Today marks the official holiday of Martin Luther King Jr., honoring the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who sacrificed his life to end discrimination in America . King was not only influential in his time, but an influential leader for generations to come, who carry on King’s vision of ending discrimination through non violent marches.

King was also influenced by human rights activists himself, many of which  influenced and shaped the work of Dr. King. Here’s a list of six influential women MLK credited throughout his life.

1. Alberta Christine Williams King

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She [my mother] was behind the scenes setting forth those motherly cares, the lack of which leaves a missing link in life.-MLK

Mother of the MLK, Alberta was influential in shaping the life of the late civil right’s leader.  She played a significant role at  Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church in which was pivotal in shaping the life of MLK. Her father, Rev. Adam Daniel Williams had been the pastor there up until his death, in which her husband, Martin Luther King Sr. became his successor. Sadly, her life came to a similar tragic fate like that of her son--on June 30, 1974, her life came to an abrupt end when she was gunned down while playing the organ at church by Marcus Wayne Chenault, a deranged 23 year old man.

2. Coretta Scott King

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Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation
Read more at -Coretta Scott King

The wife of Martin Luther King, credited as the glue that held the civil rights movement together, Coretta played a central role in her husband’s work. Having studied singing at the New England Conservatory of Music, Coretta sacrificed her dreams of becoming a classical singer after King became a full time pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. She participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and played a crucial role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1954. After her husband’s assassination, Coretta continued the civil right’s movement, particularly focusing on Women’s rights movement and inclusion of LGBT rights.

3. Josephine Baker

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I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.-Josephine Baker

Although living in France, the American born singer-dancer-actress was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. During a tour in New York, Baker was appalled at the treatment of African Americans in the United States after being turned away from 36 different hotels. This incident propelled her into her civil rights work, writing on segregation and inequality, touring the deep South and spoke alongside MLK in 1963 at the March of Washington-the only woman to speak at the event. Baker was approached by Coretta after King’s assassination to take his place in the movement, however, Baker turned it down, stating “my children are too young to lose their mother.” 

4. Rosa Parks

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At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.-Rosa Parks

The “first lady of the civil rights,” Rosa Parks was a central figure in the fight against racial segregation after refusing to give up her seat in to a white rider, prompting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During this time, MLK had just begun his work as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The two worked closely together on the Boycott, which lasted 385 days. For his role, King became recognized as a national figure in the civil rights movement.

5. Ella Baker

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Strong people don’t need strong leaders.-Ella Baker

Although her views on leadership roles often led her to clash with King, Baker was asked at the request of King to speak at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) following the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Baker, who had mentored Parks, became the SCLC’s first staff member, the role given to her by King. A very private person, Baker worked tirelessly behind the scenes of the civil rights movement, dubbing her as one of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement.

6. Diane Nash

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You don’t have to be a man to be courageous.-Diane Nash 

As a young college student, Nash successfully spearheaded a campaign to integrate lunch counters in Nashville, and work towards voting rights for African Americans in Selma, Alabama. It was Nash who brought King to Montgomery to aid in the Freedom Rides. In 1965, King awarded Nash with the prestigious Rosa Parks award for her work.

Wear Your Voice Magazine recognizes Martin Luther King today, and all the Freedom Fighters in Oakland and beyond, who work day in and out building upon King’s dream of a more equitable future.

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