In the 1950s oppressed people around the world began to demand civil rights and change.

Increasingly alert to events in the wider world, Derry noted the US, South African and other struggles for justice, and by the mid-1960s small groups in Derry and elsewhere were taking to the streets to demand action on housing, jobs and votes.

Some unionist politicians were making promises of change, but opposition from within their own ranks frustrated this and civil rights protests spread. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed to coordinate actions.

In the USA, in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1957, the National Guard had to escort nine black schoolchildren past racist protestors in Little Rock, Arkansas. In March 1960, 60 black anti-apartheid protestors were shot dead in Sharpeville, South Africa.

In August 1963, 200,000 civil rights supporters gathered in Washington to hear Martin Luther King proclaim “I have a dream,” and Bob Dylan unveil “Only a pawn in their game,” highlighting the manipulation of the white poor by racist politicians.

And in Dungannon in County Tyrone in 1963, housing protestors gathered outside a council meeting carrying placards: “If Our Religion Is Against Us Ship Us To Little Rock.” The demonstration led to the formation of the Campaign for Social Justice, the north’s first civil rights organisation.

“We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the civil rights movement in Ireland.

  • University for Derry campaign in Guildhall Square, 1965.

    The North

    In 1963 the talk was of a new era and fairness for all.

  • University for Derry campaign in Guildhall Square, 1965.

    Geographical, Social and Political Isolation

    In 1962, the Matthew Plan (designed to decentralize Belfast as the urban centre) identified Portadown/Lurgan, not Derry, as a major centre for development in the north: a new city, Craigavon, was also part of the Matthew Plan.

  • Dole Destroys The Soul

    Unemployment

    The city’s unemployment rate, which had fallen to a post-war low of 10.1 per cent in March 1966, soared back to 20.1 per cent.

     
  • DHAC protest outside the courthouse in Bishop Street

    DUAC and DHAC

    The 1967 BSR closure prompted the formation by local trade unionists of the Derry Unemployed Action Committee (DUAC). Pickets, rallies and protests were organised. The Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) followed.

     

  • NICRA poster, early 1970s

    NICRA

    The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was founded at a public meeting in Belfast in January 1967.

  • 5th October 1968 civil rights march poster

    First Civil Rights March in the North

    In August 1968, NICRA organised the north’s first civil rights march, from Coalisland to Dungannon. The police sealed off Dungannon town centre. A violent confrontation – fairly mild by later standards – made news headlines north and south.