Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s Closest Allies

There was a small army of people behind Dr. King, building the Civil Rights movement, these are a few of the many names.

Throughout Dr. King’s public ministry, there were many who worked alongside him as the face of the Civil Rights Movement. From his time as leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association to establishing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King was always surrounded by exceptionally gifted co-laborers who were committed to the freedom of Black people

To pay tribute to the King and his fellow freedom fighters, here are Dr. King and some of his closest allies.

  • Amb. Andrew Young

    Before serving as a U.S. Congressman from Georgia, United States Ambassador to the United Nations in the Carter Administration, and the Mayor of Atlanta, the Hon. Andrew Young was a close confidant to Dr. King. He began his career as a freedom fighter as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King’s political organization.

  • Rev. Dr. Wyatt T. Walker

     A distinguished minister, Wyatt Tee Walker was the chief of staff for Dr. King, and an early board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1958. He was executive director from 1960 to 1964. King preached at Walker’s installation service at Canaan Baptist Church, where he would serve as pastor until 2005. Walker passed in 2018

  • Rev. Jesse L. Jackson

    Jackson modeled his life’s work after King’s example. In 1966, Dr. King named Jackson the head of SCLC's economic arm in 1966, Operation Breadbasket, and became its national director in 1967. Jackson launched Operation PUSH in 1971 and merged it with the National Rainbow Coalition to launch Rainbow/PUSH in 1996. Jackson also ran for president in 1984 and 1988. He stepped down as leader of the organization after more than 50 years of activism in 2023.

  • Bayard Rustin

    One of the key architects of the Freedom Movement, Rustin was an early proponent of non-violent civil action As an organizer, he worked on strategies for Freedom Rides and helped to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He also was one of the organizers of the March of Washington in 1963. An openly gay man, Rustin became a public advocate for the LGBTQ community and a supporter of human rights. He passed away at age 75 in 1987.

  • Rev. Ralph Abernathy

    Known as one of King’s closest friends, Abernathy along with King and E. D. Nixon formed the Montgomery Improvement Association, which led to the Montgomery bus boycott. He also co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). After King’s assassination in 1968, he became president of the SCLC and led the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C. Abernathy served as pastor of West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta from 1961 until his passing in 1990.

  • Rosa Parks

    Nicknamed “the mother of the freedom movement” Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., helped to launch the Civil Rights Movement. From 1965 to 1988, she served as a receptionist to John Conyers and was a supporter of political prisoners in the US. Throughout her life, she was honored with the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall. Parks passed away in 2005.

  • Diane Nash

    Diane Nash is one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. She led efforts to integrate lunch counters, organized Freedom Riders, and co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  She also worked closely with King on the Selma Voting Rights Movement. In 2022, Nash was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Joe Biden.

  • Dorothy Height

    Throughout her career, Dorothy Height was an advocate for civil rights, women's rights, and was a close ally to King, as well as a staunch advocate for voting rights and women’s rights. For more than 40 years, she was president of the National Council of Negro Women. She was National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority from 1947 to 1956. She passed away in 2010 at age 98.

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