white house historical association > president's park / citizen's soapbox : a history of protest at the white house
When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement and the nation’s capital, they picture the mass of people stretched out from the Lincoln Memorial, listening intently to Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Yet Lafayette Park also played a pivotal role. Its symbolic location at the president’s doorstep made it favorable for speaking out during the 1960s, notably during March 1965.

Early that month, civil rights activists attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, demanding voting rights for African-Americans. After they were brutally attacked by state and local police, the day became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Immediately, supporters flocked to Washington, D.C. and gathered in Lafayette Park. They positioned themselves in front of the White House and demanded that President Lyndon Johnson send federal troops to protect the marchers in Alabama. Lafayette Park played host to a number of sit-ins, vigils, marches, and prayer meetings that, along with the backlash from the violence during the march, prompted Johnson to send troops to Alabama.  

The president was aware of the presence of the Lafayette Park protestors and especially those who staged a sit-in on the floor of the White House. As he introduced his proposed voting rights act to Congress on March 15, 1965, he praised the protestors from across the nation, thousands of whom were not far from his doorstep at the time:

“The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this Nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform.”

Congress took President Johnson’s words to heart. In August 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

MORE: The March from Selma to Montgomery

citizen's soapbox > open page
one > introduction
two > suffragists
three > truman assassination attempt
four > civil rights
five > anti-war protests, 60s-70s
six > nuclear disarmament
seven > pro-life & pro-choice
eight > the cause continue
nine > conclusion
audio map
president's park / citizen's soapbox walking tour map [pdf]
about the project