Rear view of an immigrant family on Ellis Island looking across New York Harbor at the Statue of Liberty in the 1930s.

50 inspiring photos of resilience from American history

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November 7, 2020
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50 inspiring photos of resilience from American history

The old saying goes that a picture speaks a thousand words—but some photographs speak more loudly than others. Although the click of a photographer's shutter captures only the briefest moment in time, the greatest photographs communicate through the ages.

Using a variety of sources, Stacker compiled a list of 50 photographs that continue to instill hope and inspire action just as they have throughout this country's history—or at least from the time that cameras were invented. Some are portraits of individuals, and others capture sweeping before-and-after moments in history that were larger than any one person. All, however, are physical representations of integrity, courage, determination, and resilience.

American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is the most enduring symbol of the Underground Railroad. Famous for her courage and fortitude, she made frequent and perilous return trips to the South to shepherd hundreds of family members and other enslaved people to freedom.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island

Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, New York, like this group circa 1900, were moved through a processing center immediately after arriving. Those pictured here are carrying papers with entry numbers that they hope will soon be traded for visas. Ellis Island served as America's main entry point for immigrants between 1892 and 1943, with some 20 million passing through during that time.

Relief for survivors of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Crowds of men who survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and subsequent citywide fires sit and eat at an outdoor soup kitchen in San Francisco in 1906. The soup kitchen is enclosed by a fence and surrounded by the remnants of destroyed buildings. An estimated 225,000 people were left homeless from the destruction of the disaster, and people came together to provide relief efforts like this, playing a critical role in recovery.

Photographer Lewis Hine documents child labor conditions

Breaker boys, like these children at the Hughestown Borough Coal Company in 1911 in Pittston, Pennsylvania, were tasked with separating impurities from coal. Lewis Hine's photographs for the National Child Labor Committee documenting child labor in the United States were major catalysts for labor reform.

Silent sentinels of the Suffrage Movement

Suffragettes picket for the release of 10 of their colleagues who were confined to a workhouse after serving a 60-day sentence for obstructing traffic. Suffragists were commonly arrested during their protests for women's voting rights and were frequently subjected to harsh conditions and brutal punishments while in jail.

An American soldier in Neuilly, France, during World War I

A U.S. soldier recovers in American Military Hospital #1, which was supported by the American Red Cross in Neuilly, France, in 1918. During WWI, 116,516 Americans were killed, and another 320,000 were listed as casualties from injury or illness.

Red Cross Motor Corps on duty during the 1918 influenza epidemic

Masked women with the Red Cross Motor Corps are shown bearing stretchers near their ambulances during the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. About 500 million people—roughly one out of three human beings on Earth at the time—became infected, and at least 50 million died. About 675,000 deaths were in the United States.

Suffragists celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment

Alice Paul, national chair of the Woman's Party, unfurls a ratification banner from suffrage headquarters in Washington D.C. when Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify, which was enough to satisfy the Constitution's requirement of a two-thirds majority and give women the right to vote.

Jobless New Yorkers selling apples during the Great Depression

Unemployed New Yorkers are pictured selling apples on the sidewalk during the Great Depression in 1930. The stock market crash the year before triggered the greatest global economic catastrophe in modern history. Within a few years, unemployment would peak near 25% in the United States.

WPA construction of the Hoover Dam

Workers shave rock off the walls of Black Canyon 550 feet above the Colorado River during the building of the Boulder Dam, later renamed Hoover Dam, in 1935. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created during the Depression to spearhead large-scale public construction and infrastructure projects to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work.

Workers' union strikes for fair wages

Cotton goods factories and shop workers participate in a strike for higher wages in front of a factory in Downtown Chicago in 1935. The strike was organized by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, which claimed a membership of 10,000 in the city.

WPA workers clear flood debris in Louisville, Kentucky

Workers load a WPA truck with flood debris in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1937. The Great Flood of 1937, also called the Ohio River Flood of 1937, left hundreds dead and a million people homeless.

Dust Bowl migration documented by Dorothea Lange

A family with five children walks on a highway in this photograph taken by Dorothea Lange in June 1938 as part of the Farm Security Administration Project. The family started in Idabel, Oklahoma, bound for Krebs in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. In 1936, the father lost his farm after coming down with pneumonia and was unable to get work with the WPA but was refused relief from the country where he lived for 15 years because he temporarily resided in another county when he was ill.

Riveter at work during World War II

A woman operates a hand drill while working on a Vengeance dive bomber at the Vultee-Nashville plant in Tennessee. Norman Rockwell's famous "Rosie the Riveter" painting on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 was based on an amalgamation of real-life women armament workers like this one.

Japanese internment camps during World War II

The Mochida family waits for a bus that will take them to an internment camp in Hayward, California, on May 8, 1942. The U.S. government rounded up and deported more than 100,000 Japanese Americans—without charges or due process—to a network of camps like these during World War II. Unlike many Italian Americans and German Americans, no American of Japanese ancestry was ever convicted of sabotage or espionage during or after the war.

US troops march down Champs-Elysees after the Liberation of Paris in 1944

U.S. troops march down the Champs-Elysees, with the Arc de Triomphe in the background in September 1944. On Aug. 25, the French 2nd Armored Division joined the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in liberating Paris after four years of German occupation administered through a Nazi puppet government.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights established

Eleanor Roosevelt, then the widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, displays the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at Lake Success, New York, in 1949. A member of the drafting committee, Roosevelt changed the role of first lady and remains an icon of women's rights, civil rights, and human rights.

Displaced persons from postwar Europe arrive in New York

Passengers arrive at Ellis Island in 1951 aboard the USS General R. M. Blatchford, which brought displaced persons from postwar Europe to the United States. Although roughly 200,000 Europeans were able to escape the Holocaust by immigrating to America between 1933 and 1945, many, many more were killed while waiting for an escape that would never come as America's strict immigration laws—which discriminated against Jews and other groups—blocked their entry.

Rosa Parks gets fingerprinted

A policeman fingerprints civil rights activist Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956, after she refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Her arrest was the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

After the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Young John Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's coffin during JFK's funeral on Nov. 25, 1963 in Washington D.C., two days after the president was assassinated in Dallas. From left: Sen. Edward Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and John Kennedy. The photo captured the nation's shock, sorrow, and loss of innocence.

Chicago Freedom Movement

Chicago Freedom Movement members and other demonstrators march in lines, some with posters, under the Chicago El (elevated railroad) during a protest calling on Mayor Richard Daley to fire school superintendent Benjamin Willis over his delay in integrating city schools in the mid-1960s. Many schools in both the North and South were slow to desegregate after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawed segregated education.

1965 Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March

Civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery. Among those pictured are, front row, politician and civil rights activist John Lewis, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Ruth Harris Bunche, Nobel Prize-winning political scientist and diplomat Ralph Bunche, and activist Hosea Williams.

Civil Rights marchers in Memphis, Tennessee

U.S. National Guard troops block off Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, with bayonets fixed as civil rights marchers pass by wearing placards reading, "I AM A MAN" on March 29, 1968. It was the third consecutive march held by the group in as many days. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who had left town after the first march, would soon return, only to be assassinated there.

Coretta Scott King speaks in New York

Coretta Scott King, a civil rights activist and the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks behind a podium at a Peace-In-Vietnam Rally in Central Park, New York, on April 27, 1968. Dr. King had been murdered in Memphis just 23 days before.

Vietnamese refugees arrive in Southern California

A Vietnamese girl walks in a pair of oversized Marine boots at a makeshift facility at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. This camp, and many others like it, were created to accommodate waves of refugees fleeing Vietnam and the region in the wake of the American withdrawal.



Continuing the fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

Feminist leaders Betty Friedan (right) and Gloria Steinem (center), editor of Ms. magazine, sign telegrams asking President Jimmy Carter to support the Equal Rights Amendment in 1977. The National Organization for Women set up a signing station outside the New York Public Library to get signatures for the proposed constitutional amendment, which would guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender.

American hostages released in 1981

Three of the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran arrive at Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany—at top is Jerry Plotkin while Robert Ode waves—after being released from Tehran in 1981. After storming the U.S. Embassy, Iranian students and Islamic revolutionaries held American citizens hostage for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.

People With AIDS (PWA) organization

Members of the People With AIDS Coalition carry a banner during the Gay Pride parade in New York City on June 1, 1986. The organization was formed earlier in the decade as the mysterious and terrifying HIV virus ravaged the LGBTQ+ community, which was re-victimized throughout the decade by scapegoating and stigmatization.

Oklahoma City bombing medical relief supplies

Relief workers carry boxes of medical supplies during the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a fuel-and-fertilizer truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. McVeigh, convicted of murder and conspiracy charges in the worst act of terror on U.S. soil before 9/11, was executed on June 11, 2001.

Rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero

A firefighter looks at a mourning wall located at the fire station located at ground zero on Sept. 20, 2001, in New York City. At the time, federal and city officials were still calling salvage work at the site a rescue and recovery effort as hope for finding survivors quickly dwindled.

Virginia Tech community mourns day after deadliest US shooting

Thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil on the campus of Virginia Tech on April 17, 2007, in Blacksburg, Virginia. According to police, English major Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a native of South Korea, went on a shooting rampage that left a total of 33 people dead. Killing more victims than even the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, it was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history—but later massacres would eclipse even that carnage in Orlando, Florida, and Las Vegas.

First day the 9/11 memorial site is opened to the general public

Anthoula Katsimatides weeps as she speaks about losing her brother John Katsimatides in the World Trade Center terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. She spoke about hope during press interviews and later greeted people with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the first day the 9/11 memorial was opened to the general public on Sept. 12, 2011.

Joplin, Missouri, marks the one-year anniversary of deadly tornado

Habitat for Humanity workers raise a wall of a house being built in Joplin, Missouri, to replace one that was destroyed one year prior to the day. On May 22, 2011, the town was hit by a catastrophic EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people, injured hundreds, and left a path of destruction across the region.

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel speaks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust survivor, activist, and author Elie Wiesel speaks during the 20th anniversary National Tribute at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on April 29, 2013, in Washington DC. The two-day event honored Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans to mark the museum's 20th anniversary.

Remembrance ceremony held to mark the 73rd anniversary of attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona survivor Louis Conter salutes the Remembrance Wall of the USS Arizona Memorial during a Dec. 7, 2014, memorial service honoring the 73rd anniversary of the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy conducted a devastating surprise attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet, moored in Pearl Harbor, marking America's entry into World War II. More than 2,400 people were killed, and thousands more were wounded, with dozens of Navy vessels either sunk or destroyed.


Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage

Jim Obergefell holds a photo of his late husband John Arthur as he speaks to members of the media in Washington D.C. after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a historic ruling in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015. In a case that featured Obergefell as the plaintiff, the High Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states.

Louisiana 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

Club members pose during the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club "second line" parade on May 10, 2015, in New Orleans in the runup to the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Neighborhood-based social aid and pleasure clubs organize traditional second line parades, which represent solidarity, empowerment, and cultural pride within the city's African American enclaves. In 2006, the Original Big 7 was the first club to hold its parade following Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

World Aids Day

Jenny Sanchez participates in the Equality Park World AIDS Day Vigil and Remembrance Walk on Dec. 1, 2015, at the Broward House and Pride Center in Wilton Manors, Florida. World AIDS Day is held each year on Dec. 1 to promote worldwide unity in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The event also supports people living with HIV and commemorates those who were lost to the disease.

Boston Marathon bombing survivors in 2016

Boston Marathon bombing survivors Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky celebrate at the finish line with their dog Rescue after Downes completed the 120th Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016, in Boston. On April 15, 2013, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated homemade bombs near the finish line of the marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds more as a shocked nation watched the most intense manhunt in modern American history unfold on television.


Memorial service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting

Mourners hold candles during an evening memorial service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. The night before, a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 others in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Immigrants to U.S. become citizens during a naturalization ceremony on Ellis Island

Immigrants take the oath of citizenship to the United States in the Great Hall of Ellis Island on Sept. 16, 2016, in New York City. Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, administered the oath to mark Constitution and Citizenship Day. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, some 38,000 people became American citizens in 240 nationwide ceremonies that week, the most of any week of the year.

Sioux from Standing Rock Reservation claim victory over Dakota Pipeline Access Project

Military veterans brave blizzard conditions to march in support of the "water protectors" at Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Dec. 5, 2016, outside Cannon Ball, North Dakota. The veterans joined Native Americans and activists from around the country who had been encamped at the site for months in an attempt to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The day before, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant an easement for the 1,172-mile-long oil pipeline to cross under a lake on the Sioux Tribes Standing Rock Reservation.

Epic flooding inundates Houston after Hurricane Harvey

Texas National Guard personnel in Houston assist residents affected by Hurricane Harvey and the widespread flooding it caused on Aug. 27, 2017. Second only to Katrina in terms of economic damage, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage.

Las Vegas mourns after worst mass shooting in US history

58 white doves are released in honor of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting at the culmination of a faith unity walk at Las Vegas City Hall on Oct. 7, 2017. On Oct. 1, 2017, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock killed 61 people and injured many hundreds more when he opened fire on a large crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival before turning one of his guns on himself. The massacre holds the unfortunate distinction of being the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Hundreds of thousands attend March For Our Lives in Washington D.C

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez cries as she observes six minutes and 20 seconds of silence while addressing the March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018, in Washington D.C. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, including students, teachers, and parents, gathered in the capital for the anti-gun violence rally organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead on Feb. 14, 2018. It was one of more than 800 similar calls to legislative action on school safety and gun violence.

National Memorial For Peace And Justice examines US history of lynchings

Ed Sykes, 77, who lives in San Francisco but has family in Mississippi, found his last name at the National Memorial For Peace And Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 26, 2018, signifying that one of his relatives might have been lynched. Sykes, who discovered his last name on another memorial in Clay County, Mississippi, just a few months prior, said, "This is the second time I've seen the name Sykes as a hanging victim. What can I say?"

Paradise, California commemorates 1st anniversary of devastating Camp Fire

Ellen Michels, 63, of Paradise, California, looks on during a sneak peek of the new Building Resiliency Center on Nov. 8, 2019, during the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 homes and businesses. It was later learned that PG&E transmission lines caused the fire, which tore through the town of Paradise, and became the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history.

#MeToo movement founder honored at Harvard

Tarana Burke arrives at the Harvard Kennedy School before being honored with the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award from Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Feb. 26, 2020. A civil rights activist, Burke is the founder of the global #MeToo movement for survivors of sexual assault.

Volunteers distribute food during the coronavirus pandemic

Volunteers give out groceries at a drive-thru Three Square Food Bank emergency food distribution site at Boulder Station Hotel & Casino in response to an increase in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 29, 2020, in Las Vegas. Three Square operates dozens of emergency distribution sites at various times and dates throughout Southern Nevada to assist a growing number of people, many recently unemployed.

Union Station unveils mosaic honoring civil rights icon Ida B. Wells

Judea Lawton of Washington D.C. takes a photo of a mural titled "Our Story: Portraits of Change," at Union Station on Aug. 24, 2020, in the District of Columbia. The mural, which features civil rights icon Ida B. Wells, was designed by artist Helen Marshall of the Peoples Picture. The portrait is made from thousands of historical photos featuring women who fought for the right vote, according to the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission.


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