Primary Sources: Freedom of Assembly

Primary Sources: Freedom of Assembly

Congress shall make no law abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble

Freedom of Assembly in the First Amendment

Declaration of Rights and Sentiments (1848) – The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments is a document signed in 1848 by 68 women and 32 men at the first women’s rights convention in the United States. Held in Seneca Falls, New York, the convention was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton who also wrote the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. The Seneca Falls Convention launched the modern women’s rights movement.

Abolitionist Broadside from Milwaukee (1854) – Americans have always utilized their freedom of assembly to hold mass meetings and gatherings in order to work towards political goals. One of the earliest social movements in the United States was the abolitionist movement which sought an end to slavery.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly that enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Its language was heavily influenced by the US Constitution and the First Amendment. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expresses that “freedom of assembly” is a fundamental right.

March on Washington Flyer (1963) – Some of the greatest and most memorable moments in American history were enabled by the freedom of assembly. The 1963 March on Washington was one of the largest political rallies in history with some 250,000 peaceful people gathered to advocate for human rights. The last of ten speakers, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Case Study: Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) – In 1961, black students assembled at a church in Columbia, South Carolina. The students marched from the church to the State House to peacefully express their grievances regarding the civil rights of black Americans. Although peaceful, the crowd ignored demands from police to disperse, opting to sing religious and patriotic songs instead. This led to the arrest of many of the protestors. The legal battle that ensued went all the way to the Supreme Court.

University of Wisconsin Strike Flyer (1972) – Student protests denouncing the Vietnam War were held on many university campuses throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. This flyer was created after the students and staff of the University of Wisconsin Law School unanimously voted to strike in protest of the war. The flyer promotes using the freedom of assembly to march from the university to the State Capitol.

Black Lives Matter Flyers (2015) – Black Lives Matter was formed in 2013 as a political and social movement in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. A decentralized, broad movement that can be found around the world, the main issues BLM focuses on are opposing police brutality, and fighting for racial justice and equality. Using the freedom of assembly, BLM has utilized mass demonstrations and marches to amplify its message. Here are some examples of flyers promoting such events.