Women undoubtedly played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement. Although some of these women are well known, there are still many unsung heroes. Here are four Strong Women from the Civil Rights Movement who fought for a better world. Their strength, courage and activism continues to be a source of inspiration.
Grace Lee Boggs
Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1915, Boggs was an author, feminist and social activist. She attended Barnard College and received her Ph.D in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940. Initially focusing on tenants’ rights, Boggs shifted her focus to struggles in the African-American community.
In 1953, she married James Boggs, an African American political activist and auto worker. The two moved to Detroit that same year and continued to focus on the Black Power Movement activism and the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to her activism, Boggs translated many of Karl Marx’s essays into English and wrote several books including Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. Boggs also founded Detroit Summer, a “multi-racial, inter-generational collective” in 1992 and continued to be a prominent activist in Detroit. She was the subject of the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. Boggs died on October 5, 2015 at the age of 100.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Townsend was born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. By age 6, she began picking cotton alongside her family and was later forced to drop out of school. In 1944, at the urging of the plantation owner, she became the plantation’s time and record keeper. She married her husband, Perry Hamer, the following year, and the two worked on the plantation for the next 18 years.
In 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer attended a sermon by Rev. James Bevel who encouraged those in attendance to register to vote. Hamer traveled with a group of 17 other African-Americans to a nearby city to register to vote. Hamer’s involvement cost her her job, but propelled her into a career in the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to organizing voter campaigns in Mississippi, Hamer also helped organize the “Freedom Ballot Campaign,” a mock election. She was elected the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964. Hamer ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965 but was unsuccessful. On March 14, 1977, Hamer died of complications from breast cancer and hypertension.
Viola Gregg Liuzzo
A civil rights activist, Liuzzo was born in California, Pennsylvania on April 11, 1925 and spent much of her childhood in Tennessee. Liuzzo eventually moved to Detroit and became a member of the Detroit chapter of the NAACP. After the events that transpired in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 , also known as “Bloody Sunday,” Liuzzo traveled to Alabama to help the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. , register African-Americans voters in Selma.
On March 21, 1965, Liuzzo joined more than 3,000 marchers, led by Martin Luther King Jr., from Selma to Montgomery to campaign for voting rights for African-Americans in the South. Liuzzo also helped drive supporters between Selma and Montgomery. The group reached Montgomery on March 25, 1965 and King gave a speech to a crowd of 25,000 supporters on the steps of the state capitol building. That night Liuzzo offered to shuttle supporters from Montgomery back to Selma. While driving with another civil rights worker, Leroy Moton, Liuzzo was killed by four men associated with the KKK. Liuzzo is among 40 civil rights martyrs honored on the Civil Right Memorial in Montgomery, and she was inducted into the Michigan Hall of Fame in 2006.
Ella Josephine Baker
Ella Josephine Baker was born December 13, 1903 in Norfolk, Virgina. Baker attended Shaw University and graduated class valedictorian in 1927. After graduating, Baker moved to New York City and became an editorial staff member for American West Indies News and later became an editorial assistant for Negro National News.
Baker joined the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League in 1931 and became the group’s national director. She also worked for the Worker’s Education Project teaching African history and labor history. In 1938, Baker began working for the NAACP as a secretary and was named the director of branches, the highest ranking woman in the organization, in 1943. Baker also worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Southern Conference Education Fund.