The History Of Peaceful Protests in America

By | June 10, 2020

test article image
(Library of Congress)

Throughout history, protests have been used by regular people who want to have their voices heard. Civil unrest has been whipping around humankind since the first rule was laid in a stone tablet, but it's only recently that rebellious people of all ages have carried out peaceful protests to enact change. History is full of riots, rebellions, and martyrs taking their lives to bring about social change, but in the 20th century, peaceful protests inspired by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks became the way that freedom fighters worked to bring about a better world.

Alice Paul's Silent Picket For Suffrage

The struggle for women's suffrage was a long-fought battle to provide voting rights for women in the United States. It started around the 1820s, after all states agreed that every white man should have a vote, whether they owned property or not, and white women started to wonder why they were being left out. Once the Civil War broke out, however, there were more pressing concerns to discuss.

Following the war, the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendments were added to the Constitution, defining "citizens" as male members of society and extending voting rights to black men. (This was, of course, easier extended than done—we'll get to that.) Women began to push lawmakers to create an amendment that allowed everyone to vote regardless of gender, and in 1890, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed.

By 1910, the NAWS had split into two distinct factions. Carrie Chapman Catt led a group that brought together local suffrage movements into order to strengthen the national group, while Alice Paul led a contingent who took part in hunger strikes and picketing the White House. Paul's most accomplished act of peaceful protest occurred on March 3, 1913 in Washington D.C., one day before President-Elect Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Paul brought 8,000 woman to the city to carry banners and floats down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House, and when President Wilson brushed off their demands, she embarked on 18 months of silent picketing outside the White House that lasted from January 1917 to mid-1918.

Finally, after Paul's arrest, Wilson got behind suffrage. After two years of hashing it out in the Senate and the House, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920.

test article image

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Year-Plus Bus Boycott

The Civil Rights movement began in earnest in the 1950s, but its seeds were planted hundreds of years prior to the mid–20th century. From the moment the African people were kidnapped and sold into slavery, they resisted racial oppression and taught their children and their children’s children to do the same.

Following the Civil War, the South created a series of Jim Crow laws that segregated the black and white population, keeping people from eating in restaurants, riding on buses, or even using bathrooms, all because of the color of their skin. They were also subject to a battery of barriers to voting that all but nullified their hard-won Constitutional right.

After World War II, the movement began in earnest following the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the Supreme Court ruled that schools had to desegregate their systems "with all deliberate speed" in 1954. The following year, Rosa Parks refused to hand over her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man, sparking the bus boycott led by minister Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted just over a year until the Montgomery bus system was integrated on December 21, 1956.

This win was only the beginning of the change that was ushered in by the Civil Rights movement. It showed people across the world what could be done without using force.