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The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
March 24, 2017

Twelve Known and Unknown Civil Rights Heroes of Yesterday and Today


Written by Leah Drayton, Spring 2017 Communications Apprentice

Throughout my life, Martin Luther King, Jr. loomed large over the history of the Civil Rights Movement. However, focusing solely on King when discussing racial inequality in America would be a mistake. Thanks to the powerful writing of Marcus Gardley in X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, our audiences have had the chance to further explore the life of another hero of the period, Malcolm X. As Malcolm X said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." Here are twelve other cultural icons who seized the future by working to make their present a place of equality and education.
 
Rosa Parks Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American activist who was best known for being one of the people who resisted public transportation segregation. In 1955, a bus driver ordered Parks to move to the back of the bus to the "colored" section so a white passenger could sit in the front. Parks refused and was arrested. Her act of civil disobedience lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, one of the most important events in the Civil Rights Movement. She continued fighting for freedom until her death in 2005. In 2013, she became the first African-American woman to be honored with a statue in the National Statuary Hall. 
Muhammad Ali Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942–June 3, 2016) was a heavyweight boxing champion and an activist for civil rights. He spoke often about racial equality in America and stirred controversy when he refused to enter the draft during the Vietnam War. Ali joined the Nation of Islam after Malcolm X, and considered him to be a mentor and a friend. Ali spoke against Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11 and participated in several activist efforts such as The Longest Walk. Ali, who suffered only 5 losses in all 61 of his professional fights, was also a talented poet and a major influence in rap and hip hop. When Ali died in June 2016, he was mourned around the world.
Maya Angelou Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014) is regarded as one of the best African-American writers in history, producing many award-winning poems, books, plays, television shows, and movies. She was awarded more than fifty honorary degrees. Angelou took part in some of the most important parts of civil rights history, including collaborating with Malcolm X for the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Angelou worked to raise funds in the civil rights movement, often working with other artists to support Martin Luther King’s efforts. Angelou died in 2014, while working on a new book. She was on two presidential committees, and earned the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 
Midgar Evers Medgar Evers (July 2, 1925–June 12, 1963) was a civil rights activist who sought to abolish segregation in America. He focused on voting rights, social justice and equal education at public universities. He served in the military in World War II and as a field secretary for the NAACP. When Evers was shot by a segregationist in 1963, the local hospital wouldn’t admit him at first because he was black. His death triggered numerous civil rights protests. In 2017, his home in Mississippi was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Dorothy Dandridge Dorothy Dandridge (November 9, 1922–September 8, 1965)  was an African-American dancer, singer and actress. She was lauded as one of the most beautiful actresses in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Even though she was one of the biggest stars of the time, Dandridge was no stranger to racism and frequently spoke about inequality. A Las Vegas hotel once infamously drained an entire pool because Dandridge, a black woman, dipped her toe in it. She was the first African American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Carmen Jones. Dandridge continued to perform in various roles, some of them controversial, until her tragic death at the age of 42. 
Jame Baldwin James Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was a contemporary essayist, novelist, and playwright. His work focused on the psychological and gender issues of African-Americans under the strain of racism. His short story "Sonny's Blues" is one of the most praised pieces of black contemporary literature. He often discussed issues with leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and wrote about their legacies. Though Baldwin died in 1987, the highly acclaimed documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, brought renewed attention to his life and legacy in 2016.
Josephine Baker Josephine Baker (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) was one of the most glamorous African-American performers of all time. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she rejected the culture of racism in America and become a phenomenon in France. Celebrated by her many fans as the "Black Pearl," the "Bronze Venus," and the "Creole Goddess" she was the first person of African descent to star in a major motion picture. During the Civil Rights Movement, she refused to perform for segregated audiences, and wrote and gave speeches about racism. Baker, who was a global celebrity, was denied service at dozens of restaurants and hotels because of her color.  She was the only official female speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. Baker died in Paris in 1975, but lives on through performances in film and television by Diana Ross, Beyonce, Sonia Rolland and more. 
Gordon Parks Gordon Parks (November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006)  was a filmmaker, director, photographer and musician during the Civil Rights movement and beyond. He was a black photography pioneer whose work was commissioned by Life and Vogue magazines. He worked for the federal government as a photojournalist and it was said of him that he used his camera "as a weapon." He photographed notable figures such as Barbra Streisand and Malcolm X, (who later asked him to be the godfather of his daughter, Qubilah Shabazz). Parks was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1988 and died in New York at age 93.
Congressional district U.S. Representative John Lewis (February 21, 1940 -) was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the 1960s. He was awarded the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Barack Obama. He was extremely active in the civil rights movement, including speaking at the March on Washington and surviving a brutal attack by the KKK while taking part in the Freedom Rides. He organized and took part in numerous protests and movements and has even co-written a comic book about the Civil Rights movement, March
Eartha Kitt (January 17, 1927 – December 25, 2008) was deemed the "most exciting woman in the world" by Orson Welles. She was born on a cotton plantation, and went on to become one of the most fascinating entertainers of her time. She spoke four languages and sang in seven. At the height of her fame, she divided her time between performing and supporting civil rights causes, and participating in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Her signature "purr" and voice defined iconic roles on Broadway and television, most famously, of Catwoman in Batman. Later in her career she continued to reach new audiences with children's projects such as The Emperor’s New Groove
Ava DuVernay (August 24, 1972 - ) was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014 for Selma. The film tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the historic 1965 Selma to Montgomery March to protest voting discrimination. In 2015, Mattel made a custom Barbie of DuVernay that sold out as a charity item and had to be re-released as a collector’s edition. In 2017, she became the first black woman nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film, 13th, was named after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery (except as punishment for a crime).
Ta-Nehisi Coates (September 30, 1975 - ) is an African-American journalist and writer, winner of the  Hillman Prize, the National Book Award for Nonfiction, and numerous other awards. His work focuses on politics, race, and class related to history. His 2015 book Between the World and Me was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. Currently, he is a writer for the Marvel comic series Black Panther.
 
 
‚ÄčLeah Drayton is a student journalist, writer, artist, and a spring New Victory Communications Apprentice. She studies at Hunter College, where she double majors in Media Studies and English.  She is a Hunter Muse and Mellon Fellow, creating work inspired by botany, music and her West Indian heritage. Leah’s busy starting her own publication, Iambic,  painting 9 foot murals and memorizing Whitney Houston’s entire discography.  Leah Drayton
Posted by Beth Henderson
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