Famous American Civil Rights Activists

What is the first thing that pops up in your mind when you listen to names like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev, William Wiilberforce, Desmond Tutu and Rosa Parks? That is right! These were the champions of civil right movement; the propagators who helped transform the social fabric and change the course of history through their activism. Their contribution to the cause of ending slavery and racial discrimination and equality in society had been gargantuan. America has seen many such champions who brought about an overwhelming social transformation. There were many extraordinary leaders who inspired a generation of men and women to stand up, voice their opinion against, and fight the discrimination. From Montgomery Bus Boycott and Albany Movement to Selma March and Freedom Riders, America has witnessed a volley of activists waiting to end all disparity and establish equality. Without any further delay, let us explore the timeline, trivia, and facts in the biographies below.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

Vote for Your Favourite American Civil Rights Activists

 1 James Baldwin

James Baldwin
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: American
Died: December 1, 1987

Amongst the greatest writers of the 20th century and a leading literary voice in the civil rights movement, James Baldwin extensively explored issues like race, sexuality and humanity in his work. His best known work include his debut novel Go Tell It on the Mountain and his books of essays Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name.

 2 Angela Davis

Angela Davis
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Famous As: Political Activist
Birthdate: January 26, 1944
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American

Activist, philosopher, academic and author, Angela Davis is a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS). She has worked in the areas of feminism, class, race and the US prison system. She has also received criticism for supporting the erstwhile Soviet Union and has been accused of supporting political violence.

 3 Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: February 4, 1913
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American
Died: October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks, “the first lady of civil rights,” was a pioneer in the American revolution against color segregation and racism. Her refusal to leave her bus seat to a white passenger gave rise to the iconic Montgomery Bus Boycott, which also led her to work with Martin Luther King Jr.

 4 Malcolm X

Malcolm X
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: May 19, 1925
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: American
Died: February 21, 1965

An African-American leader of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X was a vocal spokesman of the Nation of Islam and called upon the blacks to protect themselves from the white, even if it meant adopting violence. His radical views and preaching later evolved and he accepted the possibility of peaceful resolution of racial issues in America.

 5 Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali
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Birthdate: January 17, 1942
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: American
Died: June 3, 2016

Widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali was a major figure of the 20th century. He was an inspirational figure for African-Americans during the civil rights movement. Because of his opposition to Vietnam War and his refusal to be drafted into military, Muhammad Ali became an icon for the larger counterculture generation.

 6 Pauley Perrette

Pauley Perrette
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Famous As: Television Actress, Activist, Singer
Birthdate: March 27, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American

Pauley Perrette is a former actress, singer, and writer. Perrette is best known for portraying Abby Sciuto from 2003 to 2018 on the popular police procedural TV series NCIS. Also an activist, Pauley Perrette supports several animal rescue organizations, LGBT rights organizations, and civil rights organizations. Over the years, she has been an ardent supporter of the American Red Cross.

 7 Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
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Famous As: American orator
Birthdate: February 1, 1818
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American
Died: February 20, 1895

Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Born into slavery, he had a difficult early life. Eventually, he managed to escape and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the cause of abolition. He was a great orator and writer.

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 8 Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: August 24, 1945
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American
Died: July 6, 1992

 9 Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist, Author
Birthdate: April 27, 1927
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: American
Died: January 30, 2006

The American civil rights activist was an ideal foil for her famous husband Martin Luther King Jr. in promoting racial equality. The author and singer led the Women's Movement and fought for the rights of the LGBT community. She was also known for mobilising African-Americans during the 1960 US presidential election. She founded the King Centre, a not-for-profit organization.

 10 Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 4, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American
Died: May 28, 2014
Poet, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was a champion for black feminism and is best remembered for her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and over 50 honorary degrees was also a child sex abuse survivor.

 11 Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk
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Birthdate: May 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Nationality: American
Died: November 27, 1978
LGBT rights activist Harvey Milk became California’s first openly gay elected official when he became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were later assassinated by politician Dan White. Milk's story later inspired the 2008 biopic Milk.

 12 Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: October 8, 1941
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: American
Civil rights activist and politician Jesse Jackson, father of former U.S. representative Jesse Jackson Jr., is also a Baptist minister. He has been a shadow U.S. senator from the District of Columbia and established organizations that merged into the non-profit Rainbow/PUSH. He also hosted CNN’s Both Sides with Jesse Jackson.

 13 Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: August 30, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American
Died: December 4, 1969

Fred Hampton was considered an activist and a revolutionary socialist working for social change. He was the deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party. He founded the Rainbow Coalition, aiming to help the Chicago street gangs to end infighting. The FBI considered him as a major threat and he was shot and killed in December 1969 during a raid.

 14 Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers
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Birthdate: July 2, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: June 12, 1963
American civil rights activist Medgar Evers was the NAACP field secretary of Mississippi state. He has also served the U.S. Army during World War II. He worked toward securing voting rights for all and to end racial segregation. He was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith in 1963. 

 15 Walter White

Walter White
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Famous As: American civil rights activist
Birthdate: July 1, 1893
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: 1955 AD

 16 Lena Horne

Lena Horne
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: June 30, 1917
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: May 9, 2010

Lena Horne was an American singer, actress, dancer, and civil rights activist. Horne's 70-year acting career was embellished with several prestigious awards, such as Grammy Awards. Her life and career were depicted in many stage shows, where she was portrayed by actresses like Leslie Uggams, Nikki Crawford, and Ryan Jillian.

 17 Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells
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Famous As: Journalist
Birthdate: July 16, 1862
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: March 25, 1931
Civil rights and women's rights activist Ida B. Wells is remembered for speaking up against the lynching of Blacks in the U.S. She was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She later co-founded the NAACP. She also co-owned and wrote for Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

 18 Shaun King

Shaun King
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 17, 1979
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American

Writer and civil rights activist, Shaun King, is the co-founder of Real Justice PAC. He is known for making extensive use of social media to promote causes like Black Lives Matter. He has worked as a teacher and pastor and is the founder of the Courageous Church. He launched the campaign Justice Together in 2015 to fight against police brutality.

 19 Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: September 12, 1973
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American

 20 Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson
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Famous As: Singer, Actor & Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: April 9, 1898
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American
Died: January 23, 1976

Singer and actor, Paul Robeson, was as much known for his music and films as he was for his political activism. As a black man who had to endure great difficulties to establish himself, he was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns. As a performer, he was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

 21 Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott
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Famous As: Schoolteacher
Birthdate: May 27, 1933
Sun Sign: Gemini
Nationality: American

 22 Yolanda King

Yolanda King
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 17, 1955
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: American
Died: May 15, 2007

African American activist, Yolanda King, was the first-born child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Exposed to social justice activism at a young age, she grew up to be an outspoken supporter of civil rights and LGBTQA+ rights. She was also known for her artistic endeavors. She died of heart disease at 51. 

 23 Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: January 4, 1981
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: American

 24 Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
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Famous As: Women’s Rights Activist
Birthdate: November 12, 1815
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: American
Died: October 26, 1902

 25 Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: October 27, 1922
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: American
Died: June 11, 2014

 26 Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: September 12, 1944
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American

 27 Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: September 5, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: American

 28 Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 18, 1934
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American
Died: November 17, 1992

 29 William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison
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Famous As: Abolitionist
Birthdate: December 12, 1805
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Nationality: American
Died: May 24, 1879

 30 Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: March 17, 1912
Sun Sign: Pisces
Nationality: American
Died: August 24, 1987

 31 Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker
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Famous As: Compiler of Almanacs
Birthdate: November 9, 1731
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: American
Died: October 9, 1806

 32 Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: October 6, 1917
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: American
Died: March 14, 1977

 33 Denise Nicholas

Denise Nicholas
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: July 12, 1944
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American

 34 James Meredith

James Meredith
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: June 25, 1933
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American

 35 Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta
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Famous As: Trade unionist
Birthdate: April 10, 1930
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American

 36 Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: February 21, 1936
Sun Sign: Pisces
Nationality: American
Died: January 17, 1996

 37 Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune
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Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: July 10, 1875
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: May 18, 1955

 38 C. L. Franklin

C. L. Franklin
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Famous As: Baptist minister
Birthdate: January 22, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American
Died: July 27, 1984

 39 Wendell Willkie

Wendell Willkie
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: February 18, 1892
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American
Died: October 8, 1944

 40 Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: July 2, 1951
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: February 19, 2002

 41 Alveda King

Alveda King
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Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: January 22, 1951
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: American

 42 A. Philip Randolph

A. Phillip Randolph
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Famous As: Leader of the African-American civil-rights movement,
Birthdate: April 15, 1889
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American
Died: May 16, 1979

 43 William Kunstler

William Kunstler
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: July 7, 1919
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: American
Died: September 4, 1995

 44 Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: April 11, 1925
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American
Died: March 25, 1965

 45 James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 17, 1871
Sun Sign: Gemini
Nationality: American
Died: June 26, 1938

 46 Hosea Williams

Hosea Williams
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Famous As: Civil Rights Leader
Birthdate: January 5, 1926
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: American
Died: November 16, 2000

 47 Max Roach

Max Roach
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Famous As: Musician
Birthdate: January 10, 1924
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: American
Died: August 16, 2007

 48 Ella Baker

Ella Baker
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Famous As: American activist
Birthdate: December 13, 1903
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Nationality: American
Died: December 13, 1986

 49 Vernon Jordan

Vernon Jordan
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Famous As: Lawyer
Birthdate: August 15, 1935
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: American

 50 Harry Hay

Harry Hay
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Famous As: Gay rights activist
Birthdate: April 7, 1912
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: American
Died: October 24, 2002