Calling the civil rights activist — wherever you may be. We need you now.
Why” To combat the rise in hate crimes experienced worldwide. Data from multiple sources suggest this is so, not just info from news accounts about egregious crimes. The latest being the terror attacks on two New Zealand mosques, killing 50 and injuring 50.
We need the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and many of the men and women in his orbit. We know a lot about the civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, for example. And Julian Bond and Andrew Young, too. But, there are many more ’60s – ’80s black civil rights activist heroes. Most all of these heroes were assertive, yet nonviolent, agents for change and justice. The one exception for sure is Dag Hammarskjold whose United Nations peacekeepers around the world had to defend themselves. Sadly, with armed force on occasion.
Civil Rights Activist Heroines
These short bios are adapted from from here and here. We start with the women heroines or sheroes because not as much “ink has been spilt” regarding them compared to the men.
Correta Scott King (1927-2006)
Ms. King was an American author, civil rights activist, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. King helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. She was an active advocate for African-American equality. King met her husband while attending graduate school in Boston. They both became increasingly active in the American Civil Rights Movement. She was also a singer, and often incorporated music into her civil rights work.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Often referred to as “the mother of the civil rights movement,” Rosa Parks, a seamstress, put a spotlight on racial injustice when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955. Her arrest and resulting conviction for violating segregation laws launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which was led by Dr. King and boasted 17,000 black participants.
The year-long boycott ended in December 1956 following a U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring Montgomery’s segregated seating unconstitutional. During that time, Parks lost her job and, in 1957, relocated to Detroit, where she served on Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr.’s staff and remained active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910–1985)
The writings of The Rev. Dr. Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray were a cornerstone of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 Supreme Court case that ended school segregation, but the lawyer, Episcopal priest, pioneering civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Organization for Women wouldn’t be made aware of that extraordinary accomplishment until a decade after the fact.
As a lawyer, Murray argued for civil rights and women’s rights. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray’s 1950 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, the “bible” of the civil rights movement. Murray served on the 1961–1963 Presidential Commission on the Status of Women, being appointed by John F. Kennedy. In 1966 she was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women. Ruth Bader Ginsburg named Murray as a coauthor of a brief on the 1971 case Reed v. Reed, in recognition of her pioneering work on gender discrimination. This case articulated the “failure of the courts to recognize sex discrimination for what it is and its common features with other types of arbitrary discrimination.” Murray held faculty or administrative positions at the Ghana School of Law, Benedict College, and Brandeis University.
In 1973, Murray left academia for activities associated with the Episcopal Church. She became an ordained priest in 1977, among the first generation of women priests.
In addition to her legal and advocacy work, Murray published two well-reviewed autobiographies and a volume of poetry. Her volume of poetry, Dark Testament, was republished in 2018. Yale University recently named a residential college after Ms. Murray.
Civil Rights Activist Heroes
Ralph Abernathy (1926-1990)
Rev.Ralph David Abernathy Sr. was an American civil rights activist and Christian minister. As a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a close friend and mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.. He collaborated with King to create the Montgomery Improvement Association which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He also co-founded and was an executive board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He became president of the SCLC following the assassination of King in 1968, where he led the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. among other marches and demonstrations for disenfranchised Americans. He also served as an advisory committee member of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE).
Roy Wilkins (1901-1981)
Roy Wilkins served as assistant NAACP secretary under Walter Francis White in the early 1930s and succeeded W.E.B. Du Bois as the editor of the organization’s official magazine, Crisis, in 1934. During Wilkins’ tenure, the NAACP played a major role in civil rights victories, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A subscriber to the philosophy that reform is best achieved via legislation, Wilkins testified before Congress multiple times and also consulted for several U.S. presidents. Among the watershed events he participated in: the 1963 March on Washington, 1965’s “Bloody Sunday” Selma to Montgomery march and the March Against Fear in 1966.
John Lewis (1940- )
John Lewis, who’s served as a Georgia congressman since 1986, learned about nonviolent protest while studying at Nashville’s American Baptist Theological Seminary and went on to organize sit-ins at segregated lunch counters. Eventually earning the title of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Alabama native was beaten and arrested while participating in the 1961 Freedom Rides.
After speaking at the 1963 March on Washington, he led a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 7, 1965. During what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” state police violently attacked the marchers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Lewis suffered a fractured skull. The day’s horrific images led President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Lewis has been in the U.S. Congress for decades.
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
Bayard Rustin was a close adviser to Dr. King beginning in the mid-1950s who assisted with organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott and played a key role in orchestrating the 1963 March on Washington. He’s also credited with teaching King about Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophies of peace and tactics of civil disobedience.
After moving to New York in the 1930s, he was involved in many early civil rights protests, including one against North Carolina’s segregated public transit system that resulted in his arrest. (Rustin was eventually sentenced to work on a chain gang.) An openly gay man, Rustin also advocated for LGBT rights
Aside from heading prominent Civil Rights era organization, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), James Farmer also organized the 1961 Freedom Rides, which eventually led to interstate travel desegregation. The Howard University graduate was also a follower of Gandhi’s philosophies and applied their principles to his own acts of nonviolent civil resistance.
Hosea Williams (1926-2000)
Hosea Williams joined Savannah’s chapter of the NAACP in 1952. Twelve years later, he joined King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference as an officer, assisting with black voter registration drives in the Freedom Summer of 1964.
Along with John Lewis, he also played a leadership role in the 1965 March to Montgomery that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” That same year, King appointed him president of the SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education.
Williams, who witnessed King’s 1968 assassination, was elected to the Georgia State Assembly in 1974.
Painting of Heroes series
Some of the paintings of my Heroes Series can be found here. Others, like those listed below, include Asian and Caucasian heroes.
They can be viewed at an upcoming art exhibit featuring such titles as:
Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) and Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Laywer, Civil Rights activist, and “Father” of modern India who was greatly influenced by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
Ralph Bunche (1904-1971)
Scholar, UN Founder, Diplomat (Nobel Prize)
Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961)
Second UN Secretary-General, inventor of UN peacekeeping.
These paintings are on exhibit at the Adams Gallery starting Sunday, March 24, 2019 through April 21. The Opening of the Group Show will feature champagne, music, and food. I’ll be there along with other artists.
10 Irwin Way, Orinda, CA —up the hill from the fire station & Safeway. M-Th 8:30am – 4:00pm & by appt 925 254-4906.To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.
Allison Rogers says
I read your article hoping to find the HOW of helping with civil rights activism today. Honestly, I’ve been looking for answers as to how I can contribute in time and effort (not money) to promoting civil rights. Every time I think I’ve come across an article or site promoting activism, I’m asked for money and not given direction. I’m interested in any suggestions or direction you might offer. Thanks.
Start small and start local, if you haven’t already. Get involved with any action you hear (often on TV news) that moves you. And of course, tactfully call out people for any racist, retro speech or behavior.