A Brief History Of Civil Rights Protests In Washington D.C.

As the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. has always been an important landmark throughout history where people from all walks of life join to fight for civil rights and justice.

From the March on Washington to the recent widespread Black Lives Matter protests, many of the iconic sites still stand. I want to give our readers some clarity on the symbols and deeper meaning of certain protest sites, so that the next time you visit D.C. you can take the time to explore these iconic landmarks and connect them to a more inclusive and diverse history of this country. Firstly, I’d like to address that before the creation of the capital, Washington D.C.was the ancestral homeland of the Piscataway nation. Once Washington D.C. was consecrated, the most famous landmarks such as the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument were constructed by African slaves. These people are at the core of this city and its history, so we must always keep that in mind.

March on Washington, 1963

MLK Jr. Quote
MLK Jr. Quote. Photo by: Vivian Bauer


MLK Jr. Quote
MLK Jr. Quote. Photo by: Vivian Bauer

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!” – MLK Jr.

“I Have A Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. continues to echo and inspire justice throughout the world. During the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the steps of the Lincoln memorial and spoke to 300,000 participants from all over the country, 80% of them were Black. All of the protesters were spread out across the lawn leading up to the Washington Monument. While The March on Washington paved a part of the way to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, what is lesser known of this march is that it was actually controlled behind the scenes by the Kennedy administration. The administration had to approve every speaker, so in the end, there was only one Black woman speaker, Daisy Bates, and no extremely radical Black leaders, such as: Malcolm X.

If you want to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr.’s profound legacy in the United States, you should also visit his incredible memorial at the Tidal Basin.

March on Washington for LGBTQ+ Equal Rights and Liberation, 1993

Nearly 1 million people participated in the 1993 March on Washington for LGBTQ+ Equal Rights and Liberation. This march was in response to countless discriminatory acts against the LGBTQ+ community such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which forbade gay people to be out in the military. The act was finally repealed by the Obama Administration in 2010. Every June, Washington D.C. is full of pride parades, events, and marches especially in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Pride month is an exuberant time where many gather to celebrate every sexuality openly, while also demanding for equal treatment under the law.

Ferguson Black Lives Matter, 2014

INSTAGRAM @blklivesmatter
INSTAGRAM @blklivesmatter

Black Lives Matter is a global network founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2014 after the acquittal of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This unjust tragedy sparked fury and frustration across the world.

In 2014, thousands marched down Constitution Avenue towards the steps of the Capital shouting, “enough is enough” and that police brutality has to go. This mass mobilization was just the beginning to the widespread Black Lives Matter movement which continues today to fight for police abolition and justice for Black people worldwide.

Women’s March, 2017

Women's March
Women’s March. Photo by: Vivian Bauer


Woman's March sign
Woman’s March sign. Photo by: Vivian Bauer

This historical march started at the American Indian History Museum located at the end of the National Mall, close to the Capital. In my mind, this commencement site stood as a symbol for intersectionality and inclusivity of all women. While the march later did draw criticism for not being as intersectional as it could have been, it still was a monumental day for women across the world. On January 21st, 2017, Constitution Ave was a sea of pink “pussy” hats, to make a statement against Trump and his viral TMZ video that came out right before his election indicating, “Grab ‘em by the pussy.” Overall, the main call to action was that feminism needs to be an integral part of politics and that women must have full control over their own bodies. 

March For Our Lives, 2018

March For Our Lives
March For Our Lives. Photo by: Vivian Bauer


March for Our Lives
March for Our Lives. Photo by: Vivian Bauer

This march followed the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people died. March For Our Lives was incredibly monumental because it was completely led by students. Nearly 1 million people participated in order to demand stricter gun control laws that would protect students across America. According to CNN, since 2009, 177 schools in the United States have experienced a shooting. This statistic is unacceptable and American students felt the need to stand up. Along with March For Our Lives, hundreds of high school students across the country also performed walkouts during school hours. In Washington D.C., the walkout took place in front of the White House where students staged a “die-in.” During a “die-in,” participants must stay on the ground in silence for 17 minutes, the exact amount of time that it took for the Parkland shooter to commit their atrocity. This march sparked a powerful youth movement in America that has yet to see significant progress.

Black Lives Matter, Present Day

BLM GoGo Protest
BLM GoGo Protest. Photo by: Vivian Bauer


BLM Protest from June
BLM Protest from June. Photo by: Vivian Bauer

Ever since the wrongful killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter movement grew dramatically across the world. In Washington D.C. specifically, there are Black Lives Matter activists, members and allies who have occupied Black Lives Matter Plaza (formerly known as, 16th Street) ever since Floyd’s murder. In the last six months, there have been many community events and actions. For example, Don’t Mute DC held Moechella (a GoGo music and activism rally) and Black Lives Matter DC provided places for Black artists to sell their work, as well as movie nights and community conversations. If you are in the D.C. area, visit the plaza, talk to locals and reflect more on how you can join the fight against policing and anti-Blackness. For more updates follow @blacklivesmatterdc on Instagram and Twitter. You can also sign up for the Black Lives Matter global network list-serve here.

Vivian Bauer


Vivian is passionate about everything related to music, art, and language. When traveling, she loves to walk for miles, try all kinds of food, and visit every museum. She has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil while hoping to one day travel to Mongolia and East Timor.

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