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 Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: January 15, 1929
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Died: April 4, 1968

A leader in the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. A man of Christian faith who was inspired by Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial inequality.  

 2 James Baldwin

James Baldwin
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Famous As: Novelist
Birthdate: August 2, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Harlem
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.

 3 Pauley Perrette

Pauley Perrette
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Famous As: Television Actress, Activist, Singer
Birthdate: March 27, 1969
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

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.

 4 Malcolm X

Malcolm X
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: May 19, 1925
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, United States
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 Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: August 30, 1948
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Summit, Illinois, United States
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.

 6 Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall
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Famous As: Former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
Birthdate: July 2, 1908
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: January 24, 1993

The first African-American member of the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was an associate justice from 1967 to 1991. Earlier as an attorney, he fought for the abolishment of racial segregation in American public schools. He was also a strong proponent of individual rights. A symbol of black icon, there are numerous memorials in America to honour his legacy.

 7 Angela Davis

Angela Davis
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Famous As: Political Activist
Birthdate: January 26, 1944
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Birmingham

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.

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 8 Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
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Famous As: American orator
Birthdate: February 1, 1818
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Talbot County, Maryland, U.S
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.

 9 Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
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Famous As: Poet
Birthdate: April 4, 1928
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
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.

 10 Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers
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Birthdate: July 2, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Decatur, Mississippi U.S.
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. 

 11 Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: August 24, 1945
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA
Died: July 6, 1992

 12 Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: March 31, 1927
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Yuma
Died: April 23, 1993
Cesar Chavez became a Latin American civil rights icon owing to his efforts to secure rights for farmworkers. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers union. He was inspired by Gandhian non-violent protests and organized the Delano grape strike, among other protests.

 13 Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist, Author
Birthdate: April 27, 1927
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Heiberger
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.

 14 Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott
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Famous As: Schoolteacher
Birthdate: May 27, 1933
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Riceville, Mitchell County, Iowa, USA

 15 Yolanda King

Yolanda King
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: November 17, 1955
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama
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. 

 16 Alicia Garza

Alicia Garza
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: January 4, 1981
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

 17 Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 18, 1934
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Harlem, New York City
Died: November 17, 1992

 18 Viola Liuzzo

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

 19 James Farmer

James Farmer
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: January 12, 1920
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Marshall, Texas, United States
Died: July 9, 1999

 20 Oscar Cicero Brown, Jr.

Oscar Cicero Brown, Jr.
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Famous As: Singer-songwriter
Birthdate: October 10, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: May 29, 2005

 21 Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith
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Famous As: Leader
Birthdate: January 23, 1837
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Long Green, Maryland, United States
Died: February 24, 1915

 22 Willie Barrow

Willie Barrow
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Famous As: Clergywoman
Birthdate: December 7, 1924
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Burton, Texas, United States
Died: March 12, 2015

 23 Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: February 4, 1913
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tuskegee, Alabama, United States
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.

 24 Abbie Hoffman

Abbie Hoffman
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Famous As: Anti-War Activist
Birthdate: November 30, 1936
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Worcester
Died: April 12, 1989

The co-founder of the Youth International Party, Abbie Hoffman was an American social and political activist. A popular exponent of the Flower Power movement, Abbie Hoffman played a major role in the events leading up to the violent confrontations with the cops during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He remains an iconic figure of the counterculture era.

 25 Zack de la Rocha

Zack de la Rocha
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Birthdate: January 12, 1970
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Long Beach

Rapper Zack de la Rocha, the vocalist for the rock band Rage Against the Machine, also formed the duo One Day as a Lion with drummer Jon Theodore. He supports vegetarianism and the Zapatista (EZLN) movement of Mexico. He also testified against the U.S.’s treatment of Abu-Jamal, at the U.N. 

 26 Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges
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Famous As: Philanthropist
Birthdate: September 8, 1954
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Tylertown
American civil rights activist Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend an all-white educational institute when she joined the Louisiana-based William Frantz Elementary School in November 1960. She was the subject of Norman Rockwell’s painting The Problem We All Live With and the TV movie Ruby Bridges.

 27 Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: October 8, 1941
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Greenville
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.

 28 Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal
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Famous As: Author
Birthdate: November 12, 1977
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Lincoln County, Montana, U.S

 29 Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders
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Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: September 8, 1941
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States

The current junior US Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders is the longest-serving nonpartisan politician in the history of the United States Congress. Sanders is an ardent advocate of progressive policies and is well-known for his opposition to neoliberalism and economic inequality. He also supports paid parental leave, universal and single-payer healthcare, and labor rights.

 30 Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk
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Birthdate: May 22, 1930
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Woodmere
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.

 31 Lena Horne

Lena Horne
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Famous As: Singer
Birthdate: June 30, 1917
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Bedford-Stuyvesant
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.

 32 Walter White

Walter White
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Famous As: American civil rights activist
Birthdate: July 1, 1893
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died: 1955 AD

 33 Shaun King

Shaun King
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: September 17, 1979
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Franklin County, Kentucky, United States

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.

 34 Betty Shabazz

Betty Shabazz
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Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: May 28, 1934
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Pinehurst, Georgia, United States
Died: June 23, 1997

 35 Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson
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Famous As: Singer, Actor & Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: April 9, 1898
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Princeton, New Jersey, U.S
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.

 36 Tarana Burke

Tarana Burke
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: September 12, 1973
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York City, U.S.

 37 Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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

 38 Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: October 27, 1922
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Died: June 11, 2014

 39 Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: September 12, 1944
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle Mountain Reservation, North Dakota, USA

 40 Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: September 5, 1939
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Alabama, U.S.

 41 C. L. Franklin

C. L. Franklin
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Famous As: Baptist minister
Birthdate: January 22, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Sunflower County, Mississippi, United States
Died: July 27, 1984

 42 Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin
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Famous As: Activist
Birthdate: March 17, 1912
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: August 24, 1987

 43 William Lloyd Garrison

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

 44 Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker
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Famous As: Compiler of Almanacs
Birthdate: November 9, 1731
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Baltimore County
Died: October 9, 1806

 45 Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer
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Famous As: Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: October 6, 1917
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Montgomery County, Mississippi, United States
Died: March 14, 1977

 46 Denise Nicholas

Denise Nicholas
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: July 12, 1944
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan, United States

 47 Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
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Famous As: Politician & Civil Rights Activist
Birthdate: November 29, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut, United States
Died: April 4, 1972

 48 James Meredith

James Meredith
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: June 25, 1933
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Kosciusko, Mississippi, United States

 49 Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta
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Famous As: Trade unionist
Birthdate: April 10, 1930
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Dawson

 50 Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune
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Famous As: Educator
Birthdate: July 10, 1875
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Mayesville, South Carolina, United States
Died: May 18, 1955