Skip to Main Content

Black Lives Matter: Race, Policing, and Protests

A guide exploring the historical context of recent events and protests

Black Lives Matter: History and Context

Black Lives Matter is an activist organization and social movement that was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. The organization was formalized by three activists: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi. In an impassioned response to Zimmerman’s acquittal, Garza posted a message to her Facebook page that concluded with the line “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter” (Cullors). Patrisse Cullors noticed Garza's post and reached out to her to frame this idea as a social media movement. Cullors adapted Garza’s words into the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and posted a response to Garza, using the hashtag for the first time. Garza and Cullors reached out to Tometi, another activist friend, who shaped Black Lives Matter's first social media campaign. The three organized and soon began posting messages to a variety of social media platforms. They tagged their posts with #blacklivesmatter to spread awareness and mobilize protests of the Zimmerman verdict (“Black Lives Matter”). Even today, the Black Lives Matter name is often stylized in hashtag form to reflect its origin and continued role as a social media movement.



Original Facebook posts by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullars, and Opal Tometi. Image courtesy of


The Black Lives Matter movement rapidly spread across the United States following the 2014 killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by white police officers. Protests in Ferguson, Missouri about the killing of Garner attracted national media attention to Black Lives Matter and recognized it as a social activist movement, in addition to a social media movement (“Black Lives Matter”). Following the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Black Lives Matter exploded as an international activist movement with mass protests in cities across the United States and the world. The Black Lives Matter organization currently consists of over 16 chapters across the United States, including one in Atlanta, Georgia founded in December 2015 (Black Lives Matter Atlanta). Visit to see how you, too, can take action.

"Black Lives Matter." Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Gale, 2020. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Black Lives Matter Atlanta, About. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Cullors, Patrisse. Black Lives Matter. Accessed 11 June 2020.

Dennis, Ashley. The black women who launched the original anti-racist reading list Accessed 19 June 2020.

Denworth, Lydia. A Civil Rights Expert Explains the Social Science of Police Racism Accessed 18 June, 2020.

I am Not your Negro--Oscar-nominated portrait of James Baldwin

"This Oscar-nominated portrait of James Baldwin uses the author's words to bridge the civil-rights past with our racially incendiary present. It's unmissable and unforgettable." - Peter Travers, The Rolling Stone

Juneteenth & Other Notable Resources

Say their Names