Many civil rights leaders have not only stood up against racial inequality towards African Americans, but have in fact helped transform society. Many of these famous leaders in history emerged in the 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak. It was a time when African Americans were treated so poorly that black kids were not even allowed to drink out of the same fountain where other children drank. This article includes a list of some of the most important and influential civil rights activists as well as a brief description of what makes some of these leaders stand out and why they were moved to action.
When we think of Civil Rights leaders Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. all come to mind. There are, however, so many others to acknowledge that have helped change the course of history for the better. During a time when violence was used to intimidate blacks and manage conflicts, most Civil Rights leaders during the 1950s and 1960s chose to fight back with non-violence.
In the most violent state, Mississippi, where the Ku Klux Klan literally got away with murder, Medgar Evers emerged as a memorable Civil Rights Leader. As a decorated war veteran, he was called to action when he applied to law school and was not accepted. He felt that racial discrimination was the reason and filed a lawsuit. He became heavily involved with the NAACP and worked to open new chapters of the organization. His position captured the attention of white supremacists and several attempts were made on his life before he was murdered outside his home.
Nothing was more important to Civil Rights leader, Malcolm X, than fighting for equal rights for all African Americans. Malcolm X was born into an activist family. His father, Earl Little, died at the hands of the Black Legion, a white supremacist organization, for his activism. Malcolm X, then Malcolm Little, was placed in various foster homes and separated from his seven siblings when his mother was unable to cope with the devastating loss of their father. He began a life of crime and spent several years behind bars where he educated himself and changed his life around. He began following the Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. He urged African Americans to fight for their rights and their freedom with whatever means necessary, even if it meant using violence. He eventually met the same fate as his father and was assassinated by a fellow Muslim.
A member of the Black Panther Party and founder of the Chicago chapter, Fred Hampton was dedicated to establishing programs to help school children. He set up programs for free breakfasts for African American children and other community service programs. He also set up free medical aid to those in need. The Black Panthers, however, became more and more notorious for their sometimes violent and criminal behavior. This sparked police raids on the organization. One such raid resulted in the assassination of Fred Hampton with a fatal bullet wound to the head.