Paul Cuffe, a free black from Massachusetts, was a shipowner and advocate of sending free blacks voluntarily back to Africa. Cuffe's efforts helped encourage the American Colonization Society to found settlements in what was to become Liberia. Altogether, some 15,000 American blacks moved there during the colonization effort.
Born a slave, Richard Allen began his career as a clergyman with the conversion of his master. Shrewd and hardworking, Allen bought his freedom and moved to Philadelphia. After being rebuffed at white churches, he formed an independent black Methodist church. In 1816, he became the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first national organization of its kind. During this era, it was said, Allen's house was never shut "against the friendless, homeless, penniless fugitive from the house of bondage." Allen is also reported by his contemporaries to have had "greater influence upon the colored people of the North than any other man of his times."
Born into slavery on a Maryland farm, Frederick Douglass became the foremost African-American abolitionist in the United States. At the age of 21, he escaped to Massachusetts where he become a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.
In 1847, Douglass founded a newspaper, The North Star, whose masthead read: "Right is of no sex -- Truth is of no color -- God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren."
During the Civil War, Douglass recruited black regiments for the North and spoke eloquently for black suffrage and civil rights.
Born a slave in New York, Sojourner Truth escaped just before the state abolished slavery. Becoming a preacher-prophet, she adopted the name "Sojourner Truth." By 1843, she began touring America denouncing slavery and championing equal rights for blacks and women before religious, abolitionist and women's organizations.
Truth visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1864, then remained in Washington to help runaway slaves. Her last years were spent urging Congress to allocate land and money for freed blacks in the West.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland. At age 25, she escaped to freedom. She was to become the most famous conductor on the "Underground Railroad," a secret network of hiding places where fugitive slaves found sanctuary on their way north. All told, she made 19 trips back to the South, helping more than 300 slaves escape to freedom.
During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union as a nurse, a spy and a scout. At one time $40,000 was offered for her capture. Her later years were given to establishing an old-age home for impoverished blacks.
Booker Taliferro Washington, the most influential African-American leader at the turn of the century was born a slave in Virginia and freed with the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 1881, Washington became head of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, where he advocated industrial and agricultural training for African-Americans. Under his leadership the school became one of the nation's leading black universities.
After delivering his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech in 1895, Washington was recognized as the chief spokesman for black Americans. Advocating the dignity of common labor, Washington steered blacks toward careers in agriculture, mechanics and domestic service. In 1900, Washington organized the National Negro Business league which emphasized skill, thrift an black capitalism.
A prominent author, editor and educator, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois obtained a doctorate from Harvard in 1895. In the course of his long career -- as editor of the Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), sociology professor and lecturer -- Du Bois embraced such differing ideologies as equalitarian democracy, pan-Africanism, economic and cultural self-determinism, Marxism and socialism. Throughout his life, he remained a steadfast critic of a society which tolerated discrimination, and he advocated equal opportunity and education as the keys to black advancement. In 1961, at age 93, Du Bois moved to Ghana.
The demand for the arrest and punishment of lynchers -- white vigilantes who executed blacks became a major crusade at the turn of the century. An outstanding figure in this movement was Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who in 1895 compiled the first statistical pamphlet on lynching, The Red Record.
Wells taught school in Memphis, Tennessee, until she became editor and part-owner of a newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech, which circulated throughout the Mississippi Delta. In 1892, after exposing those who had lynched three young black businessmen in Memphis, her offices were destroyed.
Fleeing to Chicago, Wells married Ferdinand Barnett. Both became active in the National Equal Rights League.
Asa Philip Randolph was one of the most influential labor and civil rights leaders of the 20th century. In 1925, Randolph founded and was elected president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which fought a successful battle for recognition by the railroad companies.
In 1941, Randolph threatened President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a mass march on Washington to protest the exclusion of blacks from jobs in defense industries. This led to the establishment of the federal Fair Employment Practices Committee. Randolph also encouraged President Harry S Truman to desegregate the military in 1948.
As an elder statesman of the civil rights movement, he was a principal organizer of the March on Washington in 1963.
Roy Wilkins joined the NAACP as assistant secretary in 1931 and became executive director in 1955. Wilkins and more than 700 others were jailed in the spring of 1963 after a mass demonstration against segregation in public facilities in Jackson, Mississippi.
Early in his administration, President Lyndon B. Johnson conferred with black leaders, including Wilkins, to enlist support for the civil rights program begun under President John F. Kennedy.
Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. Admitted to the bar in 1933, he worked with the Baltimore, Maryland, branch of the NAACP and later established its Legal Defense Fund.
As chief attorney for the NAACP, Marshall earned a reputation as an exceptional lawyer, winning 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall's primary target was segregation in all its manifestations: interstate travel, housing laws, voting rights and education. The most celebrated of his victories, the landmark Brown v. the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education in 1954, ended legal segregation in public schools.
Marshall was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1962 by President Kennedy. He then became the first black to become solicitor general of the United States. In 1967, President Johnson named him the first black Supreme Court justice. He served until 1991, remaining an unceasing advocate for the equality of all Americans.
In 1942, James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during a sit-in at a Chicago restaurant that refused to serve blacks. Farmer directed the organization toward nonviolent protest - sit-ins, boycotts, marches and Freedom Rides. These early demonstrations, protesting segregation in public facilities, were met with hostility and violence. By the 1950s, as a result of direct action by CORE and the NAACP, public facilities in the North opened to blacks.
In 1961, Farmer traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of a new round of Freedom Rides. Other civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., joined the cause as it gathered momentum.
As black militancy gained strength within CORE, Farmer resigned as national director in 1966 and turned to teaching. During the Nixon administration he was assistant secretary of health, education and welfare.
Following a distinguished career as a teacher, Whitney Moore Young Jr. was named executive director of the National Urban League in 1961. The league was formed in 1910 to improve the living conditions and employment opportunities for urban blacks.
Young was one of the black leaders who advised President Johnson on the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Young served on numerous private and federal commissions related to social welfare. Elements of his "domestic Marshall Plan" were incorporated in the federal antipoverty program during the 1960s.
Throughout his career Benjamin Hooks, a lawyer and ordained Baptist minister, has addressed a range of political, economic and social problems confronting African-Americans and other minorities. In 1965, he was appointed a Memphis Criminal Court judge.
He gained further prominence when he was named to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. The first black to serve on the commission, he was instrumental in paving the way for blacks to own and operate radio and television stations.
In 1977, Hooks became executive director of the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, a post he held until early 1993.
The life and philosophy of Malcolm X have profoundly influenced the thinking of black Americans. Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X spent much of his childhood in foster homes and state institutions. Arrested at the age of 21, he was given a 10-year sentence. While in jail, he became interested in the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslim sect led by Elijah Muhammad, who advocated separation of the races. Paroled in 1952, he adopted the name Malcolm X, and became a leader of the Black Muslim movement.
His eloquence drew a strong following but his popularity and forceful personality led to disputes and ultimately his expulsion from the movement in 1963. He then founded his own organization.
Following a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm modified his views and accepted the possibility of working with people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. He was assassinated in 1965 during a speech in New York City. Malcolm X's influence has grown since his death, largely through his autobiography and, most recently, a film.
Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest associate, was a prominent figure in the civil rights movement for three decades. In 1955, he helped organize the association to supervise a city-wide bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. following the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger.
In 1957, a group of Southern black ministers from 11 states met with King and Abernathy to establish the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King was elected president and Abernathy, secretary-treasurer. Under their leadership. the SCLC organized nonviolent marches, sit-ins, boycotts, prayer pilgrimages and voter registration drives protesting segregation in the South. After King's death, Abernathy became president of the SCLC, heading it until 1973.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Andrew Jackson Young graduated from Howard University and later was ordained as a minister.
While working on a voter-registration project, he met Martin Luther King Jr. and joined the SCLC where he became one of King's most trusted aides. He was active in desegregation campaigns in Birmingham, Alabama, and Chicago, Illinois, and in the 1963 March on Washington. Young became SCLC executive director in 1964 and, after King's death, executive vice president under Ralph Abernathy.
Elected to Congress in 1972, he was reelected twice. President Jimmy Carter named him ambassador to the United Nations in 1977. In 1981, he was elected mayor of Atlanta and was reelected overwhelmingly in 1985. Young is co-chairman of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games.
General Colin Powell was named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1989, making him the highest-ranking black officer in U.S. history.
Powell served two tours in Vietnam in the 1960s. He worked with the deputy secretary of defense in the late 1970s and became senior military assistant to the secretary of defense in 1983. After commanding the V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany, Powell was named President Reagan's assistant for national security affairs in 1987.
Known for his thorough preparation and professionalism, Powell played a major role in the 1991 Gulf War to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the restructuring of the U.S. military following the end of the Cold War. He is now Secretary of State in the George W. Bush Cabinet.
Jesse Louis Jackson, the most prominent black leader in the United States today, was a college student when he became a field director for CORE. In 1966 Jackson was chosen by Martin Luther King Jr. to head the SCLC's Operation Breadbasket, which sought to create job opportunities for blacks in Chicago, Illinois.
Ordained a Baptist minister in 1968. Jackson left the SCLC in 1971 to found Operation PUSH People United to Save (later Serve) Humanity -- in Chicago. PUSH worked to open up job opportunities for blacks and encouraged black-owned business.
In 1983, Jackson launched a nationwide voter registration drive; a year later he declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jackson expanded his political following through a "Rainbow Coalition" of blacks, Hispanics and disadvantaged whites, and won even wider support for his presidential candidacy in 1988.
In recent years, Jackson has remained a highly visible and eloquent advocate for a wide range of civil rights and human rights issues.