While getting myself reacquainted with Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, I came to discover a civil rights activist by the name of Daisy Bates who is often minutely discussed in the history books. A force to be reckon with, Daisy Bates was a strong spirited woman who helped call for integration in Arkansas by organizing the Little Rock Nine. The Little Rock Nine was one of the early major events in the Civil Rights Movement wherein nine young African-American children bravely attended the racially divided Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In addition to her leadership in Little Rock, Daisy and her husband, L.C., created one of the first civil rights oriented newspapers called the Arkansas State Press, she was president of the Arkansas NAACP chapter, she served in anti-poverty programs under Johnson’s administration , and she was a published author. However, Daisy’s journey was not an easy one- she discovered by the teasing of her peers that her mother was raped and killed by white men that she resisted. Her father soon left (or was killed) and she was raised by friends of the family. Though she had great accomplishments and adulation during her lifetime, she died childless, destitute, and paralyzed from multiple strokes.
Reading about Daisy Bates made me think of all the unsung women of the Civil Rights Movement who often are left standing in the shadow of Martin Luther King Jr. Not to discount the inspiration and dedication King gave to the movement, but it is disheartening to know that there are many strong and brave women who also sacrificed so much yet are often left out of the history books. It broke my heart to hear about the women who were honored and spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, yet were not invited to any meeting between civil rights leaders and government dignitaries.
Women like Fannie Lou Hamer who helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer- a campaign to register black voters in a state where their voice was not heard. Or Clara Luper who orchestrated sit-ins in her community of Oklahoma City that helped change segregation policies. Or Dorothy Height, the president of the National Council of Negro Women, who helped organize many of King’s marches. Or Ella Baker, a lifelong activist who helped coordinate the civil rights campaigns of the NAACP, King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Conference Education Fund. Coretta Scott King, who not only supported King, but became an activist in her own right- fighting for world peace, LGBT rights, animal rights, and women’s rights- after the death of her husband. And of course, Rosa Parks, who bravely refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama- one of the first acts of brave defiance in the 1950’s.
So on this day where we celebrate a man who gave his life for the greater good, let’s also pay our respects to the women who walked beside him and fought and sacrificed so much. Women whose bravery and determination led the way for generations to come. For behind every great man…