5 Female civil rights leaders in the US | This is Africa

Politics and Society

5 Female civil rights leaders in the US

Black History Month, observed every February in the United States, is a period set aside to celebrate important events and people in the history of black diaspora. To commemorate this year’s event, we list the top five female civil rights campaigners in the U.S.




Coretta Scott King

“Segregation was wrong when it was forced by white people, and I believe it is still wrong when it is requested by black people.”

Coretta Scott King. Photo: easynotecards.com

Coretta Scott King, 27 April 1927 – January 30 2006, was the wife of the prominent civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., whom she met in college. She became increasingly important in the movement for the emancipation of African Americans after her husband’s assassination in 1968.

However, her activism transcended America. She was strongly opposed to apartheid in South Africa, taking part in a number of sit-in protests in Washington, D.C. In 1986, after a 10-day visit to South Africa where she met with Winnie Mandela, she encouraged President Ronald Reagan to approve economic sanctions against South Africa.


King was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009.


Lena Horne

“You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.”

Lena Horne. Photo: bet.com

Lena Horne, 30 June 1917 – 9 May 2010, was an American singer and actress who was also a committed civil rights activist. Horne became a nightclub performer at 16 when she joined the chorus of the Cotton Club. She later moved to Hollywood and gained substantial roles in movies. In a career spanning seven decades, she appeared in several films and released critically acclaimed albums for which she won four Grammy awards.

Horne used her star power to highlight the plight of African Americans. She attended many important rallies organised by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and worked with former US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, to pass anti-lynching laws. She was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1983.



Rosa Parks

“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”

Rosa Parks. Photo: bet.com

Though Claudette Colvin was the first African American woman to be arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger, it was Rosa Parks that would become the face of resistance to segregation. As the popular story goes, on 1 December 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks flouted the bus driver’s order to relinquish her seat to a white man as the racial segregation law required. She was arrested for civil disobedience.

Her act of defiance, in part, led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which in turn led to the repealing of the transportation segregation law. Afterwards, she continued to participate in the agitation for racial equality in the U.S.

Born on 4 February 1913, Parks died on 24 October 2005.



Septima Poinsette Clark

“The air has finally gotten to the place that we can breathe it together.”

Septima Clark. Photo: sweetgrassexpress.com

Septima Poinsette Clark, 3 May 1898 – 15 December 1987, was an African American educator and civil rights activist who through her literacy and citizenship classes played a key role in the campaign for voting rights for black people in the U.S. She was a member of the NAACP in Charleston and took part in its political activities. In 1920, she led a successful campaign to allow black teachers to become principals at public schools in Charleston.

Throughout her campaigns, Clark emphasised the importance of knowledge in empowering marginalised groups. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Living Legacy award for her contribution to the civil rights movement.



Diane Nash

“There is a source of power in each of us that we don’t realize until we take responsibility.”

Diane Nash. Photo: pbs.org

Diane Nash, born 15 May 1938, was the leader of the student wing of the 1960s civil rights movement. At 22, she led the successful campaign to integrate lunch counters in Nashville. Nash co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Alabama Voting Rights Project. She also worked on the Selma Voting Rights Movement.

Nash was born and raised in Chicago. She attended Howard University for a year and transferred to to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where studied English. It was at Nashville that she experienced the form of racial segregation that inspired her activism. Her effort, with those of other activist of the era, helped secure Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensured that African Americans were allowed to register and vote.


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