The civil rights movement was born out of an ugly time in US history, but we’ll be damned if it didn’t make for some good-looking protesters.

With the always-impeccable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading the way, a sea of crisp suits, skinny ties and Wayfarers led our country into equality. In honor of the great man and movement, we dug through the archives and were surprised to find a handsome lot of style icons also heading up the charge for civil rights—a veritable who’s who of impossibly cool gentlemen—everyone from Brando and Newman to Belafonte, Dylan and Davis Jr. Hell, even Charlton Heston got in on the action. It’s as if somehow impassioned, selfless endeavoring has a way of adding an extra layer of dapperness—not to mention being on the right side of history.

Now presenting: A Pictorial Demonstration of Style Icons Rallying for Civil Rights.

Charlton Heston, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Charlton Heston holds a protest sign in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Jan Murray, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra backstage at Carnegie Hall after doing a benefit concert in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 27, 1961.

Marlon Brando joins with marchers from CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) to protest an all-white housing area in Torrance, California, on January 1, 1963.

Sammy Davis Jr. waves to the crowd at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Burt Lancaster, Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston pose for a photograph at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Marlon Brando and Paul Newman at a civil rights rally, Sacramento, 1961.

Jimi Hendrix is part of the audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. benefit in New York City in June 1968, a few months after the civil rights leader’s assassination.

Martin Luther King Jr. stands by Muhammad Ali as he discusses his decision not to enlist in the Vietnam War, 1967.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Bob Dylan performing “Only a Pawn in Their Game” in 1963. The song was first played at a civil rights and voter registration rally in Mississippi organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Peter, Paul and Mary perform at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Peter, Paul and Mary with John Denver on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, April 24, 1971.

—N.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Najib Benouar