Unsung SHE-roes: The Top 8 Female Civil Rights Activists You Should Get to Know

By Rhonda Bishop
Policy Associate, Education and Young Women Engagement, YWCA USA

This week, we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, and the women leaders who played integral and often unacknowledged roles in that important event. To continue our celebration this week, our theme for today’s Top Five on Friday post is slightly different. We’re sharing the Top Eight Unsung “She-roes” of the civil rights movement — women who fought for freedom and equality for all people, and whose names we hope you will share with your friends and family as important icons of American history.

Diane Nash

Diane Nash

1. Diane Nash

Founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  and a brilliant strategist, Nash was known as one of the most prolific student leaders within the civil rights movement. Her activism resulted in the desegregation of lunch counters, the coordination of the Freedom Rides from Alabama to Mississippi and the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Photo credit: Tennesean)

2. Dr. Dorothy Height

Although, primarily known for her leadership role with the YWCA and the National Council of Negro Women, Dr. Height is one of the nation’s most fierce and steadfast advocates for civil rights. Height gained notoriety in pioneering the intersection of gender and race activism within the civil rights movement. Her distinguished service and contributions to civic service have earned her 20 honorary degrees and over 50 awards and honors from local, state, and national organizations and the federal government.

Ella Baker

Ella Baker

3. Ella Baker

Outspoken civil rights activist Ella Baker often challenged the tradition idea of upper-class, educated, male-dominated leadership within the civil rights movement. Instead, she believed in empowering the disenfranchised to mobilize and affect change on their own. As a gifted grassroots organizer, she helped create two of the most influential organizations to the Civil Rights Movement: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). (Photo credit: Biography.com)

Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates

4. Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates is best known for role as a primary strategist and advisor to the group of nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.  The courageous efforts of Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine are celebrated as one of the earliest victories in the civil rights movement and served as symbolization in the fight for equal educational opportunities in America. (Off the Grid Films)

5. Viola Gregg Liuzzo 

Viola Liuzzo was the first white woman killed during the civil rights movement. Inspired by the civil rights efforts in the South to mobilize African American voters, she actively participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama march known as “Bloody Sunday” in 1965. While shuttling marchers in her car, she was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

6. Septima Clark

A gifted southern public school teacher, Clark utilized her passion for teaching to develop adult training programs that enabled thousands of African Americans to learn to read and write so they could pass voter literacy exams.

Roosevelt and Anderson

Roosevelt and Anderson

7. Eleanor Roosevelt

Roosevelt was a pivotal champion during the Civil Rights Movement, often leveraging her high profile political platform to expand opportunities for African-Americans, most notably, coming to the aid of classical musician Marian Anderson after she was barred from performing at a racially segregated concert hall. (Photo credit: Humanities Texas)

8. Miriam Cohen Glickman

Miriam Cohen is a Jewish civil rights activist who served as an active member with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  During the 1960’s, Glickman toured the South, working on several civil rights projects that included voter education mobilization.

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One Response to Unsung SHE-roes: The Top 8 Female Civil Rights Activists You Should Get to Know

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is a great list! Thanks for posting it again on Twitter. As is the problem with lists, they aren’t all inclusive- I can think of at least one woman who definetly belongs here. Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich,a Civil Rights leader working to end descrimination particularly towards Natives in Alaska. She helped to pass Alaska’s Anti-discrimination Act in 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.

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