PHOTOS & VIDEOS
“Give Us the Ballot!”
On May 17, 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech before thousands of people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was protesting the fact that lawmakers and officials in southern states were making it almost impossible for African Americans to sign up to vote. In the speech, King asked President Dwight Eisenhower and members of Congress to pass civil rights laws to enable all adults to vote.
In the 1950s and early ‘60s, blacks and whites could not sit together, drink from the same water fountains or use the same bathrooms in bus and train stations in southern states. Even though laws and rulings had been passed saying that people could not be treated differently while traveling between states in buses and trains, the laws were never enforced.
In May 1961, blacks and whites tested these laws by traveling on buses together throughout the South. The civil rights workers were called Freedom Riders. Here, Martin Luther King Jr. sees off a group of the riders.
As a result of the Freedom Rides, the U.S. began to enforce interstate travel laws. Passengers could sit wherever they wanted on interstate buses and trains. Waiting rooms, drinking fountains and bathrooms were integrated. So were lunchrooms. Risking their lives, the Freedom Riders helped bring some equality to African Americans. The Freedom Riders also inspired others, both black and white, to join the civil rights movement.
The 1963 March on Washington
Though there had been some progress with civil rights over the years, it was very slow. To move things along, black leaders called for a march to call attention to civil rights and economic issues facing African Americans. On August 28, 1963, 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in the nation’s capital. They had come by train, plane and chartered buses from all over the U.S. for what was called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In this photo, some of the marchers arrive at Union Station, Washington’s major train station. The march helped lead to the passage of important civil rights and voting laws.
I Have a Dream
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, giving his “I Have A Dream” speech. Many people think it is one of the greatest speeches ever made. In it, King asked for racial equality and an end to discrimination. Not only did it inspire people at the march, but it educated and informed people all across the U.S.
The March on Washington and King’s speech put pressure on President John F. Kennedy to move civil rights laws through Congress. The speech also made King even more admired by Americans. Time magazine named him Man of the Year for his efforts at making a fairer world. In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest person ever given the important award. Today, visitors to the Lincoln Memorial can see a marble pedestal marking the place where King gave his historic speech.
Come to the Fair!
King’s life wasn’t all work and no play. Here, he and his kids, Yolanda and Martin Luther III, arrive at the New York World’s Fair on August 12, 1964. “In spite of Martin’s being away so much, he was wonderful with his children, and they adored him,” said his wife, Coretta Scott King, after her husband’s death. “When Daddy was home, it was something special.”
Marching in Alabama
In 1965, civil rights leaders in Alabama called for a march to show how upset they were over blacks’ lack of voting rights. The leaders were also angry about brutal attacks on civil rights demonstrators by the police. So, a series of marches from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital of Montgomery took place. The distance was only 54 miles, but the marches gained national attention and sympathy for African Americans’ goals as TV cameras showed police beating up marchers.
In this photo, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, follow the road to Montgomery. Most people believe the marches helped lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act outlawed practices by officials to keep black people from voting. President Lyndon Johnson signed the act in August 1965. King and other civil rights leaders went to Washington to be with the President as he signed the law.
Witnesses to History
A group of children watch marchers on the road from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in March 1965. The kids didn’t know it at the time, but it’s because of the people marching, and thousands more over a long period of time, that African Americans finally won equal rights and the same protections under the law as all other citizens.