They say behind every great man is a great woman. However, when it comes to political figures, the saying can be amended to say behind every great man is an equally great man supporting him. Such is the case with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
While he has become the face of the Civil Rights Movement, he had some equally great men staunchly supporting his cause; and they even continued his message of non-violent protests as a means to seek justice for the people.
Take a look at some of the great men who stood on the front lines with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – Jonathan Hailey
Known for being one of Dr. King’s early mentors, Bayard Rustin supported King’s practice of non-violent protests to provoke change after he spent time in India working with Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Rustin brought the knowledge he learned in India to become one of the master strategists for King during the Civil Rights Movement. Bayard Rustin was an integral part of getting the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom March organized.
After leaving King’s camp, Bayard Rustin continued to fight for human rights as well as gay rights. Rustin also sat on the Board of Trustees of the University of Notre Dame before dying of a perforated appendix in 1987. Despite seemingly being written out of the Civil Rights Movement’s history, plenty of educatIonal facilities have been named in his honor his commitment to equality for all of the citizens of America.
Ralph Abernathy is known for being one of martin Luther King’s closest friends and successor as president of the SCLC after King’s death. Abernathy helped King organize the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to answer the injustice of Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give her seat for a white passenger. The work Ralph Abernathy did with Martin Luther King is credited with helping get the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.
After King’s death in 1968, Abernathy continued to lobby for assistance for the country’s poor. Abernathy kept speaking out about injustices against America’s poor until his death in 1990 due to two blood clots that traveled to his heart and lungs.
Widely regarded as one of the biggest influences on Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Mays was president of Morehouse College when King was a student. The pair developed a very close friendship that lasted up until the day King died. As a young college student, King was struck by Mays’ emphasis on dignity for all humans and the glaring gap between Democratic ideals and actual American social practices. Those became the two key components in King’s message.
After stepping down as president of Morehouse College in 1967, Mays was elected as president of that Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education. During his tenure, he oversaw the peaceful desegregation of Atlanta’s public school system. After passing in 1984, Mays’ family began petitioning for Benjamin Mays to receive the highest honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement after being savagely beaten by a group of angry whites for drinking out of their water fountain despite having served in World War II, Hosea Williams played a major role in organizing demonstrations in St. Augustine, Florida and other cities throughout the south. Williams led the first attempt to march from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama.
Though Hosea Williams never held national political office, Williams was elected to Atlanta’s City Council. He also continued to fight for justice for the poor and homeless. Williams lost his three-year battle with cancer in 2000. His family continues to honor his legacy by continuing to help feed and clothe the homeless.
Minister Andrew Young joined the SCLC in 1960 and was jailed for his participation in the demonstrations in Sema, Alabama and St. Augustine, Florida. He and King became close friends over the years through their shared commitment to activism. Young’s passion for righting social injustices lead him to be named one of Martin Luther King’s principal lieutenants in the SCLC. Andrew Young was with King when he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 along with Jesse Jackson and Ralph Abernathy.
After King’s murder, Young went on to hold the offices of mayor of Atlanta, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and became the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations. Andrew Young continued his political career until he retired in 1989.
Though Jesse Jackson only worked with Martin Luther King for a short time, the experience left a lasting impression on him. Jackson rose through the ranks of Operation Breadbasket after King and others saw his drive and outstanding organizational skills. Soon enough he became the national director of Operation Breadbasket despite his obvious attention seeking.
Once Jackson left the SCLC, he started the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition which was put in place to pressure politicians to work toward improving the economic standing of all races. Jesse Jackson went on to become the Democratic nominee for President in 1984 and 1988. Though he lost both times, he continued his political activism. He hit a rough patch toward the end of the 90s when it was discovered he fathered a child out of wedlock with one of his staffers. Due to the scandal, Jesse Jackson took a brief hiatus from politics. As of now, he is back to working in politics.
A legend in his own right, Harry Belafonte used his fame as a singer and actor to aid Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Belafonte bailed King out of jail whenever he was arrested. He also provided for King’s family considering King only made about $8,000 a year as a preacher. The actor known for his dashing looks bankrolled most of the Freedom Rides by himself.
While Harry Belafonte has retired from performing, he has not stopped his activism. He recently released a memoir where he detailed being the liason between John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.