Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford stands with her and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone moments after Sanders began speaking and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking further and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Marissa Johnson, left, speaks as Mara Jacqueline Willaford stands with her and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., stands nearby as the two women take over the microphone at a rally Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in downtown Seattle. The women, co-founders of the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter, took over the microphone moments after Sanders began speaking and refused to relinquish it. Sanders eventually left the stage without speaking further and instead waded into the crowd to greet supporters. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

During the arc of the modern Civil Rights Movement, women have played a critical role in organizing, planning, supporting and implementing strategies designed to confront and topple the racial segregation that disenfranchised Black Americans for more than a century. But the sexism and misogyny of men in the movement and the widespread patriarchy in the larger society relegated women to the shadows.

“The times guided all women White and Black,” Dorie Ann Ladner, Civil Rights organizer and activist, told the AFRO. “Traditionally the movement was male-driven and traditionally, women were in the background, in church, at home. People like me who were very headstrong saw it as a hindrance to what I needed to do. We had Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Victoria Jackson Gray Adams and other women who were active and involved. We broke the mold in Alabama, Mississippi. Women were very, very active in Selma.”

Ladner participated in the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s, served as a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and helped organize Mississippi’s Freedom Summers. She said that in the face of pervasive racism and structural inequalities, young Black men and women have no choice but to rise up to challenge the threat to their survival.

More than a half a century later, young female activists, including  Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza are based on the West Coast. Carmen Perez, Toni Sanders, Erika Totten, and Tamika Mallory are rattling the status quo on the East Coast. Women like Johnetta Elzie, active in protests and organizing in the Midwest in Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, are powering the #BlackLivesMatter movement which sprung to life following the 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The women and a number of grassroots organizations have been meeting and strategizing. As the national political electoral season swings into high gear, #BlackLivesMatter has been pushing presidential candidates to take positions on issues of concern for Black people.

“I’ve been talking to some of the young people. I don’t get too involved though,” Ladner said. “Some of the young women in Black Lives Matter movement complained to me that Al Sharpton was sucking up all the air. I told them ‘You don’t ask, you just take.’ Frederick Douglass said power concedes nothing without a struggle. I told them to confront them, told them if they push you, push them back.”

“I saw them on television disrupting one of Bernie Sanders’ speeches. I didn’t know they’d do that, go that far,” she continued with a chuckle.

One of the hallmarks of the #BlackLivesMatter’s tactics, particularly early on, was to put a twist on traditional forms of protest by doing things such as shutting down different parts of the city, lie-ins, demonstrations in unusual places and unexpected times, blocking major thoroughfares and highways, and disrupting businesses and the general flow and pace of life in cities like Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been all over the planet; I’ve seen people shot down in the streets. I’ve never considered myself to be a coward in any way or shape but I’m petrified right now,” Nicole Lee, a human rights lawyer who has monitored events and police behavior in cities including Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland, told the AFRO. “I’m petrified for my girls that their bodies and hearts will be stolen, destroyed by (this) system.”

Perez, executive director of the Justice League NYC, an organization that grew out of the rash of police killings of Black and Brown men, spoke at a rally two weeks ago, honoring Sandra Bland. Bland’s July 10 arrest in Prairie View, Texas for a menial traffic offense and her suspicious death three days later pivoted national attention on the deaths of Black women in police custody.

“We need the Department of Justice to be as angry as we are. Where is Loretta Lynch?” asked Perez. “My heart is heavy because every single day, on social media, I see someone, a sister in the movement dead. I can’t take it anymore.”

However, the U.S. Attorney General told the AFRO that Bland’s death is a tragedy, adding that she is very concerned about what happened to Bland, acknowledging the anger and frustration Blacks feel about the differences in the way they and mainstream individuals are treated by police. She said she sees better training as a key way to lower the number of violent encounters between Blacks and law enforcement.

“There are a number of lessons to be learned there. I think the one thing that has come out of this tragic, tragic situation, this loss of life of this young woman, has been a discussion about specific police techniques,” Lynch told NBC News. “And I think it shows the frustration that many minority communities feel when they feel that, you know, maybe it wouldn’t have escalated in a different community. And I hope that that can bring this situation to light as well. So that people understand the frustration that many minority members feel when they’re stopped by the police.”

D.C. activist and businesswoman Avis Jones-DeWeever, president and CEO of local consulting firm Incite Unlimited, said no one should be surprised in the ascendency of the movement’s powerful, defiant women. “It’s not unusual in the sense that Black women have been absolutely critical in getting the work done within Civil Rights movements since like forever,” she said. “I don’t think anyone gave women the space to do anything. They asserted their own work and in the process of that did the work. It’s natural that women have been in the forefront and now we’re beginning to see people paying more attention to women stepping into these roles.”

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of articles the AFRO will produce that looks at women, both present and past, in the struggle for Black equality in the United States.