INFLUENTIAL
Figures:
Previous Months

January 2021

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Jane Bolin

January Historical Figure

Jane Bolin was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School in 1931. She also became the first Black woman judge in 1939, and served on New York's Family Court for 40 years. 

Jane worked to stop probation officers from getting assignments based off of skin color, and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to create intervention programs for young boys convicted of crimes. 

"Families and children are so important to society, and to dedicate your life to trying to improve their lives is completely satisfying."

-Jane Bolin

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Esmerelda Simmons

January Contemporary Figure

Esmerelda Simmons is a civil rights lawyer and has served at the city, state, and federal levels including: the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, assistant Attorney General for the State of New York, first deputy state commissioner of human rights for New York State, and the New York City Board of Education. 

Esmerelda is the executive director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evans College which provides legal services for people facing voter suppression and discrimination, and she is a staunch advocate for quality public education for students of color.

"If you want to advocate for something, dig your heels in. Keep working on it. For me, it's racial justice work." -Esmerelda Simmons

FEbruary 2021

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Hosea Williams

February Week 1

Hosea Williams was a civil rights leader, organizer, philanthropist, and one of the best and most trusted members of Dr. Martin Luther King's circle. Throughout his lifetime, he was arrested more than 125 times, and his famous motto was "Unbought and Unbossed."

After returning to the US following his WWII service, Hosea joined the NAACP and began grassroots organizing. By 1960, he had become the president of the Southeastern Georgia Crusade for Voters. In 1962, Dr. King personally recommended Hosea join the SCLC executive board, an honor Hosea gladly accepted. Only two years later, SCLC voted Hosea the "Man of the Year". 

Hosea, along with John Lewis and other activists, lead the first attempt at a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. "Bloody Sunday" as this infamous day was later known, helped spur the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After the death of Dr. King in 1968, Hosea became the executive director of the SCLC and maintained leadership until his election to the Georgia Senate in 1974. In vowing to continue King's work for the poor, he founded Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, which continues as one of the largest social services organizations in North America today.

"We build the path as we can, rock by rock ."

-Hosea Williams

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Amelia Boynton Robinson

February Week 3

Amelia Boynton Robinson was an activist and civil rights who began campaigning for women's suffrage at the age of 10 by helping her mother distribute fliers encouraging women to use their right to vote. 

Amelia registered to vote in 1933, managing to overcome numerous systemic discriminatory practices. A few years later Amelia wrote the play, Through the Years, to raise money for a local community center. Through the Years tells the story of a former slave who gains his freedom and goes on to serve as a U.S. congressman. In 1964, Amelia became the first African American woman to run for office in Alabama, and the first woman to seek a seat in Congress in the state. She won ten percent of the vote, when only five percent of the registered voters were African American. 

Amelia was one of the leaders (alongside Hosea Williams and John Lewis) to organize the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery. After leading demonstrators across Edmund Pettus Bridge, Amelia was gassed and beaten unconscious by state police. A photo of her lying on the ground, mistaken for dead, circulated the world - and sparked an outpouring of support for the Civil Rights Movement.

Amelia was awarded the 1990 Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation Medal of Freedom, and the 2003 National Visionary Leadership Award.

"Only until all human beings begin to recognize themselves as human beings will prejudice be gone forever. People ask me what race I am, but there is no such thing as race. I just answer: "I’m a member of the human race." "

-Amelia Boynton Robinson

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Daisy Bates

February Week 2

Daisy Bates was a civil rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer. Daisy's mother was killed by three white men in 1917, and the lack of prosecution and interest in the case helped spur her lifelong dedication to truth and justice.

Daisy and her husband started their own newspaper, the Arkansas State Press. The first issue ran on May 9, 1941. The paper was one of the only publications at the time dedicated to civil rights - even before the movement itself had emerged nationally. 

 

Daisy joined the local branch of the NAACP immediately upon moving to Little Rock, and was later elected President in 1952 (at the age of 38). When asked what she and the organization were focused on changing, Daisy responded "the whole darned system".  

Daisy used the Arkansas State Press to call for racial integration and education reform amidst Brown v. Board of Education. She also planned a new operation, known as the Little Rock Nine. Daisy selected nine Black students to attend Little Rock Central High. The first day required intervention by President Eisenhower's National Guard, but was ultimately successful with the Nine staying for a full year. 

In 1958, Daisy was elected to the executive committee of the SCLC. She continued working for the Democratic National Convention, and worked on anti-poverty initiatives under President Johnson. She wrote a memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which won a 1988 National Book Award. Little Rock paid tribute to Daisy by opening Daisy Bates Elementary School and establishing the official state holiday Daisy Bates Day on the third Monday in February.

"No man or woman who tries to pursue an ideal in his or her own way is without enemies."

-Daisy Bates

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Alice Allison Dunnigan

February Week 4

Alice Allison Dunnigan was a journalist, civil rights activist, and author. Alice began her writing career at age 13, by penning one sentence pieces for the Owensboro Enterprise. After graduating high school, Alice taught Kentucky History for the segregated public school system. Noticing that her students were unaware of the accomplishments of Black Kentuckians, Alice wrote and distributed her own Kentucky Fact Sheets. 

Alice served as the chief of the Washington Bureau of the Associated Negro Press from 1947 to 1961. Alice became one of three African Americans and one of two women in the press corps that followed President Truman's Western campaign in 1948, and she had to pay her own way to do so. She earned the reputation as a hard-hitting reporter, frequently asking difficult questions about race and civil rights.

Under President Kennedy, Alice served as the education consultant of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, information specialist for the Department of Labor, and editorial assistant for the President's Council for Youth Opportunity. 

Alice was a trailblazer and earned her fame as the first black woman to:

  • gain press credentials to the White House

  • gain press access to the House and Senate galleries, Department of State, and the Supreme Court

  • travel with a U.S. President while on campaign

  • be voted into the White House Newswomen's Association and The National Women's Press Club

"Without black writers, the world would perhaps never have known of the chicanery, shenanigans, and buffoonery employed by those in high places to keep the black man in his (proverbial) place by relegating him to second-class citizenship."

-Alice Allison Dunnigan

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Claudette Colvin

February Week 5

Claudette Colvin is an activist who was a pioneer of the civil rights movement. On March 2, 1955, Claudette was taking the bus home from high school when the driver ordered her to give up her seat to a white woman. She refused, and was subsequently handcuffed and arrested by two police officers - all at the age of 15. This happened nine months prior to the more widely known incident involving Rosa Parks, in the same city, and the same bus system.

Claudette became one of four female plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama. She was one of the main witnesses who testified before the three-judge panel that heard the case. Although Claudette was a predecessor to the bus boycott movement, the NAACP and other leaders chose Rosa Parks to be the face of the test case for integration due to her being an adult, having a job and reputation, and having a middle-class appearance. Unlike the teenage Claudette, who was pregnant and finding herself shunned by parts of her community.

Claudette gave birth to her son in 1956, and moved to New York City shortly after due to difficulties finding and maintaining work after her participation in the federal court case. Claudette found work as a nurse's aide in Manhattan and retired in 2004, after thirty five years.

Claudette and her family have continued fighting for recognition for her action. Her family's goal is to set the historical record straight by including Claudette's role, without taking any dedication away from Rosa Parks. Claudette has received some recognition in the form of March 2nd being named Claudette Colvin Day in Montgomery, and a Congressional Certificate in 2018 for her lifetime commitment to public service.

"I knew then and I know now that, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it. You can't sugarcoat it. You have to take a stand and say, 'This is not right.'"

-Claudette Colvin

March 2021

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Mary Church Terrell

March Historical Figure

Born as the child of two former slaves, Mary became known as an activist for racial equity and women’s suffrage from the late 19th Century to the early 20th century.

 

Mary’s career began as a high school teacher after graduating from Oberlin College, and her passion for education persisted throughout her life. In 1869, Mary started the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) with Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, and Frances Harper. Mary served as president of the NACW from 1869 to 1901 with the motto of “Lifting as We Climb” which reflected her life’s focus on community activism and racial uplift.

 

In 1909, Mary was both a founder and charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and in 1910, she co-founded the College Alumnae Club, which was later renamed the National Association of University Women. Mary still wasn’t finished yet, as she then became the first black member of the American Association of University Women in 1948.

 

One of Mary’s most well-known accomplishments for racial equity, however, comes from the Thompson Restaurant Case which began in 1950 and did not end until a Supreme Court decision in 1953. At the age of 89, Mary was victorious in the civil rights battle against unconstitutional discrimination and segregation in restaurants upon which The Washington Afro American celebrated with the headline “EAT ANYWHERE.”

"As the brains of colored women expanded, their hearts began to grow. No sooner had the heads of a favored few been filled with knowledge than their hearts yearned to dispense blessings to the less fortunate of their race." - Mary Church Terrell

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Kimberlé Crenshaw

March Contemporary Figure

Kimberlé is a lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, and a leading scholar and writer of critical race theory and Black feminist legal theory.

 

While at Harvard Law School, she was one of the founding organizers of the Critical Race Theory Workshop, which originated the term.Kimberlé introduced the theory of intersectionality in 1989 in her paper "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". The main argument of this paper is that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman independently, but must include the interactions between the two, which frequently reinforce each other. Her theory has been adopted worldwide, both as a concept and a research approach.

Kimberlé began teaching at UCLA School of Law and was appointed a full professor at Columbia Law School in 1995. She is the founder and director of the Center for Intersectionality & Social Policy Studies. She also co-founded and is the executive director of the nonprofit think tank, the African American Policy Forum. The AAPF focuses on dismantling structural inequality by building bridges between scholarly research and public discourse.

Kimberlé has been awarded the UCLA School of Law Professor of the Year in 1991 and 1994, multiple fellowships, and the 2016 Outstanding Scholar Award from the American Bar Foundation.

"When we don’t pay attention to the margins, when we don’t acknowledge the intersection, where the places of power overlap, we not only fail to see the women who fall between our movements, sometimes we pit our movements against each other." - Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw

APRIL 2021

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Robert D. Bullard

April Historical Figure

Also known as the ‘Father of Environmental Justice', Robert Bullard is a scholar, activist, educator, and sociologist. Robert continues to advance critical discussion regarding Environmental Racism, which examines the intersection of environmental and social injustices.

 

Robert received his PhD in Sociology in 1976 from Iowa State University, then began his research which identified that within the American South, as the overwhelming majority of environmental hazards are concentrated within Black communities. In 1990, Robert published his first of 18 books, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality which helped bridge the grass-root civil rights movement and the environmental movement of the 1960’s.

 

Additionally, Robert was the founding Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University and in 2013 he was the first African American to be awarded with the Sierra Club John Muir Award. Then in 2014, the Sierra Club named their Environmental Justice award after Dr. Bullard. He has also been recognized for his work with children, being awarded the Child Health Advocate Award from the Children Environmental Health Network in 2017. 

Today, Robert is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy of Texas Southern University, where he was formerly the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs from 2011-2016. Learn more about Dr. Robert Bullard here: https://drrobertbullard.com/ 

"There is no level playing field. Any time our society says that a powerful chemical company has the same right as a low income family living that's living next door, that playing field is not level, is not fair." - Dr. Robert D. Bullard

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Wangari Maathai

April Contemporary Figure

Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental, and political activist, and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Wangari was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, to become a chair of her department, and earn an associate professor position (all between 1971 and 1979).

 

Wangari served as the chairman for the National Council of Women in Kenya from 1981-1987. During these six years, she introduced the idea of the Green Belt Movement - a broad, grassroots organization focused on poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. Since 1977, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya.

Wangari has served a wide variety of organizations including the Parliament of Kenya, the Congo Basin Fund, the Nobel Women's Initiative, among many others. She was named as a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2009, and founded the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environment Studies the following year. Learn more about Wangari here: https://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wangari-maathai/biography

"Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own - indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come." - Dr. Wangari Maathai

May 2021

June 2021

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Marsha P. Johnson

June Historical Figure

Marsha P. Johnson is most famously known for her role in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, including shimmying up a lamppost to drop a heavy weight on a police car’s windshield.

 

Marsha and her dear friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded Street Transvestite (later changed to Transgender) Action Revolutionaries (STAR), one of the first transgender rights organizations in the United States. STAR was committed to helping homeless transgender youth in New York City.

 

Marsha also modeled for Andy Warhol and posthumously had the Marsha P. Johnson Institute opened in her honor, with a mission to defend and protect the human rights of transgender and gender nonconforming communities. Marsha was well known for her bright, fearless, and bold personality and acceptance of all.


How many years has it taken people to realize that we are all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean how many years does it take people to see that? We’re all in this rat race together! - Marsha P. Johnson

For more information please visit: https://www.biography.com/activist/marsha-p-johnson

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Ernestine Eckstein

June Historical Figure

Ernestine Eckstein was a Black lesbian known for her early role in the Gay Rights Movement. Eckstein’s activism started at Indiana University, where she worked with the local chapter of the NAACP. Eckstein later joined the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) in 1963.

 

Eckstein joined both the Mattachine Society of New York and the Daughters of Bilitis, and later served as the vice-president of the the New York DOB chapter. Eckstein participated in two 1965 pickets to bring attention to discrimination against homosexuals: “Annual Reminder Day” in Philadelphia and a picket in front of the white house. Photos from the event indicate that Eckstein may have been the only participant of color at these events.

 

Ernestine was also the first African American woman to appear on the cover of the June 1966 magazine The Ladder, and chose to do so despite the risk of being found out and fired from her civil service job.  


I think any movement needs a certain number of courageous martyrs. There's no getting around it. That's really the only thing that can be done, you have to come out and be strong enough to accept whatever consequences come.” - Ernestine Eckstein

For more information please visit: http://www.newnownext.com/ernestine-eckstein-gay-civil-rights-pioneer/02/2019/

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Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

June Living Legend

Miss Major is a Black, transgender activist who is credited for her role as a leader in the Stonewall riots in 1969, as well as her lifelong dedication to transgender rights. Miss Major served as the original Executive Director for the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which aims to assist transgender persons who are disproportionately incarcerated under the prison-industrial complex.

 

Following a 5 year stint in prison for her participation in the Stonewall Riots, Miss Major relocated to California. She then organized community efforts and grassroots movements, seeking to help trans women who were incarcerated, struggling with addiction or homeless. Miss Major provided care for individuals with HIV/AIDS during the height of the epidemic, and served on multiple HIV/AIDS organizations, including the Tenderloin Aids Resource Center.


I’d like for the girls to get a chance to be who they are. For young transgender people to go to school, learn like everyone else does, and then get out there and live their lives, not afraid or thinking that the only solution for them is death." - Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

For more information please visit: https://missmajor.net/

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Bayard Rustin

June Historical Figure

Bayard was a gay human rights activist, best known for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Bayard was a key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, served as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest advisors regarding nonviolent resistance techniques, and helped to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

 

Bayard was publicly outed as a gay man early in his career, and while Bayard was never ashamed of his sexuality he was forced to engage in a more background role in the Civil Rights Movement in fear that his sexuality would negatively effect it. Bayard continued his work in humanitarian efforts throughout the rest of his life: becoming a part of the LGBTQ+ movement and an advocate for AIDS education in the 1980s, and testifying on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill in 1986.


Gay people are the new barometer for social change.” (1986 testimony on behalf of New York State’s Gay Rights Bill)" - Bayard Rustin

For more information please visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/LGBTQ/bayard-rustin

July 2021

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Brad Lomax

July Historical Figure

Brad Lomax was a Civil Rights leader and disability rights activist. Brad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as a teenager which required him to use a wheelchair for mobility. Brad was the founder of the Washington, D.C. Black Panther Party chapter and later moved to Oakland, California. During his time in Oakland Brad needed to be lifted onto city buses by others in order to ride and the experience of societal barriers to mobility motivated him to become involved with the disability rights movement.

 

Brad served a crucial role during the 1977 San Francisco 504 sit-in and united the civil rights movement with the disability rights movement. The sit-in lasted for three weeks, despite the government decision to shut off the water supply and phone lines in hopes of culling the protest. Brad recognized the protest would end if protestors did not have needed supplies and responded by contacting the local Black Panther Party. Through a coordinated effort, Brad was able to quickly deliver food and other essential supplies to protestors with the aid of the local Black Panther Party.


"The Panthers’ representative explained that the decision of Panthers Brad Lomax and Chuck Jackson to participate in the sit-in necessitated a Panther response….and that if Lomax and Jackson thought we were worth their dedication, then the Panthers would support all of us."” - Corbett O’Toole, participant of 504 sit-in, regarding Brad Lomax

For more information please visit: https://www.centerforlearnerequity.org/news/brad-lomax-uniting-the-civil-rights-and-disability-rights-communities/

 
 
 
 
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Frederick Douglass

May Historical Figure

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in approximately February 1818. After many attempts, he escaped enslavement in 1838 and ultimately chose the name Frederick Douglass. Frederick joined many abolitionist organizations, engaged in early protests against segregated transportation, and became one of the most prominent and influential activists in the abolition movement. Frederick was successful in his attempts to gain access for Black soldiers to enlist in the US Union Army in the Civil War. His son, Frederick Douglass Jr., continued his work by addressing the unfair treatment Black soldiers received while serving in the military.

In addition to actively working to end slavery, Frederick was also a strong advocate for women’s rights as well as Chinese immigration to America. In Boston 1869, Frederick gave his ‘Composite Nation’ speech which argued against the restrictions toward Chinese and Japanese immigration while supporting the freedom of migration for all through a focus on human rights and equality.


“There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a supposed conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity.” - Frederick Douglass, excerpt from Composite Nation speech. Full speech available here.

For more information please visit: http://nationaljuneteenth.com/Douglass_Legacy.html

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Yuri Kochiyama

May Contemporary Figure

Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese-American activist who was well-known for building solidarity between the Black and Asian communities. Yuri’s activism was influenced by her friendships with important activists such as Malcom X, Assata Shakur, and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Following President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, Yuri and her family were relocated to the internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas in 1943. Due to this, Yuri began to see parallels between the treatment of African Americans in the Jim Crow South and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in remote internment camps during World War II. After the war, Yuri moved to a low-income housing project in Harlem, New York and became involved with the Harlem Freedom School organization and the Congress of Racial Equity.

Yuri became close friends with Malcolm X after a protest for minority construction workers in 1963, and was even present at his assassination in 1965 - holding him in her arms as he lay dying. Yuri continued to fight for Black liberation and the rights of political prisoners of the American police state. In 1981, Yuri co-founded Asians for Mumia which sought to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panether member and radio journalist from his death sentence. She also worked alongside Assata Shakur, an activist in the Black Liberation Army.

Yuri also founded the Day of Remembrance Committee to commemorate the day Executive Order 9066 was authorized, and continues to advocate for reparations for both Black and Asian Americans.

"Don't become too narrow. Live fully. Meet all kinds of people. You'll learn something from everyone. Follow what you feel in your heart." - Yuri Kochiyama