These Images Are a Poignant Look at the Battle for Human Rights

It may seem like today we have plenty of rights, such as the right to wear skirts, or the right to go anywhere we please, regardless of our race. In fact, we could even take these freedoms for granted, and not realize that they were part of a battle that many took on for years. These images represent the fight for not only civil rights, but human rights, as men and women, young and old, saw the times change…sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the worst. You’ll certainly appreciate the freedoms you have after seeing these powerful images.


Woman Hits Neo-Nazi with a Purse in Sweden, 1985

Danuta Danielsson hits a Neo-Nazi with her purse in Vaxjo, Sweden in 1985. The 38-year-old has come up from behind to hit him over the head in this image taken by Hans Runesson. Danielsson refused to talk to reporters, only saying that her mother in a concentration camp and that she was Polish. She had stepped out of the crowd during a Nordic Reich Party parade. The image of Danielsson was published in the next day issue of the newspaper Dagens Nyheter and won Swedish Picture of the Year in 1985, then later Picture of the Century. The actions of Danielsson were immortalized both by this photograph and in a statue sculpted by Susanna Arwin. Arwin wanted to place it in the city square of Vaxjo, but the city objected to her proposal.


Dr. Martin Luther King Arrested in St. Augustine, 1964

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is taken away by cops after demanding service at a whites-only restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida in 1964. The civil rights leader was arrested along with several others for trying to eat at Monson Restaurant, a high-end restaurant on St. Augustine’s waterfront. This image is just one that captures the historical event known as the “St. Augustine Movement.” Just seven days later, he would be arrested in St. Augustine again, this time for protesting segregation at the Monson Motor Lodge. At that protest, the owner of the Lodge threw acid and later an alligator in the pool to prevent African-Americans from using it. The event was known as the “Monson Motor Lodge swim-in.” On June 25, 1964, white residents of the area attacked an anti-segregation march, injuring 50 people.


The First Woman to Swim Across the English Channel, 1926

Gertrude Ederle, who at age 19, was the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926. She’s shown with her body covered in lard which insulated her body against the cold. The 1920’s were a time characterized by a fight by women to show off their independence, popularized by bobbed hair and flapper skirts. Ederle, an American, along with several other women wanted the honor of being the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Ederle wrote a column about her experience training for the swim for the Chicago Tribune-Daily News. She ended up achieving her dream, and not only that, with a time of 14 hours and 39 minutes, she beat the men’s record by two hours.


London Girls Protest Unfair Treatment of Mini Skirt, 1960’s

London girls, members of the group known as the “British Society for the Protection of Mini Skirts,” protest in support for mini skirts in the 1960’s. The shortened garment’s popularity began in London, and the mini skirt quickly became a symbol for rebellion. The skirt’s invention is most often credited to designer Mary Quant, who said she saw the skirt at a dance studio. The mini skirt was named after her favorite car, the Mini Cooper. The British Society for the Protection of Mini Skirts protested outside the House of Dior in response to what they deemed “unfair” treatment towards the garment.


Muslim Hides Jewish Friend’s Yellow Star in Sarajevo, 1941

Zejneba Hardaga, a Muslim woman, hides the yellow star worn by Rivka Kalb, a Jewish woman, and guides them down the streets of Sarajevo in 1941. Kalb is accompanied by her children and Hardaga covered the star to protect them. Historians say that Hardaga was actually housing Kalb and her family after their home was destroyed. This same year, Sarajevo was invaded and occupied by German forces. Hardaga’s actions are a stunning show of kindness between faiths.


First African-American Woman on Oakland Police Force

Police officer Saundra Brown, the first African-American woman on the Oakland police force, learns how to shoot a shotgun in 1970. While some people viewing this image will think that the shotgun is being held incorrectly, it appears that this is actually the proper way to hold it for the times. Brown was born and raised in Oakland, and worked for the PD from 1970 to 1977, then went to law school. She became a senior consultant to the California Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and in 1991, she was confirmed to the U.S. District Court.


Woman Arrested for Not Covering Her Legs at the Beach in Chicago, 1922

An unnamed woman is arrested for wearing a one-piece bathing suit without the required leg coverings in 1922 Chicago. As women for fought for independence and adopted a casual attitude towards sex, drinking and clothing the battle for their freedom on swimming suits raged on as it was required for them to not show their bare legs at the beach. The act in Chicago targeted what they called “abbreviated bathing suits.” Police would measure the length of swimming suits and ask the women to leave or cover up. Those who protested were arrested like this woman.


South African Woman Protests Apatheid in Whites-Only Wagon

An unnamed woman protests the Prime Minister of South Africa’s apartheid regime by sitting in a wagon reserved for whites-only in South Africa in September 1952. Apartheid was reintroduced as a stricter form of segregation in 1948 and it meant that the races were separated. The races were divided into four groups, with areas, buildings, and more reserved for certain races. South Africa officially ended apartheid in 1994.


Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. raises his hands in a restaurant in 1963. The photo was taken on September 21, 1963 and while historians don’t know why he was raising his hands, it’s a powerful image. The photograph has taken on new meaning to spur the current fight for civil rights in America in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri PD. There are other photographs of Dr. King raising his hands in a similar way, so it may be his way to get attention in a room.


A Letter to Hitler from Ghandi, 1940

An image of a December 24, 1940 letter addressed from Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler. In the correspondence, Gandhi urges Hitler to seek peace with Great Britain. This letter is one of two letters written to Hitler by Gandhi — the first letter was written in 1939, but Hitler didn’t respond to either letter, even as Gandhi warned him he wasn’t leaving a good legacy for his people.


Ghandi’s Possessions at His Death in 1948

Mahatma Gandhi’s possessions are photographed in 1948. Gandhi preached that we should live a minimalist life with little to our names, and this photograph captures his physical possessions. Some critics say that Gandhi had much more than this, but regardless, it’s an image of what is important. You can see these objects on display at the Gandhi museum in New Delhi. The photograph is by an unknown artist and has been said to have been taken after Gandhi’s assassination.


African-American Children Watch Behind Fence at Whites-Only Park, 1956

African-American children watch as white children play in a whites-only park in 1956. The photo was taken by Gordon Parks and was part of a Life magazine pictorial. The publication assigned Parks to capture the real lives of families in the face of segregation, and he went to Alabama in 1956 to do just that. While on the assignment, Parks documented the lives of various people in Montgomery, Alabama, capturing the struggle they faced thanks to a city divided by race. Life printed 26 of those images in the magazine in 1964, and the rest were unearthed in 2012; the discovered images were placed in a gallery by the Gordon Parks Foundation.


Female Train Passenger and Officer in London, 1951

A train passenger steals a glance at an officer in Victoria Station, London in 1951. The photograph was taken by photographer Toni Frissell who worked for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, then later she became the official photographer for the Women’s Army Corps during World War II traveling to Europe twice. After the War ended, she began taking photographs of notable figures including Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Kennedy. She was also the first female photographer at Sports Illustrated.


Dr. Martin Luther King and George Lincoln Rockwell, Leader of the American Nazi Party, 1965

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. confronts George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party in front of the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Dr. King was there urging African-Americans to register to vote. The American Nazi Party was founded by Rockwell in Arlington, Virginia in 1959 as the World Union of Free Enterprise National Socialists, then it was later named. The group disbanded when Rockwell was assassinated in 1967. Dr. King was assassinated just one year later.


Woman Protests the Vietnam War, 1969

A woman holds a sign protesting the Vietnam War in 1969. We don’t know who the woman is and where this photo was taken, nor who took it, but her message certainly made an impression in the 1960’s and even today as you can still find it on bumper stickers. Many were strongly opposed to the idea of the United States in the Vietnam War and took to the streets to share their thoughts. Among those opposed was Dr. Martin Luther King, who said “If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.”


No Whites Allowed Sign at Overton Zoo, 1950’s.

A sign reading “No white people allowed in zoo today” sits at the entrance of the Overton Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950’s. African-Americans were only allowed to frequent the zoo one day as week, and no other race was allowed in due to segregation. The photo was taken by Ernest Withers, a Memphis photography legend whose work now appears in the African-American Museum of History in Washington, D.C. Withers was a powerful figure in Civil Rights photography whose history became a little tarnished in 2010 when it was discovered that although he photographed many civil rights leaders, he was also paid by the FBI to spy on those very figures. Regardless, his images of the Emmett Till trial and Dr. Martin Luther King are iconic.


Two Women Bare Legs in Toronto, 1930’s

It was believed that this image showed a traffic jam caused by two women wearing shorts for the first time in public in Toronto. The image was taken by Alexandra Studio and was actually staged by the commercial photography studio. The vehicle didn’t hit the pole, but it appeared to do so in the photograph. However, at the time, shorts weren’t widely accepted as proper attire especially in the states. In some American cities, short wearing by anyone over the age of 16 was banned and in the 1930’s, the idea of women wearing pants was just beginning to become acceptable, largely due to women in Hollywood films wearing them.


Brigiette Bardot in Italy, 1969

Actress Brigitte Bardot wears a mini skirt in Italy in 1969. Bardot was in town to shoot the film Les femmes and her outfit garnered plenty of attention. Some countries in Europe banned the mini skirt, so her arrival with the controversial skirt made waves. Les femmes is a French comedy-drama starring Bardot as a secretary to a womanizing writer.


Tank Man in Tienanmen Square, 1989

An individual known only as “Tank Man” temporarily halts the tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989 in Beijing, China. The photograph was taken by Jeff Widener of the AP who caught the man blocking the tanks. Sources on the scene say that Tank Man would repeatedly change position as the tanks tried to advance through the Square. The tanks were there to stop the Tiananmen protests of 1989. A British tabloid has identified the man as “Wang Weilin” but his identity has never been verified. Reports from the scene say that the Public Security Bureau harassed the photographers who were capturing the event, and confiscated film as much as they could. Some publications or documentaries have been known to refer to Tank Man was “unknown rebel.” He wasn’t arrested for his actions according to historians.


Soviet Spy is Executed in Finland, 1942

An unknown Soviet Spy laughs despite his impending death in an execution picture taken in Rukajärvi, in East Karelia, in November 1942. The information we know about the image was supplied by the Ministry of Defense of Finland, who declassified the image in 2006. Other images in the session include the moment the spy is shot, as well as an image of his body in the snow. We don’t know who took the photographs or why.


Allied Forces Mimic Hitler in Germany, 1945

Allied soldiers are mimicking Adolf Hitler’s famous salute on his balcony at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Germany in July 1945. The balcony is the very same on that Hitler declared his reign and addressed his fans from, and now it lies in ruin. Photographer Fred Ramage shot the picture of American Corporal Russell M. Ochwada portraying Hitler. Ramage shot multiple poignant pictures during World War II while he was assigned to the American Army, capturing the people devastated by the fighting.


American Punches Vietamese Evacuee During Fall of Saigon, 1975

American Punches Vietamese Evacuee During Fall of Saigon, 1975


An unknown American official punches a man who is trying to board an overloaded helicopter in April 1975 during the Fall of Saigon. Neither man has been identified, and the image is one of the most iconic photographs of all time. April 30, 1975 is the day Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) fell in the end of the Vietnam War, and this image was taken in Nha Trang. Thousands of Vietnamese people were rescued by American forces during this period in history, and brought to start new lives in America.

Woman Hits Neo-Nazi with a Purse in Sweden, 1985