Big Six (civil rights)
The Big Six refer to the chairmen, presidents, and leaders of six prominent civil rights organizations active during the height of the Civil Rights Movement who were instrumental in the organization of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968): the chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was a Baptist minister, activist, and the most famous leader of the Civil Rights Movement. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and he posthumously won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, nine years after his assassination in 1968. For his promotion of nonviolence and racial equality, King is considered a peacemaker and martyr by many people around the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States was established in his honor, and a memorial to him stands on the nation's National Mall.
- James Farmer (January 12, 1920 – July 9, 1999): In 1942 Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE, a pacifist organization dedicated to achieving racial harmony and equality through nonviolence, and stayed active in the Civil Rights Movement through the 1950s and 1960s. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, shortly before his death in 1999.
- John Lewis (born February 21, 1940): Became a leader in the Civil Rights Movement as president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and as a participant with other civil rights leaders such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Bernard Lafayette in the Nashville Student Movement (1959–62). John Lewis was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. Lewis represented SNCC with a speech at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington. Lewis has represented the 5th District of Georgia in the United States House of Representatives since 1987, a district which includes almost all of Atlanta.
- A. Philip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was a socialist in the labor movement and the Civil Rights Movement. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This was the first serious effort to form a labor union for the employees of the Pullman Company, which was a major employer of African Americans.
- Roy Wilkins (August 30, 1901 – September 8, 1981) was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. In 1955, Wilkins was named executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He had an excellent reputation as an articulate spokesperson for the Civil Rights Movement. He participated in the March on Washington (1963), the Selma to Montgomery marches (1965), and the March Against Fear (1966).
- Whitney Young (July 31, 1921 – March 11, 1971) spent most of his career working to end employment discrimination in the South and turning the National Urban League from a relatively passive civil rights organization into one that aggressively fought for justice.
In James Farmer's autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart, he identified the term "Big Six" as having originated with the founding of the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. Farmer did not include A. Philip Randolph in his listing of the "Big Six", instead listing Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women as the sixth member of the group. Farmer also noted that the press often referred to the group as the "Big Four", excluding Height and John Lewis. Farmer attributed their omission to sexism and age bias, respectively.
Black nationalist and human rights activist Malcolm X, who may have coined the term "The Big Six", said: "...the Negro civil rights leaders have now been permanently named the Big Six (because of their participation in the Big Fix?)".
Patrick Henry Bass, journalist and historian of the March on Washington, described the rise of these leaders to celebrity: "Increasingly, these six powerful men lived in two worlds: the political and the personal, one white, in which they were still strangers but becoming increasingly familiar with its insider/outsider rules; the other, black, where they were treated as extended members of the family."
- "The Big Six: John Lewis and His Contemporaries". Howard.edu. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- "Notable Achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr". Wndu.com. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780875651880. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
- Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare, James H. Cone, Orbis Books, NY, 1991, p. 118. ISBN 0-88344-721-5.
- Patrick Henry Bass, Like a Mighty Stream: The March on Washington, August 28, 1963; Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002; ISBN 0-7624-1292-5; p. 85.