The fight for racial equality in America was not an easy road. Throughout the decades, exceptional African Americans stepped up to organize a movement that transformed the face of America and promoted equal rights for all people. Black leaders of today continue the work of those who paved the way with their lives.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A man of unshakable faith, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tirelessly fought to secure racial equality of all people. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which helped to ignite the Civil Rights Movement, as discussed on BiographyOnline.com. In 1962, over 250,000 marchers watched as he delivered his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Medgar Evers served as the first NAACP state field representative in the state of Mississippi. In his position, he stood in the face of violence and opposition to organize voter registration drives, as explained on Biography.com. He was one of the state’s most accomplished civil rights leaders before he was gunned down in the driveway of his home. Evers received a hero’s burial in the Arlington National Cemetery.
After being denied entrance to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, Thurgood Marshall defied the odds by becoming the first African-American Justice to the United States Supreme Court, according to GreatBlackHeroes.com. Prior to his appointment, he worked as a lead counsel with the NAACP, where he argued the Brown vs. Board of Education case in front of the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision led to the desegregation of public schools.
Even before taking her famous seat on the bus, Rosa Parks was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She worked beside her husband to organize meetings and raise funds for the NAACP. On December 1, 1955, she took a seat in the front of the negro section on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. As the bus filled with white passengers, the driver demanded that she give her seat to one of them. Parks refused and was arrested for violation of the state’s segregation law. Her actions on that day ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Harriet Tubman repeatedly put her life and freedom in danger to save the lives of enslaved blacks and deliver them to free soil. Born into slavery around 1820 in Maryland, the young Tubman suffered a severe head injury at the hands of her master, as explained on BiographyOnline.com. After escaping the chains of slavery, Tubman returned to the south numerous times to guide other slaves to the Northern states.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer began her work as a civil rights activist in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, according to History.com. The daughter of a sharecropper, Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964. At the televised national convention, she eloquently spoke about her challenges in the segregated south.
Asa Philip Randolph
Asa Philip Randolph was a pioneer for the rights of working blacks. With aspirations of acting, he moved to New York City and worked as a railroad porter to support himself, according to Biography.com. In 1925, Randolph founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Though initial efforts to have the organization included in the American Federation of Labor were unsuccessful, he persevered in his endeavors and served as president of the organization for almost 40 years.
This former slave is known as one of the most influential African American leaders of the 19th Century, according to GreatBlackHeroes.com. Known for his powerful oration skills, Douglass became an outspoken abolitionist and wrote about his experiences as a slave in an autobiography. He also toured the Northeast and Midwest speaking out against slavery.
Always the picture of strength and faith, Maya Angelou used her gift of prose to create a change in people’s hearts. As a child, a period of abuse and molestation took her voice, but she overcame her adversity to become one of the most famous and influential voices of all time. She also worked with other activists on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, participating in demonstrations and marches.
With a message of hope, Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States in 2008. Born to a single mother, President Obama focused on his goals and education to graduate from Harvard Law School and represent the state of Illinois as a U.S. Senator. In 2004, he gained worldwide recognition after delivering the keynote speech for the Democratic National Convention.