Taking it to the Streets


Texas Farmworkers Union Rally, 1980  [AR.2000.016(91)] Photo by Scott Van Osdol.

Throughout history, social movements – groups that are united by a shared purpose – have created transformational change. Women’s Liberation and Civil Rights in the U.S. are just two examples. In these movements, protest has played an important role, highlighting the ability of ordinary citizens to make their voices heard.

Austin has a long history of mobilization and direct action. From mass marches in support of academic freedom during the Rainey controversy in the 1940s to student walkouts opposing gun violence in 2018, protests intersect race, class, and gender identity and are a mark of U.S. democracy. They are timeless because they are an inherent part of the human experience.

Taking it to the Streets: A Visual History of Protest and Demonstration in Austin presents a snapshot look at how the public confronted the political and social issues of their time. Diverse images from a variety of Austin History Center collections highlight Austin residents in their earnest efforts to create social change in their communities.

Of course, no exhibit can fully capture an exhaustive look at Austin’s role in public participation throughout history; instead this exhibit offers a sequence of historical images focused on particular themes and moments that remain relevant today, such as human rights, environmental justice, inequality, impact of war, labor justice, and academic freedom.

As decentralized protests organized by social media emerge using mobile technologies, Austin residents are able to connect to each other and ideas in time and across locations. By bringing in an interactive component to the photography exhibit, in which users can upload their own images of direct action to our website, we are hoping to connect people virtually and explore the ways in which we each play a role in constructing history.

With more mass movements globally in this decade than any decade since 1900, this exhibit grounds our communities in our shared history and reflects a legacy of Austin’s social movement organizing. The variety of decades and movements depicted are meant to inspire conversation about the city’s collective memory, times past, current events, and the future of Austin, the United States, and the world.

To see more images related to protest in Austin, visitors can come to the Austin History Center during open hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10-6 and Sunday 12-6.

Click on the thumbnails below to see some sample images from the exhibit.