History remembers the male leaders who fought for human rights, but it was women who made so many victories possible.
On that historic August day in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. told us his dream. We didn’t get to hear what the women of the civil rights movement dreamed of, because none spoke at length during the official program of the March on Washington.
Women such as:
- Daisy Bates, a leader in the movement to end segregation in Arkansas and guide for the nine students who integrated Little Rock’s Central High in 1958
- Ericka Huggins, a former leader in the Black Panther Party, which she said also struggled with sexism.
- Coretta Scott King, a leader in her own right, used her talent as a singer to raise awareness and funds for her husband’s movement and to advocate for human rights broadly. She was an earlier critic of the Vietnam War than her husband, and persuaded him to speak out against it
- Members of the Women’s Strike for Peace (see picture above), including Coretta Scott King, participated in a demonstration across from the United Nations in New York
- The political savvy of lifelong activist Ella Baker, one of the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, birthed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the most prominent African American civil rights organization’s of it’s time; and set its agenda. Baker also had pivotal roles in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
- Dr. Pauli Murray, the gender non-conforming activist and legal scholar who coined the term “Jane Crow” for the sex discrimination black women faced. Her book States’ Laws on Race and Color has been referred to as the “bible” of Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling which declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.
- Diane Nash was one of the major organizers of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights marches in 1965. Nash, a co-founder of SNCC, also helped orchestrate the campaign to integrate lunch counters in Nashville in 1960.
- Dorothy Height, a major leader of her day, served as president of the National Council of Negro Women, and also stood on the platform with King during the March on Washington
Today, there’s a new generation of black female activists fighting for social justice. Three of them — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi — founded and lead Black Lives Matter.
Donna Brazile, a political strategist and former interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the nation should be ready for more of them.
“Black women are taking an active role in beginning what I call the next phase of the black political movement, which is to prepare for a century in which the minority citizens of today will become the majority citizens of tomorrow,” she said. “Black women are going to lead that way, but we’re not going to be alone. We’re going to bring as many people with us. Because in moving the country forward, we can leave no one behind.”