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Black History Facts about Civil Rights Leaders

Written by Rebecca

January 13, 2021

As we look into celebrating Martin Luther King’s holiday, we should remember the individuals who fought alongside him to bring African Americans justice, equality, jobs, freedom, and so much more. Unknown organizers, freedom riders, activists, and marchers participated. Notably though, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, and “Bob” Moses, are a select few of the individuals who were leaders in different ways during the Civil Rights era. The selfless efforts of these leaders and Martin Luther King,  earned African Americans freedom in the 1970s.

Learn more about each individual below.

1. Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979)

Born in Crescent City, FL. Moved to NYC at 22 years old. 1915 Randolph started a political magazine called The Messenger which challenged labor policies, politics, black leadership, the war, and more. Randolph wanted to shift the narrative for laborers. So in 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union for Black railroad car workers, formed. Randolph’s work did not come easy, he was arrested, saw lynchings, and was born 24 years after the Civil War Ended. He influenced President Roosevelt to pass an Executive Order banning discrimination. By 1963, worked with Bayard Rustin to serve as a director for the March on Washington.

A Philip Randolph, Labor Leader Here

Rising from the Rails: Pullman Porters and the Rising of the Black Middle Class

2. Bayard Rustin (1910-1987)

Born in West Chester, PA. As a young person wrote poetry, played sports, and even sit-ins. 1936, Rustin joined the Young Communist League, but left early on. Worked closely with A. Philip Randolph to march for jobs and freedom to the U.S. government. Rustin was sadly beaten by Tennessee police for refusing to get off of a bus in 1942. 1947 spent 22 days on CHAIN GANG, and published his experience. He was active to end racial injustice in India, South Africa, and even advised Martin Luther King. Rustin stood for gay rights because he identified as a gay man during his lifetime.

We Are One, The Story of Bayard 

Troublemaker for Justice


Leaders Like Us: Bayard Rustiin

3. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

Born in Mississippi. At six years old, Hamer worked in the cotton fields. Early on, her father was a successful land owner but angry white citizens poisoned the animals. 1962, Hamer and 17 others rented a bus to register to vote. Hamer’s group was denied to register and arrested. Hamer worked as a sharecropper as an adult, and because she tried to vote, she was fired. 1963, Hamer and SNCC started voter education training sessions. Group was arrested and Hamer had permanent kidney damage. 1964, Hamer formed Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenging delegation of all-white members. Hamer was a voice for the oppressed, and was unafraid to use it for change.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

 Brave Black First: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World

4. Robert Parris Moses (1935- )

Born in New York City and earned a master’s degree from Harvard in 1957. Was a high school math teacher for a short period of time. 1964, organized the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project recruiting northern college students to increase Black voter registration. Moses worked with Hamer on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and attended the Democratic National Convention in 1964. Moses believed that local people must develop their own leadership rather than depend on civil rights leaders. Moses is co-author of the book Radical Equations-Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project. Moses started “The Algebra Project to improve the math skills of young people.

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