From Poznan Spring to Tahrir Square: 19 of the Most Memorable Protest Photos Since World War II


“Five marines Raising the Flag, Mount Suribachi, V for Victory,” a White House spin doctor explained to his partners in the 1997 film Wag the Dog. “You remember the picture. Fifty years from now, they’ll have forgotten the war.”

This is true for moments in military history, but it’s also true of the anti-war movement. Very often, images emerge that come to embody the entirety of the events they capture in our collective memory. As the unseating of the Morsi government unfolds in Cairo, the images of gesturing hands, signs raised, flags waved, and fires lit will become enduring symbols to the uninvolved public of the moments those pictures represent. Here are some of the most memorable images from protest movements since the end of World War II.

Poznan Spring

[Image via Wikipedia]

In June of 1956, workers at the Cegielski Factories in Poznań incited a series of protests against the communist dictatorial government of the People’s Republic of Poland. The Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky deployed about 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers to suppress the demonstrators, ending with a death toll of 50 to 100 people.

Hungarian Uprising

[Image via Wikipedia]

The largely spontaneous uprising against the Soviet satellite government of Hungary began in 1956 when student demonstrations were transmitted via Radio Free Europe. The revolt spread quickly across Hungary, leading to a collapse of the national government. Soviet forces responded by driving tanks through Budapest to suppress the uprising, leading to the tragic death of 2,500 people.

Elizabeth Eckford

Photo Credit: Will Counts / Arkansas Democrat

[Image via Wikipedia]

As a young high school student, Elizabeth Eckford was among the first nine black students who attempted to enter the not-yet-integrated Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. After being confronted by soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard, the 15-year-old Eckford eventually gave up and tried to flee to a bus stop, where a mob of segregationists continued to threaten her with violence.

Woolworth’s Protests

Photo Credit: Jack G. Moebes / Courtesy Greensboro News & Record

The policy of maintaining segregated service areas at Woolworth’s Department store was dented by the 1960 nonviolent protests at the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina. Commenting on the media response to the demonstrations, the normally reticent President Dwight Eisenhower stated that he was “deeply sympathetic with the efforts of any group to enjoy the rights of equality that they are guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Freedom Riders

[Image via Wikipedia]

In 1961, a group of students led by John Lewis (left), rode buses between Washington, DC and New Orleans to see that the policy of racial integration on interstate commerce, demanded by United States Supreme Court, would not go unheeded. Lewis would go on to be elected to the US House of Representatives.

Thich Quang Duc

Photo credit: Malcolm Browne

In 1963, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngô Đình Diệm. Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his renowned photograph of the monk’s death, which brought global attention to the policies of the Diệm government.

March on the Pentagon

Photo credit: Bernie Boston / Washington Star

In 1967, protestors organized by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam held a rally of 100,000 people at West Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial. Thirty-five thousand of the participants would then march to a second rally at the Pentagon. Among the protestors were the activist Abbie Hoffman, the poet Allen Ginsburg, and Norman Mailer, who wrote about the experience in the Pulitzer Prize-winning New Journalism chronicle The Armies of the Night.

Paris 1968

Photo credit: Bruno Barbey

A series of workers’ strikes and student demonstrations, concentrated in Paris but spreading across France, began in May 1968 and ultimately recruited 11 million protestors (more than a fifth of the country’s total population). The strikes continued for two weeks and nearly led to the collapse of the Charles de Gaulle government.

Prague Spring

[Image via The New Yorker ]

In August 1968, reacting to the ebb of censorship and political surveillance in Czechoslovakia, Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev deployed between 500,000 and 750,000 troops through the country. The death of over 100 innocent civilians led to protests in Poland, Germany, and Moscow’s Red Square. The above photo, taken by Josef Koudelka, was not exhibited publicly in Russia until 2011.

Mexico City 1968

Photo credit: Tonatiuh García / Comité 68

A violent confrontation began when peaceful students and government employees demonstrated against the Vietnam War in Mexico City in advance of the 1968 Summer Olympics. Between 20 and 30 civilians were killed and hundreds arrested in what would later be called the Tlatelolco massacre, which took place ten days before the Olympic Games were set to start.

Kent State, 1970

[Image via Wikipedia]

In May, 1970 four students were killed at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio when soldiers from the Ohio National Guard opened fire into a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the American bombing of Cambodia. This photo was taken by John Paul Filo, a student by Kent State University at the time.

Black Friday, Iran, 1978

[Image via Wikipedia]

An anti-government protest in the fall of 1978 in Tehran’s Zhaleh Square led the Shah to declare martial law. Soldiers dispatched to impel the crowds to disperse are said to have killed between 80 and 90 demonstrators.

Baltic Way

[Image via Wikipedia]

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that established non-aggression between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and in the wake of mass departure of Soviet satellites from the USSR, citizens of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia joined hands in a gesture of affirmation for the countries’ independence. The unbroken chain, involving some two million people, spanned nearly 400 miles across the Baltic states.

Seattle, 1999

[Image via Wikipedia]

Anarchist and anti-globalization feeling in Seattle reached a boiling point during the World Trade Organization conference in the fall of 1999. Though its effect on trade, labor standards, and environmental protection were hard to measure, the action’s immediate result was one of the largest mass protests in American history, with no fewer than 40,000 participants.

Iraq War

[Image via Wikipedia]

Opposition to the American war in Iraq began with the initial invasion and intensified in 2006 and 2007. This demonstration, in Washington, DC in 2007, was organized by leaders from the United for Peace and Justice Coalition and Students for a Democratic Society.

Cairo, 2011

[Image via Wikipedia]

Outrage over focused corruption, police brutality, lack of free elections, and civil liberties fed one of the faster regime changes to be associated with the Arab Spring in Egypt, which reached a breaking point when protestors gathered in Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, the unopposed President and Prime Minister of Egypt of 30 years.

Moscow, 2012

The American reporter Julia Ioffe took this picture while reporting from Moscow’s Red Square, where protestors had gathered to decry the third-term inauguration of Vladmir Putin as Russia’s president.

New York, 2011

[Image via Wikipedia]

Initiated by organizers from the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, a group of demonstrators arrived in Zuccotti Park in September 2011, near the New York Stock Exchange, with the goal of inspiring vast reforms in the American financial sector. They remained at Zuccotti until November, when a late-night sweep planned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg removed all overnight protestors by force, and inspired countless similar “occupations” in cities across the country and around the world.

Egypt, 2013

[Image via Wikpedia]

Ongoing demonstrations in Cairo against President Mohamed Morsi led to the Egyptian military giving Morsi an ultimatum to resign. Last Wednesday, Morsi complied, the military suspended the Egyptian constitution, and Defense Minister General Abdul Fatah Khalil Al-Sisi declared Adly Mansour, a judge on Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, the interim president of Egypt.