African-Americans Who Took A Stand

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For nearly 250 years, black men, women and children were held as slaves in America. This year, celebrate Black History Month by remembering those who fought for freedom and civil rights.

A Brief History
The legalized slave trade ended in 1808, but it wasn’t until 1865 that blacks gained their freedom. U.S. citizenship and equal protection under the law was granted in 1868, and two years later, the right to vote.

Still, by 1905, African-Americans had few rights when W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “We claim for ourselves every single right that belongs to a freeborn American — political, civil, social; and until we get these rights we will never cease to protest and assail the ears of America. The battle we wage is not for ourselves but for all true Americans.”

For several decades, the Civil Rights movement grew, until finally, in 1954, school segregation was ruled unconstitutional. Ten years later, discrimination in voting and public accommodations was outlawed.

Oftentimes at great risk to their lives, many men and women over the years raised their voices and stood their ground to fight for freedom for themselves and future generations. We’d like to honor them by highlighting a few of these trailblazers.

African-American Leaders
The following celebrated women and men challenged the system and led the way to reform.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) escaped slavery, became a traveling preacher, and the first black woman to speak out against slavery.
Nat Turner (1800-31) led a massive slave revolt in Virginia in 1931, known as the “Southampton Insurrection” and became a symbol for abolition.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) helped to free more than 300 slaves through the Underground Railroad and served as a spy and a nurse during the Civil War.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) who believed that black economic independence was the way to social equality headed and expanded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a college for black students.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) founded the NAACP in 1910 and fought to end segregation and the widespread lynching that took place in the United States.
Thurgood Marshall (1908-93) appeared before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and other monumental civil rights cases. He became the first black United States Supreme Court judge.
James Leonard Farmer (1920-1999 ) founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942, which favored nonviolent protests.
Rosa Lee Parks (1913-2005 ) was arrested in 1955 after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, leading to the Montgomery bus boycott, which facilitated the national civil rights movement.
Malcolm X (1925-65) became a Black Muslim minister and a powerful leader. In 1964, he broke away to form the Organization of Afro-American Unity. In 1965, he was assassinated.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68) earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the civil rights movement. He organized the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., and was arrested 30 times for peaceful civil rights activities. He was assassinated in 1968.
Andrew Young (1932- ) assisted in drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Young Activitists
While a high school student, Barbara Johns led a boycott at R.R. Morton High School in Farmville, Va., over the black school’s poor conditions that included lack of heat.

Harvey Gantt was a high school senior in Charleston, S.C., when he organized a sit-in demonstration in a diner. Instead, of being served, the black students were immediately taken to jail. He also was the first black student at Clemson University.

Kimberly Blaker writes for parenting and women’s magazines across the United States.