50 Black SheRoes: Part 4, Civil Rights Leaders

Part 4: Civil Rights Leaders   The pioneers featured for today are not just limited to the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s. During and after slavery, black women were visible advocates for our equal rights. Hopefully this list will inspire you to take part in the ongoing fight that exists today in your local communities.  

 

Mary Church Terrell Constance Baker Motley

The Little Rock Nine with their advisor, Daisy Bates

 

  • Sojourner Truth – abolitionist, women’s rights proponent, minister, lecturer. Her most famous speech, Ain’t I a Woman?, was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
  • Harriet Tubman – abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the Civil War. After escaping to freedom, Tubman made 13 rescue missions and helped 70 other slaves to escape along the Underground Railroad.
  • Mary McLeod Bethune – educator and civil rights leader. Bethune started the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1904. This school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, and is now known as Bethune-Cookman University. Next, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. She also served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Mary Church Terrell – one of the first black women to earn a college degree. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1884, and went on to earn a Master’s degree from Oberlin in 1888. Terrell worked closely with Frederick Douglass on civil rights campaigns, and was also an active member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1896, Terrell became the founder and first president of the National Association of Colored Women. And in 1909 she was a founding member of the NAACP.
  • Constance Baker Motley – civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, and state senator for . During her legal career she worked as the lead trial attorney for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Motley wrote the original complaint for the Brown v. Board of Education case, and was the first black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She was a key legal strategist in the civil rights movement, helping to desegregate Southern schools, buses, and lunch counters. She was the first black woman elected to New York State Senate in 1964. In 1966 Motley became the first black woman to serve as a federal judge.
  • Women of the Little Rock Nine -Elizabeth Eckford, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Beals integrated Little Rock High School in 1957. Segregationists protested and Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to form a blockade and prevent the black students from entering the school. The group was later awarded the Spingarn Medal and Congressional Gold Medal for their courage.
  • Daisy Bates – civil rights leader, journalist, publisher, and author. In 1941 she and her husband started their own newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, which became a voice for civil rights issues before a formal movement began. In 1952, Bates was elected president of the Arkansas State Conference of NAACP branches. She advised the Little Rock Nine during their desegregation of Little Rock High School. The Bates’ involvement in the Little Rock Crisis resulted in the loss of much advertising revenue to their newspaper and it was forced to close in 1959. She continued to work in her community. The state of Arkansas honored her by declaring the third Monday in February “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” an official state holiday.
  • Fannie Lou Hamer – outspoken voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She organized voter registration drives throughout the South and was Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She also organized the Freedom Summer of 1963. Hamer attended the Democratic National Covention in 1964 as a delegate. Two of her famous slogans are “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” and “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

 

Tommorrow is the final segment, Part 5: Historical Firsts.

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