Brief History of Black Protests in America

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Of the countless protests performed during America’s Civil Rights Era, none are quite as popular as Rosa Parks; bus boycott. This event is also credited with starting the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. When the bus driver requested black passengers to surrender their seats to standing white passengers, Parks refused. As a result she was arrested and fined, but she allowed NAACP president E.D. Dixon to dispute the $14 fine. Four days later, the NAACP- working alongside Martin Luther King Jr.- organized a bus boycott in Montgomery. This 13 month boycott barred participants from using public buses until they desegregated. The boycott made one point abundantly clear: black people possessed enough agency to spur legislative action, despite the presence of Jim Crow laws.


A similar story unfolded in March 1955, except in the place of a 42 year old dressmaker, 15-year old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing her seat. By policy, if a black person is sitting in “white’s only seating”, they are required to forfeit their seat if a white person asks. When the driver requested that a white man sit at Colvin’s expense, she refused. She was subsequently arrested and sexually harrased. Civil right’s activists- led by Martin Luther King Jr.- bargained for Colvin’s release. This incident was one of the inciting incidents for the civil rights movement.


Two years later, the Little Rock Nine would send shockwaves throughout America’s education system. The landmark 1954 Brown v. Board ruled that racially segregated education defied the Constitution, but the implementation of this idea was met with staunch criticism. In 1957, seven black students were admitted into the previously all-white Central High School. This integration was met with protest. People lined up to harass the children when they went into the building. They lined up to harass the children when they left. They held signs with degrading messages and black baby dolls in makeshift coffins. President Eisenhower employed the national guard to escort the nine children. Of the nine, only Ernest Green graduated from Central High. 


One of the more common methods of protests were sit-ins. Throughout the 20th century, black protesters would purposefully sit in “White Only” diners with the expectation of being forcefully removed. This powerful method of protest allowed people to join the discussion without any prior experience in activism. The 1960 Greensboro sit-in proved so successful that it cemented the act as a usable tool for activism.