At the time of his rise to popularity, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had made countless connections around the country. The Civil Rights Movement united plenty of people, and harnessing the celebrity power of Black singers, entertainers, athletes, and actors played a key role in the groundbreaking work being done to bring equality to Black people.
As Dr. King preached, marched, and worked with a dynamic network of community organizers to push the fight for freedom forward, people like Jackie Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and Aretha Franklin used their star-studded status to support and carry out the work.
Here’s a look at some of the photos of MLK’s celebrity friends, who in their own right, help nationalize the Civil Rights Movement.
The legendary gospel singer is pictured here singing at the March On Washington on August 28, 1963. She is credited with inspiring King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech he gave that day.
The baseball pioneer and activist is pictured here with King in June of 1957 at Howard University's graduation ceremony where they both received honorary Law Degrees.
Robinson retired from baseball in 1957 and went on to lead fundraising efforts for the NAACP. He even hosted concerts in his backyard to raise money to bail out activists who'd been imprisoned at marches.
The iconic actress is pictured here giving a reading at the March On Washington in 1963. Her talent supported her unrelenting push towards telling stories that centered the complexities of the lives Black women lead. She and her husband of 56 years Ossie Davis attended the March in 1963 and worked together in their advocacy for freedom and the arts.
The renown author joined other celebrities for a roundtable conversation following the March On Washington. He's pictured above in 1965 (in the sunglasses, third from left) on the stage following the Selma to Montgomery March. A young John Lewis is also among those pictured on stage.
The late iconic actress is pictured here at the MLK Memorial Dedication ceremony in 2011. She was the first Black woman to win a Tony Award, and earned a Golden Globe for her groundbreaking lead role in the TV show Julia. Her work on the screen helped to build a foundation of representation of Black people in film and TV during a time when segregation denied so many basic human rights.
Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Sammy Davis, Jr.
The actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier are pictured here with King and fellow Civil Rights Leader A. Philip Randolph. Belafonte was a confidant of King's and the work of both actors broke barriers on and off the screen, with long track records of service and philanthropy.
Here, King is pictured with Belafonte and singer-comedian extraordinaire Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1965 at a benefit show in NYC called Broadway Answers Selma.
"The Queen of Soul" made a career of using her voice to radiate power. Her hit "Respect" released in 1967 gave a soundtrack to the movement taking place. The late Congressman John Lewis once said "If it hadn't been for Aretha –– and others, but particularly Aretha–– the Civil Rights Movement would have been a bird without wings."