Atlanta’s International Civil Rights Walk of Fame honors some of the activists of the civil rights movement as well as others who supported Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality for all. The Civil Rights Walk of Fame is, indeed, a walkable promenade near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site that features actual granite and bronze footstep impressions of those honored.
Many of the names are familiar, such as famed athletes Magic Johnson, Hank Aaron and Joe Louis; Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; and entertainers Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., NeYo and Sidney Poitier. Others are well known for their business, literary and political accomplishments. Those include Ted Turner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Maya Angelou, Sen. Edward Brooke, Tom Joyner, Roberto Goizuetta, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rosa Parks.
Others may not be as well known but their contributions are no less admirable and inspirational. Here are the stories behind some of the footprints, one person for each year since its start in 2004.
- 2004: Dorothy Height was an educator and social activist who focused on civil rights as well as women’s issues, particularly the issues affecting African-American women (unemployment, illiteracy and voter awareness). She was the president of the National Council of Negro Women and co-founded African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.
- 2005: Ralph McGill, editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution, is known as the “Conscience of the South.” Syndicated in more than 200 newspapers across the country and frequently featured in national news shows, McGill influenced the country and, more importantly, the South, with his views on integration. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize, McGill was named as “one of the few enlightened white people,” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- 2006: The Rev. James Orange was called one of the “real soldiers of the movement … a gentle giant,” by Ambassador Andrew Young. Orange was arrested more than 100 times and endured more than nine beatings in the civil rights and civil disobedience cause.
- 2007: Maxine Waters was a U.S. representative from California and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
- 2008: Benjamin Hooks served as executive director of the NAACP from 1977 to 1992 and was a vocal advocate for civil rights throughout his life.
- 2009: C.T. Vivian is a minister, author and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who helped organize sit-ins in Nashville and was one of the Freedom Riders.
- 2010: Damon Jerome Keith, a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, is best known for ruling that President Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell had to disclose the transcripts of illegal wiretaps. The landmark case went to the U.S. Supreme Court where it is known as the “Keith case.”
- 2011: Marc Morial is a former mayor of New Orleans and is the current president of the National Urban League.
- 2012: Ahn Changho was a Korean independence activist and one of the early leaders of the Korean-American immigrant community in the United States.
- 2013: No award was given this year.
- 2014: Tommie Smith was a gold medalist in the 1968 Olympics who gave the black power salute.
- 2015: The Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where he is a defender of civil and human rights and has taken on the contradictions of the criminal justice system.
- 2016: Alicia Boler-Davis is one of the top 20 executives for General Motors Co. and, as senior vice president for global quality and customer experience, oversees 2,500 employees.
Journalist Mary Welch writes business and lifestyle stories for national and local magazines and newspapers.