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Leading the Charge for Civil Rights Change

10 black groups that fought for justice and equality

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

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.


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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.


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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.


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