Gateway Digital Collections

Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement

The Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement Project is collecting visual histories of the many people who stood beside Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and others from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. While the names of these "unsung heroes" are less familiar, their stories and recollections represent the pervasive courage and strength of the thousands of people who struggled for equality. Their stories will add to the rich history of the struggle for social justice and this struggle's impact on the nation and the world.

With voices from traditional battlegrounds in the South, to those of Movement activists on the West Coast, in the Midwest, and throughout the Northeast, this project will offer one of the most comprehensive movement archives to date. Because it has been more than fifty years since some of these individuals served as foot soldiers in the battle for freedom and democracy, capturing these narratives is urgently needed because many are elderly and some have health challenges. Without action, their stories may be lost to the passage of time.

The Unsung Heroes Project is planned as a national project that will span six decades of history: from 1960 to 1980 in its initial phase, and from 1980 to the present in its second phase.

Building a Legacy

The Unsung Heroes Project is preserving stories of courage and resistance that otherwise would be lost. Perhaps one of the most important messages of these stories is how, in the face of insurmountable odds during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, individuals reached deep down and found the courage to stand up and fight for change. In an era when we are seeing a marked increase in racism and prejudice against all people of color, these stories are often inspirational and provide a sense of hope in the face of overwhelming odds.