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.