10 Black Heroes You Should Know About
Black history is happening everyday. It’s not just a thing of the past, but it's a story that continues to be written in our DNA. We come from a powerful legacy and we are the descendants of heroes who embodied courage, bravery and perseverance. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes and heroines as we continue to break barriers in sports, government, healthcare, technology, music, fashion and beyond.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let us never forget that we travel along a divine road paved by the boldness of Black heroes who will never be forgotten.
We are because they were.
In 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first Black Woman to be elected to the United States Congress. For seven terms (1969-1983), Chisholm represented New York's 12th congressional district and became widely known for her outspoken persona and dedication to be a voice for marginalized groups. In 1972, she threw her hat in the ring for the Presidential election and became the first Black woman (and person) to seek the presidential nomination from a major party.
While she did not win, she left an important mark in history which has now made it possible for Kamala Harris to become the first woman as well as first Black and South Asian woman, to be elected as Vice President of the United States.
Frederick Douglass was a former enslaved man who inspired others like him to fight for their freedom as a key leader of the abolitionist movement. After becoming a free man, he share his experiences while enslaved and publicly denounced slavery. He also became involved in the women’s rights movement.
After the Civil War, Douglass became the first Black man to hold several high positions in government such as ambassador to the Dominican Republic and U.S. Marshal for D.C. He often used his position to advocate for civil rights and women’s rights.
In 1872, Douglass became the first Black man to be nominated for Vice President of the United States.
Martin Luther King Jr. is undoubtedly the most recognizable figure of the Civil Rights Movement. He is a leader who never backed down in his stance against racial injustice. He led the movement by taking a nonviolent approach rooted in love and compassion even when it did not make sense to most.
On August 28, 1963, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C to over a quarter of a million people. King’s speech marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement and is recognized as one of the most famous speeches in history.
In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black Woman to obtain an international pilot's license and inspired others to fly to new heights. Because she was Black and a woman, she was unable to attend aviation schools in the United States. However, she learned French and was accepted into the Caudron Brothers' School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She then received her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
Coleman’s accomplishment is a demonstration of the determination it takes to overcome obstacles.
Ida B. Well was a journalist, civil rights activist and co-founder of the NAACP. However, will forever be remembered as a trailblazer in investigative journalism. Beginning in the early 1890s. Wells made it her mission to expose the barbaric practices of lynching in the South. White Southerners justified lynchings as a way to punish Black people who committed crimes. However, she found that lynching was used as a tactic to oppress Black people who gained economic success post slavery.
While the uncovering of these lynchings were disturbing and gruesome, Wells brought domestic and international attention to what was going on in America and forced the country to come face-to-face with this ugly truth. She often faced death threats and violence, but she stayed true to her mission.
Her influence in investigative journalism still exists today as America is constantly forced to come face to face with the killings of unarmed Black men and women caught on video.
Langston Hughes is an accomplished writer who is notably one of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s-1930s). As a poet, playwright and novelist, Hughes used a rhythmic style to write about themes such as racism, self-love, cultural pride. He celebrated who he was and encouraged other Black people to embrace who they were.
Some of Hughes’ most timeless poems include, “I, Too, Sing America”, “Harlem”, and “Dreams”.
Don Cornelius was the creator and host of the television show and cultural gem, Soul Train. He is also known as the “first African-American to create, produce, host and own his own show”. His vision of Soul Train provided Black music artists with a mainstream platform to showcase their talent.
Airing in 1971 (not long after desegregation), Soul Train became one of the first television shows that showed Black people just being themselves. Previously, many shows only depicted Black people as caricatures and not real people. Soul Train was the embodiment of Black music, dancing, fashion, beauty and culture.
Soul Train is one of the longest running television shows in history airing from 1971 to 2006. It is also responsible for helping to put some of our favorite musical artists on the map!
In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers - becoming the first Black athlete to play Major League Baseball. Before Robinson’s MLB debut, Black baseball players were restricted to playing in the Negro Leagues.
During Robinson’s 10-year career, he scored a batting average of 0.311 and won the Rookie of the Year Award (1947), League MVP Award (1949), and All-Star Award for six consecutive seasons (1949-1954). Even with his talent and success, he was subject to verbal and physical abuse, hate mail and death threats.
Robinson’s legacy has opened doors for Black athletes in all professional league sports.
Born Isabella Bomfree, Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and human rights activist. She was enslaved in New York, but later gained her freedom after finding refuge in a White family who bought her freedom. After she became a freewoman, she became the first Black woman to sue a white man and win after her son was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama.
As a devout Christian, Sojourner Truth traveled to preach, speak out against slavery, and advocate for Black women’s rights. In 1851, Truth delivered her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” at a Women’s Rights Conference in Akron, Ohio. In her speech, she recalls her own experience of discrimination as a Black woman and brought attention to the intersectionality of racism and sexism.
James Baldwin was a Renaissance man of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed novelist, playwright, essayist, poet and activist who released profound literature that revealed the truth about racism in America. He often gave a voice to social issues that were taboo such as race, sexuality, and class. Despite public criticism, he remained true to his craft and continued to release literary works that are now considered to be American classics.
Baldwin became a prominent voice during the Civil Rights movement after releasing his novels “Notes of a Native Son”, “The Fire Next Time” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain”. He has influenced many prominent Black writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Richard Wright.
In conclusion, let’s take this time during Black history to reflect on the leaders who paved the way for us and let’s continue to break new barriers and open new doors for generations to come.