African-American Firsts: Civil Rights Activists
Browse our collection of African-American civil rights activists who were pioneers in their industries, including Vernon Johns, Charles H. Houston, Madam C.J. Walker and John Mercer Langston. Explore full biographies, photo galleries, videos and more, only at Biography.com.
W.E.B. Du Bois
Educator, Civil Rights Activist, Journalist / 1868 - 1963
Writer, educator and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University (1895). He also conducted the first case study of an African-American community. In addition to his activism and literary work, Du Bois is known for founding the Niagara Movement, a black civil rights organization that got its name from the group's meeting location—Niagara Falls—with William Monroe Trotter.
Henry Highland Garnet
Activist, Political Leader, Minister / 1815 - 1882
Henry Highland Garnet became the first black speaker to address Congress on February 12, 1865, after being chosen by President Abraham Lincoln to speak to the House of Representatives.
Madam C.J. Walker
Civil Rights Activist, Entrepreneur / 1867 - 1919
Business pioneer Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was the first American woman to become a millionaire through her own business. In 1913, Walker donated the largest amount of money by an African American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA. Also a civil rights activist, in 1917, Walker was part of a delegation that traveled to the White House to petition President Woodrow Wilson to make lynching a federal crime.
Ida B. Wells
Civil Rights Activist, Journalist / 1862 - 1931
Famed journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was one of the first American women to continue to keep her last name after her marriage.
Civil Rights Activist, Minister, Journalist / 1760 - 1831
Minister, writer and civil rights activist Richard Allen founded the first national black church in the United States, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1816.
Charles H. Houston
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