The Black Lives Matter movement emerged, seemingly spontaneously, as a hashtag after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin in July of 2013. In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, on August 9, 2014, demonstrators took to the streets to protest racial bias in policing, and many did so under the name of Black Lives Matter. As more and more video examples of violent police interactions with black people came to light in the ensuing months – the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, John Crawford in Ohio, Sandra Bland in Texas, and Walter Scott in South Carolina, for example – the movement gained attention and traction.
But the appearance of spontaneity belies the long history of racial injustice in the United States and of protest movements that have sought to respond to oppression. In an effort to understand this long history, students in two classes, Albion College’s History 243: African American History, 1865-2016 (taught by Professor Marcy Sacks), and Hope College’s History 256: Recent America (taught by Professor Jeanne Petit), have been researching moments and people from this nation’s past that help illuminate the context for this newest movement for racial equality. This website is the product of that collaborative effort.