MLK Day: Modern Civil Rights Leaders Pick Up Where Their Predecessors Left Off |


This Monday, January 17 is recognized as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

As a leading figure in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used nonviolent means to fight for equal rights for African Americans.

His role in the Memphis Sanitation Strike is featured in the Tennessee Transforms section of the state museum.

When African-American sanitation workers in Memphis began striking for safer working conditions and fair wages in 1968, King offered his support.

He came to Memphis to speak at rallies and plan marches. Tragically as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, he was murdered by James Earl Ray.

Dr. King was an influential American civil rights leader, best known for his work on racial equality and ending racial segregation in the United States.

Her commitment to service has inspired many people to work together to bring about positive change.

In his final sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King shared, “Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve… You only need a heart full of grace, ‘a soul generated by love.’

The discussion of civil rights heroes often ends with characters from the story.

Important as they are, new generations have followed in the hallowed footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Thurgood Marshall. Here’s a look at some of our modern civil rights leaders.

MICHELLE ALEXANDRE: Professor of Law, Ohio State University

Michelle Alexander became a thought leader in the modern civil rights era after publishing “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” His book argues that a prison system filled disproportionately with black men replaced the discriminatory laws of the 20th century as a new form of racial repression. Dr. Cornel West of Harvard University said it was must-read for today’s activists in the book’s foreword.

MELANIE CAMPBELL: CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

The focus on civic engagement brought Melanie Campbell to wider fame, particularly her involvement with the Black Youth Vote! leadership development program.

PATRISE CULLORS: Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter

Patrisse Cullors launched Dignity and Power Now to push for police reform in Los Angeles County, while also calling for a more dignified approach to incarceration. She created the original #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012.

JOHNETTE ELZIE: Co-editor, This Is the Movement

The widespread protests that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Mo., had no official leader, but Johnetta Elzie nonetheless became one of the most prominent voices in the effort. She helped found a digital movement called We the Protesters that tracks police violence and seeks to hold law enforcement to account.

JAMES RUKER: Co-Founder, Color of Change

Color of Change is a massive web-based group that uses social media to address racial issues of our time. Under the leadership of James Rucker and others, it grew to nearly 2 million members.

ESMERALDA SIMMONS: Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Justice

Based at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York, the Center for Law and Social Justice is just another way for Esmeralda Simmons to fight for the rights of underserved and disadvantaged people. A longtime advocate for better public education as a lawyer, Simmons now provides legal services in the growing field of voter suppression.

BRIAN STEVENSON: Founder and Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative

Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to highlight and challenge racial disparities in the justice system, which he witnessed first hand as a practicing lawyer. Their research uncovered a staggering 800 lynching incidents that had never before been disclosed.


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