5 Civil Rights Leaders You Should Know

Marsha P. Johnson (1945 – 1992)

Marsha P. Johnson is one of the most important people in the LGBTQ liberation movement, especially in New York City, and she was one of the first trans women of color to create and run an organization. She worked tirelessly to create safe spaces for and amplify the voices of transgender people, gay people, sex workers, prisoners, and people with HIV/AIDS. Johnson consistently fought against police brutality with protests and played a big role in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn when the police raided the gay bar in 1969. A year after the protests for the Stonewall Inn started, the first gay pride parade was held in New York City. Johnson also started STAR, in order to provide housing to young and homeless transgender people, she started one of the first LGBTQ youth shelters in the country, and she helped patients with AIDS with the organization, ACT UP.

Baynard Rustin (1912 – 1987)

Baynard Rustin was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, but throughout his life he did not get the recognition he deserved because he was an openly gay man. He fought for gay rights, in part by testifying for the New York State’s Gay Rights Bill and speaking out about social rights for gay people during the Civil Rights Movement. Rustin helped organized a great deal of extremely successful protests with tens of thousands of participants, including early Civil Rights protests in New York, the March on Washington, and protests against the racist public transit system, like the Montgomery bus boycott of 1956 and the “Journey of Reconciliation,” that is considered to be the first of the Freedom Rides to protest segregation on public buses. He consistently used philosophies of nonviolence, was jailed for refusing to register for the draft, cofounded the A. Philip Randolph Institute for African American trade union members, and worked with Randolph to stop racial discrimination in war-related hiring during the second world war.

Daisy bates (1914-1999)

Daisy Bates began her work for the Civil Rights Movement at a very young age, when she started a newspaper called the Arkansas Weekly, where she was both an editor and frequent contributor. This newspaper was exceptional in that it was primarily devoted to reporting the Civil Rights Movement and was created and run by African Americans. Bates was also the president of the NAACP’s chapter in Arkansas later in her life, was a part of many antipoverty projects and the Democratic National Committee for President Johnson, and at the March on Washington, she was one of only woman to speak. One of Bates’ most important accomplishments was the organization of the Little Rock Nine. After the 1954 Supreme Court decision that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, and despite countless threats and racist oppositions, Bates aided nine students in being the first to integrate a high school in Little Rock, escorting them to school and keeping them safe from terrorizing crowds around the school, and she broadcasted the schools that followed desegregation laws in her newspaper.

Dorothy Height (1912-2010)

Dorothy Height is a Civil Rights leader that centralized her activism towards fighting for the equality of African American women. She started her career as a social worker and in 1946 became a part of the nonprofit, YWCA, that fights racism and sexism, and worked on the integration of the centers and created the Center for Racial Justice for the YWCA. Height cofounded the National Women’s Political Caucus and worked to increase voter registration in the south as President of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957. She also helped organize the March on Washington, was appointed to the committee on the Employment of the Handicapped and on the Status of Women, and more committees, plus the National Council for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Height has also earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal. 

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray (1910 – 1985)

In 1977, Reverend Pauli Murray became the first African American woman to become an Episcopal priest, but her work fighting for civil rights began decades before. She fought against segregation on public transport by refusing to comply with racist laws that required her to sit in the back of the bus, which resulted in her arrest in 1940. Throughout her life, multiple universities discriminated against her by refusing her admission or job postings based on her race and gender, so started movements with the NAACP to fight these racist actions that gained national attention. She graduated with a law degree and passed the California Bar in order to become a civil rights lawyer, and she wrote numerous texts including poetry, essays, and books about civil rights. During her studies, she formed the Congress of Racial Equality and later worked on President Kennedy’s Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Rev. Dr. Murray also worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and fought for a bigger role for women of color in the Civil Rights Movement.


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