Inspiring Quotes From 7 Civil Rights Era Leaders Who Helped Live Out A Dream

Photo: RDA/Getty Images.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we honor the sacrifices and victories of those who worked for racial equality.

While we cannot deny that America still has far to go in terms of achieving the late Dr. King's dream, neither can we say that what's been done is inconsequential. In the less than 50 years since King's assassination in 1968, we've seen the end of legal racial segregation in education, housing, and public spaces. We've seen recognition that some crimes are based solely in hatred and discrimination, and we've seen acknowledgement that sometimes, we need to take the extra action to affirm rights in the face of quiet discrimination. The achievements are enormous.

But while Martin Luther King Jr. is rightfully recognized for his contributions to the movement, he's far from the only face who fought, sacrificed, or suffered for their rights. Myriad others played roles, small and large, in asserting the freedom for every individual — regardless of the color of his or her skin — to be able to follow their dreams.

Here's what seven people had to say about their own contributions to a movement that defined an era.
1 of 7
Much like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X is one of the most remembered faces of the Civil Rights era, though their ideologies were diametrically opposed.

While King advocated peaceful resistance, Malcolm X believed that there were situations where violence was necessary. While he was a member of the Nation of Islam in the early years of his advocacy, Malcolm X was accused of racism and extremism for positions of Black supremacy and racial separation. His 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca, where he met a multicultural Muslim community, ameliorated his stringent views on integration. Upon returning to the United States, X began advocating a more racially inclusive agenda, but was shot and killed only a few months later.
Advertisement
2 of 7
In many ways, the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was a movement by youth and citizens.

Diane Nash
was a student organizer in 1961, when she helped organize the Freedom Rides in defiance of segregation. The buses, full of Black and white students sitting together, were met with violence and assaults on the riders. A representative of the Attorney General’s office, John Seigenthaler, called Nash to urge her to call off the next ride due to the physical danger to activists. This was her response.
3 of 7
It’s a story that every schoolchild in America knows: How Rosa Parks was tired, coming home from work, and refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white rider. Her act of civil disobedience led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.

But what often gets left out of the story is Parks’ own history of activism. She was a member of the Montgomery, Alabama NAACP, and helped to organize against racial inequality. After her arrest, she continued to work for civil rights, befriending Malcolm X and speaking on the subject of racial inequality.
4 of 7
Ruby Bridges was only 6 years old at the time she made history. Bridges was the first Black child to attend an integrated school in Louisiana and her enrollment caused so much uproar that many white parents pulled their children from the school, leaving Bridges as the only student.

In an interview with PBS in 1997, she said that she thought the first day of school was Mardi Gras because of the crowd outside. Federal marshals had to walk her through the mob.
5 of 7
Despite working with large-scale groups of the Civil Rights era, like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership conference, Baker was more comfortable working at the grassroots level.

In an interview with the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South program, she said that the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on the structure of the Black churches of the time, which had little place for women in their leadership. Despite the organizational structure, Baker saw the activists on the ground — mainly women and youth — as the hope of the movement.
6 of 7
Georgia Representative John Lewis has a long history of activism. From having worked with Martin Luther King Jr., to his support of Occupy Wall Street, and standing with Cecile Richards at last year’s Planned Parenthood congressional hearings, Lewis has been active in populist causes for an impressively long time. And like many activists, he continues to see causes not in terms of what has been accomplished, but what is still to work for.
7 of 7
The aptly named case of Loving v. Virginia took on America’s ban on interracial marriage. In 1959, Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred, a Black woman, were sentenced to a year in jail for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The couple took their case to court and eventually went before the Supreme Court, where ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen argued their case.

In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the ban on interracial marriage. The case later was cited as precedent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage across the United States
Advertisement