50 Most Powerful Photos in American History

Since photography was invented in the early 1800s, much of history — both the savory and the unsavory, the uplifting and haunting — has become immortalized in pictures.

We dug through several historical archives and the Library of Congress to compile the following list of 50 fascinating photos from this country’s past, focusing on shots taken before or during the 20th century.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive dive into US history. Rather, the pictures ahead merely capture a glimpse of the many people, actions, and events that have shaped this nation over the past three centuries.

Take a closer look at some of the most powerful photos in American history!


Parks being fingerprinted by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey. Gene Herrick/AP

ALABAMA: Rosa Parks is arrested in Montgomery (1955)

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery. While Parks wasn’t the first to challenge racist segregation laws, her famous act of civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended one year later when the US Supreme Court finally declared public bus segregation to be unconstitutional.

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