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Four Famous Female Advocates for Civil Rights

This blog was written during my time as a spring intern with Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis and was originally published here.

Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis is celebrating Black History Month by honoring influential black women throughout history. Read below to see how each of these strong women influenced movements throughout history.

Daisy Bates

Bates was a journalist and activist from Little Rock, Arkansas, who assisted with the desegregation of schools in the city. While most well-known civil rights activists of the era were men, Bates stood out as a well-educated and sophisticated woman.

After challenging the school board at Central High School to adhere to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling to desegregate all schools, Bates’ home became a headquarters for the cause. She worked closely with the NAACP and advocates such as civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall.

Bates and her allies eventually won their fight after three years, when nine African-American children, known today as the Little Rock Nine, were escorted into the building in 1957.

Maya Angelou

Author, educator, and activist Maya Angelou is known around the world for her works. Her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, describes in detail the struggles she endured as a black child in the American South during the Great Depression. She continued to endure many difficulties and rapid changes throughout her life, emerging as a symbol of strength and perseverance for black women everywhere.

“All my work, my life, everything is about survival,” Angelou said. “All my work is meant to say, ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.’ In fact, the encountering may be the very experience which creates the vitality and the power to endure.”

In addition to the written works she published throughout her lifetime, Angelou served as an educator and received over 50 honorary degrees from various universities.

Mamie Phipps Clark, PhD

Mamie Phipps Clark, along with her husband Kenneth Clark, was one of the first African-Americans to earn a doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University. She spent her early years working with children and eventually decided to combine that work her research in psychology to study black children’s sense of self.

Some of her most noted work was highly influential to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case, which made segregation of schools illegal and paved the way for activists like Daisy Bates to get local schools integrated.

Mamie and Kenneth Clark also founded what would become the Northside Center for Child Development, to help African-American children from Harlem. The Center is still in operation today, offering behavioral, mental health and education services to the children of New York.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune was a strong advocate for education, gender equality and civil rights. Bethune founded a boarding school for African-American girls, which would eventually become Bethune-Cookman University.

In addition to being an entrepreneur and educator, she played an integral part in Depression-era politics by leading voting drives for women and serving as an adviser to then-president, Franklin Roosevelt. She organized and lead many other organizations across the United States, and served as the Vice President of the NAACP for fifteen years.

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