Although African American women did not receive media attention as leaders, they played a major role in the civil rights movement.
One of the most important was Ella Baker, who was in effect the executive director of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the late 1950s.
She organized a major drive to register black voters and later advised the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960.
Ruby Doris Smith (later Robinson) and Diane Nash helped set up SNCC and participated in many sit-ins at public lunch counters in the South, refusing to leave when they were told African Americans would not be served.
Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi farm laborer, worked to regain the African American right to vote in the South.
In Washington State in 1961, when the government tried to restrict the fishing rights of the Nisqually people, Janet McCloud and other women protested by staging “fish-ins,” taking the men’s place in the boats when they were arrested.