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6 Leaders Who Carry On Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy

With King's dream only partially achieved, they work to ensure civil and other rights

Martin Luther King Junior leads a march

Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

As his holiday approaches, the shimmering image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appears on one TV screen and then another and another as his impassioned voice wells up.

Those iconic words, “I Have a Dream,” reverberate long after you've heard them. It's an idyllic moment from 1963's March on Washington and at odds with the gritty reality that King lived. Stabbed, stoned and jailed nearly 30 times, he led the civil rights movement for only a dozen or so years.

And yet those years led to voting rights legislation, desegregated facilities throughout the South and an awareness that, left unattended, America's deep racial and economic wounds would continue to fester. When his home was bombed in 1956, he put haters on notice: “If anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place."

Since his death in 1968, many have stepped up to carry on his legacy. Here are a few of them.

8 Civil Rights Activists Who Died in 2019

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 91 on Jan. 15, 2020, if he had not been assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Many other activists for African Americans’ civil rights are reaching the end of their natural lives. These men and women died last year:

• Juanita Abernathy, 87, of Atlanta, campaigned, marched and organized for voting rights and school integration in the 1950s and ’60s. She was the wife of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

• Unita Blackwell, 86, of Biloxi, Mississippi, also pressed for voting rights. In 1976 she became the first black woman to be elected a mayor in Mississippi when voters chose her to lead Mayersville.

• Leah Chase, 96, was best known as a Creole chef who owned Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans, but her eatery also was a place where civil rights activists ate and discussed strategy.

• John Conyers, 90, of Detroit, was a Democrat who holds the record for longest-serving black lawmaker in Congress. He first was elected in 1964 and was a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.

• Elijah Cummings, 68, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, helped integrate a Baltimore swimming pool as a preteen while whites attacked him with bottles and rocks.

• Damon J. Keith, 96, of Detroit, went to law school after being forced to the back of the bus when he returned home from World War II. He served in the federal judiciary for more than 50 years.

• Baxter Leach, 79, of Memphis, was a leader in the 1968 sanitation workers strike that brought King to the Tennessee city. He carried one of the “I Am a Man” placards while marching to City Hall.

• John Walker, 82, of Little Rock, Arkansas, was a lawyer and state representative who worked to desegregate Little Rock schools and brought civil rights cases against private businesses.

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