Of course there are waaaaaaay more than 6 Black girls left out of your history books, but this month, we wanted to highlight a few who played a part in fighting for civil rights. Which ones have you heard of before? Which ones are new to you?
Septima Poinsette Clark
A teacher turned civil rights activist, Septima not only helped Thurgood Marshall prep for a 1945 case working to get equal pay for Black and white teachers, but she also helped set up 800+ citizen schools that helped African Americans register to vote. These schools taught reading, writing, and math because back then, Black people had to pass certain literacy tests in order to even register.
The grandaughter of a former slave, Ella Josephine Baker, was a civil rights activist for most of her life. In 1940, she became a field secretary for the NAACP and helped with fundraising and recruitment; in 1946, she became the national director of the NAACP. In this role, she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which helped train younger civil rights activists on college campuses for things like sit-ins and freedom rides. Ella also joined the New York Urban League and helped organize the Young Negroes Cooperative League of NYC, which helped provide better access to goods and services for Blacks.
Born on Chi Town’s south side, Diane Nash first got involved in the Civil Rights Movement when she was a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. She became chairperson of the student sit-in movement in Nashville and also helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. On top of all that, Diane was also a Freedom Rider and helped plan the rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi, which were held during the summer of 1961. Hear her story in her own words here.
The Edmonson Sisters
Mary and Emily Edmonson were the daughters of a free black man in Virginia and an enslaved woman in Maryland. When Mary was only 15 or 16 and Emily was just 13 years old, they attempted to escape slavery with four of their brothers and dozens of other slaves by hitching a ride on The Pearl, a ship docked in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, they were caught en route to New Jersey — and freedom — and were thrown in jail in Alexandria, VA. They experienced being sold into prostitution and then back into domestic work until they were finally freed in November of 1848. Mary died shortly after, but Emily went on to fight for civil rights by working to end slavery with the abolitionist movement.
Pauli Murray worked to end segregation at the University of North Carolina way back in 1938 (it wasn’t integrated until 1951, however) and also worked to integrate public transportation systems. She was even arrested for refusing to sit at the back of the bus in 1940 in Virginia. The next year, she became a student at Howard University to study civil rights law. Using nonviolence and civil disobedience, she continued to fight for civil rights and formed CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).
At just 15 years old, Dorothy was one of the first Black students to enter Charlotte, North Carolina’s Harry Harding High School in 1957. Walking to school, attending classes, and walking home from school proved very scary and difficult — she was spit on, had garbage and rocks thrown at her, was called many racist names, and was ignored by teachers — but she still held her head high and went to school every day. After four days, her parents pulled her out of Harding due to safety reasons, and moved to Philadelphia, where she attended an already-integrated school.