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8 Quotes From the Trailblazing Women of the Civil Rights Movement

The role of women in the Civil Rights Movement has often been overshadowed by that of men, who to this day are given more attention and credit than their female counterparts. But there’s no doubt that without the tireless efforts of women leaders, the movement wouldn’t have achieved the successes it did.

“By and large, men have formed the leadership in the civil rights struggle,” Coretta Scott King said, “but there have been many women in leading roles and many women in the background. Women have been the backbone of the whole Civil Rights Movement … Women have been the ones who have made it possible for the movement to be a mass movement.”

Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for women to experience gender discrimination and sexual harassment within the movement itself — and many of those female activists, perhaps unsurprisingly, later featured heavily in the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Here are eight quotes from female leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including prominent figures such as Rosa Parks and invaluable behind-the-scenes organizers such as Ella Baker.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Fannie Lou Hamer

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The daughter of sharecropper parents, Fannie Lou Hamer was working in the fields by the age of 6. She began her civil rights activism in 1962 and was subjected to a great deal of racist harassment and physical abuse for her work. Undeterred, she went on to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and run for the U.S. Senate in 1964.

I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
Rosa Parks

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One of the most famous people of any gender in the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks is best known for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott, which ultimately led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared bus segregation to be unconstitutional. Parks became an iconic figure in the fight for racial equality and is sometimes referred to as “the mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.
Coretta Scott King

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Coretta Scott King’s role in the Civil Rights Movement was often eclipsed by that of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr. But she was also a vital part of the movement, both independently of her husband and alongside him. After his death, she continued to work tirelessly for racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and an end to apartheid.

Until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s 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.
Ella Baker

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Ella Baker’s role in the Civil Rights Movement often took place behind the scenes, but she exemplifies the importance of the comparatively unheralded organizers without whom the movement would not have gained traction. Her activism spanned more than five decades and included vital roles within influential organizations such as the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.
Pauli Murray

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Pauli Murray was a truly incredible person whose trailblazing life deserves to be far more celebrated and familiar to the public. As a lawyer, activist, scholar, poet, and priest, Murray was at the forefront of the battle for racial and gender equality, and her essays, poems, and books were foundational works for the entire Civil Rights Movement. She was a major influence on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said of Murray, “We owe so much to her courage, to her willingness to speak out when society was not prepared to listen.”

I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than affirm.
Septima Poinsette Clark

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Septima Poinsette Clark developed literacy and citizenship workshops that ultimately played a crucial part in the larger Civil Rights Movement. While her work often went underappreciated by some of her male colleagues, she was highly valued by Martin Luther King Jr., who referred to Clark as the “mother of the movement.”

Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition he or she has overcome to reach his goals.
Dorothy Height

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A true stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement, Dorothy Height served as the president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years. Although she primarily focused on rights and opportunities for Black women, she also tirelessly campaigned for criminal justice reform, among other issues.

There is a source of power in each of us that we don’t realize until we take responsibility.
Diane Nash

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During the 1960s, Diane Nash was a key leader in the fight against segregation. She organized and took part in sit-ins and was a central figure among the Freedom Riders, a group of Black and white activists who rode interstate buses together across the American South in protest of segregation. In 2022, at age 84, Nash was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden.

Featured image credit: Tim Boxer/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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