There are a number of influential African American leaders who have stood up to inequality, fought for workers, or helped to bring people to freedom. MLK tends to take many of the headlines because of how he influenced the civil rights movements, but these famous leaders were also part of the social change that they wanted to see in their country.
1. Langston Hughes
As a contributor to socialist and NAACP publications, Hughes supported a strong sense of individualism more than anything else. His politics were always geared toward supporting the African-American community and he used the ways and rhythms of his culture to show everyone the beauty of life itself. He left volumes of work that ask the hard questions which are still being asked many decades later.
2. Nat Turner
In the early 1800′s, there were a number of slave revolts, but none were as famous as Nat Turner’s efforts. Turner had a reputation for seeing visions and he was considered a religious man. He gathered a group of 40 slaves who began killing anyone who was of the majority race on sight. At least 55 people were killed before it was all over and although it seems like a brutal act, it showed the slave community that they didn’t have to live in fear of being murdered themselves. Many see the 1831 revolt as one of the building blocks of the Civil War.
3. Carter Woodson
Carter Woodson believed that for the African American community to truly succeed, it would become necessary to document the successes that everyone achieved. He wrote several books regarding his people’s history and his most celebrated accomplishment today is Black History Month every February, which began in 1926. It is Woodson’s contributions that are often referred to as the basis of positive self-worth within the African American community.
4. Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey immigrated to the United States in 1916 after corresponding with Booker T. Washington and his extensive travel brought a certain sense of liberation to the African American community. He established improvement associations in Jamaica in 1914 and brought American chapters just a few years later. In 1920, more than 20,000 people went to Madison Square Garden to elect leadership and his Back to Africa idealism appealed to the general public. His dream was to see a united race, but his deportation in 1927 set the movement back.
5. Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson was living the American dream. He was a college athlete, an All-American, and a fraternity member at Rutgers. He was the valedictorian of his class, finished law school, and then went to Hollywood. He co-founded the International Committee on African Affairs and brought his star power to bear to stop lynching and he is still famous for refusing to sign an affidavit before Congress that stated he was not a Communist.