Presentation by The History Channel
The early twentieth century saw the unfolding of many social conflicts. Notably, the Great Depression again reduced millions of workers to unemployment. Marches took place in almost all major cities, to demand work and aid, to help prevent evictions, and to put pressure on municipal authorities and federal agencies. Many of these marches were spontaneous and unorganized but others were often organized by the Communist Party, “which brought to light the conditions of working class neighborhoods where misery was hiding.”
There were many other marches in the 1930s. This is the only period during which the ritual May Day was not only observed but gathered a significant number of participants, including workers and intellectuals, both white and black. The May Day parade of 1933 in New York mobilized such a crowd that it had to be divided into two groups, one starting out from the south of Manhattan, the other from the north, to converge on Union Square.
In the years following World War II new grounds for protest marches appeared. The year 1949 is crucial, as it was the year when America lost its monopoly on nuclear weapons. The 1950s were dominated by fear of nuclear testing and the balance of terror.
In early 1960, the civil rights movement began with sit-ins by students in Greensboro, North Carolina, demanding to be served in the cafeteria of a department store where, as in all public places in the south, segregation was the rule. The gesture was copied in many locations across the southern states. The movement, which involved an ever increasing number of ordinary people, became a mass movement, developing new tactics as it grew. Black people fought on multiple fronts and resorted to various forms of action—sit-ins, “wade-ins” (aiming to desegregate swimming pools), legal battles in the courts, boycotts, voter registration campaigns, prayers, non-violent action, rallies, and marches. The latter occupied a very important place.
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