SPOTLIGHT: Legendary Women of the Civil Rights Movement by Photojournalist Lisa Pacino
SPOTLIGHT: Legendary Women of the Civil Rights Movement by Photojournalist Lisa Pacino. March: Women’s History Month.
Ella Baker and Ruby Dee (Photo via Internet).
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America began with the Abolitionist Movement to end slavery and the slave trade. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, was a war measure during the American Civil War to proclaim the freedom of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion. The American Civil War lasted over four years, beginning April 12, 1861, and ended by declaration on May 9, 1865. The last shot fired was on June 22, 1865. After the American Civil War African-Americans were still subjected to forms of slavery, murder, lynchings, rape, segregation, inequality, denied the right to vote, second class citizenship, and treated with blatant disrespect. The struggle did not end in 1865, there were many underground movements, but none as pivotal as what occured almost one hundred years later in the 1950s and 1960s. This movement came to be known as the modern day Civil Rights Movement, and was unstoppable.
Highlights of the Modern Civil Rights Movement:
Rosa Parks is arrested on a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955, which was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The buses were desegregated on December 20, 1956, after 381 days.
The Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas entering the school on September 25, 1957 under the protection of federal troops, these children were able to complete a full day of classes, thus becoming standard bearers for a civil-rights movement that would change the nation.
The Greensboro sit-ins a series of nonviolent protests in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1960 which led to the Woolworth department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States.
Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South at the age of six on November 14, 1960.
The Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated Southern United States beginning May 1, 1961.
Student James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi by using the integration laws on October 1, 1962.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes his Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963.
The Birmingham Children’s Crusade, a march of hundreds of students in Birmingham, Alabama, May 2–5, 1963.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech; it was 98 years after the American Civil War ended.
The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing on September 15, 1963, known as The Birmingham Church Bombing, killed four little girls in Alabama.
Freedom Summer was a campaign in the United States launched in June 1964 to attempt to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi, which had historically excluded most blacks from voting.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.
Mississippi civil rights and voter registration workers from New York (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner) were murdered by the Klu Klux Klan and police on June 21, 1964.
The Selma to Montgomery Marches on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama became violent as it was televised on March 7, 1965, and became known as Bloody Sunday. Two marches followed; March 9th, and March 25th (March 21-25).
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in voting signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965.
The Black Panthers were founded October 1966.
Interracial marriage was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on June 12, 1967.
There were countless landmark cases for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, from Brown v. Board of Education to Loving v. Virginia.
The decade of the 1960s saw riots, demonstrations, and some of the worst violence and police brutality of the century. This included the assassinations of Medgar Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963), Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little; May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965), Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968), and Fred Hampton (August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969).
Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of Medgar & Myrlie Evers, accepting an award from the Goodman Foundation on her mother’s behalf. Photograph by Lisa Pacino, 2014.
The rights for equal opportunities in education, employment, housing, voting, and all other civil and human rights were being fought; including the desegregation of schools, lunch counters, buses, and all public places and spaces. There were 4 major modern day civil rights organizations; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), followed by the Black Panther Party (BPP); prior organizations included the Niagara Movement, founded in 1905 by a group led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. There are many great historical stories and moments of the Modern Civil Rights Movement and countless brave and dedicated people who fought and died for these rights; many unsung, but not forgotten. Today, the struggle still continues with racial profiling, police brutality, high incarceration rates, unequal opportunities, inequalities in education, employment, and housing; and voting rights continue to be jeopardized.
The Men of the Civil Rights Movement:
Ralph Abernathy, Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, James Bevel, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Jonathan Daniels, Ossie Davis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dave Dennis, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Medgar Evers, James Farmer, Marcus Garvey, Berry Gordy, Jr., Dick Gregory, Fred Hampton, Jesse Jackson, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Clarence B. Jones, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Thurgood Marshall, James Meredith, Bob Moses, Huey Newton, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Rev. James Reeb, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Bayard Rustin, Bobby Seale, Pete Seeger, Hank Thomas, William Monroe Trotter, C. T. Vivian, Booker T. Washington, Hosea Williams, Carter G. Woodson, Malcolm X, Andrew Young, Whitney M. Young, Jr. and countless others.
Marian Anderson receives the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal from Eleanor Roosevelt, July, 1939. (Photo via Internet).
The Women of the Civil Rights Movement:
When the Civil Rights Movement comes to mind most people think of the men; but women were equally instrumental. They made extraordinary sacrifices, and they too gave their lives. Here are a handful of names we are familiar with.
Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993): An African-American Contralto Opera singer, and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for her to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed her into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marian performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. She continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. Her performance as “Ulrica” in Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage. She sang at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech. Along with countless awards and accolades she received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal from Eleanor Roosevelt, July, 1939; awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978; the National Medal of Arts in 1986; and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. The Marian Anderson Award was established in 1943 by Anderson after she was awarded the $10,000 Bok Prize that year by the city of Philadelphia.
Joan Baez (born Joan Chandos Báez; January 9, 1941): A Mexican-Scottish-American Grammy Award winning Folk singer, songwriter, musician, and activist whose contemporary folk music often includes songs of protest or social justice. She performed at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech; and was a good friend of Dr. King and other leaders participating in countless marches and demonstrations.
Ella Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986): An African-American civil and human right activist and grassroots organizer. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned over five decades, working alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W.E.B. DuBois and Rev. Dr. Martin Luuther King, Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists such as Rosa Parks, Diane Nash, Bob Moses, and Stokely Carmichael. Ella has been called “One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil right Movement”.
Daisy Bates (November 11, 1914 – November 4, 1999): An African-American civil rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer who played a leading role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957.
Mary McLeod Bethune (July 10, 1875 – May 18, 1955): An African-American educator and civil and human rights leader best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Florida, later developing into a college and university. She was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and known as “The First Lady of The Struggle”.
Ruby Bridges (born September 8, 1954, Mississippi): An African-American activist known for being the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Claudette Colvin (born September 5, 1939): A pioneer of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. On March 2, 1955, at 15 years old, she was one of the first, and youngest arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, preceding the more publicized Rosa Parks incident by 9 months. She was among the 5 plaintiffs originally included in the federal court case, filed on February 1, 1956 as Browder v Gayle. On June 13, 1956, the judges determined that the state and local laws requiring bus segregation in Alabama were unconstitutional. The case went to the United States Supreme Court which upheld their ruling on December 17, 1956. She was the last witness to testify and was considered the “star” witness. Three days later, the Supreme Court issued an order to Montgomery and the state to end bus segregation in Alabama.
Annie Lee Cooper (June 2, 1910 – November 24, 2010): An African-American civil rights activist in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement who is best known for punching Selma Sheriff Jim Clark. In 2014, she was portrayed by Oprah Winfrey in Ava DuVernay’s film SELMA.
Dorothy Cotton (born 1930): An African-American leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a member and the Educational Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She was the highest ranked female member of the organization, assisting James Bevel in organizing the students during the 1963 Birmingham Movement and its Children’s Crusade. Dorothy accompanied Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the co-founder and first president of the SCLC, on his trip to Oslo, Norway to receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
Shirley Chisholm (born Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm; November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005): An African-American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress. She was a New York Congresswoman from 1969 to 1983. On January 25, 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (US Senator Margaret Chase Smith had previously run for the 1964 Republican presidential nomination). She received 152 first-ballot votes at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Septima Poinsette Clark (May 3, 1898–December 15, 1987): An African-American educator and civil right activist. She developed the literacy and citizenship workshops that played an important role in the drive for voting rights and civil rights for African-Americans. Although under appreciated from her male counterparts she became known as the “Queen mother” or “Grandmother” of the American Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to her as “The Mother of the Movement”. She claimed “knowledge could empower marginalized groups in ways that formal legal equality couldn’t.”
Angela Davis (born January 26, 1944): An African-American political activist, scholar, and author. She was an activist and radical in the 1960s in the Communist Party USA, the Black Panther Party, and Civil Rights Movement. She founded Critial Resistance, an organization working to abolish the prison-industrial complex, and is a retired professor of Feminist Studies.
Ruby Dee (born Ruby Ann Wallace; October 27, 1922 – June 11, 2014): An African-American civil rights activist, actress, writer, poet, journalist, Academy Award nominee, Emmy Award winner, Grammy Award winner, and Multi-Award winner. Along with her husband Ossie Davis she was a life long vocal activist for civil rights and Socialism. She spoke at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech; and was a good friend of Dr. King and other leaders participating in countless marches and demonstrations.
Myrlie Evers—Williams (born March 17, 1933): An African-American civil rights activist, educator, journalist, and author who worked for over five decades to seek justice for the assassination of her civil rights activist husband Medgar Evers in 1963. She was also chairwoman of the NAACP. On January 21, 2013, she delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Mahalia Jackson (October 26, 1911 – January 27, 1972): An African-American civil rights activist and gospel singer with a powerful contralto voice referred to as “The Queen of Gospel”. She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world, and had extensive involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Harry Belafonte stated she was “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She sang at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech; it has been noted toward the end of the speech, he departed from his prepared text for a partially improvised version which then prompted Mahalia to encourage him shouting, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”
Barbara Jordan (February 21, 1936 – January 17, 1996): An African-American politician and and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate, the first Southern black female elected to the United States House of Representative, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. In 1994, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall (1940–2002): An African-American preacher, civil rights activist, womanist theologian, and ethicist. She often repeated the phrase “I have a dream” during her speeches, which some say became the inspiration to Dr. King for his famous “I have a dream” speech.
Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977): An African-American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC), and later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. She gave her famous testimony of violently being denied her right to vote.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman (July 5, 1899 – January 17, 1990): An African-American civil rights leader, politician, writer, editor, and educator. In 1944, she became the executive secretary of the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). In 1946, she served as assistant dean of women at Howard University, and in 1954, she became the first African- American woman to hold a mayoral cabinet position in the history of New York.
Dorothy Height (March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010): An African-American educator, administrator, civil rights activist, and a women’s right activist specifically focused on the issues of African-American women, including unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years. In 1994, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2004, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Lena Horne (born Lena Mary Calhoun Horne; June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010): An African-European-American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Her career spanned over 70 years appearing in film, television, and on Broadway. She attended at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech, and was a viable force in the movement.
Coretta Scott King (April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006): An African-American opera singer, author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is the “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement”, and was an active advocate for African-American equality, devoting her entire life to the movement. She was also an advocate for non-violence devoting her time opposing the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons, and the death penalty. In 1968, she founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (the King Center) a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization, which she started in the basement of her home after the assassination of her husband, Dr. King.
Mildred Loving (Born Mildred Delores Jeter; July 22, 1939–May 2, 2008): An African-American civil rights activist. In 1967, she and her husband, Richard Perry Loving, a white man, were the subjects of the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings, an interracial couple, pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia. They did so, moving to the District of Columbia. On June 12, 1967, the landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The decision was followed by an increase in interracial marriages in the U.S., and is remembered annually on Loving Day, June 12.
Viola Luizzo (born Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo; April 11, 1925 – March 25, 1965): A white-American civil rights activist. In 1964, she began attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, and joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In March 1965, Viola, then a Detroit housewife and mother of five with a history of local activism, heeded the call of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and traveled from Detroit, Michigan to Selma, Alabama in the wake of the Blood Sunday attempt marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She participated in the successful Selma to Montgomery marches and helped with coordination. On March 25, 1965, at the age of thirty-nine, driving back from a trip shuttling fellow activists to the Montgomery airport, she was shot and murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Today her name is inscribed on the Civil Right Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
Clara Luper (born Clara Mae Shepard May 3, 1923 – June 8, 2011): An African-American schoolteacher and civil rights activist. She is best known for her leadership role in the 1958 Oklahoma City Sin-in Movement, as she, along with her children, and numerous young members of the NAACP Youth Council successfully conducted nonviolent sit-in protests of downtown drugstore lunch-counters which overturned their policies of segregation.
Diane Nash (born May 15, 1938): An African-American civil rights leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Her campaigns were among the most successful of the era, including the first successful civil rights campaign to integrate lunch counters in Nashville; the Freedom Riders, who desegregated interstate travel; co-founding the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC); and co-initiating the Alabama Voting Rights Project and working on the Selma Voting Rights Movement, which resulted in African-Americans getting the right to register to vote and gain political power throughout the South.
Odetta (born Odetta Holmes; December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008): An African-American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American Folk music, Blues, Jazz, and Spirituals. Time Magazine included her song “Take This Hammer” on its list of the All-Time 100 Songs, and stated Rosa Parks was her No. 1 fan. In 1961, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. anointed her “The Queen of American Folk Music”. She performed at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech, and was present force in the movement.
Rosa Parks (born Rosa Louise McCauley Parks; February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005): An African-American seamstress and civil rights activist whom the United States Congress named “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to obey the bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation, there were others including 15 year old Claudette Colvin on March 2, 1955, Baynard Rustin in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, and the members of the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit, which included Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise; all were arrested in Montgomery before Parks. NAACP organizers believed that Rosa Parks was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws, although eventually her case became bogged down in the state courts while the Browder v. Gayle case succeeded. These acts of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, the NAACP, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., then new minister, who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement. Her birthday, February 4, and the day she was arrested, December 1, have both become Rosa Parks Day. In 1979, she received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, followed by the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall on February 27, 2013. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and second non-U.S. government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
Leontyne Price (Born Mary Violet Leontyne Price; February 10, 1927; Laurel, Mississippi): An African-American opera soprano singer. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on January 27, 1961, following in the footsteps of Marian Anderson, who sang in one performance on January 7, 1955. Leontyne became the first black woman to become a season’s leading artist at the Metropolitan Opera. On September 16, 1966, she was La Prima Donna for the newly constructed Metropolitan Opera House, making her the first women, black or white, to open the new Met. In 1952 in London, and in 1953 on Broadway she was praised for her role as “Bess” in the American opera Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin. She was the first black woman to sing opera on television in the United States of America, aired on NBC-TV; she was paired with Italian-American tenor David Poleri in Tosca on January 23, 1955, it was interracial, enraging many NBC-TV Southern state affiliates who refused to air the opera, cancelling the broadcast; it was followed The Magic Flute, January 15, 1956, also on NBC-TV. Throughout her career she refused to sing for segregated audiences in the South. Leontyne has received countless awards and accolades including The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964; the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1965; won 2 Emmy Awards; the Kennedy Center Honors in 1980; the National Medal of Arts in 1985; and on October 31, 2008, she was one of the recipients of the first Opera Honors given by the National Endowment for the Arts. She has earned the most Grammy Awards in Classical Music, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and is known as “The Voice of the Century.”
Gloria Richardson (May 6, 1922): An African-American civil rights activist who is best known as the leader of the Cambridge Movement, a civil rights struggle in Cambridge, Maryland in the early 1960s. She was honored at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963, where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech.
Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson (December 15, 1895 – December 13, 1965): An anthropologist, author, actress, civil rights activist, and the wife and business manager of singer, actor, activist Paul Robeson.
Amelia Boyton Robinson (born August 18, 1911): An African-American leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama, and an important figure in the 1965 march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that became known as Bloody Sunday. In 1990, she was awarded the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal. In 2014, she was portrayed by Lorraine Toussaint in Ava DuVernay’s film SELMA. Amelia, at 103 years old, was unable to travel to see the film, Paramount Pictures set up a private screening in her home to include her friends and family. On January 20, 2015, she attended the State of the Union Address delivered by President Barack Obama.
Jo Ann Robinson (April 17, 1912 – August 29, 1992): An African-American educator and civil rights activist in Montgomery, Alabama. On the night of December 1, 1955, with the permission of Rosa Parks, she stayed up throughout the night to mimeographing 52,500 handbills calling for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. The Boycott was initially planned to be for just the following Monday on December 5th; after passing out the leaflets, and the success of the one-day Boycott, black citizens decided to continue the Boycott and established the Montgomery Improvement Association to focus their efforts for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962): A white-American politician, diplomat, and activist. She was the longest-serving First Lady of the United States, holding the post from March 1933 to April 1945 during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 4 terms in office. She became an important connection for her husband’s administration to the African-American population during the segregation era. Eleanor was vocal in her support of the early African-American civil right movement, and broke with precedent by inviting hundreds of African American guests to the White House. When the black opera singer Marian Anderson was denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall in 1939 by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) she resigned from the group in protest and helped arrange another concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She later presented Marian Anderson to the King and Queen of the United Kingdom after Anderson performed at a White House dinner. The First Lady also arranged the appointment of African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune, with whom she had struck up a friendship, as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. To avoid problems with the staff when Bethune would visit the White House, Eleanor would meet her at the gate, embrace her, and walk in with her arm-in-arm. The First Lady also supported The Black Cabinet, which was first known as the Federal Council of Negro Affairs. By mid-1935, there were 45 African Americans working in Federal Executive Departments and New Deal agencies.
Hazel Scott (June 11, 1920 – October 2, 1981): An African-American internationally known and prominent Jazz and Classical pianist, singer, and activist, who was married to married Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. She was the first African American to have her own television show, The Hazel Scott Show, which premiered on the DuMont Television Network on July 3, 1950. she also performed as herself in several films. To evade oppression and the political persecution of artists in the McCarthy era, she moved to Paris in the late 1950s and performed in France, not returning to the United States until 1967.
Betty Shabazz (born Betty Dean Sanders; May 28, 1934 – June 23, 1997): An African-American educator, civil rights advocate, and the wife of Malcolm X.
Mamie Elizabeth Till—Mobley (born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan; November 23, 1921 – January 6, 2003): She was the mother of Emmett Till, whose murder mobilized the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, at the age of 14, after being accused of acting inappropriately with a white woman. For her son’s funeral in Chicago, Mamie Till insisted that the casket containing his body be left open, because, in her words, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.”
Sojourner Truth (1797 – November 26, 1883): An African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, who was born into slavery. Her lifetime devotion led to the modern day Civil Rights Movement.
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – March 10, 1913): An African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, a Union spy during the American Civil War, and a post-war women’s suffrage. She born into slavery and escaped she subsequently made about thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
Madame CJ Walker (born Sarah Breedlove; December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919): An African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and the first female self-made millionaire in America. She made her fortune by developing and marketing a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women under the company she founded, Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Shortly before her death in 1919 she pledged $5,000, which was equivalent to about $65,000 in today’s dollars, to the NAACP’s anti-lynching fund.
Ida B. Well—Barnett (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931): An African-American journalist, an investigative journalist, newspaper editor, women’s suffragist, sociologist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She documented lynching in the United States, showing that it was often used as a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites, rather than being based in criminal acts by blacks, as was usually claimed by white mobs. In 1895, Wells married Ferdinand Barnett; she was one of the first married American women to keep her own last name as well as taking her husband’s. She established several notable women’s organizations during the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
“4 Little Girls” (Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carol Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson): The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing on September 15, 1963, known as The Birmingham Church Bombing, killed four little girls in Alabama, and injuring others.
The “Little Rock 9” (six of nine were girls: Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals): The Little Rock Nine a group of nine African-American students who enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas entering the school on September 25, 1957 under the protection of federal troops, these children were able to complete a full day of classes, thus becoming standard bearers for a civil-rights movement that would change the nation.
Above is a small fraction of names. There are countless men, women, and children who devoted their lives to the movement, and many who lost their lives. It would be nearly impossible to name them all, but to each of them we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ruby Dee & Ossie Davis; Gina Belafonte, daughter of Harry Belfonte; and Attalah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X & Betty Shabazz. Photograph by Lisa Pacino, 2012.
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