From left to right: Jo Ann Robinson, Septima Poinsette Clark, Diane Nash. Images from the Montgomery Boycott Project, the Embassy of Haiti, & the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, respectively.
The month of February is Black History Month, my favorite month of the year. I love Black History Month because throughout the 28 (29 this year!) days, I am flooded with information that both inspires me, motivates me and occasionally angers me. I particularly love learning about black female activists who are relatively unknown to the general public. The civil rights and abolitionist movements usually conjure up images of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, W.E.B. Du Bois or Fredrick Douglass. Yes, these men paved the way for equality for blacks; however, black women contributed toward these movements just as much as male activists did. So in honor of black female activism, here are five women who are true unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.
Daisy Bates (1914-1999)
Daisy Bates was an activist for educational equity in Arkansas during the late 1950-60s. She had a position at the Arkansas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter which allowed her to promote desegregation in Arkansas. Bates was a driving force behind the enrollment of nine black high school students, better known as the Little Rock Nine, into the then all-white, Little Rock Central High School. Bates passionately and relentlessly fought for educational equity of all students during the civil rights movement.
Dorothy Height (1912-2010)
Dorothy Height worked to obtain more rights for black women by working closely with key civil rights leaders such as Dr. King, playing a crucial role in the 1963 March on Washington. Despite her tireless efforts for the march, Height did not have the privilege of speaking at the march or stand on the stage, and she never truly received the credit that she deserved. However, Height continued her work in civil rights, founding the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Due to her efforts in the civil rights movement and beyond, President Bill Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992)
The Montgomery Bus Boycott is seen as one of the most pivotal moments in the civil rights Movement. Many fail to realize, however, that if it were not for Jo Ann Robinson, the boycott would not have been as successful as it was. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, Robinson distributed over 50,000 pamphlets to blacks across Montgomery urging them to boycott the city buses. Robinson’s approach to activism through nonviolent change propelled this movement into the American limelight and changed the course of history.
Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987)
Septima Poinsette Clark, better known as the “Mother of the American civil rights movement,” was a teacher and advocate for education. As a member of the NAACP, Clark petitioned the city of Charleston, South Carolina to hire black teachers. She also established “citizenship schools,” institutions that taught adults how to read, helping them gain their right to vote. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded Clark the Living Legacy Award for her contributions to the civil rights movement.
Diane Nash (1938-present)
Diane Nash was part of the influential Freedom Riders, a group of black and white students who traveled together through the deep South in hopes of desegregating interstate transportation. She was also one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which served as a breeding ground for influential civil rights activists like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer. Nash was also one of the fearless leaders of the Selma voting rights movement and serves as an extraordinary example of the power of students to create change in society.
Black history is American history. Blacks, especially black women, have contributed a great deal to American wars and movements: not only during the civil rights movement, but also in modern media and politics. Michelle Obama, Angela Rye, and Rep. Maxine Waters are just a few influential black women changing the face of American culture today. Take this Black History Month to educate yourself further on the contributions of black people in our society.
For & By Students
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