Four Famous People Involved in the Civil Rights Movement: Fighting for Racial Equality

What was the Civil Rights Movement?

The Civil Rights movement, in simplistic terms, was the struggle to end racial discrimination. Jim Crow laws, created after the Civil War, allowed businesses, school and other associations to treat persons differently according to their race. Restaurants often had separate sections for African-American customers and government offices went as far as to have separate drinking fountains for different races. The people involved in the Civil Rights movement fought to change these laws. Knowing who was involved in the Civil Rights movement leads to a deeper understanding of what the effort was about.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King

One of primary figures in the Civil Rights movement was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A college educated minister, he was a key character in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Educated in Atlanta, Dr. King chose to return to his home state of Alabama after graduation and took leadership in a local Baptist church. He became known for his ability to communicate and organize the people of Alabama. His focus was on non-violent protest and believed in equality for all.

Projects concerning Dr. King might focus on the make-up of one of his public speeches. His “I Have a Dream” speech became a recognized cry for the movement. His young life and education at a predominately African-American university and later assassination are also topics for discussion.

Malcolm X


While Dr. King was fighting for civil rights in the southern regions, Malcolm X was born and raised in the north. Born to a father who fought for equality by founding the Universal Negro Improvement Association, he began his own fight after serving time in prison. A member of the Nation of Islam, he was a primary key in the foundation of The Black Panther organization. Unlike Dr. King, he believed in doing whatever it took to get the message across.

Projects on who was involved in the Civil Rights movement or Malcolm X can focus on the reason behind him dropping his last name or his joining the Nation of Islam. The charter and beliefs of the Black Panther organization and the death of the leader are also areas of interest.

Homer Plessy

One of the lesser known participants in the Civil Right Movement is Homer Plessy. The tradesman was arrested in Louisiana for sitting in an all-white railroad car. Plessy fought the conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. Although he lost, the case set the benchmark that lead years later to the Brown vs. The Board of Education case which would finally end the “separate but equal” laws.

Projects or discussions on Homer Plessy might focus on the court cases and legal actions that followed his trial. Discussion of the 13th and 14th amendments, the grounds on which he fought his case, are also relevant.

Ruby Bridges

US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps

This brave little girl who helped integrate schools was a key player in the Civil Rights movement. Ruby Bridges was forced to take a difficult entrance examine before being admitted to an all-white school. She was threatened and tormented but did not give up, even when her father became unemployed due to her attendance.

Discussions or projects on Ruby Bridges might focus on the rate of integration in the north versus southern schools. This could also lead into a discussion of Brown versus The Board of Education.


  • Civil Rights Leaders:
  • Photo of Malcolm X by Marion S. Trikosko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Dr. Martin Luther King: Every Stock Photo: e-strategy blog