15 Black Women Civil Rights Leaders You May Not Have Heard Of

The civil rights movement could not have happened without these unsung heroes.



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On August 28, 1963, over 250,000 men, women, and children had made their way to Washington DC to march for civil rights where Dr. Martin Luther King, JR gave his moving “I Have a Dream Speech” that is part of the communal memory of the civil rights movement.

But we never got to hear the voice of the women of the movement, what their hopes and dreams were because the program initially excluded any prominent women from speaking at the march. As a late addition, only Daisy Bates, a leader in the crusade to end segregation in Arkansas gave a brief pledge before the Tribute to Negro Women Fighters to Freedom that was added to quiet women who argued that their voices were being marginalized.

Women were the behind-the-scenes workers of the civil rights movement. They built the grassroots organizations in the small towns and cities of the South as well as the national movement.

According to researchers from the National Museum of African American History & Culture, women were the organizers, and educators who built the infrastructure and mentored young leaders. They participated despite the violence and facing loss of employment and homes as well as fear of sexual assault. But in addition to that, they had to fight sexism by men in the movement they built with their blood, sweat, and tears.

"There were hundreds of unnamed women who participated in the movement," Barbara Reynolds, a journalist and minister whose recordings of King's wife, Coretta Scott King, are the basis of the activist's posthumous memoir, My Life, My Love, My Legacy wrote for the museum. "It was not just a few leaders — it was women ... who really put their mark on history."

Here is a list of 15 leaders but there were many more unsung black women heroes that can be explored during Black History Month.