Georgia Civil Rights Leaders

Georgia has been the birthplace for some of the most prolific civil rights and civil liberties leaders in the country. Hover on the image and click for more information on these important figures. 

Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron

2/5/1934 – 1/22/2021

Hank Aaron, the baseball legend, was a pioneer who fought for equality both within baseball and beyond it. He spent 21 of his 23 seasons playing for the Braves, who moved to Atlanta in 1966. Aaron encountered vehement racism from so-called “fans,” who were opposed to a black man in the Deep South becoming a baseball star. Nevertheless, Aaron continued to play the game spectacularly, breaking Babe Ruth’s homerun record in 1974. He finished his career with 755 homeruns, and he is still largely considered the homerun king of baseball. After retiring, Aaron remained a staunch advocate for civil rights and equal opportunities for young people of color.

Sources: AP News, Encyclopedia Britannica

Cecil Alexander Jr.

Cecil Alexander Jr.

3/4/1918 – 7/30/2013

Cecil Alexander Jr. was a leader in the integration of the city of Atlanta and a key figure in the Jewish community. After obtaining a bachelors degree from Yale and studying at Massachusetts Institution of Technology, Alexander heard the horrors of the treatment of Jews in Europe and joined the Navy as an aviator. Upon his arrival back to the U.S. Alexander obtained a graduate degree in architecture from Harvard and would later move back to Atlanta to advocate for the removal of slum housing in the city, and replace them with low-income public housing. Alexander also worked alongside civil rights leader John Lewis in the creation of the Atlanta Black Jewish Coalition.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Ivan Allen Jr.

Ivan Allen Jr.

3/15/1911 – 7/2/2003

Ivan Allen Jr. served as Atlanta’s mayor from 1962 to 1970. During his time, Allen Jr. was responsible for removing the Colored and White signs that pervaded the city and was one of the few Southern leaders who supported John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964.H e advocated for the desegregation of many of Atlanta’s restaurants, hotels, and various public facilities. In 1981, Coretta Scott King presented Allen with the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Dr. Carol Anderson

Dr. Carol Anderson

Date

Insert Text

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Benny Andrews

Benny Andrews

1930-2006

“Benny Andrews, nationally recognized as an artist, teacher, author, activist, and advocate of the arts, grew up in rural Morgan County.” He was a cofounder of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in 1969 and spearheaded the inclusion of work by minority artists in major collections and exhibitions. In his work, Andrews dealt with such difficult subjects as slavery, the Holocaust, and the American response to revolt and war. His figurative, expressionistic style celebrates the human spirit.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia, Benny Andrews Estate

Ludie Clay Andrews

Ludie Clay Andrews

9/4/1872 – 1/6/1969

Ludie Clay Andrews was a pioneer for black women in medicine, fighting for nearly 10 years for black nurses to become registered in Georgia. She trained as a nurse MacVicar Hospital at Spellman Seminary in Atlanta. She went on to become the Superintendent for Colored Nurses at Grady Hospital, organizing training programs for black nursing students. She spent the next decade fighting for black nurses to receive the same licenses as white nurses. “The state even offered Andrews her own license in an attempt to pacify her, but she refused, as the same license would not be available to all black nurses. Finally, in 1920, all black nurses who graduated from accredited schools were allowed to take the State Board Examination for Registration. Andrews became the first registered black nurse in Georgia.”

Sources: Georgia Women of Achievement, Georgia State University Library

Susan Cobb Milton Atkinson

Susan Cobb Milton Atkinson

1860 – 1942

“Susan Cobb Milton Atkinson campaigned for the establishment of the first state-supported college for women in Georgia. In Atkinson’s day, the only institutions for higher education were private; many women did not have the financial means to pay for private tuition. She urged her husband, the Speaker of the House for the Georgia Congress, to introduce a bill that would establish a public women’s college. She sent petitions to influential women in every Georgia county; when the bill was presented, sheaves of paper with thousands of signatures were presented with it. The bill was passed, and soon after, ground was broken in Milledgeville for the Georgia Normal and Industrial College.”

Sources: Georgia Women of Achievement

Clarence A. Bacote

Clarence A. Bacote

2/24/1906 – 5/1/1981

“Clarence A. Bacote was a distinguished historian, scholar, and political activist who dedicated his life to educating black voters in Atlanta. An authority on Georgia’s political history, he studied extensively the barriers to black political participation in the state. As a political activist, he was responsible for helping to register thousands of African American voters in the mid-1940s and for organizing them into a political force in the city.”

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Sarah Randolph Bailey

Sarah Randolph Bailey

1885-1972

“Sarah Randolph Bailey was an educator and activist who fought to give black children the same opportunities afforded to white children. She spent 35 years as a teacher and principal of the Maryland M. Burdell School in Macon, GA. “When one of her students was sent to the Old Macon Detention Home, she began volunteering there as a Sunday school teacher; her efforts eventually transformed the Home into the Negro Training School for Girls, which focused on preparing young black girls for success. “Because Girl Scouts did not allow black members, Bailey organized a similar group for black children called the Girl Reserves in 1935; by 1937, Macon had 15 Girl Reserve groups. The Girl Scouts of America eventually recognized the Girl Reserves as official Troops in 1948.”

Sources: Georgia Women of Achievement

Cornelia Bailey

Cornelia Bailey

6/12/1945 – 10/15/2017

“Cornelia Bailey was a part of the last generation of African Americans born and raised in Sapelo, a barrier island located off the southern coast of Georgia.” With the isolated island consisting of mostly African Americans, Bailey became the “griot” or storyteller and historian of the people who lived there. Bailey dedicated her life to sharing the stories of her ancestors and fighting to keep the Geechee culture found in the island untouched as industrialism spread through Georgia.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Julian Bond

Julian Bond

1/14/1940 – 8/15/2015

Julian Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization of college students fighting for equality during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1967, he joined the Georgia legislature, advocating for civil rights and economic justice. By the end of his twenty-year tenure as a legislator, he had been elected to office more times than any other black Georgian.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Mary Musgrove Bosomworth

Mary Musgrove Bosomworth

1700-1765

Mary Musgrove Bosomworth was a prominent negotiator between the Creek Nation and the early British settlers of Georgia. In 1733, General James Oglethorpe accompanied the first British settlers to Savannah; he employed Bosomworth as an interpreter for land negotiations. She demanded payment for her services; in exchange, she garnered Creek support for the British, even helping them defend their settlement against a Spanish invasion. When the British claimed land that the Creek Nation had granted to her personally, she fought a fierce legal battle in the British courts, rallying support from Georgia’s largest landowners. She was instrumental to Georgia’s founding, walking the line between building diplomatic relations and maintaining Creeks’ legal rights.

Sources: Georgia Women of Achievement

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

10/1/1924 –

Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, championed human rights both during and after his presidency. As president, he created the Department of Education, expanded Social Security, and appointed record numbers of women and other underrepresented groups to the federal government. He famously orchestrated the Camp David Accords in 1978, bringing temporary peace between Egypt and Israel. He also expanded the national parks system, bringing 103 million acres of Alaskan land under federal protection. Following his presidency, he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his continuing humanitarian efforts abroad.

Sources: WhiteHouse.gov

Xernona Clayton

Xernona Clayton

8/30/1930 –

“Xernona Clayton was the first black person in the South to have her own television show. The ‘Xernona Clayton Show’ made national news in 1968 when Clayton interviewed the then-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia, Calvin Craig.” Craig later resigned from his position and denounced the Klan, citing Clayton’s influence as a reason for his decision. Beyond television, Clayton worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, coordinating efforts to promote racial understanding and tolerance. In 1966, Clayton organized Atlanta’s black doctors through the Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, leading to the desegregation of Atlanta’s hospitals.

Sources: National Women’s History Museum, The Atlanta Voice

Pearl Cleage

Pearl Cleage

7/7/1948 –

Pearl Cleage is an American playwright, journalist, poet, and essayist who has been residing in Atlanta since 1969. As an activist for Women’s Rights and AIDS, Cleage has spent the majority of her life writing both fictional and nonfictional stories that have resonated with the African American community. Cleage has worked as the speech writer for first African American Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, had her work featured in Oprah’s famous Book Club collection, and has been a playwright for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

John Wesley Dobbs

John Wesley Dobbs

3/26/1882 – 8/21/1961

John Wesley Dobbs was a civil rights activist and preacher in the era leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. He black suffrage was the key to racial equality, urging thousands of black voters to register during his sermons. Thanks to his lobbying efforts, the Atlanta Police hired its first black officers in 1948, providing an early challenge to segregation. His grandson, Maynard Jackson, would later become the first black mayor of Atlanta.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Shirley Franklin

Shirley Franklin

5/10/1945 –

Serving as the first black, female mayor of not only Atlanta, but of any major city, Shirley Franklin dedicated two terms to solving the crucial issues that pervaded the growing city. From 2002 to 2009, Franklin spent her time as mayor focusing on the issues of eliminating human trafficking, decreasing crime, and restoring the ethical government in Atlanta. Today, Franklin’s work as mayor is recognized and her methods in solving human trafficking have been adopted in various major cities in the United States.

Sources: Atlanta Journal Constitution, BlackPast

Grace Towns Hamilton

Grace Towns Hamilton

2/10/1907 – 6/17/1992

Grace Towns Hamilton was the first black woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly, as well as the first black woman in the Deep South to hold a significant public office. She represented her Atlanta district for 18 years, earning the respect of her peers as an effective legislator.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Hamilton Holmes

Hamilton Holmes

7/8/1941- 10/26/1995

Holmes was one of the first two black students admitted to the University of Georgia. A star student and athlete, he was approached by the Atlanta branch of the NAACP, who were looking to integrate the South’s educational institutions. After a fierce legal battle, Holmes was admitted in 1961. Two years later, Holmes became the first black person admitted to the Emory University School of Medicine. He eventually became the head of orthopedic surgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and an associate dean at Emory.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Lugenia Burns Hope

Lugenia Burns Hope

2/19/1871 – 8/14/1947

“Lugenia Burns Hope was an early-twentieth-century social activist, reformer, and community organizer. She spent most of her career in Atlanta fighting for the improvement of black communities. In 1908, she co-founded the Neighborhood Union, an organization that served as a precursor to grassroots civil rights groups. Under Hope’s leadership, the Union led public health campaigns, demanded better educational opportunities, and sponsored community arts programs.”

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

Charlayne Hunter-Gault

2/27/1942 –

Hunter-Gault was one of the first two black students admitted to the University of Georgia. A talented student interested in journalism, she was approached by Atlanta’s civil rights leaders, who wanted to integrate the South’s schools and universities. Amidst fierce opposition from white segregationists, Hunter-Gault arrived on UGA’s campus in 1961. Her dormitory windows were later smashed by a white mob. Despite this adversity, Hunter-Gault persevered, graduating in 1963 to pursue an illustrious career in journalism.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King

4/27/1927 – 1/30/2006

“Coretta Scott King was a primary figurehead in the leading the civil and human rights movement after the death of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After his death, King opened the King center to carry on the legacy of her late husband, and successfully lobbied to have a national holiday named after him.” Additionally, Scott worked with the National Organization of Women to advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and formed a friendship with Willie and Nelson Mandela at the King Center as they fought apartheid in South Africa.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King

1/15/1929 – 4/4/1968

Martin Luther King Jr. was the most prominent leader of the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. King was born in 1929 in Atlanta, GA; he was named after Martin Luther, the man whose criticism of the Catholic Church galvanized the Protestant Reformation. After graduating from Morehouse College, King followed in his father’s footsteps and became ordained as a Baptist Minister. King’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement began in 1955 when Rosa Parks, a member of the Montgomery, Alabama community where King now preached, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus. Community members asked King if they could use his church as a meeting place to discuss the upcoming bus boycott; while reluctant at first, King agreed, eventually leading the organizational effort. Following the success of the bus boycott, which saw the desegregation of all Montgomery buses, King co-founded and became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). During an SCLC-sponsored protest ikn 1963 in Birmingham, police used dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protesters, leading the campaign to gain national attention. King was arrested during the protests, writing the now-famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” during his incarceration. Later that year, King spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the largest Civil Rights-Era gathering numbering 250,000 participants. His “I Have a Dream Speech” has become a hallmark of the movement. In 1965, King led a march on Selma, Alabama, campaigning for voting rights. These efforts bore fruit, namely the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In his later career, King turned his attention to fighting the systemic, economic inequality that affected black people nationwide, advocating for reform to the capitalist system. He led his first campaign in a northern city, Chicago, in 1965. Before this new movement could gain traction, however, King was tragically assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. His legacy has been preserved due in large part to the efforts of his wife, Coretta.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Lucy Craft Laney

Lucy Craft Laney

4/13/1854 – 10/23/1923

Lucy Craft Laney was a beloved educator and community leader in Georgia in the late 19th century. Serving as the founder and principal of the Haines Institute in Augusta for 50 years, Laney became the most prominent female, black educator in Georgia. The Haines Institute offered classes to black girls not typically offered elsewhere, such as lessons in Latin and the classics. The Institute also became a cultural center for the black community in Augusta, hosting concerts and lectures for the public. Laney was among the first black leaders to have their portrait hung in the Georgia Capitol.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

John Lewis

John Lewis

2/21/1940 – 7/17/2020

Serving the state of Georgia as a representative for its Fifth Congressional District from 1987 to 2020, John Lewis was a civil rights leader since the inception of the movement. Lewis was born to a family of sharecroppers in Alabama. As a college student, he became involved in the sit-in movement, protesting segregation in the Jim Crow South. He participated in the Freedom Rides, a protest of segregated bus terminals, and was arrested multiple times for his efforts. In 1963, Lewis was elected chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; he organized and spoke at the March on Washington later that year. He continued his life of service as a U.S. Congressman, serving 16 consecutive terms. Lewis’s lifelong dedication to achieving racial equality will inspire generations of civil rights leaders to come.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Joseph E. Lowery

Joseph E. Lowery

10/6/1921 – 3/27/2020

Joseph E. Lowery was another significant leader in the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. As a respected minister, Lowery, along with fellow leader Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that he would later lead as President for more than 20 years. “Lowery fought against segregation for many years. Lowery delivered the benediction at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. He passed away in 2020.”

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Annie L. McPheeters

Annie L. McPheeters

2/22/1908 – 12/23/1994

During a time where civil rights was a central focus, Annie McPheeters was a determined educator, civil rights activist, and librarian who dedicated her life to desegregating libraries around Georgia and the United States. Additionally, McPheeters spent her life creating archives for literary works of Black writers, thinkers, and leaders, solidifying her role as one of the first African American professionals in the Atlanta Public Library System. Today, there are two public library branches in Atlanta named after Annie McPheeters.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey

4/26/1886 – 12/22/1939

Ma Rainey was an American singer and performer who popularized authentic blues music, becoming known as the “Mother of Blues.” In the early 1900s, Rainey was performing throughout the South in tent shows and cabarets. This brought her into contact with Southern, rural blues music, which she incorporated into her song repertoire. Her ability to capture the rural black experience in her music led her to wild popularity, particularly during the 1920s.

Sources: Biography.com

Bernice Johnson Reagon

Bernice Johnson Reagon

10/4/1942 –

Bernice Johnson Reagon was a student activist during the Civil Rights Era. Lending her powerful singing voice to freedom songs, she helped galvanize the movement’s young people. In 1961, she first participated in protests organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which led to her arrest and expulsion from Albany State. Undeterred, she soon joined the Freedom Singers, a choral group that toured the country to raise money for the SNCC. In 1974, she began work for the Smithsonian Institution, eventually becoming a curator for the National Museum of American History; under her direction, the museum expanded its focus to include more minority contributions to American history.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

David Satcher

David Satcher

3/2/1941 –

David Satcher is a prominent medical figure in Atlanta. After a childhood where racial division almost caused him to be denied hospital access during a near-death sickness, Satcher spent his life researching health issues ranging from sickle cell to suicide prevention in all communities. His career was filled with accomplishments advocating for equal access to healthcare, which led him to serve as President of Meharry Medical College, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and a lecturer at the Morehouse School of Medicine. Today, Satcher is the recipient of several top awards, including one from President Jimmy Carter for his Humanitarian efforts.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Mildred Seydell

Mildred Seydell

3/21/1889 – 2/20/1988

Mildred Seydell was a pioneer for women in journalism and for women’s rights. She became one of the first women to work as a journalist in Georgia when she was hired to write for the society page of the Atlanta Georgian in 1924. Denied the opportunity to cover major stories, Seydell grew her readership through unconventional means, creating a gimmick in which she read local celebrities’ palms to determine their “true character.” She gained national recognition through her thorough, albeit comedic, coverage of the Scopes Trial; afterward, she received more major assignments, including an interview with Benito Mussolini. In the 1930s, she began publishing a column called “All in a Day,” in which she advocated for women’s rights through personal anecdotes and musings. She also joined the National Woman’s Party, eventually serving as its Georgia chair and editor of its publications, which for gender equality. 

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Alana Shepherd

Alana Shepherd

4/6/1930 –

Alana Shepherd is the co-founder of the Shepherd Center, a world-renowned hospital and rehabilitation facility for people with spinal chord injuries, brain injuries, and other neurological conditions. Alana and her husband Harold were inspired to found the Shepherd Center when their son sustained a paralyzing injury in 1973. They established the Shepherd Center in 1975 in Atlanta; the Center has since become a pioneer in its field, treating thousands of patients per year. Shepherd has also dedicated her life to making the world beyond the Center’s walls more accessible to people with disabilities. Her advocacy efforts have led to the addition of lifts to Atlanta’s MARTA bus system. In 1996, she fought to bring the International Paralympic Games to Atlanta. Soon after, the International Olympic Committee declared that all future Olympic Games host cities must include financing and access to the same facilities for the Paralympics.

Sources: Georgia Historical Society

Susie King Taylor

Susie King Taylor

8/6/1848 – 1912

Susie King Taylor was the first African American to teach openly in a school for former slaves, and the only black woman to publish a memoir of her Civil War experiences. She was born into slavery in 1848; as a young girl, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Savannah. Despite the fact that it was against the law for black people to be educated, Taylor enrolled in secret schools run by black women. When the Civil War began, Taylor, and many other black people, fled to St. Simon’s Island, which was controlled by the Union. It was here that she first began teaching formerly enslaved children. After the war, she established schools for black children in her native Liberty County and in Savannah.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Dorothy Rogers Tilly

Dorothy Rogers Tilly

6/30/1883 – 3/16/1970

Dorothy Rogers Tilly was an early advocate for racial equality, rallying other white, Southern women to support progressive causes. In the 1930s, she began her activism by joining the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, campaigning in towns in rural Georgia where hate crimes had occurred. By the end of the 1930s, she had become a staunch advocate for desegregation. In the 1940s, Tilly worked to promote understanding and tolerance through biracial organizations such as the Southern Regional Council; her work opposing the KKK in South Carolina earned her an appointment to Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights. Following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling,Tilly focused her attentions on persuading white southerners to accept desegregation through her organization, The Fellowship of the Concerned. Today, she serves as an example of true allyship.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Alice Walker

Alice Walker

2/9/1944 –

Alice Walker is an activist and advocate, known for creatively vocalizing the experiences of rural African Americans. One of her most widely known bodies of work is her novel The Color Purple, which acquired multiple awards, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. “Walker has been a voice for not only the Black community, but she has also shifted conversation surrounding feminism, coining the term ‘womanist,’ defined as a feminist of color, in her short story Coming Apart. She was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2001.”

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Elbert Parr Tuttle

Elbert Parr Tuttle

7/17/1897 – 6/23/1996

Elbert Parr Tuttle was a circuit court judge who exercised great influence during the civil rights era. During his early career as a lawyer, Tuttle performed considerable pro bono work for clients who were unable to pay and, with the American Civil Liberties Union, handled a number of civil rights cases. Appointed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1954, Tuttle was a perfect jurist for the challenge: he possessed great personal courage, sound judgment, and a belief in common law development. He noted, “The law develops to meet changing needs… according to changes in our moral precepts.”

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Raphael Warnock

Raphael Warnock

7/23/1969 –

Warnock is the first-ever black senator from Georgia. He won this title in a contentious run-off race against U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler, which saw some of the highest voter turnout, particularly from black communities, in the state’s history. He has been the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church headed by MLK Jr., since 2005. He is also a graduate of Morehouse College.

Sources: KIRO 7, BlackPast

Hosea Williams

Hosea Williams

1/5/1926 – 11/26/2000

“Founder of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, Hosea Williams spent his life advocating for the rights of the overlooked communities in Georgia.” Williams was an activist during the Civil Rights Era, leading major sit-ins and marches; he was arrested over 125 times. Before his death in 2000, Williams spent his later life making change as a state senator.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia

Andrew Young

Andrew Young

3/12/1932 –

Andrew Young is a politician and civil rights leader who has dedicated his life to ensuring equal opportunities for all Americans. He first became involved in the fight for civil rights in 1955, when he began organizing voter registration drives in Thomasville, Georgia. He left his position as a pastor in 1961 to join the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming a close associate of Martin Luther King Jr. Young organized “citizenship schools,” which instructed protesters in nonviolent tactics and registered thousands of black voters. In 1972, Andrew Young won Georgia’s Fifth District Seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first black person elected to Congress from Georgia since Reconstruction. In 1977, Jimmy Carter named Young an ambassador to the UN, where he advocated for human rights and the economic development of African nations. In 1981, Young became Mayor of Atlanta, succeeding Maynard Jackson. Currently, he is a professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia