| Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.|
During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December 1955 until April 4, 1968, African-Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.
Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950’s and '60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, King used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing and civil disobedience, to achieve seemingly impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.
Gerda Weissmann Klein
Gerda Weissmann Klein is a Polish-born American writer and human rights activist. Her autobiographical account of the Holocaust, "All but My Life" (1957), was adapted for the 1995 short film "One Survivor Remembers," which received an Academy Award and an Emmy Award and was selected for the National Film Registry. She met her husband, Kurt Klein (1920–2002) on May 7, 1945, when as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army's 5th Infantry Division, he liberated her and others from Nazi captivity. Married in 1946, the Kleins became tireless advocates of Holocaust education and human rights, dedicating most of their lives to promoting tolerance and community service. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Klein also founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit organization that champions the value and responsibilities of American citizenship. She has served on the governing board of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which features her testimony in a permanent exhibit. On Feb. 15, 2011, Klein was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. In 2013, she published a children's adventure story called "The Windsor Caper," which had remained hidden away since the 1980s, when it was a weekly serial in The Buffalo News.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis
Often called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls "The Beloved Community” in America. His dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles has won him the admiration of many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.
He has been called "the conscience of the U.S. Congress,” and Roll Call magazine has said, "John Lewis… is a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber.”
He was born the son of sharecroppers on Feb. 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama. He grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Ever since then, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.
While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963.
Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards from imminent national and international institutions, including the highest civilian honor granted by President Barack Obama, the Medal of Freedom.