Besides Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, what less prominent African American and Hispanics have brought minorities Americans' attention?
Hey, from the literary standpoint, how about Maya Angelou and even LeVar Burton? Of course, Maya Angelou was thrust into prominence when she wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but also when she received the Pulitzer Prize and recited "On the Pulse of Morning" during Bill Clinton's inauguration. What is really wonderful is how she used her writing to combat both racism and sexism.
Just to connect the two heroes I mentioned above, both Maya Angelou and LeVar Burton starred in the mini series interpretation of Alex Haley's Roots. LeVar Burton played Kunta Kinte while Maya Angleou played his grandmother (back in Africa). In fact, one of my favorite lines in the entire series is Maya's line after Kunta returns from manhood training: "As long as you know that I am STILL still your grandmother, you do NOT know everything, ... and that Allah is still greater than you!"
LeVar Burton may be a strange choice here, but in addition to his portrayal of Kunta Kinte in Roots (and his stunning part as Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation), LeVar is known to millions of young people as the host of Reading Rainbow! No one can hear that first line of "Butterflies in the sky, ... I can go twice as high! Take a look, it's in a book: a reading rainbow!" without thinking of LeVar's smiling face. He's hosted that show for almost twenty-five years!
Talk about two fabulous role models for the young people of this nation!
On the side of notable African- Americans who have helped advance the cause of moving from margin to center, I would look at thinkers like James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Booker T. Washington as figures at the turn of the 20th Century would did much to bring attention to the plight of being on the outside looking in. Johnson's work in the NAACP is notable and his writing are profound. In terms of magnitude, the works of Washington and DuBois are powerful. I think that other more modern activists can be seen in Kwame Ture, Angela Davis, and thinkers like Anne Moody sought to impact the movement in their own ways and contributed profoundly to the consciousness of the nation and its perception of Civil Rights. On the side of Latino consciousness, the works of Richard Rodriguez are highly influential. While not an activist, Rodriguez contributes much to the debate on what it means to be Latino in America today. Personally, I am intrigued by Latino leaders like Fernando Romero who are so driven by immigration reform that they are quietly considering breaking off from the Democratic party and forming a "Tequila Party," a la Tea Party, that is a grassroots organization motivated by immigration reform.
You certainly mention some very important people, such as Martin Luther King, but there many others that we can mention that have brought attention to the public. It really depends on the area of influence. I think there is a strong argument to be made that Oprah Winfrey has made a huge impact in American culture. She is the most beloved and watched talk show host. She also has a magazine and also does so much charity work. She is a household name. So, in terms of sheer influence, she is up there by anyone's standard.
If we move to politics, how about people like Nelson Mandela? His imprisonment, patient suffering, presidency, and leadership are an model and inspiration for all people. As a side note, this is Oprah's hero.
If we move to religion, how about someone like Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize and worked with issues of conflict and reconciliation in Africa. We need so many more people like him in our world and he is a source of encouragement to many religious people in America.
There have been many civil rights leaders who have been important in bringing minority issues to the attention of the American people. African American leaders have generally been more numerous and more famous than Hispanics.
Some African American leaders include Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis. There have been fewer Hispanic activists to make any real impression on the national stage. One relatively famous activist is Dolores Huerta. There have also been governmental leaders who are Hispanic. These have included Bill Richardson and Sonia Sotomayor. These people may not be what you are looking for, however, because they are not primarily associated with issues of minority rights.