Celebrating Black History: The Unsung Heroes

In our continuing celebration of Black History month, we spotlight the Civil Rights foot soldiers whose sacrifices helped make the dream of equality in America a reality.
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In our continuing celebration of Black History month, we spotlight the Civil Rights foot soldiers whose sacrifices helped make the dream of equality in America a reality.

In our continuing celebration of Black History month, today we spotlight the American heroes who may never get their names in the history books. They are the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, the young activists who were on the ground by the hundreds, facing attack dogs and water hoses, beatings and arrests to change the segregated world they lived in and stand up for equal rights.

As part of our original video series, American Freedom Stories: Alabama Civil Rights, we interviewed some of these young people, 50 years later, about how they got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as teenagers. Some participated with their parents’ encouragement, others took action on their own because their parents did not want them to march into harm's way. With permission or without, they attended mass meetings at churches where civil rights leaders, including James Bevel, would train them in the philosophy of nonviolence and teach them how to endure the indignities of being harassed, spit on and beaten as they protested. Together, these young people formed an army of foot soldiers whose sacrifices helped make the dream of civil rights in America a reality.

"I think we were the pivotal point that caused some changes to take place in society," says Janice Kelsey, who was jailed for protesting in the Children's Crusade of 1963 when she was 15 years old. "I think the nation was so outraged by how children were being treated in a nonviolent movement that it touched the hearts of people who otherwise would not have known what was going on."

For foot soldier Charles Avery Jr., who was also arrested as a teenager during the Children's Crusade, it's not just about having participated in the Civil Rights Movement, but making sure that this chapter in history is not forgotten, especially by the young generation of today.

"It's not about having gone to jail or how long I stayed or what we went through…it's about our kids," says Avery. "Our kids need to know the story."

Civil rights foot soldiers are sprayed with high-powered water cannons to prevent them from protesting in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by John Duprey/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Civil rights foot soldiers are sprayed with high-powered water cannons to prevent them from protesting in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by John Duprey/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Watch more stories about the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement in the original video series, American Freedom Stories: Alabama Civil Rights.