Black History month is the time to highlight and reflect upon the actions and words of those influential leaders that have made such a significant impact on behalf of the black community. These civil rights leaders have brought a huge amount of change to the course of history through their determination, their ability to lead, and through their intense level of activism.
Some of them, such as the revered Martin Luther King Jr., became known throughout the world for their deeds, but others remain as unsung heroes and are not generally included in history textbooks. However, their contributions are still vastly important to the ongoing struggle for equality and are deserving of remembrance. With that said, here are the top ten best African American Civil Rights leaders.
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Here are some of the 10 Best African American Civil Rights Leaders ever
10. Whitney M. Young
Whitney Young was a highly educated man who attended the University of Kentucky and even earned a Master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. From 1961 to 1971 he was the president of the National Urban League. His contributions to civil rights include the transformation of the Urban League and the act of bringing it to the forefront of the civil rights movement. Within four years time of becoming the president he took the League from a mere 38 employees to well over 1,600, a monumental jump that was lauded in his time but has been largely forgotten to this day.
9. Roy Wilkins
Wilkins took over the position of executive director the NAACP in the early to mid-1960’s. During that time the NAACP was seen to play a very important role in a host of extremely crucial victories that were won by the civil rights movement. This includes the infamous Brown vs. Board of Education that is still taught to school children in this day and age. Other victories such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are also noteworthy accomplishments of the NAACP under Wilkins’ leadership. Despite these victories Wilkins’ name was lost to history, though he is still able to be found if one looks hard enough.
8. A. Philip Randolph
Randolph was in his time a prominent leader among the civil rights movement and the labor organizing movement. He was also responsible for organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was at that time the first majority-black labor union. He was the one that actually led the march on Washington alongside Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. This was the same march where Martin Luther King Jr. would utter his famous “I have a dream” speech that would endure for so many generations afterward. Randolph is one of the many who have been relegated to the status of an unknown, but he at least was there during the making history.
7. James L. Farmer Jr.
Another man who served alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Farmer led and even organized the 1961 Freedom Ride on numerous buses that ran throughout the American South. This helped to pave the way for the desegregation of buses across the United States. He was also responsible for co-founding the Committee of Racial Equality in Chicago along with George Houser and Bernice Fisher. On top of this he was also known as one of the Big Four civil rights leaders in the 1960’s. His name was often lumped together with Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young. Like the latter two he was left largely unsung by history.
6. Martin Luther King Jr.
He is by far the best known name on this list largely because of the great stir he caused with his “I have a dream” speech and the impact he had upon the nation far and wide. His ideals and his actions were driven by the highest of morals and the absolute need for social change. King was a man that clung heavily to his beliefs and his moral code and did not bend for the likes of anyone when it came to the civil liberties that he wanted for his people. He was without a doubt an inspiration that had much help in his push forward but was unusually gracious to those who walked with him for every step of the way.
5. Gloria Richardson
Despite her staunch position in history, Richardson was at first rarely seen to participate in civil disobedience mainly because she could not bring herself to accept the SNCC nonviolence regulations. Despite this however she became highly influential when it came to founding the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee. She was so well-thought of that she eventually became the first female spokesperson of the committee.
This committee worked to desegregate Cambridge, MD throughout the years, and was one of the greatest acts of the civil rights movement. To honor her work, Richardson was invited to be one of the women that were included in the March on Washington’s “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom”.
4. Hosea Williams
As part of the inner circle that revolved around Martin Luther King Jr., Williams was a leader of the SCLC along with many others, King included. His role was very important in the demonstrations that were held in St. Augustine, Florida. He also led the first attempt at a march in 1965 form Selma to Montgomery and was part of the crowd that was beaten and subjected to massive amounts of tear gas. Despite the physical assaults this eventually led to the accomplishment of the movement known as the Voting Acts Right of 1965. After leaving the SCLC Williams was influential in the support of strikes that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia.
3. John Lewis
John Lewis is a civil rights leader and longtime politician that is currently serving as a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional district. He served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963 and helped to plan the March on Washington. He is also one of the heroes of the vaunted “Bloody Sunday” of 1965 that took place in Selma, Atlanta. He is considered to be one of the last living “Big Six” that can date back to the civil rights era. Like so many others on this list he is remembered for his accomplishments but is largely unsung.
2. Bayard Rustin
Rustin was another leader of the civil rights movement that helped to organize the March on Washington. He was seen with Martin Luther King Jr. quite often and even advised King on Gandhian civil disobedience tactics. He and King even managed to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Rustin was also an activist for socialism and gay rights as well, showing diversity and a truly caring demeanor as he continued his crusade for equality and justice. He was even a stage singer during the earlier part of his life, though he manage to gain far more notoriety as an activist for civil rights.
1. Dorothy Height
On top of being an educator, Height was the president of the National Council of Negro Women for roughly 40 years. She proved to be a strong and astute leader in both civil rights and the reproductive rights movements throughout her long and productive career, and she was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the Congressional Gold Medal. Not only was her career highlighted by so many wondrous achievements, she was also well known to be listened to by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and even Lyndon B. Johnson. To say that she had a long and successful career is putting it mildly.
Thinking upon how often these individuals are forgotten and relegated to the unknown annals of American history is almost an insult to their memory. But in reality they are not too hard to find if one knows where to look, and their legacy has already been well-secured throughout the many actions they’ve taken and the words they’ve spoken during the course of their lives. They are living proof that sometimes the best claim to fame is the legacy you work so hard to leave behind.