14 Iconic Photos from The Civil Rights Movement


A segregated water-fountain in the Deep South. After the 1875 Civil Rights Act the ex-Confederate South established a network of of race laws under the board title of ‘Jim Crow.’ The ‘seperate but equal’ principle was codified in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1898) and from the turn of the century southern blacks were legally second-class citizens.


The mother of Emmett Till, a murdered 14 year-old boy, weeps over her son’s casket. Emmett Till was murdered in 1955 in  Money, Mississippi by two white males for the crime of flirting with a white woman. He was kidnapped, beaten to death and dumped in a river. His body was returned to his home-town of Chicago and exhibited to a huge sequence of mourners. His horrific injuries exposed the true brutality of Southern prejudice to a wider audience.


 The 89th US Airborne Division escorts the ‘Little Rock Nine’ to register at Little Rock High School, 1957. After the Supreme Court passed Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1956) the federal government was mandated to enforce school desegregation. President Eisenhower deployed federal troops to support the registration of nine black students at Little Rock High School, Arkansas after Governor Orval Faubus corralled significant local opposition to de-segregation.


James Meredith, a 29 year-old military veteran, is escorted to registration at the University of Mississippi, on September 30th 1962. Meredith’s registration at Ole Miss, and the resistance of Governor Ross Barnett, precipitated the Ole Miss crisis in 1962. Federal marshals were deployed as a mob gathered to oppose Meredith’s registration. Although a large number of marshals were injured, and two civilians died, Meredith was successfully registered.


A police dog lunges at a protester during the Project C protests in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1963.  Project C saw a coalition of civil rights groups engage in a series of protests in Birmingham, Alabama designed to provoke the segregationist Police Commissioner Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor to respond violently. It worked; Connor ordered that dogs and fire hoses be turned against the protesters, and a sequence of protests across the nation placed unprecedented pressure on the Kennedy administration to act decisively on civil rights.


Governor George Wallace fulfills his promise to ‘stand in the school house door’ to prevent the registration if two black students at the University of Alabama. As the last state without a de-segregated university, Alabama stood as the last bastion of ex-Confederate intransigence, and George Wallace understood that politically he could not abandon his heritage. He therefore physically blocked the forced registration of two black students at the university, but was eventually removed when the threat of force was leveled.


The March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, 25th August 1963. Another coalition of civil rights groups came together to organize this peaceful march on the Capitol. Despite worries of Communist infiltration and mob chaos, the march was overwhelmingly peaceful. It is best remembered for playing host to Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.


President Lyndon Johnson addresses a Joint Session of Congress three days after the assassination of JFK. Johnson called for prompt action on Civil Rights legislation as an appropriate ‘memorial oration’ for the slain President Kennedy. In doing so he set aside fears that he would abandon the effort made by the 35th President to enact a substantive Civil Rights Bill.


 Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet for the first and only time on Mrach 34th 1964. Two figureheads, representing discrepant elements of the fight for equal rights, met for only a minute as they came to hear the Senate debate the Civil Rights Bill.


President Lyndon Johnson administers the ‘Johnson Treatment’ to Senator Richard Russell, the head of the Southern caucus and a staunch opponent of civil rights. President Johnson was famed for his legislative abilities, and these were given full play in pursuing the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. His opposition was the formidable Southern caucus, headed by Richard Russell. Johnson is reported to have said here ‘Dick, you’ve got to get out of my way.’


President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law, July 2nd 1964. In a rare moment of harmony between the federal government and civil righst leaders, Johnson signed in the comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964, giving blacks equal access to public necessities as well as other basic rights.


Martin Luther King Jr. leads a protest march from Selma, Montgomery. Much was left to be done, and activist groups focused their attentions on the right to vote, which was maligned and diminished in many states. Of several marches to take place, this one (on March 7th 1965) became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ after police violently beat and detained peaceful marchers. The public outcry was a key factor in realising the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 


A protester is apprehended during the Watt’s riots, 11th-17th August 1968. Six days of race riots in the Watt’s neighbourhood of Los Angeles caused  34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage. Residential segregation and police brutality were key causes of the unrest, and the rebellions played into the wider impression that US society was tearing at the seams.


Martin Luther King Jr is shot dead by white supremacist James Earl Ray on his hotel balcony, April 14th 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. was said to be haunted by the spectre of his early death, and this came to reality on Apirl 14th 1968 when a lone gunman sniped him on his hotel balcony.

Alex Browne studied History at Kings College London and is an Assistant Editor at Made From History. He specializes in post-war history in the USA and Central America.