Posters in Protest

Black Lives Matter

Introduction

In 2019, Poster House opened its first show sourced entirely from the museum’s permanent collection. 

This exhibition, 20/20 InSight: Posters from the 2017 Women’s March was a powerful look at the unique ways Americans protest, as told through the lens of posters collected from the 2017 Women’s March. The march emphasized that protesting is part of American culture and is an essential expression of our constitutional rights.

The posters in the collection span the subjects of Women’s Rights, Climate Change, Immigration, LGBTQ+ Issues, and, of course, #BlackLivesMatter. The incorporated graphics and poster images have been carried through generations of marches, rallies, and grassroots action. Today’s demonstrators also display symbols from poster history, borrowing the power of past ideology while crafting new meanings.

Over the next few weeks, we will be highlighting five historic protests and some of their posters. These protests date back more than 100 years, their posters indicating that we are still demonstrating for the same struggles today.

#postersinprotest

July 28, 1917: The Negro Silent Protest Parade

From late May to early July of 1917, there were brutal lynchings of African Americans by White mobs in Waco, Memphis, and East St. Louis, Illinois. In response to this violence, the NAACP organized a silent protest parade that led 10,000 African American women, children, and men to march down New York City’s 5th Avenue in support of equity. Paraders, including Black Boy Scouts, handed out leaflets explaining why they marched:

“We march because we want to make impossible a repetition of Waco, Memphis, and East St. Louis by arousing the conscience of the country, and to bring the murderers of our brothers, sisters, and innocent children to justice…We march because we want our children to live in a better land and enjoy fairer conditions than have fallen to our lot.”

The writing in the leaflet ends with the phrase “Pray for the Lady MacBeths of East St. Louis.” This was especially written and made into a placard to allude to the instance of White women in St. Louis pulling Black women onto the street, stripping them, and beating them with their shoes.

Ida B. Wells, acclaimed for her writing and investigation of lynchings, travelled to East St. Louis on July 4 to document the massacre of her people.

History has devastatingly repeated itself as we approach the 103rd anniversary of the Silent Protest Parade. In the aftermath of the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, we find ourselves in solidarity, yet again, fighting for equality.

 

Critique of the language used to describe Black women has allowed us to reconsider how we discuss strength and fear. When considering the work of Ida B. Wells, it is important to note that investigating lynchings and murders was dangerous and life-threatening, especially during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The word “fearless” suggests that the efforts of Black women defy natural human capabilities despite the adversity, trauma, and sadness that Ida B. Wells was subjected to while partaking in physical and emotional labor. Language around the labor of Black women, both historically and in the contemporary, should acknowledge realistic emotions that humanize their experiences.

Listen

The Silent Protest Parade (Bowery Boys) 39:49

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Dec 1, 1955–Dec 20, 1956: Montgomery Bus Boycott

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a collective, coordinated act of protest against a corrupt system of segregation. Despite what the textbooks say, Rosa Parks—the face of the boycott—was not just a tired seamstress. She was a trained activist, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was neither her first protest nor her last. Following her refusal to give up her seat and subsequent arrest and fine, the Black community rallied around her. 

Rosa Parks isn’t the only woman who played a crucial role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jo Ann Robinson (head of The Women’s Political Council, a Black women’s organization focused on civil rights) bolstered the boycott by mobilizing the Council and others to distribute more than 50,000 flyers urging for Montgomery’s Black community to stop using city buses in protest of their racist practices. 

The result was a boycott in which all Black people were walking, carpooling, and using Black-owned transportation services instead of the bus system. Today, we continue to see transportation playing a vital role in protest. Bus drivers in New York City and Minneapolis have refused to transport arrested protestors, and civilians using social media to offer safe means of transportation to their comrades. 

It took 381 days for the Montgomery Bus Boycott to end. We stand in solidarity with those who are protesting—no matter how long it takes for change to come.

Listen

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott pt. 1  (Stuff You Missed in History Class) 30:00
Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott pt. 2  (Stuff You Missed in History Class) 25:00

Watch

Montgomery Bus Boycott (PBS Project C) 34:57

Teaching About the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Zinn Ed Project) 15:00

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This series is ongoing and will be released every Wednesday in July. Please check back to see future installments and updated information.

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