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Historical Connections

Marchers Exercise Their First Amendment Rights

Marches, rallies, and movements of all kinds have the power to influence and inspire. Throughout history, marches have proven themselves to be powerful tools to make the people's voices be heard and to spearhead or resist change.

By Kimberly Betsill, NewseumED intern

Published Jan. 19, 2017. Updated Jan. 23.

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The 1963 March on Washington.

The 1963 March on Washington.

All marches have their unique beginnings with different purposes, but they have one thing in common: they all make use of freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. Without the right to assemble, petition, and the right to free speech, trying to make the people’s voices be heard and advocate for or against something would be difficult. The Women’s March on Washington and sister marches in cities across the USA on Jan. 21, 2017, were another example of people using their First Amendment rights throughout our nation’s history.

NewseumED believes that furthering civic education has the power to improve our schools, communities and our democracy. These movements, both new and old, serve as a good conversation point with your students: what are their First Amendment freedoms, how are they protected, and how can they be used to make their voice be heard.

The Newseum has archived 638 front pages from newspapers published Jan. 22, 2017, covering demonstrations of free expression in U.S. cities and around the world the previous day.

See archived front pages of the Women’s March of 2017 

Below is a list of relevant resources that you can use in the classroom. Resources are divided into two categories: historic women’s marches and civil rights marches.

(To access some of these resources, you must be signed into NewseumED; registration is free.)

Women’s Suffrage Marches:

The Formation of Suffrage Grass Root Movements across the country, starting in New York and Massachusetts, 1850

  • After the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, women’s rights advocates organize periodic conventions at the local and regional levels. In 1850, with fellow Quakers Lucretia Mott and Mary Ann McClintock, Paulina Wright Davis organizes and presides over the first national women’s rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. This two-day event launches a national movement to gain “political, legal, and social equality with man.”

California Suffragists Get the Vote, 1908-1911

  • The measure’s success doubles the number of women in the United States who can vote and motivates suffrage activists in other states to keep up their efforts. The success is attributed to a statewide network of grass-roots organizations.

National Suffrage Foes Unite in New York City, 1911

  • State anti-suffrage groups gather in New York City to form the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage with Josephine Dodge as is its first president. NAOWS believes that giving women the vote will distract them from working for their families and communities.

Woman Suffrage March in Washington, D.C., 1913

  • The Woman Suffrage Procession takes place on Monday, March 3, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration and includes more than 5,000 marchers as they walk from the Capitol to the Treasury building.

Suffrage Road Trip beginning in San Francisco, California and headed across the country, 1915

  • At the Women’s Voters Convention, held at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, an 18,000-foot-long petition bearing half a million names in support of woman suffrage is unveiled. Alice Paul proposes a cross-country automobile journey to get the petition to President Wilson, with stops along the way to give speeches and add more signatures to the petition.

The National Woman’s Party Protests in Washington, D.C., 1919

  • The National Woman’s Party begins the new year with a series of dramatic protests in Washington, D.C., in hopes of pressuring Congress to finally pass a women’s suffrage amendment.

Civil Rights Marches

James Meredith’s ‘March Against Fear’ in Memphis, Tenn., 1966

  • Known at the “March Against Fear,” Meredith begins a walk from Memphis, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., in 1966 in an attempt to encourage voter registration by African Americans in the South.

Meredith Leads March for Voting Registration in Memphis, Tenn., 1966

  • In 1966, James Meredith begins a solo march to inspire African Americans to register to vote. After he’s shot, more than 10,000 people continue his journey.

Ku Klux Klan March in Washington, D.C., 1925

  • The Ku Klux Klan march on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington shows unapologetic racism still has a powerful presence in the United States.

The March on Washington in Washington, D.C., 1963

  • An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 people of all races participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Students March at Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., 1959

  • After slow state responses to Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II, 26,000 high school and college youth march and demonstrate at the Lincoln Memorial.

The Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., 1963

  • In an attempt to re-energize the campaign in Birmingham, Ala., and generate media coverage, SCLC leader James Bevel proposes recruiting black children as demonstrators.

The Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., 1968

  • Martin Luther King Jr. launches the Poor People’s Campaign several months before he is killed. Its goal is to guarantee fair wages for all working people.

“March in Jena,” American Press, Lake Charles, La., 2007

  • A rally makes its way through the small town of Jena, La., after six black students are charged in a 2007 school fight.

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