This section contains information, facts, and worksheets on key individuals who influenced the civil rights movement.
For as long as America has been a nation, there has been a struggle for equality for all, including women and ethnic minorities.
The fight for equal rights for African-Americans has its roots in over 200 years of history, which includes slavery, segregation, discrimination, and racial oppression that came to a head in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Through this struggle, remarkable individuals emerged as the face and the struggle and forever changed the course of American history and society.
As early as the 19th century, individuals such as Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman fought against slavery, helping runaway slaves escape through a network of allies called the Underground Railroad.
They weren’t alone - W.E.B du Bois and Howard Thurman were African-American intellectuals who sought to change perceptions about African-Americans by documenting their history and calling for equality, while journalist Ida B. Wells bravely documented the violence inflicted on African-Americans in order to create awareness.
As time wore on, the struggle continued, now fighting against Jim Crow Laws that allowed for discrimination under the law, and separate but equal policies that entrenched segregation in the South.
The fight for equality came to a head in the 1950s and ‘60s with brave individuals such as Rosa Parks refusing to do nothing in the face of oppression and racism. The actions of Parks, amongst others, set in motion mass protests including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington.
The fight for civil rights was not without casualties. Bleeding Kansas was but one of many violent anti-slavery uprisings in the 19th century, while in more recent times, prominent activists including Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers were assassinated, Freedom Riders assaulted, and Ruby Bridges along with her fellow students embroiled in the Little Rock Nine Crisis harassed simply for attending a desegregated school.
It was the combined efforts of many individuals who set their minds, skills and actions against oppression that laws and lives began to change. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, removing any barrier that denied African-Americans their right to vote.
Black history in America is rich in struggle, courage and strength in the face of oppression and violence. And while huge leaps have been made in the fight for equality, much institutionalized oppression still exists today. In the words of philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.” Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement, its leading personalities, as well as the individuals fighting the parallel struggle for women’s rights in this section.