Civil Rights Leaders

By Larena Tannert

The hard-won advancements of the civil rights movement were only possible because of the struggle, commitment, and work of the people who stood up to discrimination. People look to these heroes from the past for inspiration as they carry their important work into the future.

W.E.B Du Bois: W.E.B. Du Bois was a founding member of NAACP and one of the foremost Black intellectuals of his era. Du Bois published many influential works describing the plight of Black Americans and encouraged Black people to embrace their African heritage even as they worked and lived in the United States.

Mary White Ovington: Mary White Ovington was deeply involved in two of the most important movements of the 20th century: civil rights and women’s suffrage. A 1908 article about race riots drove her to rally other leaders and activists to start NAACP.

Thurgood Marshall: Thurgood Marshall was one of America’s foremost attorneys. As chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he led the legal fight against segregation, argued the historic 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, and ultimately became the nation’s first Black Supreme Court Justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.: No figure is more closely identified with the mid-20th century struggle for civil rights than Martin Luther King Jr. His adoption of nonviolent resistance to achieve equal rights for Black Americans earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. King is remembered for his masterful speeches and wording, most memorably his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Charles Hamilton Houston: The first general counsel of NAACP, Charles Hamilton Houston exposed the hollowness of the “separate but equal” doctrine and paved the way for the Supreme Court ruling outlawing school segregation. The legal brilliance used to undercut the “separate but equal” principle and champion other civil rights cases earned Houston the name “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow.”

Medgar Evers: Throughout his short life, Medgar Evers heroically spoke out against racism in the deeply divided South. He fought against cruel Jim Crow laws, protested segregation in education, and launched an investigation into the Emmett Till lynching. In addition to playing a role in the civil rights movement, he served as the NAACP’s first field officer in Mississippi.