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Civil Rights Leaders That Have Helped Shape History

By ThriftBooks Team • January 17, 2022

The civil rights movement was a fight for social justice that spanned two decades, between the 1950s and 1960s. It was dedicated to gaining equal rights for African Americans in the United States. While the Civil War officially abolished slavery, Black people still experienced the devastating effects of racism, including unprecedented violence and discrimination.

By the mid-20th century, Black people and many white Americans mobilized to begin their fight for equality and social justice. While the movement drew support from all corners of the globe, several people stand out as civil rights leaders that have helped shape history and are still celebrated today.

Martin Luther King

Of all the civil rights movement leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the predominant black civil rights leader in the fight to end racial discrimination and segregation in America. Dr. King had many notable accomplishments under his belt, but he was perhaps most famous for his "I Have a Dream” speech. Now considered one of the greatest speeches of American history, it was a part of his overall strategy for achieving equality via nonviolent means.

Despite being arrested over 20 times, he made enormous strides for the Black community and served as a pillar for social change and justice until his assassination on April 4, 1968. Today we continue to celebrate Martin Luther King's activism to this day.

Harriet Tubman

Whereas Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that all men are created equal, Harriet Tubman dreamed of freedom. Born into slavery in the early 1800s, Ms. Tubman served as a conductor of the Underground Railroad and was an American abolitionist and activist.

She helped dozens of slaves escape the South through underground routes. In fact, because of her success—she never lost even one "passenger"—slaveowners posted an award of $40,000 for her capture and death. She is considered one of the greatest heroines of American history.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela fought for social change in South Africa, a country with a longstanding tradition of slavery, oppression, and discrimination. Having grown up during the apartheid, Mandela, like Dr. King, dreamed of a free society in which all individuals, regardless of race, live together in harmony and with equal rights.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his efforts to abolish apartheid policies. His release didn't come until nearly four decades later. During his incarceration, he became a symbol of resistance to the rising anti-apartheid movement. Four years after his release in 1990, he was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president.

Malcolm X

Prominent Black civil rights leader, Malcolm X, was also an important figure of the American civil rights movement. Malcolm X urged his followers to protect themselves against oppression.

While Martin Luther King often advocated for equality through peaceful protest, Malcolm X often took a different approach. Despite these differences, Malcolm X and his followers made great strides in the fight for justice before his assassination in 1965.

John Lewis

Known as a "Freedom Rider" and dubbed one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement, John Lewis joined the movement as an impressionable teen. After learning about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and listening to Dr. King's sermons, Lewis became inspired to lead nonviolent demonstrations.

In 1963, at just 23 years old, Lewis gave a powerful speech at the March on Washington, and two years later, led the famous demonstration that would become known as Bloody Sunday. Lewis was elected into Congress in 1986 and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Learn More About Civil Rights Leaders

Though these five brave individuals helped charter civil rights movements, these efforts were made stronger through the people who stood with them in the fight for change, justice, and equality for all.

To better understand and appreciate the civil rights movement, the leaders, and their efforts, check out the books in the links above, or shop for books in our broader civil rights category.

Read more by ThriftBooks Team

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