Citizen Leader Spotlight: Women Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement

Every successful movement in American history has been led by the efforts of citizens across the nation. Some of those citizens are incredibly well-known while others work behind the scenes—but it is the cumulative efforts of a huge swath of Americans coming together that makes real change happen.

As we observe Black History Month, we want to celebrate just a few of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who fought against brutality, discrimination and injustice to continue our nation’s movement toward equality for all. Their bravery in the fight for equal representation for all can serve as powerful inspiration as we continue the work to support the notion that every American is an equal citizen.


Ella Baker: Largely a behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades, Ella Baker worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century including Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks. Massive reforms require the efforts of heros both seen and unseen, and the actions of the collective whole add volume to the thousands of voices raising up the importance of equal citizenship and a more representative democracy. As Ella points out, it is not just the visible celebrity activists and politicians who make change in our country, but rather quiet leadership from dedicated citizens across the nation.

Fannie Lou Hamer: A Civil Rights era voting rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer registered thousands of black Americans, often in the face of police brutality and lynching. Although Hamer saw America and its citizens in one of its worst hours, she still had a deep sense of belief and trust in our democratic system and knew that guaranteeing the power and equality of the vote is the single most important thing we as citizens can do.

Dorothy Height: An education rights activist and the founder of the National Council for Negro Women, Dorothy Height was a deep believer in community service and the power a group of highly motivated and thoughtful people can have in bettering their surroundings. In her work, Height highlighted how a foundation of equality and democratic justice are able to inspire and motivate people to take action within their communities. “Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life,” Height said. “It's important to the person who serves as well as the recipient. It's the way in which we ourselves grow and develop.”