Black History Month is a time to reflect on the past but also a time to honor the individuals of the African American community who have made significant accomplishments that are often overlooked. Keep reading to discover ten African American legacies whose names are often left out of history books or rarely publicized!
- In the 1960s, during the intensity of the Civil Rights movement, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to be elected to Congress. In 1972, she made history again as the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
- A common misconception in history is that Rosa Parks was the first to protest on the bus. Before her, a brave young 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin refused to sit in the back of the bus. Colvin stood up to the bus driver, stating that it was her constitutional right to continue sitting near the middle of the bus, and was arrested as a result. She became the first woman to be detained for her refusal.
- A woman who broke the barrier to allow a new generation of diversity of fliers such as the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds and Flying Hobos was Bessie Coleman. Coleman was the first licensed Black pilot in the world, although her major accomplishment was not acknowledged until after her death. Amelia Earheart or the Wright Brothers are the names most commonly taught in history, failing to recognize Coleman as an incredible trailblazer in the world of aviation.
- Robert Sengstacke laid the groundwork for many of the Black publications today like Ebony, Essence, Black Enterprise and Upscale. Without his creative vision, they would not be the successful publications they are today. Abbot created the Chicago Defender weekly newspaper in 1905. It started out as simply a four-page pamphlet that grew over time in length and readership. Abbot’s newspaper played a major role in inspiring African Americans to move to the south for better economic opportunities.
- Gordon Parks was the first African American to work on the staff of LIFE Magazine. He later became known for some of the most stunning imagery found in the pages of Vogue. Parks was also the first Black director of a major film, Shaft, and a pivotal figure in developing the blaxploitation (an ethnic movie subgenre) era of the 1970s.
- A woman that paved the way for African American female directors and producers such as Oprah, Ava DuVernay, and Shonda Rhimes, Maria P. Williams was the first Black woman to produce, write and act in her own movie The Flames of Wrath in 1923.
- And to transition to history being made today, Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is one of the lead scientists on the team that developed the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. The 35-year-old is a research fellow for the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
- On Feb.1, Rashida Jones became the president of MSNBC and the first African American executive to manage a major television news network. Jones has also been monumental in bringing more diversity to MSNBC’s daytime and weekend scheduled shows.
- In its 275 year history, Nicholas Johnson became the first Valedictorian of Princeton University. In an interview, Johnson remarked about the fact that the university’s first nine presidents were slave owners, demonstrating how much progress has been made but how much work still needs to be done.
- Sydney Barber made history as the first African American woman in the U.S Naval Academy’s 175-year history to serve as a brigade commander. She does not take the position lightly and sees it as an opportunity to make a difference and hopefully bring more diversity and inclusion to the academy.
This article could be never-ending with history being made every day, and I could never have the space to include everyone. So now it is up to you to get informed. The African American community has made and continues to make countless impacts on society as a whole that you will never learn about in a history book. It is up to us to keep their memories alive, continue to honor them, and bring greater awareness to monumental accomplishments.