Civil Rights Movement and the First Amendment
The First Amendment proved to be a crucial tool for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, as ministers preached, protesters marched, organizations litigated, advocates petitioned, and the press reported on racial discrimination.
The expressive actions of protesters and activists also led to the considerable growth of First Amendment precedent. The movement witnessed such an expansion of free expression principles through First Amendment cases that scholar Harry Kalven Jr. wrote, “We may come to see the Negro as winning back for us the freedoms the Communists seemed to have lost for us.”
Below is a list of Supreme Court cases involving First Amendment rights related to the Civil Rights Movement.
Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham (1969) ruled that the conviction of the Rev.
Fred Shuttlesworth for leading a protest march without a permit violated
the First Amendment.
In New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co., Inc. (1938), the Supreme
Court ruled that pickets that were a peaceful and orderly dissemination of
information were lawful. The case arose from a campaign to boycott stores
that would not hire African-Americans.
NAACP v. Button (1963) was important not only to First Amendment
jurisprudence but also to the vitality of public interest law firm
litigation in general.
In Walker v. City of Birmingham (1967), the Court refused to look at
whether a court order against Birmingham civil rights protestors violated
the First Amendment.
In Adderly v. Florida (1966), the Supreme Court said stopping protestors
from blocking access to a jail did not suppress their First Amendment
In Bates v. Little Rock (1960), the Court affirmed that freedom of
association finds protection within the First Amendment’s free speech and
Bond v. Floyd (1966) held that legislators do not forfeit their right to
speak on public issues, reaffirming that the First Amendment protects
controversial political speech.
Brown v. Louisiana (1966) ruled that a sit-in demonstration protesting
segregation in a public library was protected symbolic speech under the
In Cox v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court overturned a state law used to
arrest civil rights marchers saying the law infringed upon freedoms of
assembly and speech.
Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) said South Carolina violated students’
First Amendment rights when the police dispersed a peaceful protest against