Do you know these names? They are a few of the integral women of the American Civil Rights Movements.
Ella began working for the NAACP in 1938 and her work with the Civil Rights movement spanned 5 decades. She worked with the prominent leaders of the movement, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. She was involved in Montgomery Bus Boycott, was a staffer for the Crusade for Citizenship (a voter registration camp), worked for student de-segregation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She died in 1986, but was honored with a US Postage Stamp in 2009. One of Ms. Baker’s most famous quotes: “Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.”
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie’s activism started in the 50s organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer and became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. Fannie was deeply religious and soft-spoken and often used Bible verses in her speeches. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965. She worked at a grassroots level as well, and helped start Head Start, the Freedom Farm Cooperative, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Poor People’s Campaign. Fannie died of breast cancer in 1977. Ms. Hamer’s most famous quote is: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Septima Poinsette Clark
Septima was born in 1898 and was an educator as well as a civil rights activist. Her father was born a slave and after the Civil War he worked as a caterer. Her mother refused to let Septima become a domestic for a white family. Instead, Septima graduated from high school and became an educator without a college education at that time. In 1919, Septima taught at Avery Normal Institute, in Charleston, S.C., a private academy in for black children. It was here Septima started her work with the NAACP. She then went on to earn her Bachelors and Masters degrees and worked with noted Civil Rights Activist, W.E.B. Du Bois. Septima is most known for starting Citizenship Schools which taught black adults in the Deep South how to read. Septima worked with many health organizations. In 1979, President Carter award Septima with a Living Legacy Award. Septima died in 1987. Her most famous quote: “I have a great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.”
Coretta Scott King
Coretta was the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Coretta was part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped pass the Voting Rights Act in 1964. Her most prominent role in the movement was after her husband was murdered as she continued his work and his legacy as the new leader of the movement. As a new leader of the movement she founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and broadened her focus to include women’s issues, LGBT rights, economic issues, world peace, racism, poverty, and war. Coretta was a published author and educator. In the 1980s Coretta worked to end apartheid in South Africa. Ms. King died in 2006 and was eulogized by former President Jimmy Carter. My most favorite Coretta Scott King quote: “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”
Ruby was born in 1954 in New Orleans. In 1960, Ruby’s parents answered the call from the NAACP and volunteered to have Ruby integrated in the New Orleans school system. She is known as the first African American child at an all-white elementary school in the South. Ruby walked to school every day despite protests from parents, citizens, and backlash the landed her father jobless and her share-cropper grandparents turned off their land. Can you imagine how brave Ruby must have been? Can you imagine that courage of that 6 year old girl? I can’t think of Ms. Bridges without tears coming to my eyes. Ruby currently lives in New Orleans and there have been many books written about her and movies created about her life. My favorite Ruby Bridges quote: “I now know that experience comes to us for a purpose, and if we follow the guidance of the spirit within us, we will probably find that the purpose is a good one.”
Diane was born in Chicago and attended Howard University. She was a part of the most successful act of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement – The Freedom Rides. As a college student, Diane was successful in desegregating lunch counters in Nashville, TN. Her activism did not stop there. When the Freedom Riders decided to cut their rides short (because of outrageous violence and deaths), Diane, and other Nashville college students, promptly decided they would finish the trip. Her courageous act caught national attention. Robert F. Kennedy, himself, begged her to stop (fearing more violence and deaths). Her response was to say everyone who was going on the Freedom Rides had signed their last Will and Testament the night before. Diane was also integral in the Selma Campaign (a non-violent Army to combat church bombings), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and has been the subject of two books and numerous documentaries. Diane continues to advocate for the civil rights, the rights of the poor and impoverished, and for the rights of children. My most favorite quote of Ms. Nash’s is: “Every time I participated in segregation, like going into a ‘colored’s only’ bathroom, I felt like I was agreeing that I was inferior. And I’m not inferior.”
To find out more about these remarkable women, click the links on their names above, or check out this article.