Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are the best known names in the Civil Rights movement, but their were many more largely unknown people vital to the movement.
Beyond the Big Names of the Civil Rights Movement
NARRATOR: Leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X defined the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. But a grassroots movement had begun years earlier with individuals making their own stands against injustice.
Professor MANNING MARABLE (Columbia University): It was Jo Ann Robinson and E.D. Nixon, not Dr. King, that led the spark that created a successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. This story of grassroots activists, of unnamed women and men who made a critical difference, was duplicated a thousand times across the South.
NARRATOR: It was in the south where one of the defining moments of the movement compelled other activists to action.
MARABLE: There are certain moments in African-American history where everything changes. The murder of Emmett Till was such a moment.
NARRATOR: In 1955, Till, a black fourteen-year-old from Chicago, was beaten and killed after whistling at a white woman during a visit to Money, Mississippi. A jury acquitted Till’s accused killers, who later confessed to the murder in Look Magazine.
MARABLE: It was a cathartic event for African-Americans all over the United States, and we said to ourselves that the violence and the hatred that was meted out against this teenage boy who had committed no crime, is unjust and cannot be tolerated. Emmett Till was not a civil rights activist, but his death inspired an entire generation to demand a change in unjust laws all over the American South.
NARRATOR: Soon, another ordinary individual would become a civil rights legend.
MARABLE: It was only a few months later that Rosa Parks decided I’m not going to give up my seat, not today, to a white man who demands it on a segregated bus.
NARRATOR: It was segregated schooling that prompted a little known woman to guide nine black students to integrate an Arkansas High School. She was Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP. In 1960, Ella Baker helped lauch the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All over the country, men, and particularly women, were critical in the success of a movement that would change America.
Professor CRAIG WILDER (Dartmouth College): There are generations of African-Americans who are fighting and fighting and fighting against various forms of inequality. And then a window of opportunity in the 1950's and 1960's begins to appear with a series of transformations that makes some of these campaigns more successful.
MARABLE: So, the Civil Rights Movement was not simply an effort to change the laws in Washington D.C., it was a freedom struggle waged by ordinary people, trade unionists, housewives, sanitation workers, people who worked out in the fields, sharecroppers, who sacrificed everything for the fight for freedom, and they were represented by very articulate black ministers, and attorneys, lawyers, doctors, professional people. But they did not make the movement, Dr. King did not make the movement. The movement made Dr. King.
Grassroots activism is a group of like-minded citizens working together for a common cause. Anyone from any socioeconomic background, of any race, in any area of the country, and at any age can be an activist. All that is required is a commitment to making change, whatever that change may be.