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Daisy Bates (1914–1999) was the president of the Arkansas NAACP who fought to force the state of Arkansas to comply with the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of public schools.
Bates helped nine Black students known as the Little Rock Nine to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. The full story of her struggle is outlined in her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.
Eugene "Bull" Connor (1897–1973) was a police chief in Alabama during the anti-segregation protests in downtown Birmingham.
In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched a series of nonviolent anti-segregation protests in Birmingham, Alabama. In response, Eugene "Bull" Connor ordered his police department to use fire hoses, police dogs, and night sticks to break up the demonstrations. Images of this violent episode were disseminated worldwide and to this day symbolize the most brutal aspects of white resistance to Black civil rights.
Medgar Evers (1925–1963) was the field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP until his death in 1963.
On June 12th, 1963, a sniper shot and killed Black civil rights leader Evers in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. His murder, like the 16th Street Birmingham Church Bombing, convinced many Black Americans that nonviolent protest would not be enough to change American race relations.
Orval Faubus (1910–1994) was the Democratic Governor of Arkansas from 1955 to 1967, famously known for his vigorous stand against the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
In 1957, Governor Faubus deployed National Guardsmen to block Supreme Court-ordered school integration. Ultimately, President Dwight Eisenhower used federal authority to force Faubus to comply with the desegregation orders. Interestingly, in a Gallup Poll administered in 1958, Americans chose Faubus as one of their "ten most admired men."
Charles Houston (1895–1950) was a Black veteran of World War I and in the early 1930s, one of the few African Americans to graduate from Harvard Law School. He led the legal team of the NAACP, determined to exploit the inequality inherent in the "separate but equal" doctrine instituted by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
In 1938, Houston took the case of Gaines v. Canada before the Supreme Court. He argued that the University of Missouri, which had denied admission to Black applicant Lloyd Gaines because of his race, had violated Plessy because the school did not in fact have "separate but equal" colleges available for Black students. In a landmark decision, the Court ruled in favor of Gaines, ordering his admission to the university.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) was the young pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama who rose to prominence in the movement for civil rights. He remains to this day a symbol of the nonviolent struggle against segregation.
As a member of the Montgomery Improvement Association, King served as the charismatic leader of the Birmingham Bus Boycott. The success of the boycott helped elevate him to one of the most prominent positions in the growing Civil Rights Movement, and helped him gain the confidence of Black Southerners ready to involve themselves in the struggle.
After some setbacks in Albany, Georgia, King launched a series of nonviolent anti-segregation protests in downtown Birmingham, Alabama in the spring of 1963. The droves of determined demonstrators, coupled with the violent response from police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor and his men, helped pressure Birmingham's business community to desegregate its stores.
This success, largely due to King's leadership, was one of the most momentous achievements of the first half of the Civil Rights Movement. In the following months, King would serve as one of the key organizers of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993) was a student of Charles Houston, special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He followed in his mentor's footsteps and began working for the NAACP in 1938.
Marshall became a key prosecuting attorney in several school segregation cases argued before the Supreme Court, including the 1954 landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson successfully nominated him for a seat on the Court, making Marshall the first African American to hold a position on the highest court in the land.
In 1950, as an attorney for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall brought two important cases before the United States Supreme Court, each involving racial segregation at the college level. He successfully convinced the Court that both the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma had violated the Constitution by denying fair treatment to Black applicant Heman Sweatt and student George McLaurin, respectively.
Later in 1954, Marshall and the NAACP pulled together five class action lawsuits under the title Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al., each calling for an end to segregation at the pre-college level.
James Meredith (1933–) was a student at the all-Black Jackson State College who became the first Black student to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi.
In September 1962, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) pressured President Kennedy into federalizing Mississippi troops to enforce a federal court ruling to allow Meredith to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. White students at the University rioted in protest, leaving two people dead.
Mamie (Till) Mobley (1921–2003), also known as Mamie Bradley, was the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in the summer of 1955. She spent the years following her son's death continuing her work in the Chicago public schools and organizing tributes in the memory of Emmett.
Mamie Mobley refused to allow Emmett's violent death to be in vain. She rejected efforts to hide her son's mutilated corpse from the media and demanded his tortured body be displayed at the funeral in an open casket, to let "the world see what they did to my boy." She also allowed the Black publication Jet magazine to print chilling images of the boy's crushed face for all of Black America to see.
Irene Morgan (1917–2007) was a young African-American woman who, in 1944, refused to give up her seat to a white couple on a Greyhound bus leaving from Virginia.
In the summer of 1944, Morgan, a young mother of two living in Virginia, boarded a Greyhound bus headed for Baltimore, Maryland. She sat in a row in the "colored" section, but when a white couple needed seats the bus driver demanded that Morgan stand and move further back. Morgan refused and was arrested, jailed, and fined.
Two years later, in Irene Morgan v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against segregation in interstate travel.
Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) was a Swedish social scientist, who in 1944 published An American Dilemma, a book encapsulating a five-year study sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation.
Gunnar Myrdal's study, An American Dilemma, utilized scholarly studies, statistics, and hundreds of interviews with Black people in order to describe almost every major facet of early 20th-century Black life.
The book thereby highlighted the profound conflict between American racial policies and the American belief in freedom and justice for all. Myrdal predicted that World War II would ultimately become the catalyst for change. In many ways he was right.
Rosa Parks (1913–2005) was a seamstress and a dedicated member of the NAACP when she was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus. Parks remains perhaps one of the most familiar icons of the Civil Rights Movement, and certainly the most familiar female icon.
Rosa Parks was not the first—and certainly not the last—Black citizen to resist segregation laws in the American South, but her act, and her subsequent arrest and conviction, did provide the appropriate inspiration for a one-day citywide boycott of buses in Birmingham. The strike was so successful that leaders decided to continue the boycott. Ultimately, the Montgomery Bus Boycott would last 381 days.
A. Philip Randolph (1889–1979) was the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union who in 1941, proposed a March on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the expanding war industries and the military.
In 1941, Randolph planned to organize some 100,000 African Americans to march in Washington, D.C. "for jobs in national defense and equal integration in the fighting forces."
Ultimately, he cancelled the march when President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to end discrimination in war employment. Randolph would finally see his original plan in action in 1963 when he and several other prominent Black leaders rallied some 250,000 people in a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Jo Ann Robinson (1912–1992) was an English professor at an all-Black college who, as part of the Women's Political Council (WPC), helped plan and launch the Montgomery bus boycott.
During the Christmas holiday in 1949, Jo Ann Robinson was expelled from a bus for violating segregation laws. The incident helped inspire her and the WPC to plan a one-day citywide bus boycott in December 1955. From this strike, the Montgomery Bus Boycott would be born.
Bayard Rustin (1912–1987) was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an early advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and one of the key organizers of the 1963 March on Washington.
During World War II, Bayard Rustin, along with labor organizer A. Philip Randolph, proposed a March on Washington to protest racial discrimination in the expanding war industries and the military.
The planned march successfully pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to push through some crucial reforms. Later, Rustin and the Committee on Racial Equality (CORE) organized an integrated group of passengers to board buses in protest of noncompliance with a 1946 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on interstate transportation. Rustin also served as a director on the 1963 March on Washington organizing committee.
Emmett Till (1941–1955) was a young African-American boy from Chicago who in the summer of 1955 was murdered by two white Mississippi men who claimed he had whistled at a white woman.
Till's murder would resonate for many Black Americans, particularly those coming of age in the South, who saw no end to white violence. For so many, the image of a child's crushed skull illustrated the reality of the crisis in the South and inspired a new, steadfast fighting spirit. The generation haunted by the memories of Emmett Till's death would lead an unprecedented struggle against racial injustice.
Mose Wright (1890–1973) was a Mississippi sharecropper and the great uncle of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy brutally murdered in the summer of 1955.
Emmett Till was staying in Mose Wright's home on a plantation near Money, Mississippi when two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, kidnapped the young boy for allegedly whistling at Bryant's wife. The two men threatened Wright at gun point, warning the old man to keep his mouth shut or, "you'll never live to be sixty-five." Wright would later testify against Bryant and Milam in his great nephew's murder trial.