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13 Spots in America Where Famous Protests Took Place

Every change has to start somewhere. Each one of these places has a story to tell.

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Protests are as American as apple pie

The United States of America was born in protest. Once a colony of Britain, it became a hotbed for grassroots protests, such as the Boston Tea Party, that helped galvanize the public into fighting for independence. And that was just the beginning. Over the course of our country’s history, protests have continued to be a necessary precursor to change. No one granted women the right to vote until they demanded it. The Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed until people staged sit-ins and marched in the streets, crying for justice. The sites where these protests took place are important testaments to the power of ordinary people to exact change, and they are important reminders of how far we’ve come while recognizing how much farther we still have to go.

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Stonewall Inn, New York City

You may have heard of the Stonewall riots, but what were they, exactly, and why were they so important? In the late ’60s, the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village was a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, a place where drag queens were welcome and anyone could dance or express affection with whomever they wished. A place where people could be themselves. The bar operated without a liquor license and survived by paying off local law enforcement. All of that changed on June 28, 1969, when the police stormed Stonewall, arresting 13 customers and employees for violating the liquor laws and violently assaulting numerous others. Then something unexpected happened. Those people fought back. Over the next six days, thousands of people gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn and nearby Christopher Square to demand equality and an end to harassment against the LGBTQ+ community.

One year later, on the anniversary of the Stonewall raid, the first Gay Pride parade in U.S. history took place. In 2016, President Barrack Obama designated the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Square, and the surrounding area a national monument for their historic contribution to the fight for equality and gay rights.

The Boston Tea Party, December 16,1773Bettmann/Getty Images

Griffin’s Wharf, Boston, Massachusetts

In the 1760s, Britain was struggling financially and quickly accruing debt. The British parliament addressed this by imposing taxes on American colonists for paper, paint, glass, lead, and tea. The colonists did not have any representatives in parliament and railed against the unfairness of being taxed without representation. Britain eventually repealed everything except the tea tax. The colonists responded by forgoing British tea and smuggling in Dutch tea instead. On December 16, 1773, three British ships carrying tea arrived at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston. Thousands of colonists gathered to protest, and that night, a large group of men dressed as Native Americans boarded the ships and threw 342 chests, carrying 45 tons of tea, into the water. Of course, as you learned way back when in history class, this became known as the Boston Tea Party.

Although Griffin’s Wharf is no longer there, the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is located close to the spot where it once existed, and a historical marker has been erected in remembrance of the Boston Tea Party in the approximate place where the fateful protest unfolded. History buffs should definitely visit Boston and these 15 other American cities.

Illustration of First Women's Rights Convention in 1848Bettmann/Getty Images
Seneca Falls, NY: Women’s Rights Convention, July 19-20, 1848, Seneca Falls, NY.

Seneca Falls, New York

The path to equality for women has been a long and hard-fought one, and in many ways, it’s still continuing today. But back in July 1848, decades before the 19th Amendment, approximately 300 people gathered at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, for a convention demanding rights for women. Sixty-eight women, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and 32 men, including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, signed a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence and its grievances. It was called the Declaration of Sentiments, and it demanded voting rights, property rights, and equal opportunities for women.

Although the 19th amendment wasn’t ratified until 1920, this event in Seneca Falls is largely considered to be the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1985, the National Parks Service purchased the site to tell the story of the Seneca Falls Convention and rebuilt the chapel, preserving the remains of the original building for all to see. Here are more places that have become landmarks for women’s history.

Civil Rights Demonstrators on BridgeBettmann/Getty Images

Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama

The Edmund Pettus Bridge has become synonymous with the civil rights movement, but ironically, it was named for a man who was a Confederate war general and member of the Ku Klux Klan. On March 7, 1965, a day that would become known as Bloody Sunday, 25-year-old civil rights activist John Lewis led 600 peaceful protesters in a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. State troopers waited for them on the other side. When the protesters refused to turn around, the troopers shot tear gas into their midst and beat them with billy clubs, sending more than 50 people to the hospital with severe injuries. These events unfolded on television, and Americans were shocked and horrified to see such brutal tactics used against a group of people simply asking for equality. The public outcry helped pave the way for the Voting Rights Act to be signed on August 7 of the same year. Don’t miss these American landmarks that celebrate Black culture.

Exterior Of The Asch BuildingMuseum of the City of New York/Getty Images

The Asch Building, New York City

In 1911, a workforce that largely consisted of young teenage girls who didn’t speak English worked under inhumane conditions in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Most were immigrants who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for $15 a week—a pitiful wage even at that time. The factory was located on the top three floors of the Asch Building in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, and on March 25, 1911, the doors were locked to prevent workers from stealing and taking breaks. A fire broke out. There was one operating elevator, but it could hold just 12 people at a time, and the only hose on-site was rusted, rotted, and not operational. Those who fled via the stairwells found them locked from the outside. The workers were trapped. Forty-nine burned to death or died from smoke inhalation, 36 died in the elevator shaft, 58 died jumping from the burning building to the pavement below, and two more succumbed later to injuries sustained in the tragedy.

On April 5, the workers’ union organized a march to protest the conditions that led to these horrific and preventable deaths. More than 80,000 people showed up. The public outrage sparked subsequent changes to laws and attitudes pertaining to worker safety. Today, the building is part of New York University and has been renamed the Brown Building. However, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was named both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City Landmark. Check out the most historic landmark in every state.

Wounded Knee MassacreBettmann/Getty Images

Wounded Knee, South Dakota

The small town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, became the site of a large-scale protest when members of the Oglala Sioux nation and Native American activists known as the American Indian Movement (AIM) entered into a 71-day standoff with the federal government on February 27, 1973. The protesters arrived in the dead of night and took the entire town hostage, demanding that the United States government make good on treaties broken in the 19th and 20th centuries. The government responded by surrounding Wounded Knee with police, U.S. Marshals, the National Guard, and FBI agents, so members of AIM couldn’t leave and new sympathizers couldn’t join their cause. Gunfire was exchanged on a daily basis, and the government cut off water and electricity to the town. Two of the activists were killed, one went missing, and many more were injured. A federal officer was also injured before the standoff ended.

Although the activists weren’t successful in forcing the government to honor its treaties, they did succeed in increasing public awareness to the fact the treaties had been broken in the first place. Here are 13 facts about Native Americans you probably don’t know.

Aerial of Empty Grape Fields During HarvestTed Streshinsky Photographic Archive/Getty Images
Grape fields stand empty during the heart of the harvest while farm workers strike under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. Delano, California.

Delano, California

On September 8, 1965, a group of Filipino agricultural workers in Delano, California, refused to leave their labor camps to harvest grapes until they received better working and living conditions and raises. Two weeks later, Mexican farmworkers joined them in the strike. Led by César Chávez and Larry Itilong, the protest drew national attention to the fact that many of the people who labor to put food on our tables live and work in poverty and inhumane conditions.

Many people crossed the picket lines, and grapes continued to find their way to the stores. However, the strikers managed to bring national attention to their cause, and millions of Americans refused to eat or purchase grapes until the workers’ demands were met. It took five years, but the workers won. Growers signed a new contract with them and agreed to higher wages, health benefits, and protection from harmful pesticides. Today, the National Farm Workers Association Headquarters is on the National Register of Historic Places. Next, learn about the other protests that changed the world for workers everywhere.

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Germantown, Pennsylvania

In 1688, a group of four Quakers in Germantown, Pennsylvania, came together in what was one of the first recorded protests against slavery in American history. They drafted a document known today as the Germantown Protest, railing against the immorality and inhumanity of slavery. Sadly, they were in the minority at the time, even amongst their fellow Quakers, but they succeeded in forcing many Quakers to question the institution, inspiring more anti-slavery writings and eventually leading the Quakers to adopt an abolitionist platform. Eighteen historic houses from Germantown still exist in part of what is now Philadelphia. Check out this list of 10 institutions you didn’t know had ties to slavery.

Truckee, California MPI/Stringer/Getty Images

Truckee, California

In the mid-1800s, Chinese workers were dying as they worked long hours under brutal conditions to perform the backbreaking labor of digging and grading railroad tunnels through the Sierras. In June 1867, approximately 2,000 of them stopped working and demanded equal pay to White workers, better working conditions, and shorter workdays. The strike ended when the railroad cut off food and supplies to the railroad camps, but a month later, the workers got their raise, having proven that they would not be taken for granted. Today, a 75-foot-high structure known as the China Wall still stands, hand-built by these laborers to fill in the ravine so the tracks could be laid at Donner Summit in Truckee. A historical marker honors their many sacrifices. Here are 12 amazing Asian Americans you didn’t learn about in school.

US-SCHOOL-SHOOTINGRHONA WISE/Getty Images

Broward County Courthouse, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

On February 14, 2018, a heavily armed former student walked through the doors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire. He killed 17 people and physically wounded 17 others. The psychological damage inflicted on the survivors, their family members, and the community will never go away. Three days later, survivors gathered in front of the Broward County Courthouse to demand stricter gun control laws. Student Emma González became a household name after a moving, angry, tear-filled speech that decried the lack of political leadership and response to the mass shootings that have plagued our country in recent years. For more on this topic, read these 10 undeniable facts about mass shootings in America.

National Guard At Kent StateHoward Ruffner/Getty Images

Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

On May 4, 1970, a group of students came together on the campus of Kent State University to protest the Vietnam War. The Ohio National Guard fired bullets and tear gas into the crowd; four students were killed and nine more were injured. The nation was horrified at this loss of young life, and the Kent State Massacre helped turn public opinion even further against the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration, which had been elected, in large part, because of the promise to withdraw the United States from the conflict. Today, a 2.5-acre memorial commemorates the sad events of that day.

Miami Heat v Milwaukee Bucks - Game FiveMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Orlando, Florida

Of course, 2020 will always be remembered as the year of coronavirus. But it will also be remembered as the year when protests against systemic racism and police brutality against the Black community erupted across the country. On August 23, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The incident was captured on tape, and angry protests erupted in Kenosha and other cities around the country.

Meanwhile, the NBA was playing out the basketball season in isolation at Disney World in Orlando due to COVID-19. This didn’t mean they were unaffected by events going on in the outside world, however. On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their playoff game to protest Blake’s shooting in their home state. The Orlando Magic supported the decision and refused to accept a win via forfeit. The NBA responded by canceling all three of the day’s games. Soon, the other playoff teams announced that they would join the Bucks in striking until the NBA made solid strides in its commitment to social justice. Two days later, the NBA agreed to establish a social justice coalition to fight for meaningful police and social justice reform. Find out about the other positive changes we’ve already seen since the anti-racism protests began.

Turners FallsDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Montague Nuclear Power Plant, Montague, Massachusetts

Sometimes, all is you need is one person to make a difference. Just ask Sam Lovejoy. On February 22, 1974, he took a crowbar and hacked away at a weather-monitoring tower at what was to be the future site of the Montague Nuclear Power Plant. He managed to knock down 349 feet of the 550-foot-tall tower and then flagged down a patrol car and asked the officers to take him to the police station to turn himself in. When word of this single-handed protest spread, it helped the public find their voice, and they began speaking out against the nuclear plant. The project was canceled a few years later in 1980, having never been built despite having spent more than $29 million on the project. Here more stories of ordinary people who changed the world.

Tamara Gane
Tamara Gane is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest covering travel, lifestyle, history, and culture. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, Wine Enthusiast, Lonely Planet, HuffPost Food, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @TamaraGane