Celebs in the Civil Rights Movement
The superstars who fought for equality.
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Sammy Davis Jr. - As one of the greatest entertainers in show business, Sammy Davis also lent his celebrity and finances to the civil rights movement in the ‘60s. After he refused to appear in any clubs that practiced racial segregation, several venues in Miami Beach and Las Vegas were then integrated.(Photo: Landov)
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Josephine Baker \r - Josephine Baker circumvented the racist restrictions of America by becoming an iconic entertainer in France during the 1920s and ‘30s. In the cause of civil rights, she worked with the NAACP and famously spoke at the March on Washington in 1963.\r(Image by John Springer Collection/CORBIS)\r
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Paul Robeson - Known as a singing and acting legend, the great Paul Robeson is equally known for his political activism. In the '40s, he was an early advocate for civil rights, fighting against lynching and job/voting discrimination.(Photo: Landov)
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Jackie Robinson\r - In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s long-standing color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. After his retirement in 1957, the baseball hall of famer served on the board of the NAACP and co-founded the Freedom National Bank — a Black-owned and operated commercial bank based in Harlem, NY.\r(AP Photo/John J. Lent)
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Muhammad Ali\r - The boxing icon’s activism began in 1964 when he joined the Black religious nationalist group the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. He became a cause celebré when, in 1966, he refused to serve in the army and fight in the Vietnam war, famously commenting: “No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger."\r(REUTERS/Andreas Meier /Landov)
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Harry Belafonte\r - The singer and film actor is just as known for his involvement with civil rights causes. A confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he contributed a great deal to the ‘60s movement, speaking at the March on Washington, bailing leaders out of jail, donating large sums to organizations like SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) and even providing for King’s family after he was assassinated in 1968.
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Sidney Poitier \r - As America’s first Black leading-man of film, Sidney Poitier was more shaped by the civil rights movement than his politics. During the ‘60s fight for equality, the acting legend became the personification of Black America’s dignity in mainstream cinema (not to mention the first brotha to smack a white man in a film without repercussion — In the Heat of the Night). In 1963, Poitier became the first Black man to win a Best Actor Oscar.\r(dpa /Landov)
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Dick Gregory - With his clean-cut suits and jokes about racial discrimination, groundbreaking comedian and activist Dick Gregory became America’s comedic voice of the civil rights movement. But he was just as famous for his involvement with the cause, participating in a number of demonstrations and getting arrested several times for civil disobedience. His activism spurred his run for mayor of Chicago in 1966 and for president of the United States in 1968.
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Hugh Hefner - Yes, he liberated American men’s libido when he founded the high-brow nudie magazine Playboy in 1953. But the media mogul was also an early supporter of Black folk’s struggle for civil rights, participating in protests against segregated restaurants and movie theaters as a college student, not to mention letting James Brown sing “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” on his short-lived TV show Playboy After Dark. After learning two Southern franchises of his Playboy nightclubs were segregated, he bought the outlets back at his own expense to integrate them.
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Lena Horne\r\r - The legendary singer/actress is famous for groundbreaking roles in Cabin In the Sky and Stormy Weather (both in 1943). But she was also a long-time fighter for equality, refusing — during World War II — to perform for segregated USO audiences. She participated in the March on Washington and performed to benefit groups like NAACP, SNCC and the National Council of Negro Women.\r(AP Photo/Jerry Mosey, File)