Buttons Fight for Civil Rights

Social movements throughout the 20th century have utilized the power of the button to identify and unite membership and raise awareness for important causes. A new traveling exhibit, Making the Movement: Objects, Objectives and Civil Rights, catalogs the history of the civil rights movement as told through material culture including buttons and other ephemera.

Making the Movement was curated by history instructor, David Crane. David has been collecting items from movement for about ten years and was inspired to create the exhibit after speaking to the curator at a local museum. His collection focuses on different periods of the movement with the oldest item from the late 19th century and the latest from the mid-1970s. Throughout the era, buttons were made and distrubuted by civil rights organizations as well as black mutual aid societies and fraternities. According to David, buttons were an important piece of the broader effort to galvanize support around equal rights for African Americans. David explained, “These were some of the tools in their toolbox. These were their weapons against Jim Crow. These buttons were a way to express their political opinion without saying a word. Wearing [them] was an act of defiance, was sometimes dangerous, but was ultimately successful in championing a movement that changed America.”

The “Making the Movement” button pictured above features an illustration used on a civil rights button during the 1960s that David used to create new buttons to promote the exhibit. Making the Movement is currently running at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, New York through the end of August.

See more buttons that played a role in promoting social change.

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