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Blacks say atheists were unseen civil rights heroes

Think of the civil rights movement and chances are the image that comes to mind is of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. leading the 1963 March on Washington.

But few people think of A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer who originated the idea of the march and was at King’s side as he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why is King, a Christian, remembered by so many and Randolph, an atheist, by so few? It’s a question many African-American nontheists — atheists, humanists and skeptics — are asking this Black History Month, with some scholars and activists calling for a re-examination of the contributions of nontheists of color to the civil rights movement and beyond.

“So often you hear about religious people involved in the civil rights movement, and as well you should, but there were also humanists,” said Norm R. Allen Jr. of the Institute for Science and Human Values, a humanist organization based in Tampa, Fla.

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