1. Nina SimoneSource:Getty
Nina Simone was a classically trained singer-songwriter & pianist who became the voice of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. Her profound and heart-wrenching lyrics in jazz, blues, and folk melodies expressed the frustrations and hopes of Black people which resonated strongly with the movement.
2. Ruby DeeSource:Getty
Ruby Dee’s work as an actress in film and theater lives on as a record of her talent through her passion and convictions. Her work as an activist along with her husband Ossie Davis led civil rights initiatives in and out of the entertainment world. The New York Times notes her life and legacy, “as rich subject matter for mainstream theater productions and films, and black performers [to go] from being consigned to marginal and often belittling roles to starring in Hollywood megahits.”
3. Maya AngelouSource:Getty
Maya Angelou was an African-American author, poet, dancer, civil rights activist and singer. Angelous is best known for her acclaimed memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which made literary history as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. She published autobiographies, essays, poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She also received many honors throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category, in 2005 and 2009.
4. Miriam MakebaSource:Getty
Miriam Makeba aka “Mama Africa,” was a popular South-African singer who introduced Xhosa and Zulu songs to Western audiences. Makeba settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career with the help of Harry Belafonte. In 1965, she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording. She was a prominent civil rights activist who spoke out against apartheid in South Africa.
5. Eartha KittSource:Getty
Singer-actress Eartha Kitt was best known for her distinctive musical singing style and singing the Christmas novelty smash “Santa Baby.” Kitt was active in many social causes during the 1950s and 1960s including “Rebels With A Cause.” She was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom & highly criticized for what some considered were “anti-war” statements to Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War at the White House. Kitt was also a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage.
6. Josephine BakerSource:Getty
Activist-entertainer Josephine Baker rose to fame in France and actively spent her life fighting racism and supporting civil rights. She notoriously refused to perform in segregated establishments and worked with the NAACP, making her a crusader in the United States and overseas. Although her career was allegedly held back because of racism, she visited the states in the ’50s and ’60s to help fight segregation. She even adopted children of different ethnicities and religions to create a multicultural family she called “The Rainbow Tribe.”
7. bell hooksSource:Getty
Gloria Jean Watkins better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an American author, feminist, and social activist. She has addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism. bell hooks is undeniably one of the most successful “cross-over” academics of the late twentieth century.
8. Lorraine HansberrySource:Getty
Writer Lorraine Hansberry is mostly known for her work as a playwright—with classics like A Raisin in the Sun and To Be Young, Gifted and Black. Lorraine Hansberry was the quintessential artist-activist. Her commitment to human rights and equality was reflected in her stories and characters but also with the Black liberation movement and feminist organizations. Each play demonstrated a deep commitment to the Black struggle for human rights and equality.
9. Lena HorneSource:Getty
Singer/actor Lena Horne used her career to fight racism in and out of the entertainment industry. Horne is the first African American to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. She wasn’t afraid to make major statements in favor of equality for Black people, including filing complaints with the NAACP regarding segregated shows, suing various restaurants for racial discrimination, and aligning herself politically as part of the Progressive Citizens of America. Most notably, Horne supported the work of the National Council for Negro Women and participated in the March on Washington in 1963.
10. Audre LordeSource:Getty
Caribbean-American writer, feminist and civil rights activist, Audre Lorde, spoke regularly on issues related to oppression, feminism and civil rights. She specifically confronted racism within the work and organizations of white feminists. Her work gained notoriety (and criticism) because of its themes of sexuality and its distinctly revolutionary bent.