In the Toni Cade Bambara story, the leaders on the wall include Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, and Fannie Lou Hamer. Harriet Tubman was a slave from Virginia who escaped and decidedly led other black people to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Dr. King and Malcolm X are the two best-known American civil rights leaders. They are frequently contrasted, due to Dr. King's advocacy of nonviolent civil disobedience and Malcolm's militancy. Malcolm X did not advocate violence but encouraged black people to defend themselves against unjust violence.
Fannie Lou Hamer is one of the many women who assisted in the effort to end Southern segregation and help black people assert their right to vote. Ms. Hamer was a Mississippian and the daughter of sharecroppers. She led the effort to enfranchise black people in her home state. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party and famously challenged the seating of an all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention, to the consternation of Lyndon B. Johnson, who needed white Southern Democratic support to win the nomination.
The narrator then follows "what looked like a vine." She passes by "a man with a horn." This would be Louis Armstrong—one of the first jazz soloists, along with Sidney Bechet. There is "a woman with a big white flower in her hair." This would be Billie Holiday, whose nickname was "Lady Day." She was often seen wearing a white gardenia in her hair when performing onstage. Legend has it that Holiday started doing this to cover up a bald spot that resulted from burning her hair out with a curling iron before a show. The next figure is "a handsome dude in a tuxedo seated at a piano." This would be Duke Ellington, a pioneer in jazz from the 1920s to the 1930s. Further along the vine is "a man with a goatee holding a book." This is W.E.B. DuBois, the writer, educator, journalist, and sociologist, best-known for The Souls of Black Folk. In this book, he established the concept of "double-consciousness," which describes the unique condition of being both black and American and how those identities sometimes conflict.