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Martin Luther King was an especially prominent black activist who received numerous honors and is now commemorated by a national holiday.

This is a list of African-American activists[1] covering various areas of activism, but primarily focus on those African Americans who historically and currently have been fighting racism and racial injustice against African Americans. The United States of America has a long history of racism against its Black citizens.[2] The names detailed below contains only notable African Americans who are known to be activist (sorted by surname).


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Ralph Abernathy Civil rights movement Ralph David Abernathy (March 11, 1926 – April 17, 1990) was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, and close friend and mentor of Martin Luther King Jr.[3]
Naomi Anderson Gender (mainly women) and racial equality Born: Naomi Bowman Talbert Anderson (March 1, 1843 – June 9, 1899). Black suffragist and poet.[4]
Theresa El-Amin Civil rights activist Union organizer and former member of the Green Party of the United States Steering Committee.[5]
Nipsey Hussle Community activism


Name Area of activism Notes and references
James Baldwin Race and LGBT equality. Born James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987). Also novelist and playwright. Baldwin was an inclusionist, not a separatist during the Civil Rights Movement.[6]
James Bevel Civil rights movement Strategist for SNCC and SCLC, initiated and directed the Birmingham Children's Crusade, Selma to Montgomery marches, Chicago Open Housing Movement, and other events.
Lillie Mae Bradford Civil rights Four years prior to Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat to a white man, Bradford (October 1, 1928 – March 14, 2017) was charged the wrong bus fare and racially insulted by a bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama to which she protested by sitting at the front of the bus reserved only for white people in accordance with racist American laws against its Black citizens. She was arrested and charged for disorderly conduct.
Aurelia Browder Civil rights Also known as Aurelia Shines Browder Coleman (January 29, 1919 – February 4, 1971). Almost eight months prior to the Rosa Parks incident, Browder was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person.[7]
Nannie Helen Burroughs Civil rights and feminist Burroughs (May 2, 1879 – May 20, 1961) was also an educator, orator, religious leader and businesswoman.[8]


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Archibald J. Carey, Jr Civil Rights Movement Archibald James Carey Jr. (February 29, 1908 – April 20, 1981) was a lawyer, judge, politician, diplomat and clergyman. Confidante of Martin Luther King Jr., Carey was also active in the national Civil Rights Movement and worked to end employment discrimination in the U.S. government against Black Americans.[9]
Christine Michel Carter Working parent and Maternal health Carter is an advocate for caregivers, specifically working mothers. She documented her experience pumping in a bathroom while working for an employer violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.[10]
Eldridge Cleaver Civil Rights Movement Eldridge Cleaver (August 31, 1935 – May 1, 1998) was a leader of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s.
Claudette Colvin Civil Rights Movement Claudette Colvin (September 5, 1939)[11] is an American nurse and one of the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement. Colvin was arrested on March 2, 1955, at the age of 15 in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a crowded racially segregated bus.[12] Colvin was also an NAACP Youth Council member in her student days.[13]
Anna Julia Cooper Black feminist and civil rights Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (August 10, 1858 – February 27, 1964) was an author, educator, sociologist, prominent African-American scholar, and "sometimes called the mother of Black Feminism."[14]
John Anthony Copeland Jr. John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry Executed by hanging in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), December 16, 1859.
Patrisse Cullors Black Lives Matter and LGBT Born in 1984, Cullors is an artist and activist, and an advocate for prison abolition in Los Angeles. She is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.[15][16][17]


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Angela Davis Communism and feminism Briefly involved in the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights Movement.[18]
William L. Dawson Civil Rights Movement William Levi Dawson (April 26, 1886 – November 9, 1970) was a politician; an active participant during the civil rights movement; and a sponsor of registration drives.
Charles Diggs Civil Rights Movement Charles Coles Diggs Jr. (December 2, 1922 – August 24, 1998[19]) was an early member of the civil rights movement.
Frederick Douglass Abolitionist Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818[20] – February 20, 1895[21] was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.
W. E. B. Du Bois Writer on African-American topics, a founder of NAACP William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963).


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Soffiyah Eliijah Prisoner rights
Ruth Ellis LGBT rights
Keith Ellison
Elizabeth Piper Ensley Women's suffrage
Charles Evers
Medgar Evers Civil Rights
Myrlie Evers-Williams Civil Rights


Name Area of activism Notes and references
David Fagen Anti-imperialism David Fagen was the son of former slaves, born in 1878 in Tampa.[22] As a teenager, Fagen became involved in labour strikes but joined the army in 1898. After combat in Cuba, he was deployed to Manila to fight in the Philippine-American War (1899–1902). No longer able to conduct himself as an instrument of white racism or American imperialism he joined the Philippine Liberation Army where he was promoted to captain and given his own command. Fagen achieved legendary status as a fighter and became a hero not just to the Philippines but to all those who oppose American imperialism and racism.[23]


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Erica Garner Black Lives Matter.[24] Daughter of Eric Garner, founder of the Garner Way Foundation, a foundation named in honour of her father[25][26]
Alicia Garza Black Lives Matter Co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement
Ernest Green Civil rights movement Part of the Little Rock Nine, and became the first African-American to graduate from Little Rock Central high School in 1958.
Shields Green John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry Executed by hanging in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), December 16, 1859.


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Fannie Lou Hamer voting rights and women's rights; civil rights movement
Fred Hampton
Frances Harper Abolitionist; women's rights
Aaron Henry Civil rights movement
T. R. M. Howard Civil rights movement
Langston Hughes Civil rights, Communism
John Horse


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Rizza Islam Political rights, Nation of Islam


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Jesse Jackson Civil rights movement
Alberta Odell Jones Civil rights movement Attorney
Quincy Jones Civil Rights
Marsha P. Johnson Civil rights


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Colin Kaepernick Black Lives Matter
Sarah Louise Keys Civil rights
Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Audre Lorde Poet, author, civil rights, feminist


Name Area of activism Notes and references
DeRay Mckesson
John Berry Meachum Religion, education, vocational training, Underground Railroad [27]
Irene Morgan
Amzie Moore
Khalid Abdul Muhammad


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Dangerfield Newby John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry Dangerfield Newby (1815 – October 17, 1859), born into slavery
Bree Newsome
Huey P. Newton


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Sarah Massey Overton Women's rights


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement
Lucy Parsons
Jewel Prestage


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Emma J. Ray Suffrage Movement Social and racial justice


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Bobby Seale
Mary Ann Shadd Cary
Al Sharpton
Nina Simone
Mary Louise Smith
Marion Stamps
Bryan Stevenson Criminal justice reform


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Sojourner Truth Abolitionist; women's suffrage
Harriet Tubman Abolitionist; women's suffrage


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Vicki Garvin Human rights activist; Civil rights movement


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Madam C. J. Walker
Booker T. Washington Writer, community leader, founder of Tuskegee Institute Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915). Born into slavery.
Ida B. Wells Civil rights movement; suffragist One of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Cornel West
Roy Wilkins Civil rights movement
Bobby E. Wright Pan-Africanism


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Malcolm X Human rights activist; Civil rights movement


Name Area of activism Notes and references
Andrew Young Civil rights movement


  1. ^ Evan F. Moore "In honor of Black History Month, here's a list of Chicagoans you should know", Chicago Sun-Times, February 1, 2019. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Kleinig, John, Handled with Discretion: Ethical Issues in Police Decision Making, Rowman & Littlefield (1996), p. 157, ISBN 9780847681778. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  3. ^ Bio of "Ralph David Abernathy", Frye Gaillard, University of South Alabama, March 14, 2007, (archive)
  4. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney; Phelps, Shirelle, Notable Black American Women, Book 2, VNR AG (1996), p. 11, ISBN 9780810391772.
  5. ^ "SNCC passes the torch | The CLog". Creative Loafing Charlotte. February 29, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Henneberg, Susan. James Baldwin: Groundbreaking Author and Civil Rights Activist, The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc (2014), pp. 6–8, 66, ISBN 9781477778975.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Barry (June 2009). "Collective Forgetting and the Symbolic Power of Oneness: The Strange Apotheosis of Rosa Parks". Social Psychology Quarterly. 72 (2): 123–142. doi:10.1177/019027250907200204. JSTOR 25593914. S2CID 3450932.
  8. ^ "Nannie Helen Burroughs papers, 1900–1963 (Library of Congress), Biographical Note (Woman's Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America)". 2001. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  9. ^ Dickerson, Dennis C., "The Wesleyan Witness in the US Civil Rights Movement: The Allen Legacy against 20th Century American Apartheid", 2007. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  10. ^ Carter, Christine Michel (2019-04-19). "How I Got My Employer to Acknowledge My Nursing Issue". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 2023-06-22.
  11. ^ "Claudette Colvin Biography, Activist, Civil Rights Activist, Medical Professional (1939–)",, A&E Television Networks, April 1, 2014.
  12. ^ Gray, Eliza (March 2, 2009). "A Forgotten Contribution: Before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on the bus", Newsweek.
  13. ^ Adler, Margot. Before Rosa Parks, There Was Claudette Colvin. NPR. March 15, 2009.
  14. ^ Foundations of African-American Sociology Archived 2017-03-06 at the Wayback Machine. Hampton University Department of Sociology. Hampton University. Retrieved 7 March 2017. From Melvin Barber; Leslie Innis; Emmit Hunt, African American Contributions to Sociology.
  15. ^ Goldhill, Olivia (November 15, 2016). "'We can feel sad, hurt, demoralized. But we can't give up': A Black Lives Matter founder on Trump's presidency". Quartz.
  16. ^ Garza, Alicia, "Herstory". Black Lives Matter. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  17. ^ Queerness on the front lines of #BlackLivesMatter. MSNBC. February 19, 2015 (video).
  18. ^ "Angela Davis". CCCB. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  19. ^ Haskins, James, Distinguished African American Political and Governmental Leaders. Oryx Press (1999), p. 67. ISBN 9781573561266,
  20. ^ "Frederick Douglass Biography : Journalist, Civil Rights Activist, Author, Government Official (c. 1818–1895)".
  21. ^ "Later Years and Death", Frederick Douglass Heritage. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  22. ^ Rafael, Vicente (11 February 2007). "David Fagen (1875–?)". Black Past.
  23. ^ Hoffman, Phillip W. (5 Sep 2017). David Fagen: Turncoat Hero. American History Press. ISBN 978-1939995254.
  24. ^ Wang, Vivian (December 30, 2017), "Erica Garner, Activist and Daughter of Eric Garner, Dies at 27", The New York Times
  25. ^ Erik Ortiz,Erica Garner, activist daughter of Eric Garner, dies at 27. NBC News, December 30, 2017. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  26. ^ Sheryl Huggins Salomon, "EXCLUSIVE: Erica Garner Slams 'Fraudulent Claims' In O'Keefe Video, Announces Foundation". News One, February 24, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  27. ^ Shipley, Alberta D.; Shipley, David O. (1976). The History of Black Baptists in Missouri. Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri. pp. 24–25, 227.