You can help end senior hunger. Learn ways you can take action today

Leading the Charge for Civil Rights Change

10 black groups that fought for justice and equality

  • Newspaper editor and former slave T. Thomas Fortune formed the National Afro-American League, heralded as the first major all-black civil rights organization.

    National Afro-American League

    In 1890, newspaper editor and former slave T. Thomas Fortune formed the first major all-black civil rights organization. It targeted the South to battle discrimination and the weakening of the 14th and 15th amendments, which gave citizenship and the vote to African Americans. — State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

    1 of 12
  • A group of student activists working on a campaign for the equal treatment of African American teachers in Norfolk, Virginia, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

    Founded in 1909, today's NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Early members included W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and Jane Addams. It has been on the front lines to end discrimination in employment and the armed forces as well as segregation in schools. — Corbis

    2 of 12
  • Remember the past, help shape the future.

    AARP Offer: Remember the past, help shape the future

    Share your stories and help advocate for political support to protect your future.   Join AARP to support living with dignity and purpose.

    3 of 12
  • The largest Negro city in the world is located in what formerly was a fashionable residential section of New York City, Harlem, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    National Urban League

    Migration from the South accelerating by 1910, the National Urban League formed to help blacks adjust to city life in the North and fight discrimination in employment, education and housing. Among its signature programs today: Project Ready, preparing urban youth for college, work and life. — Corbis

    4 of 12
  • Uniformed African-American railroad porters playing pool & cards while relaxing at Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters HQ in Harlem, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters

    Prominent socialist A. Philip Randolph organized Pullman Company railcar porters into what became the first African American labor union to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor (1925) and the first to sign a collective bargaining agreement with a major U.S. corporation (1937). — Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

    5 of 12
  • Educator Mary McLeod Bethune sits at a desk, possibly in the Chicago Defender offices in 1942, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    National Council of Negro Women

    Mary McLeod Bethune wanted to improve life for African American women, so in 1935 she called on 28 national women leaders to form an "organization of organizations" working with a "unity of purpose and a unity of action." Today, the council reaches 4 million women. — Getty Images

    6 of 12
  • Freedom Riders on a Greyhound bus sponsored by the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), sit on the ground outside the bus after it was set afire by a group of whites in Anniston, Alabama, May 14, 1961, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    Congress of Racial Equality

    The group founded by students at the University of Chicago in 1942 was behind some of the most effective civil rights actions: lunch counter sit-ins in 1960, Freedom Rides in 1961 to desegregate interstate facilities and the campaign to register Southern black voters in the summer of 1964. — Getty Images

    7 of 12
  • A civil rights rights march to Montgomery walks past Brown Chapel in Selma in 1965, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    Southern Christian Leadership Conference

    Born out of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., the SCLC formed in 1957, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the helm, to coordinate nonviolent action aimed at desegregating bus systems across the South. The group led the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Campaign and March to Montgomery. — Flip Schulke/Corbis

    8 of 12
  • Stokely Carmichael, national head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee speaks from the hood of an automobile on the campus of Florida A&M University, April 16, 1967, in Tallahassee, Florida, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

    The student-led organization began in 1960 to organize sit-ins and other peaceful protests at segregated facilities. Later, with Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown leading its "shock troops of the revolution," the group changed its name to the Student National Coordinating Committee. — AP

    9 of 12
  • African-American Muslim minister and civil rights activist Malcolm X  holding a movie camera, Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    Organization of Afro-American Unity

    After breaking with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X helped start the group in 1964. Its purpose: to reconnect African Americans with their African heritage, establish economic independence and promote self-determination. The OAAU disbanded in the wake of Malcolm X's assassination in 1965. — Getty Images

    10 of 12
  • Activist Rev. Al Sharpton speaks outside the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1992., Historical Review of Leading Black Civil Rights Organizations

    National Action Network

    Founded in 1991 by the Rev. Al Sharpton, NAN promotes an agenda calling for "one standard of justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people." It was the lead organizer of the 2013 march and rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. — AP

    11 of 12
  • AARP Baby Boomers (Sean McCabe)
    12 of 12

Join the Discussion

0 | Add Yours

Please leave your comment below.

You must be logged in to leave a comment.

AARP Membership

Discounts & Benefits

    Next Article

    Read This