Ralph Abernathy (1926-1990)
was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. He worked closely with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Montgomery Improvement Association that oversaw the Montgomery bus boycott. After King’s assassination in April 1968, Abernathy assumed leadership of the SCLC, and would serve until 1977. He was instrumental in organizing the Poor People’s Campaign in May 1968, the last mass demonstration organized by King and the SCLC. Abernathy served as pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta from 1961 until 1990, the year of his death.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/abernathy_ralph.htm

back to top

Marion Barry (b. 1936)
was an important civil rights activist during the student sit-ins. He was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, and as a young man worked in the cotton fields. Barry pursued graduate study in chemistry and served for a short time as the first national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. He worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC and participated in the lunch counter sit-in demonstrations of the early 60s. In 1965, Barry moved to Washington, D.C., and began a career as an elected official, serving as mayor for four terms.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/barry_marion.htm

back to top

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Touré, 1941-1998)
was a civil rights activist, born in Trinidad. He joined SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) while a student at Howard University. In 1961 he participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate public transportation in the South. Carmichael also participated (as did Fannie Lou Hamer) in the Mississippi Freedom Project to register black voters and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to protest the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention (DNC). He became the national director of SNCC in 1966. Under his leadership, SNCC became critical of the nonviolent, integrationist strategies of the older generation of civil rights activists. Inspired by pan-Africanism and the teachings of Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, and Ahmed Sekou Touré, Carmichael issued a call for "Black Power," a philosophy encouraging black pride and economic self-reliance. He unsuccessfully tried to merge SNCC and the Black Panther Party. In 1969, Carmichael moved to Conakry, Guinea, where he became an aide to Prime Minister Touré. Carmichael lived there until his death.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/carmichael_stokely.html

back to top

Septima Clark (1898-1987)
was one of the most influential female leaders of the civil rights movement. She conducted citizenship classes and taught nonviolent civil disobedience at the renowned Highlander Folk School in Tennessee (which Rosa Parks attended in 1955). After serving more than two decades in various positions in the NAACP, Clark rose to national prominence as the director of education at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In this position, she ran the Voting Education Project, which set up "citizenship schools" across the country in 1961. The schools sought not only to provide literacy training and education for black Americans who had been barred from voting, but also to teach leadership and civic participation to bolster the civil rights movement.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/clark_septima.htm

back to top

Medgar Evers (1925-1963)
was a civil rights activist, who was influential in expanding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the South. Born in Decatur, Mississippi, and the son of sharecroppers, Evers started organizing NAACP branches when he was a high school student. In 1954, he became the first full-time field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi, in which role he campaigned tirelessly to desegregate schools and register black people to vote. Refusing to be deterred by the escalating racial violence directed at him, Evers led voter registration drives in Mississippi. While walking up his driveway, and in front of his family, Evers was shot and killed on June 12, 1963, by a member of a white supremacist group.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/evers_medger.htm

back to top

James Farmer (1920-1999)
was one of the most influential civil rights activists committed to Gandhian nonviolence since the early days of the civil rights movement. Farmer was one of the founding members of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942. In 1961, Farmer became its national director and organized the Mississippi Freedom Rides that brought young activists from the North on an interracial campaign throughout the South to fight segregated transportation facilities. As CORE became increasingly militant, Farmer resigned in 1966. President Nixon appointed him Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Leaving politics for academe, Farmer taught on the faculty of several universities until his retirement.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/farmer_james.htm

back to top

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
was one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement. Hamer had been a sharecropper, with no more than a sixth-grade education. She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962 to promote voter registration in the South. In 1964 Hamer became one of the key organizers of the Mississippi Freedom Project, whose goal was to register black voters. To maintain the morale and courage of her fellow activists, Hamer sang Christian hymns that soon became associated with the freedom struggle. In 1964, Hamer also organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to protest the all-white Mississippi delegation that would attend the Democratic National Convention (DNC). At the credentials meeting of the DNC in 1964, Hamer delivered a nationally televised speech on racial injustice and terror inflicted upon civil rights activists. She herself was among them, having been left crippled after a severe beating by police in jail. By 1968, Hamer was elected to a seat on the Mississippi delegation to the DNC. Her epitaph repeats one of her best known sayings, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/hamer_fannie.htm

back to top

Fred Hampton (1948-1969)
was born and raised in Chicago. Hampton was the youth coordinator for the Chicago West Suburban Branch of the NAACP before heading the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. As its leader, Hampton was influential in the community, starting the Chicago free breakfast program and most impressively heading the nonaggression pact between the gangs of Chicago, creating a class-conscious, multiracial alliance between gang leaders and the Panthers. On December 4, 1969, Hampton was murdered in his sleep during an FBI raid of Hampton and his girlfriend’s apartment.

back to top

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996),
the daughter of a minister, was raised in Texas. Jordan became the first black American woman elected in a Southern state to serve in the House of Representatives. She served in the House from 1973 to 1979 and was a vital member of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment hearings against President Nixon. During the hearings in the House, Jordan made an unforgettable speech about upholding the U.S. Constitution that remains influential. "'We, the people.' It is a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed, on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that 'We, the people.' I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in 'We, the people.'" She was the keynote speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. She died from the effects of multiple sclerosis.

back to top

Maulana Karenga (b. 1941 as Ron Everett)
was a leader in the cultural nationalism movement of the late 1960s. He is best known as the creator of Kwanzaa, a festival to celebrate the African heritage of blacks. He also founded the US Movement, a black cultural nationalist organization that emphasized a connection to an African past and a collective cultural identity that revolutionized dress, hair and language during the late 1960s. Karenga earned both his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Los Angeles, and his Ph.D. from International University in 1977. Since the 1970's, Karenga has been an influential advocate of Black Studies programs nationally, and has written several influential books in the field. He is currently professor and Chair of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

back to top

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
was one of the most important leaders of the civil rights movement. Reverend King was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929 to a father who was a pastor. After earning a Ph.D. in theology from Boston University, King married Coretta Scott in 1953. They moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Church. Soon after the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, local clergy and civil rights activists formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to organize the bus boycott that lasted almost one year and stunned the nation. As MIA president, King emerged as a natural leader during the boycott. At a meeting in Atlanta in 1957, with 60 ministers and civil rights activists representing 10 Southern states, King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). It was a regional organization of churches and grass-roots organizations, whose goal was to teach nonviolent protest against racial segregation throughout the South. In 1963, King (like Bayard Rustin) was one of the main organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which he delivered his famous speech, "I Have a Dream." By 1967, King had become an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. In 1968, King began to focus his attention on economic problems. With the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King began planning a poor people’s campaign to take place in Washington, D.C. He also went down to Memphis, Tennessee, to support the black sanitation workers who were striking for higher wages. In Memphis, he delivered an unforgettable speech in which he declared, "We've got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop." The next evening, King was assassinated. His death sparked outrage and grief as well as urban rebellions nationwide. King remains an important symbol of the civil rights movement to this day.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/biography/index.html

back to top

Huey P. Newton (1942-1989)
was a co-founder of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Newton’s parents had been members of the NAACP. While attending Oakland City College in California, Newton was attracted to revolutionary intellectuals such as Franz Fanon, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. In 1966, Newton and fellow student Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party. They issued a party platform, the Ten-Point Plan, that demanded economic rights (employment and housing) and promoted Black Nationalism and self-determination. Newton was influential in establishing the free breakfast programs that fed hundreds of school children across the nation. In 1968, as the FBI became more and more involved in disrupting the activities of the BPP, Newton was convicted of the voluntary manslaughter of a police officer. Newton received popular support on college campuses. In 1970, the case was dropped due to multiple mistrials. After the demise of the BPP, Newton went on to earn a Ph.D. He was shot and killed by a drug dealer in 1989.

back to top

Edgar Daniel Nixon (1899-1987)
was a labor leader and civil rights activist. Nixon was influential in grass-roots activism in Montgomery, Alabama, decades before the Montgomery bus boycott (December 5, 1955 - December 20, 1956). In the 1920s and 1930s, Nixon had helped A. Philip Randolph organize fellow railway workers into a union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Nixon also helped establish local branches of the NAACP throughout Alabama. In 1955, Nixon, as president of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, worked with the all-black Women’s Political Council to develop a strategy to end segregation on Montgomery buses. Having worked with Rosa Parks, as her mentor, for many years on civil-rights issues, Nixon and other activists identified Rosa Parks as a good candidate for challenging the segregated buses. They were confident that Parks would persevere in the struggle and attract public support. After Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, Nixon called on a group of local ministers, including a young and relatively unknown Martin Luther King Jr. to support and help organize the community in a formal boycott. Nixon nominated King to preside over the Montgomery Improvement Association, which successfully organized the boycott.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/nixon_e_d.htm

back to top

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
was a longtime civil rights activist. Parks's refusal to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man—when other seats were still available—and her arrest by the police of Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, for violating the city's segregation ordinance, not only outraged local blacks, but also sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56. When Parks remained seated on the bus, she did so not from exhaustion (as is commonly believed) but as part of a well-planned protest. A few months earlier, Parks had been trained in nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience at the famed Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Having been active in the NAACP since 1943, Parks was a seasoned activist of many years by the time she refused to give up her seat. Four days after her action and arrest, the Montgomery bus boycott began. The boycott lasted almost a year and is considered a pivotal moment, if not the catalyst, for the civil-rights movement. Parks remained an activist throughout the civil-rights movement.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/parks_rosa.htm

back to top

A. Philip Randolph (1898-1979)
was an important labor organizer and civil rights advocate, whose activism spanned much of the twentieth century. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which organized the rail workers at Pullman Palace Car Company, one of the major employers of black rail workers in the country. By 1937, the Brotherhood won a labor contract with Pullman. In 1941, when Randolph threatened to organize a march on Washington to demonstrate against racial discrimination in the defense industry, where an increasing number of blacks were finding employment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order 8802, the Fair Employment Act, barring racial discrimination in federally funded defense industries. Randolph also helped form the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation, which helped convince President Truman to desegregate the armed services in 1948. After becoming the leader of the Negro American Labor Council and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Randolph, with his protégé Bayard Rustin, became one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He remained a staunch supporter of political and economic rights throughout his long life.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/randolph_a_philip.htm

back to top

Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992)
was a civil rights activist throughout her life. Robinson was president of the all-black Women's Political Council (WPC) and an English professor at Alabama State College, when she sent her letter on May 21, 1954, to the mayor of Montgomery, threatening to boycott the city's racially segregated buses. More than a year later, upon hearing of Rosa Parks's arrest for violating segregated seating on a Montgomery bus, Robinson typed a flyer, asking blacks not to ride city buses the next Monday. She and some of her colleagues stayed up most of the night copying thousands of flyers that were then distributed to local churches by Sunday mass.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/robinson_joann.htm

back to top

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
was a key civil rights activist and organizer of several important marches in the 1940s-1960s. He was closely associated with A. Philip Randolph and the strategy of nonviolence. In 1942, Rustin and other young civil rights activists founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), an interracial organization that taught civil disobedience in its branches located in the North. During the Montgomery bus boycott (1955-56), CORE members went to the South to train activists in civil disobedience. Rustin became an important advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. on Gandhian nonviolence, and, in 1963, Rustin organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Throughout his long life, he remained committed to coalition-building and nonviolent protest.

For more information, consult the King Papers Project:
http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/rustin_bayard.htm

back to top

Bobby Seale (b. 1936)
was a co-founder and national chairman of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Seale was influential in developing many of the BPP's community programs. As the FBI increased its infiltration of the BPP, as part of COINTELPRO, Seale was charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot in the wake of the Democratic National Convention, held in 1968. He went on trial, but as a result of a hung jury, he was set free. He continues to be active in freedom struggles.

back to top

Fred Shuttlesworth (b. 1922)
was an Alabama minister, who formed the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in 1956 to challenge segregation laws in Alabama. A year later, Shuttlesworth, along with Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr., and other ministers, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and devoted all of his energy to fighting for freedom and equality. Despite two separate attempts on his life, Shuttlesworth joined the 1961 Freedom Rides and sit-ins, and continued to fight against segregation by militant civil disobedience.

back to top

Roy Wilkins (1901-1981)
became active in the NAACP in the early 1930s. After the famed W.E.B DuBois left the organization, Wilkins took over as the executive editor of The Crisis, the official journal of the NAACP. In 1964, he was nominated to the position of executive director of the national organization. He was instrumental in the NAACP’s campaigns that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

back to top

Robert Williams (1925-1996)
was instrumental in the community activism of Monroe, North Carolina. In Monroe, Williams started the Black Armed Guard, an organization that sought to defend the local black community from the ongoing racial terror of the Ku Klux Klan. After the U.S. government drummed up false kidnapping charges, Williams fled to Cuba, where he continued to fight oppression through his radio show "Radio Free Dixie." His book Negroes with Guns was a significant influence on Black Power leaders.

back to top