Introduction - Civil Rights Movement LeadersIn the 1950s and 1960s several brave and determined men and women emerged as black civil rights movement leaders. Sometimes their methods and even their goals differed in the fight against racial discrimination. Some of these leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are famous where as others such as Hosea Williams and James L. Farmer Jr. are less well known. All these leaders took great risk and a few even lost their lives in the fight for civil rights. On this page is a list of many of these civil rights leaders with a few interesting facts about each; including who they were, why they were important, and how they were involved in the fight for civil rights. Whether you are an adult interested in learning who the important civil rights movement leaders were or a kid writing a report for Black History Month, you should find this information helpful.
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List of Black Civil Rights Movement Leaders
- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) - was the most famous leader of the black civil rights movement. He was a Baptist minister who preached the importance of using nonviolent civil disobedience to fight against discrimination. He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. He was the chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an American federal holiday celebrating his birthday; it is observed annually on the third Monday of January.
- Malcolm X (1925 - 1965) - was an extremely influential and controversial leader of the civil rights movement. Unlike Martin Luther King Jr. who believed in nonviolent civil disobedience, Malcolm X believed black people should fight discrimination "by any means necessary". He was assassinated on February 21st of 1965.
- A. Philip Randolph (1889 - 1979) - a leader in the March on Washington in 1963. Prior to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s he organized and led the first mostly African American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He also helped end segregation in the U.S. armed forces.
- James L. Farmer Jr. (1920 - 1999) - helped organize and was a leader of the first Freedom Ride in 1961. This ride, and the ones to follow, challenged the non-enforcement, in many southern states, of desegregation laws on public buses.
- Dorothy Height (1912 - 2010) - was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for forty years and was awarded both the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom for her civil rights work.
- Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987) - was an important advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. and with King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
- John Lewis (Born 1940) - played an important part in the fight to end racial discrimination and segregation. He was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963. This important leader helped plan the famous March on Washington which took place in 1963. He is currently a U.S. Congressman representing the 5th District of Georgia.
- Whitney M. Young (1921 - 1971) - transformed the National Urban League into an extremely important civil rights organization and served as its president from 1961 until he passed away in 1971.
- Hosea Williams (1926 - 2000) - was a trusted member of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s inner circle. King depended on him to organize and lead protest in their battle against racial discrimination.
- Julian Bond - (1940 - 2015) - From 1998 to 2010, he was chairman of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1971 he became the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center; serving in that role up until 1979.
- Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 - 1977) - was an important leader in the fight for civil rights. She worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.