A police mug shot of Rosa Parks, Feb, 22, 1956. Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white passenger.
They were preachers, veterans and students ... activists and ordinary people ... Americans who took a stand against racist laws, discrimination and bloody violence in order to win passage and enforcement of equal rights laws. Their courage and steadfastness helped to create a more perfect union.
Here are a few of them.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Ralph Abernathy (1926-1990)
As a pastor in Atlanta, Ralph Abernathy (pictured center, with Coretta Scott King, in Memphis five days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.) worked closely with Dr. King, helping to organize the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. His home and the First Baptist Church were among several sites bombed in 1957.
In 1978 King chose Abernathy to succeed him as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and he served in the position until 1977. Abernathy, often at King's side in protests and marches, was never as influential as King in the SCLC, and gave up the leadership in 1977 to run unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress. He spent the rest of his life devoted to the West Hunter Street Baptist Church.
In 1973 he helped mediate a settlement at the Wounded Knee uprising between Native American activists and the FBI. In 1989 he wrote an autobiography, "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down."
Abernathy died in 1990 at age 64.
Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998)
Stokely Carmichael immigrated to America in 1952 from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad. He became involved in the civil rights movement while studying at Howard University in the early 1960s, and participated in CORE's "Freedom Rides." As the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he promoted "black liberation," helped register black voters, and popularized the phrase "black power."
Carmichael became the honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party, but resigned when the Panthers began forming alliances with radical whites. Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture, after African socialist leaders Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure. He moved to Guinea in 1969, and supported Pan-Africanism, but had little success.
He died of cancer in 1998, at age 57.
Medgar Evers (1925-1963)
In 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education to end segregation in schools, Medgar Evers was an insurance salesman and an activist with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in Mississippi. He submitted an application to the University of Mississippi Law School, which was rejected. The NAACP named Evers its first state field secretary in Mississippi, where he played an integral role in the civil rights movement -- organizing investigations into crimes against blacks (such as the murder of Emmett Till), demonstrations (including "wade-ins" at Biloxi's segregated beaches), and boycotts of companies that discriminated.
Evers' family was often targeted by segregationists, and in 1963 a firebomb destroyed his house. Later that year he was shot and killed in his own driveway. A sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II, Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gained support from national outrage over Evers' murder. Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the racist White Citizens' Council, was tried twice for Evers' murder; two all-white juries returned deadlocked verdicts. De La Beckwith was tried a third time three decades later, in 1994, and found guilty.
James Farmer (1920-1999)
A child prodigy who enrolled in Wiley College at the age of 14, James Farmer (pictured left in 1969) was a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942; was one of the "Big Four" civil rights pioneers of the 1950s and '60s; and served alongside Martin Luther King Jr. to dismantle segregation. He led the "Freedom Riders" in a nonviolent campaign to desegregate interstate buses and terminals. Farmer helped recruit CORE members James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, all of whom were murdered in Mississippi in 1964 during the "freedom rides."
In the early 1960s, Farmer often faced threats of violence himself. Division within CORE over leadership and direction led Farmer to resign in 1966, and he settled into a quieter life. He taught at several prominent universities, and made an unsuccessful run for Congress against Shirley Chisholm (who by defeating Farmer became the first black woman to serve in Congress). Farmer wrote his autobiography, "Lay Bare the Heart," in 1980 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
He died in Fredericksburg, Va., in 1999, at age 79.
"Little Rock Nine"
In September 1957, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Pattillo Beals, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Jean Mothershed-Wair, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Ann Eckford, Minnijean Brown Trickey and Jefferson A. Thomas were the first black students in Little Rock, Ark., to be integrated into the then-all-white Central High School.
Although it had been three years after the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that legally ended deliberate racial division of the nation's schools, the nine students faced jeers and threats by white students and residents as they attempted to gain entry. On the first day of school, the nine students were escorted by 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers, but did not make it into the building - the crowd was too hostile. On the second day, they were pulled from the school after just two hours. But the nine persevered and eventually were able to graduate from Central High.
President Bill Clinton, who has often spoken of the shame of segregation in his home state, awarded them the nation's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, in 2000.
"Little Rock Nine"
Post-graduation, Elizabeth Eckford (left, being jeered by a protester outside Central High) became a probation officer; Carlotta Walls LaNier entered real estate; Melba Pattillo Beals became a journalist; Terrence Roberts became a psychology professor; Gloria Ray Karlmark became an editor and resides overseas; Thelma Jean Mothershed-Wair became an educator; Ernest Green worked in non-profits and government, including serving as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Carter; and Minnijean Brown Trickey continued as a civil rights activist in the U.S. and Canada.
Jefferson A. Thomas, a civil servant, died of cancer in 2010, at age 67.
Jesse Jackson (b. 1941)
While studying at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, Jesse Jackson (left, at an anti-war protest in Washington in 1991) led protests that forced the city to desegregate its restaurants and theaters. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and was named head of the Chicago branch of Operation Breadbasket, a program that encouraged American businesses to hire blacks employees.
In 1967 Jackson was promoted to head the national SCLC. In 1966 he helped found the Chicago Freedom Movement, which pressed for integrated schools and open housing. He was in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 when King was assassinated.
After disagreements with the SCLC led to his removal from Operation Breadbasket in 1971, Jackson went on to found People United to Save Humanity (PUSH) and the National Rainbow Coalition, which later merged in 1996. Today Rainbow/PUSH advocates for social justice, civil rights and peace.
In 1984 and 1988, he ran in the Democratic presidential primaries, and later served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia (which has no voting Senator) between 1991 and 1997.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
In December 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger, Martin Luther King Jr., a pastor in a Baptist church in Montgomery, Ala., organized and led a year-long boycott of city buses. The success of the Montgomery bus boycott made King a national hero in the black community, but a thorn in the side of white Southern segregationists.
The boycott sparked a campaign of nonviolent confrontation that became the hallmark of the civil rights movement as it spread across the South. King helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, organized demonstrations across the South, and advocated for civil rights and against poverty and war.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
In August 1963 Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the historic March on Washington (left). The following year - the same year King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - Congress passed a comprehensive Civil Rights Law that, in effect, brought an end to legal segregation.
In Spring 1968 King went to Memphis, Tenn., to lend support to striking sanitation workers. He delivered his last speech on April 3, and was gunned down by an assassin's bullet the following day as he stood on the balcony outside his hotel room door.
James Earl Ray confessed to the murder, but to this day questions of a conspiracy remain.
King was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a federal holiday in 1986, and today it is popularly commemorated as a day of community service. The MLK Memorial on the National Mall in Washington was dedicated in 2011.
John Lewis (b. 1940)
One of the original Freedom Riders, the Alabama-born John Lewis also led sit-ins in Nashville, Tenn., becoming a national leader of non-violent demonstrations, through CORE, the SCLC, and via his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Lewis organized the 1964 voter registration drive known as "Mississippi Freedom Summer," and led the March 7, 1965 march in Selma, Ala., at which he was beaten by Alabama State Troopers (seen at left). His skull was fractured.
He worked with community organizations in Atlanta and held an administration post in the Carter administration, before being elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981.
Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, and has been re-elected 13 times since. He is the Ranking Member of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee.
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Neb., to a Baptist preacher, Earl Little, a follower of the teachings of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican-born religious leader who preached for blacks to return to their African heritage. When Malcolm was six, his father was killed by members of the Black Legion, a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. Following his death, Malcolm's family was torn apart by extreme poverty, with the boy being placed in a foster home. As a teenager he discovered urban life in Boston and Harlem, but became involved with crime and drugs.
By age 21 Little was in prison, where he was exposed to the Nation of Islam (the Black Muslims) through the teachings of Elijah Muhammad. The organization taught that blacks were responsible for themselves, and that the "white man is oppressive and the root of the black man's suffering." Little dropped his last name and assumed the name "Malcolm X" as a symbol of his stolen tribal identity.
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
After his release from prison, Malcolm X became a popular minister of Temple Number 7 in Harlem, preaching black separatism. His popularity threatened Muhammad's leadership of the church, and he was suspended when he said that President John F. Kennedy's assassination was just "the chickens coming home to roost." After a publicly split with Muhammad, Malcolm traveled to the Muslim holy site of Mecca and absorbed ideas based on racial equality. Returning to the United States, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, and disavowed racism.
The subject of death threats and several attempts on his life, Malcolm was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 21, 1965, when he was 39. Three Black Muslims were convicted for his murder.
"The Autobiography of Malcolm X" (as told to Alex Haley) was posthumously published in 1965.
James Meredith (b. 1933)
A U.S. Air Force veteran, James Meredith became the first black person to study at the University of Mississippi, where he was met with great resistance from students and state officials. Campus riots protesting his 1962 enrollment caused two deaths (including a French journalist, Paul Guihard); federal troops were required for Meredith's protection until he graduated in 1963.
In 1966, Meredith wrote the autobiographical "Three Years in Mississippi." In June of that year he was shot in Jackson, Miss., during the March Against Fear; he recovered to finish the march, out of which grew the Black Power Movement. Soon afterward, he withdrew from the civil rights movement to work in business.
Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
In December 1955, Rosa Parks, a black seamstress from Montgomery, Ala., was arrested when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white male passenger. Angry over her arrest, community leaders (including Martin Luther King Jr.) launched a boycott of Montgomery buses, beginning the modern civil rights movement. The protest lasted a year, and resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forced the integration of public transportation.
Parks' act of courage caused her to lose her job, and it was some time before she found new work, as her family coped with threats and harassment, eventually moving to Detroit. In 1965, she joined the staff of Michigan Rep. John Conyers and worked with him until her retirement in 1988.
Hailed by lawmakers as the mother of civil rights, Parks was honored in 1999 with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award given by Congress. She died on Oct. 24, 2005, at age 92.
Fred Shuttlesworth (1922-2011)
Fred Shuttlesworth was a Baptist pastor who found himself at the center of the civil rights movement in Alabama. His work in the struggle included attempting (unsuccessfully) to have the local police force hire black residents; challenging the state's Jim Crow Laws; leading the Birmingham demonstrations of 1963; and ending discrimination on public transportation.
He was the focus of threats from hate groups, with several attempts on his life; in one attack his wife was stabbed. Shuttlesworth's house was destroyed by dynamite in 1956.
He worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); founded and was elected president to the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR); was active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); and served as a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His efforts helped to convince Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 2001 Shuttlesworth was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton, and in 2008 Birmingham's airport was renamed Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in his honor.
Shuttlesworth died in Birmingham on October 5, 2011, at age 89.
Hosea Williams (1926-2000)
During World War II Hosea Williams joined the Army, serving in a segregated unit in Europe, and was wounded. When he returned to Georgia, while still in uniform, he was beaten bloody while trying to use a whites-only drinking fountain at a bus station. No local hospital would treat him.
Williams joined the NAACP and, later, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the fiery lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr., and remained at the forefront of the civil rights struggle for more than three decades. In 1965, he was at the head of the "Bloody Sunday" march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., when police with clubs, tear gas and dogs attacked peaceful demonstrators who sought the right to vote. He was also at the Memphis, Tenn., motel where King was shot in 1968.
During his more than 125 arrests he would often wave them off as "just another attempt to silence Hosea Williams."
In 1971 Williams and his wife, Juanita, founded Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless Food. He later entered politics, serving as a state representative, Atlanta city councilman and DeKalb County commissioner.
He died in 2000, age 74, after a three-year fight against cancer.