Every January, the third Monday of the month celebrates and remembers a man who changed American history forever—Martin Luther King Jr. The minister and activist became the most visible spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement and emphasized nonviolent methods of protest to fight against civil injustice, even in the face of adversity. The day also commemorates the fight for Civil Rights and the men and women who protested in the name of equality. While individuals like MLK and Rosa Parks are common names associated with civil rights, countless people were involved in the movement. Here are five memoirs written by prominent figures in the Civil Rights Movement.
Coretta: My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King often falls to the background of her husband’s accomplishments as leader of the Civil Rights Movement. However, Scott King created her own legacy for herself, making her just as notable an activist as her husband. She was one of the first black students to receive a scholarship at Antioch College, and she continued her education through to graduate school. All the while, she was a social and political activist throughout her school years. After her husband’s assassination, Scott King relentlessly fought for women’s rights, gay rights, and a nonviolent world. She founded the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and even helped create her husband’s national holiday.
John Reynolds was only a teenager when the Civil Rights Movement came along. Frustrated with Alabama’s segregation, he volunteers with Civil Rights workers to campaign for the Black vote. He soon finds himself in Atlanta being interviewed for a proper position in the movement by King himself. Reynolds would go on to witness the events of Selma, Birmingham, and Mississippi, changing his life forever. He would be beaten and jailed, but he wouldn’t let it stop him from fighting to desegregate the South.
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
At just six years old Ruby Bridges became the face of a movement that would change her life forever. During the desegregation crisis in New Orleans, she became the first Black student to attend an all-white elementary school. Four federal marshalls would escort her to school because mobs of parents protested to keep her out. However, her courage to attend an all-white school would begin the desegregation of schools throughout the United States. She would grow up to become an activist for tolerance, respect, and differences. And the motto of her foundation? “[R]acism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it.”
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
From the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter Movement, John Lewis would see it all. As a teenager, he would lead the Nashville Movement to desegregate schools in his city. He would use similar tactics taught by his inspiration, Martin Luther King, Jr., to host sit-ins and marches. He was there at Selma, Bloody Sunday, and the Freedom Rides. In 1986, he would run for congress in Georgia and hold his seat there until his death in 2020. While MLK was his inspiration, John Lewis would become an inspiration for other Black pivotal political figures such as Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams. His final public appearance would be at the March on Washington, marching for the importance of Black lives in the summer of 2020.
Coming of Age in Mississippi: The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South by Anne Moody
As a child in the pre-civil rights era South, Anne Moody didn’t have much of a childhood. The murder of Emmitt Till came just weeks before she started high school, solidifying the idea that she could be murdered just because of the color of her skin. But as a junior in college, she joined her local NAACP and experienced the movements that would change history for Black Americans. Moody grows from being a frightened young girl to a vivacious and bold adult who fights for her life, no matter the consequences.
Be sure to add these reads to your TBR list and learn about the side of history that textbooks tend to leave out.
For more recommended reads that celebrate the Civil Rights Movement, click here.
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