officers watch as jeering students protest desegregation at West End High school in Birmingham, Alabama after two African American students entered the school on September 16, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Fire Hose Blast
Firemen turn their hose on a group of African-Americans during an anti-segregation demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama on May 3, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Capitol In Background
Students from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania take part in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.National Archives and Records Administration

Car Soldiers Guns
Minnijean Brown, 15, one of the Little Rock Nine, arrives outside Central High School, as members of the 101st Division of the Airborne Command stand ready to protect them, under orders from President Dwight Eisenhower. Little Rock, Arkansas. September 25, 1957.A.Y. Owen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Goldwater Signs
Ku Klux Klan members rally in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater amid counterprotesters during the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California.Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress

Capitol Protest Cops
On May 29, 1968, Washington D.C. police tussle with a demonstrator of the Poor Peoples Campaign for civil rights and poverty relief during a protest at The Supreme Court.Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Monument Shadow
Demonstrators gather in the shadow of the Washington Monument during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.Marion S. Trikosko/Library of Congress

Blowing Smoke Into Face
NAACP student advisors blow smoke into the face of a volunteer demonstrator as part of a tolerance training exercise for nonviolent protests. Petersburg, Virginia. May 1960.Howard Sochurek/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Protest Man Dragged Away
Police drag away a civil rights protester at the Republican National Convention in Miami in August 1968.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Washington Monument Large Crowd
The enormous crowd gathers around the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument for the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.National Archives and Records Administration

Man Being Kicked
Benny Oliver, former Jackson, Mississippi policeman, viciously kicks Memphis Norman, an African-American student from nearby Wiggins who had been waiting along with two other students to be served at a segregated lunch counter. The rumor of possible civil rights actions in the town caused onlookers to cheer the beating. May 28, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Holding Back Demonstrator
A Nashville policeman grabs a demonstrator and tells him to move from in front of a patrol wagon during a protest on April 27, 1964.

The young man refused and was subdued by the policemen and thrown into the wagon with other demonstrators just after this photo was taken.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

King Priest Kids
Civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy (left, behind priest), his children, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. (behind children) lead the Selma to Montgomery civil rights march through Alabama in March 1965.Abernathy Family/Wikimedia Commons

School Sign Follow
African-American students arrive at Baltimore, Maryland's newly integrated Southern High School as white students walk behind with a sign reading "Southern don't want negroes." October 4, 1954.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Bloody Demonstrators
Two blood-splattered Freedom Riders stand together after being attacked and beaten by pro-segregationists in Montgomery, Alabama on May 20, 1961.

The Freedom Riders were a collective of civil rights activists that rode public buses in the South during the early 1960s in protest of the non-enforcement of mandates that such transportation must be desegregated.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Freedom Press Office
Two boys work in the Freedom Press Office in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for the Mississippi Project, a campaign to increase black voter registration in the South. July 24, 1964.© Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Police Officer Holding Dog
Police officers walk with a police dog that bears its teeth and barks at African-American demonstrators during protests to end racial segregation. Cambridge, Maryland. July 1, 1963.Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Trying To Avoid Hose
Two young protesters try to avoid the blast of a fire hose during a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama on May 7, 1963.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Dog Biting Shirt
A police dog attacks an African-American protester during an anti-segregation demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama on May 4, 1963.Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Holding Man By Neck
A policeman twists a man's neck in a choke hold during a civil rights demonstration. Location unspecified. Circa 1962.Washington Bureau/Stringer/Getty Images

Girl Dragged Away
Police carry a young woman into a patrol wagon during a civil rights demonstration in Brooklyn, New York. 1963.Dick DeMarsico/World Telegram & Sun/Library of Congress

Glasses Guard Street Litter
On April 7, 1968, a Pennsylvania National Guardsman patrols a street littered with wreckage from an afternoon of rioting in Pittsburgh following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Watts Riots Car
Police subdue a man during the Watts riots in Los Angeles. August 1965.

Upset at racial discrimination and police brutality, the city's African-American population grew further upset after the violent, public arrest of two young African-American men and their mother following a scuffle with police on August 11. Between 31,000 and 35,000 people then took to the streets in riots that left 34 dead, 1,032 injured, 3,438 arrested, and $40 million worth of property damaged.
New York World-Telegram/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Police Toss
Police toss a demonstrator into a mass of protesters that had been rallying at the U.S. Consulate in support of civil rights activists in Alabama. Toronto, Canada. March 16, 1966.Gerry Barker/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Guns Black Panthers California
Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. May 2, 1967.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Protesters Sitting Together
Two demonstrators sit together, shielding themselves from the sun, during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Perhaps the most simultaneously helpful and harmful thing that historians, writers, teachers, and Americans as a whole have done to the civil rights movement is to label it as such.

A label as monolithic as "the civil rights movement" helpfully conveys just how pervasive were the wrongs that the movement sought to right and just how courageously the movement went about doing so.

Yet a label so monolithic also harmfully conceals just how multifarious were the kinds of wrongs that the movement sought to right and just how varied were the perspectives of its leaders.

What we summarize as "the civil rights movement" of 1954 to 1968 included African-Americans' struggle for equality in voting rights, housing standards, education, public transportation, employment practices, immigration procedures, marriage laws, political representation, and more.

And while these various struggles were indeed united under common themes of equality, dignity, and respect, each of these battles had to be fought largely on its own and resolved by its own piece of legislation: the Montgomery bus boycott fought the transportation battle while the Selma to Montgomery marches protested voting rights inequalities; the Brown v. Board of Education decision declared segregation to be unconstitutional while the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended racial discrimination at the polls.

It's when we thus unpack the monolithic notion of "the civil rights movement" that we can appropriately remember each and every struggle and that figured into it.

From the Harlem riots of 1964 to the Watts riots of 1965, from the March on Washington to the March Against Fear, and from Martin Luther King to Malcolm X, explore the multifaceted struggle and hope of the civil rights movement in the photos above.


After this look at the civil rights movement, discover six civil rights leaders you don't know, but should. Then, see 20 of the most powerful civil rights protest photos.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society of history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.