Graphic Design & the U.S. Civil Rights Movement

The U.S. saw its largest public demonstration, with more than 250,000 participants, during the March on Washington rally on August 28, 1963. Civil Rights activists created vivid promotional designs to achieve the March on Washington’s massive turnout. These designs were featured on just about everything, from the sides of buses, to pamphlets to activists wearing the advertisements.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech touched countless lives as the words fell from his lips that day. The engaging speech rippled throughout the country, challenging perceptions, demanding equality and initiating change. Decades later, we still cherish his words.

Civil rights activists recognized the importance of tying socially conscious design into their publicity efforts. They pushed to create visual elements that aligned with their message of promoting social change and ending Jim Crow, and without these activists’ efforts in planning civil rights protests, rallies, sit-ins, and successfully marketing those events, U.S. history would have followed a different path and social equality would have been significantly delayed.

The images below are examples of designs from the civil rights movement that used distinctive design elements to encourage March on Washington participation and social justice.

We Shall Overcome Book Cover

Booklet cover from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Created by Louis Lo Monaco. Image from Library of Congress.

Liberator Magazine's advertisement for a bus ride to the March on Washington, 1963. Created by the Liberator Magazine. Image from the Smithsonian.

Liberator Magazine’s advertisement for a bus ride to the March on Washington. Created by the Liberator Magazine, 1963. Image from the Smithsonian.

Social Justice AdvertisementMarch on Washington Advertisement In front of 170 W 130 St., with Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director, Cleveland Robinson, Chairman of Administrative Committee. Image from Library of Congress

Social Justice Design

Design for the March on Washington recording for those who could not attend. Created by Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, 1963. Image from the Smithsonian.

While the designs above were created for the active street marketing campaign, civil rights activists also turned to the African American media to visually address their concerns and to discuss social issues, such as segregation.

Social Justice

Although the Civil Rights Movement took place more than five decades ago, its importance and message still thrives and continues to influence us. The Internet is flooded with modern designs illustrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s potent words serving as reminders and as motivations.

We discovered these typographic designs using MLK’s “I Have a Dream,” as inspiration and for passing on his message. Check out the images below to see how Martin Luther King Jr.’s words continues to inspire us.

MLK Day Awareness Posters

by Amanda Acevedo

These poster designs were recognized in Print magazine’s Regional Design Annual.

Martin Luther King Jr. Posters


Martin Luther King, Jr. Illustration

by Caitlin Barnes

Created by Caitlin Barnes.

Created by Caitlin Barnes.

“I Have a Dream”

by Cecilia Guimaraes

Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “I Have a Dream” modelling his face in different colours as he portrays the fight for freedom of human colour and indiference. See more.

Created by Cecilia Guimaraes

Created by Cecilia Guimaraes


“I Have a Dream” Illustration

by Roberlan Borges

Social Justice Design

Created by Roberlan Borges

“The Dream” Martin Luther King

by Jonas Fleuraime

Social Justice Design

Created by Jonas Fleuraime

Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote

by Lorena Lane

Social Justice Typography

Created by Lorena Lane

MLK Poster Design

by Seth Davis

“This poster design was for the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at Utah Valley University. The design was judged among a pool of my peers by the school faculty, and chosen along with five others to display at the event. The objective was to create a design that communicated the life’s work of MLK visually and typographically.”

Social Justice Design

Created by Seth Davis

Martin Luther King, Jr. Chalk Art

by Dangerdust

See more work from the anonymous design duo known as Dangerdust here.

Social Justice Design

Created by Dangerdust.

Interested in seeing more designs inspired by the March on Washington, check out Civil Rights as a Graphic Novel.

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