Civil Rights Leaders

Sobiya Azmath

W.E.B. Dubois

Scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He studied at Harvard University and, in 1895, became the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He wrote extensively and was the best known spokesperson for African American rights during the first half of the 20th century. Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. He died in Ghana in 1963.

Beliefs and Goals

While working as a professor at Atlanta University, W.E.B. Du Bois rose to national prominence when he very publicly opposed Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Compromise," an agreement that asserted that vocational education for blacks was more valuable to them than social advantages like higher education or political office. Du Bois criticized Washington for not demanding equality for African Americans, as granted by the 14th Amendment. Du Bois fought what he believed was an inferior strategy, subsequently becoming a spokesperson for full and equal rights in every realm of a person's life.

Events and Activies

Du Bois was an activist as well as an intellectual. In 1905 he helped to found the Niagara Movement, and in 1910, its successor, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As the editor of the NAACP's publication, The Crisis, for some twenty-four years, Du Bois published the work of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and other Harlem Renaissance writers as well as his own increasingly radical opinions.

"Education is that whole system of human training within and without the school house walls, which molds and develops men."

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. King, both a Baptist minister and civil-rights activist, had a seismic impact on race relations in the United States, beginning in the mid-1950s. Among many efforts, King headed the SCLC. Through his activism, he played a pivotal role in ending the legal segregation of African-American citizens in the South and other areas of the nation, as well as the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, among several other honors. King was assassinated in April 1968, and continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, "I Have a Dream."

Events and Activities

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The King family had been living in Montgomery for less than a year when the highly segregated city became the epicenter of the burgeoning struggle for civil rights in America, galvanized by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue for 381 days, placing a severe economic strain on the public transit system and downtown business owners. They chose Martin Luther King Jr. as the protest’s leader and official spokesman.

King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

In his role as SCLC president, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world, giving lectures on nonviolent protest and civil rights as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders. (During a month-long trip to India in 1959, he had the opportunity to meet Gandhi, the man he described in his autobiography as "the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.") King also authored several books and articles during this time.

King Marches for Freedom

Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices African Americans continued to face across the country. Held on August 28 and attended by some 200,000 to 300,000 participants, the event is widely regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the American Civil Rights movement and a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Actof 1964.

The march culminated in King’s most famous address, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial–a monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States—he shared his vision of a future in which "this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" The speech and march cemented King’s reputation at home and abroad; later that year he was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar….it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring”

Rosa Parks

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus spurred a city-wide boycott. She believed in ending segregation on public transportation and abolishing ALL segregationists laws and transcended the self-imposed restrictions of human existenceThe city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses. Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the NAACP's highest award.

Events & Activities

On every other day of her life, Rosa Parks had followed the rules of segregation. However, on December 1, 1955, she decided she was tired of giving in. When a white passenger entered an already full bus, the bus driver asked Rosa Parks and three other African-Americans sitting in her row, to stand up. The others stood up; Rosa Parks remained seated.

Because she would not give up her seat, the bus driver called the police and Rosa Parks was arrested. News of her arrest quickly spread. The NAACP decided to use Rosa Parks to challenge the segregation laws in the courts, while the African-American community of Montgomery, Alabama decided to create a boycott of the buses in an effort to make changes.

Since the rest of the civil rights movement stemmed from what became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks is known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

Malcolm X

Goals & Beliefs

Malcolm X's goal as a child was to become a lawyer, but he was told that he could not become one, as he was black. Later on in life, he joined the nation of Islam, and become a spokesman for the organisation. His main beliefs were that black Americans and white Americans should not be intergrated (not live together). He said that he and his followers should obtain equal rights, by any means possible, which implies he meant through violence (although he never said this). Towards the end of his life (after a pilgrimage to Mecca), he began to aim for a more 'together' America, and had aims similar to those of Martin Luther King, Jr.


In prison, Malcolm X became a member of the Nation Of Islam; after his parole in 1952, he quickly rose to become one of its leaders. For a dozen years, Malcolm X was the public face of the controversial group, but disillusionment with Nation of Islam head Elijha Muhammed led him to leave the Nation in March 1964. After a period of travel in Africa and the Middle East, he returned to the United States, where he founded Muslim Mosque Inc. and the Organization of Afro- American Unity . In February 1965, less than a year after leaving the Nation of Islam, he was assassinated by three members of the group.

Malcolm X's expressed beliefs changed substantially over time. As a spokesman for the Nation of Islam he taught Black supremacy and advocated seperation of black and white Americans—in contrast to the Civil Rights Movement's emphasis on interigation. After breaking with the Nation of Islam in 1964—saying of his association with it, "I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then ... pointed in a certain direction and told to march"—and becoming a Sunni Muslim, he disavowed racism and expressed willingness to work with civil rights leaders, he continued to emphasize Pan- Africanism, black self-determination, and self-defense.

Huey Newton

Newton helped establish the controversial African American political organization, The Black Panther Party and became a leading figure in the black power movement of the 1960s. As a teenager growing up in Oakland, California, he got in trouble with the law - as he did numerous times throughout his life.


Black Panther Creation

Despite his legal run-ins, Newton began to take his education seriously. Although he graduated high school in 1959, Newton barely knew how to read. He became his own teacher, learning to read by himself. In the mid-1960s Newton decided to pursue his education at Merritt College where he met Bobby Seale. The two were briefly involved with political groups at the school before they set out to create one of their own. Founded in 1966, they called their group The Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Unlike many of the other social and political organizers of the time, they took a militant stance, advocating the ownership of guns by African Americans, and were often seen brandishing weapons. A famous photograph shows Newton - the group’s minister of defense - holding a gun in one hand and a spear in the other.

The group believed that violence - or the threat of violence - might be needed to bring about social change. They set forth their political goals in a document called the Ten-Point Program, which included better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans. It also called for an end to economic exploitation of black communities. Still the organization itself was not afraid to punctuate its message with a show of force. For example, to protest a gun bill in 1967, Newton and other members of the Panthers entered the California Legislature fully armed. The action was a shocking one that made news across the country. And Newton emerged as a leading figure in the black militant movement.