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Figures Archive


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1. Ella Baker

Baker studied at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. As a student she challenged school policies that she thought were unfair. After graduating in 1927 as class valedictorian, she moved to New York City and began joining social activist organizations. In 1957, Baker moved to Atlanta to help organize Martin Luther King’s new organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She also ran a voter registration campaign called the Crusade for Citizenship. On February 1, 1960, a group of black college students from North Carolina A&T University refused to leave a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina where they had been denied service. Baker left the SCLC after the Greensboro sit-ins. She wanted to assist the new student activists because she viewed young, emerging activists as a resource and an asset to the movement. Miss Baker organized a meeting at Shaw University for the student leaders of the sit-ins in April 1960. From that meeting, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — SNCC — was born. Adopting the Gandhian theory of nonviolent direct action, SNCC members joined with activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to organize the 1961 Freedom Rides. In 1964 SNCC helped create Freedom Summer, an effort to focus national attention on Mississippi’s racism and to register black voters (via Ellabakercenter.org).

2. Kemp Powers

The geniuses at Pixar had a problem, and this time, they would need to look beyond the walls of their esteemed studio for help. The movie in question was 'Soul,' a tuneful jazz tale that somehow didn’t quite swing. Rather ironically, the movie’s main character, Joe, was lacking in texture and truth and, well, any depth of soul. What to do about a lead role that, in the words of Pixar chief and 'Soul' director Pete Docter, 'was kind of an empty shell'? The call went out to Kemp Powers, a rising playwright and 'Star Trek: Discovery' TV writer.' The writer wanted to see Joe, once envisioned as a White character, move through authentically Black spaces. 'When I came on board, Joe was absolutely the least interesting character there,' says Powers, who co-wrote the film with Docter and Mike Jones. 'There was nothing there. I think it might have come from this place of fear — people not knowing where to go with him. So I started asking lots of questions.' The filmmakers asked Powers to step into the co-director’s chair. It was not only a first for Powers, but also a milestone for the studio — the first Black director in Pixar’s three-decade history of feature filmmaking. 'It’s an embarrassing mantle,' Powers says from his Los Angeles area home, adding: 'Why did it take so damned long?' Powers, though, remains committed to amplifying Black voices in creative workspaces where they have been underrepresented, (via The Washington Post, Kemp Powers).

3. Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was an active leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), leading their Youth Council of the organization’s West Suburban Branch. Hampton joined the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in November 1968. He quickly rose to a leadership position, becoming the deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Party. In addition to challenging police brutality, the Black Panther Party launched more than 35 Survival Programs and provided community help, such as education, tuberculosis testing, legal aid, transportation assistance, ambulance service, and the manufacture and distribution of free shoes to poor people. Of particular note was the Free Breakfast for Children Program (begun in January 1969) that spread to every major American city with a Black Panther Party chapter. The federal government had introduced a similar pilot program in 1966 but, arguably in response to the Panthers’ initiative, extended the program and then made it permanent in 1975— He organized rallies, established a Free Breakfast program, and negotiated a peace pact among rival gangs. As a rising leader in the BPP, Hampton became the focus of an FBI investigation. On December 4, 1969, Hampton, along with fellow Black Panther Mark Clark, was murdered. On the evening of December 3, 1969, William O’Neal, who was employed by the FBI to infiltrate the BPP, slipped a powerful sleeping drug into Hampton’s drink then left. Officers were dispatched to raid his apartment. They stormed in and opened fire, killing his security guard. Then they opened fire on Hampton’s bedroom where he laid unconscious from the drug with his sleeping, almost nine-month-pregnant fiancee. After the gunfire, he was found to only be wounded and not dead. Upon that discovery, an officer shot him twice in his head and killed him (via Archives.gov, Fred Hampton and Britannica, Black Panther Party).

4. Tom Burrell

Black people are not dark-skinned white people. Those words spoken by legendary ad man Tom Burrell seemed very obvious in 2015. In the '60s, though, the idea that blacks or other minorities should be advertised to directly seemed very risky, to say the least. Tom Burrell convinced corporate America to change the face of advertising. Even today, Tom Burrell says he's used to being the only black guy in the room. Back in 1961, he was the only black guy in advertising in all of Chicago when he started in the mailroom at the Wade Advertising Agency. He says the way he got over was by using his sense of humor. Burrell worked his way up from the mailroom to ad writing. But in those days, ads were pretty generic - one-size-fits-all - and not a lot of black people. And when they did try to do ads focused at the black consumer, they often got them comically - sometimes insultingly - wrong. Burrell remembers an ad for Schafer Beer that hearkened back to the days before the Civil War. The line was 1856 - that was a very good year for beer. It was a very bad year for black people... And this ad is showing up in Ebony Magazine. And it just screamed insensitivity. Burrell had a better idea - ads designed with an understanding of black culture that were made by African-Americans. Eventually, Burrell started his own agency. It became known as Burrell Communications. Burrell Advertising grew to become the nation's largest African American-owned marketing firm (via NPR, How An African-American Ad Man Changed The Face Of Advertising).

5. Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan [went] to [NASA's] Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1943, during the height of World War II, leaving her position as the math teacher at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, VA to take what she believed would be a temporary war job. Two years after President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 into law, prohibiting racial, religious and ethnic discrimination in the country's defense industry, the Laboratory began hiring black women to meet the skyrocketing demand for processing aeronautical research data. Urgency and twenty-four hour shifts prevailed-- as did Jim Crow laws which required newly-hired 'colored' mathematicians to work separately from their white female counterparts. Dorothy Vaughan was assigned to the segregated 'West Area Computing' unit, an all-black group of female mathematicians, who were originally required to use separate dining and bathroom facilities. Over time, both individually and as a group, the West Computers distinguished themselves with contributions to virtually every area of research at Langley. The group's original section heads (first Margery Hannah, then Blanche Sponsler) were white. In 1949, Dorothy Vaughan was promoted to lead the group, making her the NACA's first black supervisor, and one of the NACA's few female supervisors. Dorothy Vaughan helmed West Computing for nearly a decade. In 1958, when the NACA made the transition to NASA, segregated facilities, including the West Computing office, were abolished. Dorothy Vaughan and many of the former West Computers joined the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. Dorothy Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and she also contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program (via Nasa.gov, Dorothy Vaughan).

6. Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams and her five siblings grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi with three tenets: go to school, go to church, and take care of each other. Despite struggling to make ends meet for their family, her parents made service a way of life for their children – if someone was less fortunate, it was their job to serve that person. This ethic – and her parents’ unwavering commitment to providing educational opportunity for their children – led the family to Georgia. She put her education to work to better the lives of Georgians through the government, nonprofit, and business sectors. Dedicated to civic engagement, she founded the New Georgia Project, which submitted more than 200,000 registrations for voters of color between 2014 and 2016. Under the pen name Selena Montgomery, Stacey is the award-winning author of eight romantic suspense novels, which have sold more than 100,000 copies. As co-founder of NOW Account – a financial services firm that helps small businesses grow – Stacey has helped create and retain jobs in Georgia. And through her various business ventures, Stacey has helped employ even more Georgians, including hundreds of young people starting out. In 2010, Stacey became the first woman to lead either party in the Georgia General Assembly and the first African American to lead in the House of Representatives. Abrams leads the organization Fair Fight that promotes fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight brings awareness to the public on election reform, advocates for election reform at all levels, and engages in other voter education programs and communications. She was a fundamemtal part of reversing voter surpression and encouraging so many to vote in the 2020 election, and had a major role in turning Georgia blue for the first time since 1992 (via Stavey Abrams, Fair Fight, and some bias from Alexis Williams in the end portion).

7. Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, as well as an award-winning writer and cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where she studied Sociology. She has written for the New York Times and has three books forthcoming with Penguin Random House. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she began writing at only a few years of age. Now her words have won her invitations to the Obama White House and to perform for Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Secretary Hillary Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, and others. Amanda has performed multiple commissioned poems for CBS This Morning and she has spoken at events and venues across the country, including the Library of Congress and Lincoln Center. She has received a Genius Grant from OZY Media, as well as recognition from Scholastic Inc., YoungArts, the Glamour magazine College Women of the Year Awards, and the Webby Awards. She has written for the New York Times newsletter The Edit and penned the manifesto for Nike's 2020 Black History Month campaign. She is the recipient of the Poets & Writers Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award, and is the youngest board member of 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the United States (via Theamandagorman.com).

8. Alain Leroy Locke

Author and philosopher Alain Locke is widely known as the father of the Harlem Renaissance. He inspired Martin Luther King Jr., who praised him as an intellectual leader on par with Plato and Aristotle. Locke was among the most academically accomplished African-Americans of his time. He earned a Ph.D. from Harvard and is the first known gay Rhodes Scholar. He was also the first African-American Rhodes Scholar — there wouldn't be another for more than 50 years. He argues that race is a fabrication. That was shocking at the time. How can you claim that race is a construction, when all you see is segregation? Locke says it's culture that creates our visions of race. Locke was a key force in mentoring African-American artists and writers 'from a generation who were the first born out of slavery. Those individuals now said: Who are we? How do we choose to define ourselves?' Locke compiled many of the answers in an anthology called The New Negro. Published in 1925, it was an instant success and included work by Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois. Locke was often criticized for not being much of an activist, but more of a protest person like Du Bois. Yet, Locke was saying that's fine, but there's something else that you have to do. There's a kind of decolonization of the mind that has to go on in Western culture, and also even in people of color, to clear out these notions that we are not beautiful, that we are inept, that we are not as talented as other people, because after all, all of that ideology was put together to control us. Before the Harlem Renaissance, black Americans had been depicted in popular culture through and by the white gaze as apes, caricatures and minstrels. Dr. Alain Locke was having none of that (via NPR, Alain Locke).

9. Mary Hamilton

Mary Hamilton was a teacher, a Freedom Rider and the first female field organizer in the South for the Congress of Racial Equality. Her roommate during this time, Sheila Michaels, says Hamilton was tough — brave — like the nuns of her Catholic school upbringing. Civil rights protests in Alabama hit a crescendo in the spring of 1963. In Gadsden, a factory town northeast of Birmingham, police arrested Hamilton and other demonstrators. At a hearing that June, the court referred to her as 'Mary'. She would not answer the judge until he called her 'Miss Hamilton.' And he refused. So he found her in contempt of court. So Mary Hamilton was thrown in jail and fined $50. The NAACP took the case that eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the following year in Hamilton's favor. In other words, the ruling decided that everyone in court deserves titles of courtesy, regardless of race or ethnicity. Michaels says Hamilton was immensely proud of the case. It's a big deal for a person, but it's a footnote in the history books. And when it comes to civil rights history, it's the names of men such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Ralph Abernathy that are mostly remembered. Women don't get much billing beyond Rosa Parks and a few others. Titles command respect. Especially for Miss Mary Hamilton (reworked from NPR, Mary Hamilton, The Woman Who Put The 'Miss' In Court).

10. LaTosha Brown

LaTosha Brown is an award-winning organizer, philanthropic consultant, political strategist, Harvard Fellow, and jazz singer with over twenty years of experience working in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors on a wide variety of issues related to political empowerment, social justice, economic development, leadership development, wealth creation and civil rights. She is the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, a power building southern based civic engagement organization that played an instrumental role in the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate race. Ms. Brown is principal owner of TruthSpeaks Consulting, Inc., a philanthropy advisory consulting firm in Atlanta, GA. For more than 25 years, she has served as a consultant and advisor for individual donors, government, public foundations and private donors. Throughout her career, Ms. Brown has distinguished herself as a trusted expert and resource in political strategy, rural development and special programming for a number of national and regional philanthropies. She is the founding project director of Grantmakers for Southern Progress (via Harvard.edu, LaTosha Brown).

11. Angela Davis

An activist. An author. A scholar. An abolitionist. A legend, as revered by my generation of millennials as she is her own. She is Angela Y. Davis. Davis opened 1971 with an American declaration of innocence heard around the country: 'I am innocent of all charges which have been leveled against me by the state of California.' The state, governed by Ronald Reagan, had charged Davis with capital crimes in connection with an armed courtroom takeover in August 1970 that left her friend Jonathan Jackson, two inmates and a judge dead in Marin County. Responding officers had shot these four people. But investigators accused Davis when they traced a gun used in the takeover to her. Davis smelled a setup and fled. She eluded would-be captors for two months before President Richard Nixon congratulated the FBI on its 'capture of the dangerous terrorist Angela Davis' in October 1970. In 1971, Davis became America’s most famous 'political prisoner' as she awaited trial. Defense committees in the U.S. and abroad shouted at demonstrations the chant of 1971, 'Free Angela.' The defense committees formed a broad interracial coalition of supporters who believed Nixon’s America, not Davis, was America’s Most Wanted. Her supporters charged that Nixon’s America was terrorizing, imprisoning and trying to kill the movement, the organizations of antiracist, anticapitalist, antisexist and antiwar activists. Their freedom struggle in 1971 became the struggle for freedom of Angela Y. Davis, an incarcerated body Nixon’s and Reagan’s law-and-order America wanted dead. She was on trial for her life. Millions of progressive Americans defended her like they were on trial for theirs. After being acquitted of all charges in 1972, Davis moved from defended to defender, consistently resisting the structural causes of inequity and injustice as others took the bigoted way out and victim-blamed. For decades, she has unflinchingly defended black women, black prisoners, the black poor—and all women, all prisoners, all poor people—when few Americans would. She has defended America from the clutches of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism, poverty and incarceration when few Americans would (via Time, 100 Women of the Year: Angela Davis).

12. Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali embodied the collision of sports and politics like no athlete before him ... or since. In 1960, he was still Cassius Clay from Louisville — an 18-year-old with remarkable athletic gifts who wore red, white and blue after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics. He was known for his quick wit, supreme self-confidence and boastful rhymes — but not politics. By 1964, he was the heavyweight champion of the world. That's also the year he joined the Nation of Islam — led by Malcolm X — and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. That move confused or shocked white Americans who followed his career, but that was nothing compared to the reaction when Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army in 1967 citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War. And the core of his protest was his identity as a black man, a black Muslim, in America. Ali was as determined to stand up for what he believed in as he was to dominate opponents in the boxing ring. But instead of 15 rounds, this went on for 3 1/2 years. And it came at a very steep price, one unimaginable for an athlete today. He was stripped of his title. He was banned from boxing. His source of income was gone. Ali's willingness to publicly take an unpopular political stand sets him apart from groundbreaking African-American athletes that preceded him. Names like Olympian Jesse Owens and baseball's Jackie Robinson. For Owens and Robinson, their excellence in competition combined with their mere presence was the political statement. Both 'were asked to swallow their pride in order to participate in their sport at the highest level.' Robinson had to agree to take all manner of racial abuse, to ensure that what was labeled baseball's 'Grand Experiment' would work. Robinson was chosen not just for his athletic skills, but 'because he represented a comfortable level of blackness for white fans.' That changed with Ali, He stood in the face of that and refused any suggestion that he be anything other than himself. As for taking on the Vietnam War, Ali was really on an island. Not only as an athlete, but as an American citizen, because most Americans in the mid-1960s support the war effort in Vietnam (via NPR, Muhammad Ai).

13. Compton Cowboys

In 1988, Mayisha Akbar created a horseback riding club for local Black youth to keep them away from gangs and violence. As members grew up, many kept riding, continuing a long and rich history of Black cowboys in the American West. Today, a close-knit group known as the Compton Cowboys celebrate this legacy on the very same ranch Akbar developed. Their motto: 'Streets raised us. Horses saved us.' Mayisha’s nephew, Randy Hook, who dreams of developing a sustainable business model that can inspire the creation of similar ranches elsewhere. 'We’re connected to Black cowboys in Philadelphia, cowboys in Chicago, and also with cowboys overseas,' he says at his aunt’s retirement party. 'We just need the resources to do this in a big way and put ranches like this one in inner-city environments where there’s a lack of nature, because we see that this model works.' These horses, he added, 'changed us, and we think they can have the same effect on at-risk youth everywhere. The Richland Farms property is clearly more than just a ranch.' It’s a place where the cowboys and community residents can go to feel free. There’s a lot of dangers outside—police violence, gangs—but inside the ranch, it feels like a sanctuary. People can ride horses and be at peace in a way that it doesn’t happen outside. More than anything, it serves as a therapeutic center. Studies have shown that equine therapy has an incredibly positive impact on people who have experienced trauma and stress (via Atlasobscura.com, please visit Comptoncowboys.com to support the mission).

14. The Lovings

In July 1958, Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested for interracial marriage, then a crime in their home state of Virginia. In June 1958, the couple went to Washington DC to marry, to work around Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made marriage between whites and non-whites a crime. After an anonymous tip, police officers raided their home a month later, telling the Lovings their marriage certificate was invalid. In 1959, the Lovings pled guilty to ‘cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.' The Lovings were were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended if they left Virginia and did not return together for at least 25 years. The couple moved to Washington DC. For five years, the Lovings lived in internal exile while they raised their three children, Peggy, Sidney and Donald. In 1964, frustrated that they could not visit their families in Virginia together, Mildred wrote to attorney general Robert F Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU assigned volunteer attorneys Bernard S Cohen and Philip J Hirschkop to the Lovings. The case went from the Virginia Caroline county circuit court, all the way to the US supreme court in Washington.The Supreme Court overturned the Lovings’ convictions in a unanimous decision in June 1967, ruling that the ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional and in violation of the 14th Amendment. Despite the supreme court’s decision, anti-miscegenation laws remained in several states despite the ruling making it unenforceable. Alabama continued to enforce the law until 1970, and was the last state to adapt its laws to the supreme court’s decision – in 2000 (via The Guardian, The Lovings, a marriage that changed history).

15. Stormé DeLarverie

Nobody knows for sure who threw the first punch at the Stonewall Uprising in New York City in 1969. But it’s widely believed that it could have been Stormé DeLarverie, a lifelong gay rights activist and drag performer, who died in 2014. Prior to her participation in Stonewall, DeLarverie was a groundbreaking drag performer whose publicity photographs show a dandyish approach to zoot suits and black tie. Gender-fluid dressing has become a major force in fashion over the past few seasons, but DeLarverie’s approach to style is an early, striking instance of it. DeLarverie, who was born in New Orleans in 1920 to a black mother and a white father, spent the ’50s and ’60s as the only 'male impersonator' in the Jewel Box Revue, the period’s only racially integrated drag troupe. DeLarverie became so celebrated that she began circulating in highly respected crowds, among the likes of Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Dressing in traditionally masculine attire, she may have inspired other lesbians of the era in New York to do the same. DeLarverie lived for several years at the Chelsea Hotel, and a handful of documentaries have explored DeLarverie’s drag persona and her time as a guardian of the Village, serving as a security guard at the neighborhood’s gay bars and as a more general watchkeeper. DeLarverie was known at the time for roaming the West Village vigilante-style — she had no tolerance for what she called 'ugly,' meaning rudeness, bullying, or behavior that was otherwise intolerant of her 'baby girls' at the bars she was protecting. Having experienced a difficult upbringing herself, DeLarverie always sought to provide protection for others, whether it was at the Jewel Box or Henrietta Hudson. As she said in a 2001 documentary short called 'A Stormé Life,' 'I’m a human being that survived. I helped other people survive.' (via GQ and Them, Stormé DeLarverie)

16. Nannie Helen Burroughs

Around 1880, Nannie Helen Burroughs was born to a formerly enslaved couple living in Orange, Virginia. Her father died when she was young, and she and her mother relocated to Washington, DC. Burroughs excelled in school and graduated with honors from M Street High School (now Paul Laurence Dunbar High School). Despite her academic achievements, Burroughs was turned down for a Washington D.C. public school teaching position. Some historians speculate that the elite black community discriminated against Burroughs because she had darker skin. Undeterred, Burroughs decided to open her own school to educate and train poor, working African American women. Burroughs proposed her school initiative to the National Baptist Convention (NBC). In response, the organization purchased six acres of land in Northeast Washington, D.C. Now Burroughs needed money to construct the school. She did not, however, have unanimous support. Civil rights leader Booker T. Washington did not believe African Americans would donate money to found the school. But Burroughs did not want to rely on money from wealthy white donors. Relying on small donations from black women and children from the community, Burroughs managed to raise enough money to open the National Training School for Women and Girls. In addition to founding the National Training School for Women and Girls, Burroughs also advocated for greater civil rights for African Americans and women. At the time, black women had few career choices. Many did domestic work like cooking and cleaning. Burroughs believed women should have the opportunity to receive an education and job training. She wrote about the need for black and white women to work together to achieve the right to vote. She believed suffrage for African American women was crucial to protect their interests in an often discriminatory society (via NPS.gov, Nannie Helen Bourroughs).

17. Mikki Kendall

Mikki Kendall is a writer, diversity consultant, and occasional feminist who talks a lot about intersectionality, policing, gender, sexual assault, and other current events. Mikki Kendall's debut essay collection is called 'Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot.' √As the subtitle makes clear, Kendall's central thesis is that mainstream feminism in the United States has been anything but inclusive, despite being 'a movement that draws much of its strength from the claim that it represents over half of the world's population.' In prose that is clean, crisp, and cutting, Kendall reveals how feminism has both failed to take into account populations too often excluded from the banner of feminism and failed to consider the breadth of issues affecting the daily lives of millions of women.Many of the book's essays focus on these overlooked issues, with chapters examining how gun violence, hunger, poverty, education, housing, reproductive justice, and more are all feminist issues. Others, such as 'Black Girls Don't Have Eating Disorders' and 'The Hood Doesn't Hate Smart People,' challenge harmful myths that, in the case of the former, can lead to young women not getting the help and support they need and, in the latter, perpetuate race- and class-based stereotypes. Regardless of the topic, each chapter is designed to 'focus largely on the experiences of the marginalized, and address the issues faced by most women, instead of the issues that only concern a few — as has been the common practice of feminists to date — because tackling those larger issues is key to equality for all women.' Securing that equality, Kendall argues, requires that women accept some inconvenient truths, specifically 'the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others.... [W]hite women can oppress women of color, straight women can oppress lesbian women, cis women can oppress trans women, and so on.' If feminism is to truly represent all women, it must resist the 'tendency to assume that all women are experiencing the same struggles [which] has led us to a place where reproductive health imagery centers on cisgender able-bodied women to the exclusion of those who are trans, intersex, or otherwise inhabiting bodies that don't fit the narrow idea that genitalia dictates gender.'

18. Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray lived one of the most remarkable lives of the twentieth century. After High School Murray quickly became involved in the civil rights movement. In 1938, they began a campaign to enter graduate school at the all-white University of North Carolina. Despite a lack of support from the NAACP, Murray’s own media campaign received national publicity. During this campaign, Murray developed a life-long friendship and correspondence with the first lady at the time, Eleanor Roosevelt. Murray worked to end segregation on public transport. In March 1940, they were arrested and imprisoned for refusing to sit at the back of a bus in Richmond, Virginia. In 1941, Murray enrolled at the law school at Howard University with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer. The following year they joined George Houser, James Farmer, and Bayard Rustin to form the nonviolence-focused Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They were the first Black person to earn a JSD (Doctor of the Science of Law) degree from Yale Law School, a founder of the National Organization for Women and the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Pauli Murray’s legal arguments and interpretation of the US Constitution were winning strategies for public school desegregation, women’s rights in the workplace, and an extension of rights to LGBTQ+ people based on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Pauli Murray crafted a broad vision of justice, equity, and human rights using words as their primary tool in the fight for liberation. Pauli resisted categories of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, wrestling with issues raised by their own racial identity, economic struggles, and sexual and gender identity. They aspired to an integrated body, mind, and spirit that aligned with a holistic sense of self (via Pauli Murray Center).

19. Bobby Seale

Bobby Seale was born Robert George Seale on October 22, 1936, in Dallas, Texas, the oldest of three children. In September 1962, Seale met Huey Newton at a rally protesting the Kennedy Administration's blockade of Cuba. Kindred spirits, the pair quickly became friends, and that year marked the sprouting of Seale's political radicalism, which was deepened when Seale attended a speech given by Malcolm X. By 1966, Seale and Newton were ready to organize their beliefs, and they formed the Black Panthers (later renamed the Black Panther Party). Originally created as an armed force protecting the black community from the notoriously racist Oakland police, the Panthers' reputation grew and with it the scope of the organization itself. The Panthers became a new voice in the Civil Rights Movement, and they rejected outright the mainstream movement's nonviolent approach as well as the 'Back to Africa' teachings put forth by the more radical Black Nationalists. The Panthers focused much of their energies on community outreach, and the California movement spawned chapters across the nation. By 1968, Seale decided that a public account of the formation and history of the Panthers was needed, so he wrote Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton (published in 1970). That same year, Seale was arrested while protesting at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He and seven other defendants, thereafter known as the Chicago Seven, were tried for conspiracy to incite riots in a circus-like atmosphere that resulted in Seale being sentenced to four years in prison for contempt of court (via Biography.com, Bobby Seale).

20. Claudette Colvin

Few people know the story of Claudette Colvin: When she was 15, she refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person — nine months before Rosa Parks did the very same thing. Most people know about Parks and the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that began in 1955, but few know that there were a number of women who refused to give up their seats on the same bus system. Most of the women were quietly fined, and no one heard much more.Now a 69-year-old retiree, Colvin lives in the Bronx. She remembers taking the bus home from high school on March 2, 1955, as clear as if it were yesterday. The bus driver ordered her to get up and she refused, saying she'd paid her fare and it was her constitutional right. Two police officers put her in handcuffs and arrested her. Her school books went flying off her lap. 'All I remember is that I was not going to walk off the bus voluntarily,' Colvin says. It was Negro history month, and at her segregated school they had been studying black leaders like Harriet Tubman, the runaway slave who led more than 70 slaves to freedom through the network of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. They were also studying about Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became an abolitionist and women's rights activist. The class had also been talking about the injustices they were experiencing daily under the Jim Crow segregation laws, like not being able to eat at a lunch counter. 'We couldn't try on clothes,' Colvin says. 'You had to take a brown paper bag and draw a diagram of your foot ... and take it to the store. Can you imagine all of that in my mind? My head was just too full of black history, you know, the oppression that we went through. It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn't get up.' Colvin is important because she challenged the law in court, one of four women plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama (NPR, Claudette Colvin).

21. Prince

Back in 1981, The New York Times called Prince “the most controversial contemporary rock star precisely because he challenges sexual and racial stereotypes.” Along with his androgynous appearance, he challenged American complacency with songs against war, poverty, and police brutality and supported an effort to get low-income black and brown youths prepared for the tech jobs of the future. In his 1981 album Controversy, Prince was tackling the Cold War and fears of nuclear annihilation with the track 'Ronnie, Talk to Russia.' 'Ronnie talk to Russia before it’s too late / Before they blow up the world,' he sang. In 1987, 'Sign o’ the Times' addressed HIV, drug addiction, and poverty. 'A sister killed her baby ’cause she couldn’t afford to feed it / And yet we’re sending people to the moon,' he sang. In 2014, his track 'Marz' turned the spotlight on child poverty in the black community. 'Lost my job at Mickey D’s / 4 giving away 2 much food 4 free / But I couldn’t watch another black child go 2 school / With nothing to eat,' he sang. There was the subtle shout-out to the Black Lives Matter movement at the 2015 Grammy Awards. 'Like books and black lives, albums still matter,' he said. Then, in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, he released a poignant protest song, 'Baltimore,' that addressed unrest in that city and in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown’s death in 2014. 'Does anybody hear us pray / For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray? / Peace is more than the absence of war,' Prince sang. The song ends with the chant, 'If there ain’t no justice then there ain’t no peace.' The Minnesota-based artist was also the inspiration behind and a key supporter of “Yes We Code,” an initiative launched last July to teach computer science to 100,000 students from backgrounds underrepresented in the tech world. The program has its roots in a conversation that activist Van Jones had with Prince about race after Trayvon Martin's death (via Takepart.com, Prince).

22. Tarana Burke

As an activist, community organizer, and executive, Tarana Burke has made quite an impact. Known as the founder of the ‘me too’ Movement, Burke’s hashtag has been used more than 19 million times on Twitter alone. Since then, Burke has been widely recognized for her work, and was named Person of the Year by TIME Magazine in 2017. Tarana Burke was born on September 12, 1973 in The Bronx, New York. From a young age, Burke developed a passion for activism and community organizing. In the late 1980s, she joined an organization focused on youth development called 21st Century. Starting as a teenager, Burke led campaigns and launched initiatives around issues like housing inequality, racial discrimination, and economic injustice. Fueled by her passion for activism, she decided to attend Alabama State University, a Historically Black University (HBCU), to further develop her organizing skills. Burke’s advocacy and leadership continued throughout her college career. After graduating, she moved to Selma, Alabama to work for 21st Century. While working with this organization, Burke encountered many young women of color that were survivors of sexual violence and abuse. Also a survivor of sexual abuse, Burke identified with these young women and her efforts shifted towards supporting them. She began to find ways to provide resources, support and safe spaces for young women of color to share their stories. During the 2017 Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, Burke’s hashtag #metoo went viral. People all over the world began posting the phrase on their social media accounts to align with the movement. Following this surge of support, Burke became a global leader and helped to get a larger conversation started around sexual violence. According to the Pew Research Center, in just one year the #metoo hashtag was used more than 19 million times on Twitter alone. In 2017, TIME Magazine named Burke and other “Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year. The very next year, she attended the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards as a guest of actress Michelle Williams. Burke has been internationally celebrated for her work and has been invited to speak across the country (via National Womens History Museum, Tarana Burke).

23. Ron Stallworth

Ron Stallworth was sworn in as a Colorado Springs police officer on his 21st birthday in 1974, making him the first African-American to graduate from the ranks of the Police Cadet Program. Stallworth was intrigued by the undercover narcotics investigators, and spent his first years peppering them with questions and pitching himself as a worthy undercover cop. His first undercover assignment was to attend a speech given by Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael. Stallworth dressed the part—blazer, bell-bottoms, concealed weapon and wire, Afro. Several months after his first special assignment, the real Stallworth became the youngest and first black undercover narcotics detective in Colorado Springs Police Department history. Part of Stallworth’s new job was to scan local newspapers for rumblings of suspicious activity. It was during one of these searches, in 1978, when the detective noticed a classified ad for a local Ku Klux Klan chapter. The real-life ad listed a P.O. box so Stallworth reached out to request more information about the organization via snail mail. He provided an unlisted, untraceable phone number and an untraceable address—but he did sign the letter with his real name. He used his real name, he has explained, because he did not think the correspondence would lead to an investigation. At most, he figured he would get a pamphlet—not a phone call two weeks later. A man starting a local K.K.K. chapter called Stallworth at the untraceable number he had provided, and asked him why he was interested in joining the organization. Caught off guard, Stallworth launched a profane monologue about hating minorities. The K.K.K. organizer was so eager to meet in person that Stallworth had to stall—to officially launch an investigation and prepare a proxy. Stallworth recruited an undercover narcotics officer named Chuck to play him. After a local K.K.K. organizer who was moving out of Colorado Springs suggested that Stallworth succeed him, the chief immediately shut down the investigation and instructed Stallworth to destroy all evidence of it. Wrote Stallworth, 'I believe he was fearful that if word got out that CSPD officers were sworn Klansmen he would have a PR disaster on his hands.' Over the years, Stallworth said, 'I thought about writing my story [as a book], but I didn’t, because I just didn’t feel like it.' When he sat down decades later, the detective said matter-of-factly, 'When I finally put pen to paper, I just felt like doing it.' (via Vanity Fair, Blackkklansman: The True Story).

24. Malcolm X

Remembering Malcolm X (exerpts from a speech in Los Angeles calling out police brutality): "In order for you and me to devise some kind of method or strategy to offset some of the events, or repetition of the events that have taken place here in Los Angeles recently, we have to go to the root. We have to go to the cause. Dealing with the condition itself is not enough. We have to get to the cause of it all, or the root of it all. And it is because of our effort, toward getting straight to the root that people oft-times think we’re dealing in hate...We are oppressed. We are exploited. We are downtrodden. We are denied not only civil rights but human rights. So the only way we’re going to get some of this oppression and exploitation away from us or aside from us is come together against a common enemy...And I for one as a Muslim believe that the white man is intelligent enough, if he were made to realize how black people really feel, and how fed up we are, without that old compromising sweet-talk. Stop sweet-talking him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what kind of Hell you been catching, and let him know that if he’s not ready to clean his house up, if he’s not ready to clean his house up…he shouldn’t have a house. It should catch on fire. And burn down."

25. James Baldwin

James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright, novelist and voice of the American civil rights movement. Writer and playwright James Baldwin published the 1953 novel Go Tell It on the Mountain, receiving acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity. Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. One of the 20th century's greatest writers, Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially known for his essays on the Black experience in America. After graduating from high school in 1942, he had to put his plans for college on hold to help support his family, which included seven younger children. He took whatever work he could find, including laying railroad tracks for the U.S. Army in New Jersey. During this time, Baldwin frequently encountered discrimination, being turned away from restaurants, bars and other establishments because he was African American. After being fired from the New Jersey job, Baldwin sought other work and struggled to make ends meet. Devoting himself to writing a novel, Baldwin took odd jobs to support himself. He befriended writer Richard Wright, and through Wright, he was able to land a fellowship in 1945 to cover his expenses. Baldwin started getting essays and short stories published in such national periodicals as The Nation, Partisan Review and Commentary. Three years later, Baldwin made a dramatic change in his life and moved to Paris on another fellowship. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. 'Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly...I am the grandson of a slave, and I am a writer. I must deal with both,' Baldwin once told The New York Times. In 1963, there was a noted change in Baldwin's work with The Fire Next Time. This collection of essays was meant to educate white Americans on what it meant to be Black. It also offered white readers a view of themselves through the eyes of the African American community. In the work, Baldwin offered a brutally realistic picture of race relations, but he remained hopeful about possible improvements. 'If we...do not falter in our duty now, we may be able...to end the racial nightmare.' His words struck a chord with the American people, and The Fire Next Time sold more than a million copies.That same year, Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. 'There is not another writer — white or Black — who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South,' Time said in the feature (via Biography.com, James Baldwin).

26. Jesse Owens

The most famous athlete of his time, his stunning triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games captivated the world even as it infuriated the Nazis. Despite the racial slurs he endured, Jesse Owens’ grace and athleticism rallied crowds across the globe. But when the four-time Olympic gold medalist returned home, he could not even ride in the front of a bus. James Cleveland Owens was the youngest of ten children, three girls and seven boys, born to Henry Cleveland Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald in Oakville, Alabama on September 12, 1913. J.C., as he was called, was nine years old when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio for better opportunities, as part of the Great Migration, when 1.5 million African Americans left the segregated South. When his new teacher asked his name (to enter in her roll book), he said 'J.C.', but because of his strong Southern accent, she thought he said 'Jesse'. The name took, and he was known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life. In 1936 African American sprinter Jesse Owens amazed the world by breaking Olympic records and winning four gold medals in Berlin, the headquarters of Hitler’s Nazi regime. However, in classic Olympic fashion, Owens became known not only for his athletic triumphs, but for his epic embrace with Aryan German competitor Luz Long and for the social barriers he broke down in the face of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Rather than protesting “Hitler’s Games,” Owens used his position in the spotlight to display the greatness and compassion that can be achieved outside of the political and cultural constraints of society. Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, while at the time blacks in many parts of the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York City ticker-tape parade of Fifth Avenue in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to reach the reception honoring him. Owens said, 'Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.' On the other hand, Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself. Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor were honors bestowed upon him by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or his successor Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored Owens by naming him an 'Ambassador of Sports.' (via Blackhistorymonth.org, Jessie Owens)

27. Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay is a writer, producer, director and distributor of independent film. DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California. As a child, DuVernay’s Aunt Denise encouraged her passion for art and creativity. Her aunt worked the night shift as a nurse so she could pursue her love for art, literature and theater during the day. She introduced DuVernay the 1961 film West Side Story, and DuVernay fell in love with it. DuVernay learned by example that art could be a vehicle for activism. Winner of the Emmy, BAFTA and Peabody Awards, Academy award nominee Ava DuVernay is a writer, director, producer and film distributor. Her directorial work includes the historical drama SELMA, the criminal justice documentary 13TH and Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME, which made her the highest grossing black woman director in American box office history. She was the first African American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, be nominated for a Best Director Golden Globe, direct a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and direct a film with a budget over $100 million. Her project, 'When They See Us', was nominated for 16 Emmy awards, making her and Beyoncé the first African American women in Primetime Emmy history to receive multiple nominations in their careers for directing. She oversees production on her critically-acclaimed TV series QUEEN SUGAR, her new CBS limited series THE RED LINE and her upcoming OWN series CHERISH THE DAY. Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival's Best Director Prize for her micro-budget film MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, DuVernay amplifies the work of people of color and women of all kinds through her non-profit film collective ARRAY, named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies (via Ava DuVernay and National Women's History Museum, Ava DuVernay).

28. Rose Robinson

Rose was a high jumper from Chicago. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality. But as an athlete, once the Cold War kicks off and she understands that the United States government is using her as a black person to say something about democracy that's essentially not true, she pulls away from the system. So in 1959, when the United States and Soviets agree to have track meets, these type of goodwill games to promote peace, she qualifies to go but refuses to go. Rose is hyper-critical of these trips and she’s loud about it. She’s giving interviews to 'The Defender'.' She’s giving interviews to Jet and she says, 'I’m not going to be a pawn. I’m not going to be a tool in this propaganda effort. And I’m not going to use my tax dollars to support this war machine. I’m not doing it. You’re not going to use my body to do that.' She also - it's noted in the press that during the Pan Am Games in America, she doesn't stand up for the national anthem. And then in 1960, she is actually arrested for refusing to pay taxes. And she goes on a hunger strike. This is what starts getting a lot of coverage. If you look at some pictures of her, she has to be carried into the courtroom, carried to her jail cell, because she’s become so frail. Very soon some pacifist groups—American Friends, some of the anti-war groups—start picketing on her behalf, in front of the courthouse, amplifying her hunger strike. So certainly, a lot of the times, as she’s remembered, is as a pacifist. She’s in jail for a long time because every time they bring her in front of the judge, they say, 'OK, stop your hunger strike, pay your fine, go home.' And she refuses to capitulate at all, which is why she keeps ending up in the jail cell. And when she finally gets released from jail, she doesn’t stop being vocal and active, but her athletic career definitely wanes. Part of it is that she physically is greatly diminished from her protest. Then she fully steps away from sport. How she’s remembered, is as a pacifist; we actually kind of lose all sense of her athletic career, at all (via The Nation, Rose Robinson).