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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.

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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.”


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Meet The Feminist Trailblazer Behind 'Brown V. Board Of Education' You've Probably Never Heard Of

Amen OyibokeBustle

Deborah Douglas: “Pauli Murray was a woman before her time, an Episcopal priest, attorney, and civil rights and women’s rights activist whose Howard University School of Law paper formed the foundation of the winning argument in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education.”

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Overlooked No More: Georgia Gilmore, Who Fed and Funded the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Klancy MillerThe New York Times

DD: “Georgia Gilmore was a Montgomery, Alabama, cook and midwife who organized a secret kitchen to feed and fund the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, helping Black residents access alternative transportation than the city bus system.”

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Print of Three of the Memphis Thirteen

Ernest WithersThe Withers Collection Museum & Gallery

DD: “Dwania Kyles was among 13 Black first-grade boys and girls who desegregated Memphis schools, and her journey was documented by photographer Ernest Withers, whose body of work is on display in the Withers Collection Museum & Gallery on Beale Street in Memphis.”

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Bonus: Hear Kyles describe her first days at Bruce Elementary via Cowbird.

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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.”

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

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Fannie Lou Hamer’s Dauntless Fight for Black Americans’ Right to Vote

Keisha N. BlainSmithsonian

DD: “Look forward to the October arrival of Prof. Keisha N. Blain’s Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America that will delve into Hamer’s strategies and how they link to current issues, such as voter suppression, police violence, and economic inequality.”

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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.”

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Michelle Duster Reflects On Life Of Great Grandmother Ida B. Wells In New Biography [LISTEN]

Mary Louise KellyNPR

DD: “Well before the movement, Ida B. Wells was on the case with her brand of accountability journalism. After her Memphis publishing operation was destroyed in 1892, she pressed on from her perch in Chicago. Her great-grandaughter, Michelle Duster, amplifies Wells’ life and work.”

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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.”

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

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How Freedom Rider Diane Nash Risked Her Life to Desegregate the South

Thad MorgainHistory.com

DD: “Diane Nash emerged as a natural leader as a Fisk University student turned formidable civil rights activist during the Nashville Movement.”

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The New Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Refuses to Sugarcoat History

Holland CotterThe 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.”

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Bonus
:

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.

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Civil Rights Hero JoAnne Bland: “This Time, We’re Going to Go All the Way”

Karla StrandMs. Magazine

DD: “Selma, Alabama, resident JoAnne Bland was a child activist — she was 11 years old when she marched in the Bloody Sunday voting rights effort in 1965.”

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Birth of a Freedom Anthem

Ethan J. Kytle & Blain RobertsThe 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.’”

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About the Curator
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.


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