What is the Silent Parade? Remembering the iconic 1917 civil rights march

This story was originally published on July 28, 2017.

The iconic Silent Parade of 1917 went down in history as the first mass African American protest of its kind, setting the stage for civil rights marches to come.

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To commemorate the 100th anniversary in 2017, Google created a doodle on its homepage honoring “those whose silence resonates a century later.”

Nearly 10,000 black men, women and children spent Saturday, July 28 marching the streets of New York in protest against lynching and other acts of anti-black violence in the United States.

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, racial tensions in the summer of 1917 peaked after white residents in East St. Louis, Illinois, killed dozens of the community’s black residents and burned the homes of thousands, leaving them homeless.

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The association, including notable leaders James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. Du Bois, called for a Silent Protest Parade in response. “You must be in line,” it commanded in a 1917 protest flyer.

“The children will lead the parade followed by the Women in white, while the Men will bring up the rear. The laborer, the professional man – all classes of the Race – will march on foot to the beating of muffled drums,” the flyer reads. “The native born, the foreign born, united by the ties of blood and color, all owing allegiance to the Mother of races will parade silently with the flags of America, England, Haiti and Liberia.”

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As protesters marched along New York City’s Fifth Avenue, “there was no singing, no chanting -- just silence” and the “muffled beat of drums,” Google wrote in an interactive.

Screenshot of mottos from the NAACP's 1917 Silent Parade flyer.
Photo: NAACP

They held onto picket signs with several mottos of purpose included in the NAACP flyer, such as “Make America safe for Democracy,” which demanded President Woodrow Wilson take legislative action to protect black Americans, “Thou shalt not kill,” the preamble and several more.

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Take a look at the full NAACP protest flyer:

The Silent Parade of 1917 marked the beginning of powerful, silent demonstrations for the civil rights movement, from the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, to the modern Black Lives Matter movement.

Read the full Silent Parade anniversary interactive from Google in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative.

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