By: Bradley Allnutt, Stephen Beasley, and Nicholas Grubb
Our piece, Civil Movements, demonstrates the parallels between the civil rights movements of Catholics in Northern Ireland and African-Americans in the United States. Specifically, it ties together these movements using symmetry and color. We display the connections between the 1972 Bloody Sunday March and the 1963 March on Washington, as well as how the Holy Cross dispute in Ardoyne in 2001 resembles the public response to the integration of Little Rock schools in 1957.
Civil Movements consists primarily of six panels, with black and white backgrounds. On the top left, we depicted the protests in Ardoyne when Catholic students tried to go to Holy Cross, and on the right, we depicted protests of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the middle, we have drawn a school to represent the similar focus of these events on schools. The bottom left panel depicts the March on Washington during the American Civil Rights Movement, while the middle panel depicts the civil rights march that resulted in the infamous Bloody Sunday Massacre. The far-right panel is a painting of an H-Block, one of many such buildings in HM Prison Maze, and a voting facility in Northern Ireland.
Image 1: Civil Movements
Before the 1950s and ‘60s American Civil Rights Movement, schools were segregated by race, with black and white students attending different schools. As a result of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) by the United States’ Supreme Court, schools in America were integrated. In Little Rock, Arkansas, nine black students became the first to enroll in Little Rock Central High School, but were barred from attending the school by the Governor of Arkansas. He called in the National Guard to support a segregationist blockade, which prevented them from entering the building. The students were only allowed to attend after direct intervention from President Eisenhower, who called in the “Army’s 101st Airborne to ensure the teens’ safety” (“LIFE Looks Back at the Little Rock Nine”).
Different from the United States, Northern Ireland segregated children not by race but by religion. Usually, these segregation practices went uninterrupted. However, in 2001, Protestants adults blocked Catholic children from accessing the Holy Cross Primary School because the school was located in an increasingly “Protestant area” (“Loyalists Attack Catholic Children in Holy Cross Dispute 2001”). Much like the Little Rock Nine, Catholic children could not attend school until an armed escort in the form of Riot Police and British soldiers was provided. Even then, the children faced harassment in the form of “[thrown] stones, bricks, fireworks, [and] blast bombs” (“Loyalists Attack Catholic Children in Holy Cross Dispute 2001”).
Noticing the similarities between these two incidents, such as the blockading of the schools and the need for an armed escort for the children, our group constructed Civil Movements with these similarities in mind. The children involved in the Holy Cross Dispute are pictured on the left walking into the school we have painted. On the right, the Little Rock Nine are depicted walking into the same school. This combination of images expresses how children had to go through adversity to get to school during both periods of discrimination. This, along with the presence of soldiers escorting the student demonstrates the distinct connections between these transatlantic civil rights movements.
Image 2: The Piece Containing Pictures of Important Events
The bottom half of Civil Movements depicts two civil rights marches. The left picture shows the 1963 March on Washington. It depicts Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech. The March on Washington was rooted in a desire for equal voting rights, where Martin Luther King boldly proclaimed, “We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote” (King). Furthermore, the protest also sought to gain equal social status where “little black boys and black girls” could “join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” (King). To the right of this depiction is a snapshot of Bloody Sunday, a march against internment, a practice increasingly used against Catholic men. This event, however, took part in a broader movement for Catholic rights, including voting rights for Catholics. According to scholars David McKittrick and David McVea, when the British first established rule in Northern Ireland, the voting system was quickly “revised,” and it “[altered] boundaries” in favor of Unionists rule (7-8). This use of gerrymandering made it almost impossible for Catholics to gain any political power through the voting process. This lack of voting power was reminiscent of actions in the United States, where gerrymandering was long used as a method of hampering African American’s voting power. In contrast to the March on Washington, however, this Northern Irish peaceful march was met with armed and fatal retaliation from the British government’s elite 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment. Musical Artists such as John Lennon and Yoko Ono have memorialized this event, singing that “thirteen martyrs” died and “not a soldier boy was bleeding, when they nailed the coffin lids” (Lennon and Ono). These lyrics show how egregious the slaughter of these civil rights protesters was, as none of the protesters had been armed to kill. In Civil Movements, we included a voting building on the far left of our piece to represent how both African-Americans and Norther Irish Catholics struggled to gain political equality amidst political systems that aimed to oppression.
Image 3: H-Block and Ballot Building Added
The final analog between these two civil movements is that they both fought against judicial malpractice. Located in the bottom right corner is an image of HM Prison Maze’s famous H-block. Hundreds of Catholic Republican dissenters were interned in the H-blocks without trial and regardless if they were innocent or guilty (Poole and Llewellyn). This institutionalized discrimination was also seen in the United States, as the American Civil Rights Movement was, “rooted in critiques of institutional racism located within the American Justice System” (Kenny 43). This institutionalized racism was one of the most important aspects of change that both marches advocated for.
Moreover, it is often overlooked how these two movements interacted, with the Northern Irish Catholic movement drawing inspiration from the American Civil Rights Movement. Many of Northern Ireland’s “leading civil rights activists” used “the literature of their American counterparts” to strengthen their platforms and draw comparisons between their movements (Dooley 49). In the words of Lorenzo Bosi, when contrasting the conditions of Northern Irish Catholics with those of African-Americans there was “an opportunity to embarrass the Stormont regime” (261). The demonstrators hoped that embarrassing the British government with the comparison would aid activists’ arguments about their lack of rights and garner them popular favor both abroad and in Ireland. Overall, however, the Northern Ireland advocates were not just using the American Civil Rights Movement to embarrass the government, but intentionally “imitated some of [the American Civil Rights] initiatives” that had previously worked in hopes of gaining more ground on Catholics’ civil rights (Dooley 49).
Beyond Civil Movements, Northern Irish muralists have also drawn a parallel between these transatlantic events. For instance, we drew inspiration from a mural previously painted on an estate wall in Northern Ireland titled “Arkansas ‘57– Ardoyne ‘01.”
Mural 1: “Arkansas ’57 – Ardoyne ’01”
This mural boldly proclaims, “Everyone has the right to live free from sectarian harassment,” alongside images of the events in Arkansas and Ardoyne. The piece directly compares the harassment of school children in Ardoyne and Arkansas by calling the heckling that the Little Rock Nine experienced “sectarian,” a word usually reserved for descriptions of the Troubles. These connections to the American Civil Rights Movement have been made in other murals as well, such as one portraying Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., and other global figures. It shows that Northern Irish Catholics drew inspiration from these influential American leaders, a topic that the lower half of our mural deals with directly (Fought 2011).
Mural 2: The Mural Depicting Douglas and King
Overall, our piece is designed to emphasize both contrasts and connections between the American Civil Rights Movement and the Catholic effort to achieve civil rights in Northern Ireland. Our creation makes the statement that these events share similarities such as disenfranchisement, systemic judicial oppression, segregation, and violence. All these and more were present both in the Troubles and the American Civil Rights Movement.
Arkansas ’57 – Ardoyne ’01. 2004. Ardoyne, Belfast. Extramural Activity, Accessed 21 February 2017. Web Image.
“BBC – History – Bloody Sunday.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. Web Image.
Bosi, Lorenzo. “Explaining the Emergence Process of the Civil Rights Protest in Northern Ireland (1945–1968): Insights from a Relational Social Movement Approach.” Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 21, no. 2-3, June 2008, pp. 242-271. Print.
Brunner, Jeryl. “Celebrities Honor Martin Luther King Jr.” Parade. Parade, 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. Web Image.
Dooley, Brian. Black and Green: The Fight for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland & Black America. London: Pluto Press, 1998. Print.
Fought, Leigh. “References to Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Nelson Mandela and South African apartheid, Muhammad Ali, and Bob Marley.” 2011. Belfast. Frederick Douglass’s Women: In Progress, 21 February 2017. Web Image.
“Holy Cross: Trail of Tears | Terrorised.” Ardoyne. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. Web Image
King, Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream.” The March on Washington, 28 August 1963, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. Address.
Kenny, Paula, and Liam Leonard. “The Restorative Justice Movement in Ireland: Building Bridges to Social Justice through Civil Society.” Irish Journal of Sociology, vol. 18, no, 2, 2010, pp. 38-58. Print.
Lennon, John and Yoko Ono. Bloody Sunday. 1972. MP3.
“LIFE Looks Back at the Little Rock Nine.” CNN. Cable News Network, 16 May 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. Web Image.
“Loyalists Attack Catholic Children in Holy Cross Dispute 2001,” World News, 8 Dec. 2008.
McKittrick, David, and David McVea. Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2012. Print.
Poole, Rebekah, and Jennifer Llewellyn. “Internment in Northern Ireland.” Alpha History, 19 May 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.