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Civil Rights Leaders

Getty Images / Contributor / Robert W. Kelley

Civil Rights Leaders

Hungry for more information on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.? Eager to learn about the other great men and women who helped advance the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s? You've come to the right page. Visit the links below to explore the legacies of MLK and others who worked alongside him - his wife, Coretta Scott King; other giants of the movement; singers who gave voice to the struggle and more. Then explore more civil rights leaders at our special Civil Rights Memorial Site.

The Lives Martin Luther King Touched: In King's honor, we are sharing some of the moments in his life that were also key moments in the lives of others. In fact, these events were important enough that they are included in the obituaries for these individuals who shared a moment in time with Dr. King. Read more


Letter from Birmingham Jail: More than fifty years ago, one of the most important letters in American history was written. From his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, King began penning his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. “…I am in Birmingham because Injustice is here. … I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Read more


Coretta Scott King: 20 Facts: Though well-known as King's wife, a role she cherished, she was much more than just a wife and widow. In her honor, we present 20 facts you may not have known about Coretta Scott King: 1. Born April 27, 1927, in Marion, Ala., young Coretta Scott grew up on a farm and picked cotton to help make money for her family. Read more


Ralph Abernathy: King's Right Hand Man: The turning point in Abernathy’s life – and indeed, a turning point for life in America – came on Dec. 1, 1955, when a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus to make way for white riders. She was a coworker of Abernathy’s at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and her arrest led King and Abernathy to form the Montgomery Improvement Association in order to organize a boycott protesting Montgomery’s policy of segregated busing. Read more

Inspired by Rosa Parks: The story of Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus has become a modern-day legend, a story every schoolchild knows by heart. In the years since that 1955 act of defiance, Parks touched the lives of countless citizens and fellow supporters of civil rights. Some of us were inspired from afar, while others proudly met Parks and worked alongside her in the struggle for equal rights. For many, the experience proved so unforgettable that it even made its way into their obituaries. Today, we honor Rosa Parks by meeting some of the people whose lives she forever changed.  Read more

Bayard Rustin: 10 Facts: So important were Rustin's contributions to civil rights that the White House awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 2013. He joined such well-known public figures as Bill Clinton, Sally Ride, Loretta Lynn and Oprah Winfrey in last year's class of 16 Medal of Freedom recipients. Rustin, who died in 1987, isn't as well-known as some of his fellow honorees, but his legacy is well worth remembering. In honor of the man who made the March on Washington happen, we offer 10 facts.  Read more

Thurgood Marshall: 20 Facts: The University of Maryland was Marshall's top choice for law school, but he didn't apply because of the school’s segregation policy. Instead, he studied law at Howard University where he graduated first in his class. Marshall's first big civil rights victory as an attorney, Murray v. Pearson, was against the school he couldn’t attend, the University of Maryland. He successfully challenged their segregation policy, opening the door to equal education for generations of Maryland students.  Read more

Ella Baker: 10 Facts: Baker helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, where she guided students who were leading campus sit-ins to work together as a larger movement. So important was Baker to the committee that she became known as the organization's godmother. Among other initiatives, Baker helped the committee launch the Freedom Rides in 1961. Through it, Baker mentored many of the young people who formed a new generation of civil rights leaders, among them Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichael, Julian Bond, Diane Nash and Bob Moses. Read more

Mahalia Jackson and Civil Rights: Jackson met King in 1956 at the National Baptist Convention. The civil rights movement was about to ramp up and gain its first serious, nationwide attention. King contacted Jackson just a few months after the convention to ask for her help. He was planning a rally to raise money for the Montgomery bus boycott, and he wanted Jackson to sing there – not only to help with fund raising, but also to lift the spirits of the attendees. Jackson agreed, singing, "I've Heard of a City Called Heaven," "Silent Night" and "Move on Up a Little Higher."  Read more

Curtis Mayfield: The Sound of Civil Rights: The year was 1964, King still had four years to live, and the struggle for civil rights was igniting the nation. King’s March on Washington a year earlier had been a success, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approaching passage. And then a song was released, one that perfectly summed up the fight so far and imparted strength to continue the struggle: “Keep on Pushing” by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.  Read more

Civil Rights Pioneers: Two little-known pioneers in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s – just a year apart in age – died within days of each other, in different states, but both have left lasting legacies of triumph through their perseverance. One hopes that they might have heard of each other and gained strength in the other’s fight – both of which took place in 1963. Read more


Civil Rights Giants: Whitney Young worked to effect change from within. As the head of the National Urban League, he turned the organization from a small and cautious one to a leader in the civil rights movement. He worked with major corporations to change their hiring practices, bringing more blacks and women into good jobs. He advised Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, fostering a connection between their office and the civil rights movement. As Nixon said at Young's funeral, "he knew how to accomplish what other people were merely for."  Read more

A Civil Rights Leader: Eddie Brown Jr. began working in human and civil rights in the 1960s and never stopped, according to the news obituary Michelle E. Shaw wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Brown was expelled from Louisiana’s Southern University after participating in a sit-in protesting racial segregation. He soon moved to Washington, D.C., enrolled at Howard University and became a leader and organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Read more