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Protests, riots and activism: A look back at 11 moments in Houston history

Demonstrators protesting Anita Bryant
Demonstrators protesting Anita Bryant (Houston LGBT History)

HOUSTON – Throughout the years, there have been protests and activism in the city’s history, some events dating back to the early 1900s with mother’s lobbying for compulsory education, public kindergartens and stricter child labor laws.

Scroll to the bottom for a timeline on these events

While some demonstrations were peaceful, other events consisted of riots that led to deaths. Here are 11 events that happened over the years.

1960: Houston’s First Sit-in

On March 4, 1960, 13 students from Texas Southern University (TSU) started a non-violent movement protesting Jim Crow Laws. On March 4, 1960, the 13 students marched in pairs one mile to Weingarten’s Supermarket (4110 Almeda Road) with the objective of being served at the lunch counter. Dozens more joined them.

Though white employees refused to serve the students and patrons hurled insults at them, they sat there silently for hours, occupying all 30 counter stools in shifts. More sit-ins occurred over the following days and weeks. The sit-ins ended with the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This film contains sensitive footage documenting injuries to a hate-crime victim. Viewer discretion is advised.

1971: Anti-Vietnam War protest

In October 1971, thousands of anti-Vietnam war protestors gathered in downtown Houston as part of the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. The peace movement was mainly college students taking a stand against the Vietnam War. Public demonstrations began in 1969 and were repeated each October.

1977: Anita Bryant protest

On June 16, 1977, Houston’s LGBTQ community rallied together to protest an appearance by former Miss America and anti-gay Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant. Thousands gathered for this event and it is considered one of, if not the first, examples of Houston activism.

Approximately 3,000 gay and lesbian Houstonians gathered in the parking lot of the Depository II bar and marched past the Hyatt to the Houston Public Library. The crowd eventually grew to approximately 8,000 people outside of Bryant’s event. The protest was considered as Houston gay community’s “first major political act.”

Demonstrators protesting Anita Bryant
Demonstrators protesting Anita Bryant (Houston LGBT History)

1978: Moody Park riots

On May 8, 1978, Tensions between law enforcement and local Mexican-American community flared into riots a year after the police-involved death of Jose Campos Torres, a 23-year-old Mexican-American and Vietnam War veteran. Mexican Americans took to the streets to demonstrate against police brutality.

By the end of the riots, 22 people were arrested. Our own KPRC 2 reporter Phil Archer and photographer Jack Cato were in the hospital, recovering from stab wounds.

1991: Take Back the Streets

On July 13, 1991, “Take Back the Streets” demonstration was one of the largest ever by Queer Nation, drawing out about 2,000 Houstonians, with 1,200 blocking the intersection of Montrose at Westheimer, in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. The event was in protest of Paul Broussard, a 27-year-old gay man, who was murdered by a gang of youths in the Montrose neighborhood, to demand the persecution of those responsible for the murder and against anti-gay hate crimes in general.

The Houston City Council passed a resolution calling for a gay-inclusive state-level hate crimes bill and the Houston Police Department added sexual orientation to the list of biases motivating a hate crime.

Queer Nation's 'Take Back the Streets'demonstration in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience
Queer Nation's 'Take Back the Streets'demonstration in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience (Queer Nation)

2006: Immigrant Reform protest

On April 10, 2006, nearly 50,000 rallied in downtown Houston to demand equal rights for immigrants in one of the dozens of demonstrations held around the nation. The protesters were urging federal lawmakers to reform the nation’s immigration laws and allow an estimated 11 million undocumented workers to become legal residents. In Houston, it was a peaceful demonstration and no arrests were reported.

Thousands of people rally in downtown during an immigration reform protest April 10, 2006 in Houston, Texas. Thousands of people joined the march that was organized as part of the nation wide National Day of Action for Immigration Justice Rally calling on U.S. Congress to stop the H.R. 4437 bill and create more comprehensive immigration reform. The House bill, which criminalizes undocumented immigrants and the people who help them, has triggered large scale protests and rallies across the country.  (Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)
Thousands of people rally in downtown during an immigration reform protest April 10, 2006 in Houston, Texas. Thousands of people joined the march that was organized as part of the nation wide National Day of Action for Immigration Justice Rally calling on U.S. Congress to stop the H.R. 4437 bill and create more comprehensive immigration reform. The House bill, which criminalizes undocumented immigrants and the people who help them, has triggered large scale protests and rallies across the country. (Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images) (2006 Getty Images)

2011: Occupy Houston movement

On December 11, 2011, several protesters associated with Occupy movements across Texas were arrested near the Port of Houston on Monday. Police took about 20 people into custody. A month prior, several Occupy Houston protesters were arrested in downtown Houston blocking traffic in the intersection of Commerce and Travis streets. Occupy Houston was a collaboration that has included occupation protests that stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

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2017: Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, more than 20,000 people walked through downtown Houston, one of the hundreds of Women’s Marches taking place across the country. The Houston march started at Jamail Skate Park off Sabine Street and marchers eventually made their way to City Hall.

The march came the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, with marchers trying to raise awareness for women’s rights and other civil rights they fear could be in jeopardy.

2018: March for Our Lives

On March 24, 2018, nearly 15,000 Houstonians marched through downtown Houston. The thousands who marched through the streets near City Hall added their voices to the March for Our Lives rallies in Washington and across the nation.

Many of the faces in the crowd were young, high school and college-age students. Students have said they felt spurred to action by the deadly shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers.

2020: Justice for George Floyd

On Tuesday, June 2, nearly 60,000 Houstonians gathered together downtown and peacefully marched from Discovery Green to City Hall, in protest of George Floyd a Houston native who died while being detained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Tens of thousands peacefully marched the streets of Houston, holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”


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