Viola Desmond (1914-1965) was a civil rights activist in Canada. She helped give
rise to the civil rights movement in her country by challenging racial
segregation, refusing to give up her seat in a whites-only area of a cinema in
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
She was a beautician who opened her own
salon and training school, specifically for black women who were being denied
entry to whites-only beauty schools. Her defying gesture happened in 1964, and
she was forced to spend a night in jail and pay a $20 fine. She was granted a
posthumous pardon in 2010 (the first ever in Canada), and was the first black
Canadian women to be featured on a banknote.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (b. 1937) is a lawyer and politician. She is a non-voting Delegate
to the US House of Representatives, as well as a devoted civil rights activist.
She studied law at Yale, and later worked
as the assistant legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1977
she became the first female Chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
and in 1990 she co-founded the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom
Hernandez (1926-2017) was an activist for civil and
women’s rights. She served as the President of the National Organization of Women
(NOW) in 1970 and 1971.
She studied sociology and political science
at Howard University, from which she graduated magna cum laude, despite the constant racial discrimination and
abuse she suffered. She later became the only woman on the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission established by President Johnson, and one of the main
organizers of the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. She co-founded the National
Women’s Political Caucus and Black Women Organized for Political Action.
Ames (1920-2002) was a South African neurologist
and human rights activist. She led the medical ethics enquiry into the death of
Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid activist, an enquiry which showed that he had
been tortured and medically neglected, and led to the prosecution of the
She was the first woman to obtain a medical
degree from the University of Cape Town in 1964. She practiced medicine and
taught at Valkenberg Hospital until six weeks before she died. In 1999, Nelson
Mandela awarded her the Star of South Africa, the country’s highest civilian
Eaton (1921-2018) was a civil rights activist in
the state of North Carolina. President Obama described her as a personal
inspiration and a “beacon of civil rights”.
When she was 21, she passed a severe literacy
test and registered to vote, one of the first African Americans to do so in her
state. She served as a county poll worker and a special registrar commissioner
for 40 years after that, helping more than 4000 people to register to vote.
Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018) was a civil rights activist and philanthropist from Alabama,
active in Washington, D.C. Although she was born in a well-off family, the racism
she experienced throughout her life still shaped her worldview.
She attended George Washington University,
where she studied law and organised the Black Student Union, working to
integrate fraternities and sororities. She was one of the founders of the Duke
Ellington School of the Arts, and served on the DC Commission on the Arts and
(1949-2014) was an
activist for better housing for the African-American community. She was active
around St Louis, Missouri.
She started advocating for better housing
from a very young age, leading a nine-month rent strike which involved more
than twenty-two thousand tenants who were living in intolerable conditions. She
eventually set up the first tenant management association in the city, which
rehabilitated and managed the Cochran Gardens Housing Project, greatly
improving the living conditions of thousands.
Evers-Williams (b. 1933) is a civil rights activist
and journalist, who served as chairwoman of the NAACP. She delivered the
invocation at President Obama’s second inauguration.
She worked for the desegregation of schools
and voter registration in her native state of Mississippi. After her husband,
also an activist, was killed by a white supremacist in 1963, she sought justice
for him for more than three decades.
was an activist and social reformer in Atlanta, Georgia. Her actions helped
improve the lives of African American citizens in her community and inspired
actions within the future Civil Rights Movement.
She studied art and
business in Chicago and moved to Atlanta in 1897, where she helped create the
Neighborhood Union – the first female-led social welfare agency for African
Americans in the city. The organisation provided social, educational, medical
and recreational services for the community. She also fought for the
desegregation of the national YWCA and served as the vice president of the
NAACP branch in Atlanta, where she organised courses on politics and voting.
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
(1898-1989) was a trailbrazer for
African American women in the academic environment. She was the first
African-American woman to obtain a PhD in economics in the United States, as
well as the first to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
She was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School in 1923
as its first female African-American student, and was the first to graduate in
1927, the same year she was admitted to the state Bar. She later served as the
President of the John F. Kennedy Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.