John Lewis (February 21, 1940—July 17, 2020) was an American politician and civil rights leader who served as a United States Representative for the Fifth Congressional District in Georgia from 1987 until he died in 2020. Lewis is best known for his chairmanship of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and for leading the march that was halted by police violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, a landmark event in the history of the Civil Rights Movement that became known as “Bloody Sunday.” Even after enduring physical attacks, serious injuries, and more than 40 arrests, Lewis’ devotion to nonviolent resistance to racism remained steadfast.
Lewis died at age 80 on July 17, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia, after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Of his experience with cancer, Lewis stated, “I have been in some kind of fight—for freedom, equality, basic human rights—for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
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HARRIET Tubman "I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other." Born into slavery in Maryland, Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom in the North in 1849 to become the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad. Tubman risked her life to lead hundreds of family members and other slaves from the plantation system to freedom on this elaborate secret network of safe houses. A leading abolitionist before the American Civil War, Tubman also helped the Union Army during the war, working as a spy among other roles. In honor of her life and by popular demand, in 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill.
CORETTA Scott King "Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated." Coretta Scott King was an American civil rights activist and the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott met her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., while the two were both students in Boston, Massachusetts. She worked side by side with King as he became a leader of the civil rights movement, establishing her own distinguished career as an activist. Following her husband's assassination in 1968, Coretta founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and later successfully lobbied for his birthday to recognized as a federal holiday. She died of complications from ovarian cancer in 2006, at age 78
MAYA Angelou "Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible." One of the most prolific writers of our time, black or otherwise, Maya Angelou's storied career spanned several decades and included the publication of everything from poetry and essays to several autobiographies, including 1969's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The deeply personal and extremely successful book, chronicled Angelou's experiences of rape, identity and racism as a young girl in the south. It earned the her the distinction of penning the first nonfiction best-seller by an African American woman.
ROSA Parks “I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in." On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks rejected bus driver James F. Blake's order to relinquish her seat in the "colored section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. This sparked a citywide bus boycott - the Montgomery bus boycott. That protest came to a successful conclusion a year later when the Supreme Court ruled that buses had to be integrated. Soon after the boycott began, Parks and her husband lost their jobs as a result of her involvement in the boycott. Although Parks remained a target for years to come, it never stopped her and she went on to work with Malcolm X and was eventually hired as a receptionist and assistant for Congressman John Conyers' Detroit office after volunteering for his congressional campaign.
ELLA Baker "Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens." Ella Baker became one of the leading figures of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. Following her early work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she was among the founders of Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Three years later, she helped launch the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. While not as well known as King, John Lewis or other famed leaders of the civil rights movement, Baker was a powerful behind-the-scenes force that ensured the success of some of the movement's most important organizations and events.
FANNIE Lou Hamer "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Born into a Mississippi sharecropping family in 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer spent much of her early life in the cotton fields. She became involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1962, through which she led voting drives and relief efforts. In 1964, she co-founded and ran for Congress as a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, drawing national attention to their cause at that year's Democratic Convention. Hamer continued her activism through declining health, until her death in 1977.
MICHELLE Obama "For me, becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn't end." Michelle Obama is a lawyer and writer who was the first African American First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She is the wife of the 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama. Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. In her early legal career, she worked at the law firm Sidley Austin where she met Barack Obama. She subsequently worked in non-profits and as the associate dean of Student Services at the University of Chicago as well as the vice president for Community and External Affairs of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Michelle married Barack in 1992, and they have two daughters. As first lady, Obama served as a role model for women and worked as an advocate for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical activity, and healthy eating. She supported American designers and was considered a fashion icon. Her 2018 memoir, Becoming, discusses the experiences that shaped her, from her childhood in Chicago to her years living in the White House.
KAMALA Harris is an American politician and attorney who is the 49th and current Vice President of the United States. She is the United States' first female vice president, the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history, and the first African American and first Asian American vice president. She had previously served in the U.S. Senate (2017–21) and as attorney general of California (2011–17).
Biography.com Editors. The Biography.com. A&E Television Networks.
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