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15 Remarkable Women Who Powered The Civil Rights Movement

Journalist Deborah D. Douglas spotlights committed women whose actions remind us why the civil rights movement still matters—from legal scholars to activists, master quilters to first graders.

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When it comes to heroines of the civil rights movement, there’s no archetype. Even as far back as the late 1800s, many inspiring women have wielded their bravery, expertise, and talents in support of freedom and equality.

Deborah D. Douglas, the award-winning journalist and author of MOON U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events That Made the Movement, has curated a collection of fascinating reads about more than a dozen of the pivotal women who propelled the movement forward.

As Douglas puts it: “The urgency of addressing voting rights today shows how much the civil rights movement never really ended despite its achievements. Women’s History Month is a great time to remember the women who powered these ideas and what they were fighting for.”

Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

United States Civil Rights Trail

DD: “Integrating nine students into Little Rock Central High School resulted in high schools closing altogether the following year. In 1959, Sybil Jordan Hampton was a part of the second group to integrate the school—permanently—and was the youngest of the youthful integrationists.”

BONUS: Read an interview with Hampton, looking back on her days at Little Rock Central High School via UChicago Magazine.

A Homage To Legendary Human Rights Activist Ella Baker

Because of Them We Can

DD: “In 1960, Ella Baker was working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when she deftly empowered college students in figuring out how they wanted to lead: This resulted in the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during a weekend retreat at Shaw University in Raleigh.”

Lowndes Interpretive Center

National Park Service

DD: “Viola Liuzzo, a white Detroit mom, was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members on U.S. Highway 80, about 20 miles east of Selma where she was volunteering to help with the voting rights effort. A memorial marker stands in her honor on the National Park Service’s Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.”

BONUS: Read more about Liuzzo’s activism, via The Washington Post.

The New Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Refuses to Sugarcoat History

Holland Cotter
The New York Times

DD: “Myrlie Evers, Annie Devine (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party), and Flonzie Brown Wright (first Black woman elected to office in Mississippi since Reconstruction) are just a few activists who laid it on line in Mississippi. Delve into the movement here at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum where you’ll see a story quilt made by Hystercine Rankin that describes the aftermath of her father’s murder by a white man. He never got justice.”


Listen: Annie Devine in her own words, via Washington University in St. Louis.

Watch: Voices of the Civil Rights Movement spotlights Flonzie Brown Wright.

Read: Like her husband Medgar, Myrlie Evers was always in it to win it, via AARP.

Birth of a Freedom Anthem

Ethan J. KytleBlain Roberts
The New York Times

DD: “Lucille Simmons was a Black laborer during Charleston’s 1945-46 Cigar Factory Strike who led protestors in singing ‘I Will Overcome,’ retooled to later become the civil rights movement anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

Deborah D. Douglas

Deborah D. Douglas is the Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism at DePauw University and author of MOON U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events That Made the Movement. She is among 90 contributors to the New York Times bestselling Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. Follow her on Twitter @debofficially.