42 Remarkable African American Heroes You Might Not Have Known About

In 1969, Black educators and students at Kent State University proposed the month of February to be celebrated as Black History Month. The first ever celebration took place at Kent State University a year later. The occasion invited Americans to reflect on the significant roles of African Americans that have contributed in shaping US history.

Now, Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, has official recognition from governments not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

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In celebration of Black History Month, Bored Panda invites you to look at and learn a bit more about some of the most remarkable African Americans who played an important role in changing the world for the better.

#1 Claudette Colvin – Refused To Give Up Her Bus Seat To A White Woman In 1955

When Claudette Colvin was 15 years old, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman and move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama on March 2, 1955. Many have no idea that she did it nine months before Rosa Parks famously did the same.

Colvin got arrested, was taken to an adult jail and put in a small cell where she stayed for three hours until her mother arrived and bailed her out. “Whenever people ask me: ‘Why didn’t you get up when the bus driver asked you?’ I say it felt as though Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder. I felt inspired by these women because my teacher taught us about them in so much detail,” the woman told BBC. Claudette Colvin is currently 81 years old.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#2 Shirley Chisholm – The First Black Woman To Be Elected To The United States Congress

Shirley Anita Chisholm was an American politician, educator, and author who, in 1968, became the first-ever Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress. In 1972, she became the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#3 Henrietta Lacks – Woman Whose Cancer Cell Samples Played A Huge Role In Medical Research

In 1951, 31-year-old Henrietta Lacks got diagnosed with cervical cancer. A sample of her cancer cells was sent to Dr. George Gey’s tissue lab where Dr. Gey, prominent cancer and virus researcher, was collecting cells from patients with this type of cancer. Unfortunately, each cell would quickly die. However, Lacks’ cells proved themselves to be quite different—they not only didn’t die, but doubled every 20 to 24 hours. Today, the famous cells are known as “HeLa” cells and are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#4 Jane Bolin – The First Black Judge In The US

Jane Matilda Bolin is known for being the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School. In addition, she was the first Black female to join the New York City Bar Association and the first to join the New York City Law Department. In 1939, Bolin became the first Black woman to serve as a judge in the United States and, for 20 years, was the only Black female judge in the whole country.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#5 James Baldwin – Artist Who Explored The Subject Of Race

James Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, essayist, poet, and activist. Many of his works explored intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western society.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#6 George Washington Carver – The First African American To Earn A Bachelor Of Science Degree

George Washington Carver was an American agricultural scientist and inventor. In 1894, he became the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1896, Carver became a part of the newly organized Tuskegee Institute Movable School, introducing farmers to new techniques and advancements.

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Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#7 Daisy Lee Gatson Bates – Became An Advocate For A Group Of 9 Black Students Known As “The Little Rock Nine” And Fought For Their Right To Attend An All-White High School

Daisy Bates was an American activist, civil rights advocate, and publisher. In 1941, she and her husband moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and started a weekly newspaper devoted to advocating civil rights for African Americans called Arkansas State Press. In 1957, she became an escort and advocate for a group of nine black students known as “The Little Rock Nine” and fought for their right to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. She continued to be an advocate for the group throughout their time at the school.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#8 Alice Allison Dunnigan – The First Black Woman To Serve As A White House Correspondent

Dunnigan was an African American journalist, civil rights activist, author, and the first Black woman to serve as a White House correspondent. She was also the first Black female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. Alice Allison Dunnigan has a monument dedicated to her residing in a park named after her, which is located in Russelville.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#9 Mae C. Jemison – The First African American Female Astronaut

Mae C. Jemison is the first African American female astronaut. On June 4, 1987, Jemison became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. In 1992, she finally became the first African American woman in space, serving as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#10 Benjamin O. Davis Sr. – The US’ First Black General

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was a US Army officer and in 1940, he became the first-ever African American to rise to the rank of brigadier general. Davis served in the US military for 50 years before retiring in 1948.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#11 Kimberly Bryant – Founded A Non-Profit Organization “Black Girls Code” Teaching Basic Programming Concepts To Black Girls

Kimberly Bryant is an African American electrical engineer. In 2011, Bryant founded a non-profit organization called “Black Girls Code” which is a training course that teaches basic programming concepts to Black girls. She came up with the idea for such a course after her daughter became interested in learning computer programming but wasn’t able to find a course in the Bay area that would be well-suited for an African American girl.

Business Insider listed Kimberly Bryant as one of the “25 Most Influential African-Americans In Technology.”

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#12 Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler – The First African American Woman To Become A Doctor Of Medicine In The US

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was an American physician and author. In 1864, after studying at the New England Female Medical College, Crumpler became the first African American woman to become a doctor of medicine in the US.

Image credits: KikiAdine

#13 Prince – One Of The Greatest Musicians Of His Generation Who Pioneered The Minneapolis Sound

Prince was an American singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, dancer, and actor, and is often regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation. Prince was well-known for his innovative work across multiple genres, incredibly wide vocal range, and for being able to play almost any instrument. In addition, Prince pioneered the Minneapolis sound—a subgenre of funk rock with elements of synth-pop and new wave.

Image credits: PrinceMuseum

#14 Shirley Weber – The First African American Person To Serve As California Secretary Of State

Shirley Weber is the California Secretary of State. In 2021, Weber became the first African American person to serve as Secretary of State and the fifth to serve in a statewide position. Prior to that, Weber was a member of the California State Assembly for the 79th Assembly District, served on the San Diego Board of Education, and was a Professor of African-American Studies at San Diego State University.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#15 Mary Ellen Pleasant – One Of The First African-American Female Self-Made Millionaires In The Us

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a 19th-century American entrepreneur who is known to be one of the first African American female self-made millionaires in the US. Pleasant was also an active human rights activist. For instance, her 1866 lawsuit ended segregation on public transportation in San Francisco, California.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#16 Matthew Henson – One Of The First Two People To Ever Reach The North Pole

Matthew Alexander Henson was an American explorer. In 1909, Henson and Robert Peary became the first people to ever reach the North Pole.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#17 Edward Alexander Bouchet – The First African American To Earn A Ph.d. From An American University

Edward Bouchet was an American physicist and educator. After completing his dissertation in physics at Yale in 1876, Bouchet became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from any American university.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#18 Ruby Bridges – The First African-American Child To Desegregate The All-White William Frantz Elementary School In Louisiana In 1960

Ruby Bridges is an American civil rights activist who, back in 1960, was the first African American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. At the time, Bridges was 6 years old. The famous photo captures Bridges being escorted to class by her mother and US marshals due to violent mobs.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#19 Gladys Bentley – Prominent Blues Singer

Gladys Bentley was a prominent American blues singer, pianist, and entertainer during the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1920s, she started performing at Harry Hansberry’s Clam House—one of New York City’s most well-known gay speakeasies. The artist was openly lesbian, and during performances, was usually dressed in her signature men’s style of tuxedo and top hat.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#20 John Horse – Fought For The Freedom Of The Seminole People

John Horse was a Seminole slave of African American, American Indian, and Spanish descent, who was the leader of the Black Seminoles and fought in the Second Seminole War in Florida. For almost half a century, Horse struggled to obtain land and a permanent home for Seminoles.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#21 Stacey Abrams – The First Black Woman To Become The Gubernatorial Nominee For A Major Party In The Us

Stacey Abrams is an American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and New York Times bestselling author. Abrams has served 11 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, 7 as Democratic Leader, and in 2018, became the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia, winning at the time more votes than any other Democrat in the state’s history. She was the first Black woman to become the gubernatorial nominee for a major party in the US. In addition, Abrams has founded multiple organizations focusing on voting rights, training and hiring young people of color, and tackling social issues.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#22 John Lewis – Civil Rights Activist

John Lewis was an American politician, statesman, and civil rights activist. Lewis served in the United States House of Representatives for Georgia’s 5th congressional district and was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In addition, he was one of the “Big Six” group who organized the 1963 March on Washington.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#23 Stormé Delarverie – A Gay Civil Rights Icon

Stormé DeLarverie was a gay rights activist and drag performer. She performed at the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall. According to many eyewitnesses, Delaverie was the spark that ignited the Stonewall riots, spurring the crowd to action.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#24 Alvin Ailey – The Founder Of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey was an African American dancer, director, choreographer. In 1958, Ailey founded a dance company based in New York City, called Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and its affiliated Ailey School for nurturing Black artists.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#25 Audre Lorde – A Civil Rights Activist

Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. Lorde dedicated her life and talent to addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia. She was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.”

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#26 Jesse Owens – Track And Field Athlete Who Set 3 World Records

Jesse Owens was an American track and field athlete who specialized in the sprints and the long jump. At the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Owens set three world records (in the long jump, 220-yard sprint, and 220-yard low hurdles) and tied a fourth (100-yard dash). The long jump record held for 25 years.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#27 Brehanna Daniels – The First Black Female Tire Changer In Nascar

Brehanna Daniels is a 27-year-old pit crew member, a tire changer, affiliated with NASCAR Racing. In June 2017, Daniels became the first African American woman to pit a vehicle in a national NASCAR series race.

Image credits: Mindless_BMD

#28 Langston Hughes – The Leader Of The Harlem Renaissance

James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, and playwright. His works mostly focused on portraying the joys and hardships of working-class Black lives. Hughes became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance—an intellectual and cultural revival of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater, and politics centered in Harlem, Manhattan in the 1920s and 1930s.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#29 Gordon Parks – Talented Photographer, The First Black Staff Member At Life Magazine

Gordon Parks was an American self-taught photographer, musician, writer, film director, and the first Black staff member at Life magazine. In the 1940s through 1970s, Parks was a prominent artist in US documentary photojournalism with most of his works focusing on the issues of civil rights, poverty and African Americans. Parks was also the first Black director of the 1971 movie called Shaft.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#30 Tarana Burke – The Founder Of The #metoo Movement

Tarana Burke is an American activist who started the #MeToo movement. In 2003, after working with sexual abuse victims, Burke started a non-profit organization called JustBe, empowering young Black girls through unique programming and workshops. In 2006, she started using the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness of women who have been sexually abused. In 2017, the hashtag went viral after Alyssa Milano wrote about it on Twitter.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#31 Guion Bluford – The First African American To Go To Space

Guion Bluford is an American aerospace engineer, retired US Air Force officer, and former NASA astronaut. In 1983, Bluford became the first African American and the second person of African ancestry to go to space. He participated in four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992.

Image credits: Wikipedia

#32 Bayard Rustin – Civil And Gay Rights Activist

Bayard Rustin was an American civil rights activist. He was the main organizer of the March on Washington in 1963—a political demonstration held in Washington, D.C. by civil rights leaders to protest racial discrimination.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#33 Ameila Boynton Robinson – The First African American Woman To Run For Congress In Alabama

Amelia Boynton Robinson was a civil rights pioneer who, in 1934, at the age of 23, was among the first Black women to register to vote in Selma, Alabama. In 1964, she became the first African American woman to run for Congress in Alabama.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#34 Jerry Lawson – The Inventor Of The First Home Gaming Console With Interchangeable Cartridge

Jerry Lawson was an American electronic engineer and game designer. He is the creator behind the first video game system with interchangeable cartridges—Lawson developed the Fairchild Channel F, a home gaming consul that predates the other early video giants like the Atari 26002.

Image credits: DylanP3692

#35 Donna Summer – The “Queen Of Disco”

Donna Summer was an American singer, songwriter and actress, also known as the “Queen of Disco.” Donna Summer gained prominence during the disco era of the 1970s. In total, Summer earned 42 hit singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, and won five Grammy Awards.

Image credits: SolisForDays_

#36 Claressa Gwoat Shields – Arguably The Greatest Female Boxer Of All-Time

Claressa Gwoat Shields is an American professional boxer and MMA fighter. She is a three-division world champion having multiple titles in the super-welterweight, middleweight and super-middleweight. In addition, Shields is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the US.

Image credits: Claressashields

#37 Elijah Cummings – Politician And Civil Rights Advocate

Elijah Cummings was an American politician and civil rights advocate. He served in the United States House of Representatives for Maryland’s 7th congressional district and as the chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#38 Moses Dickson – Founder Of The Secret Organization The Knights Of Liberty

Moses Dickson is mostly known as the founder of the secret society called The Knights of Liberty which planned a slave uprising in the United States. The organization was found in 1843. In addition, Dickson founded the Black self-help organization The International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor and co-founded Lincoln University.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

#39 Rickey Henderson – Set A Record For The Most Stolen Bases In Major League Baseball

Rickey Henderson is a retired professional baseball left fielder who played in Major League Baseball. He is widely regarded as baseball’s greatest leadoff hitter and baserunner. In 1991, Henderson set a record for the most stolen bases in major league baseball, and in 2001, set a record for the most career runs scored.

Image credits: MLBVault

#40 Jacqueline Moore – The First African American Wwe Cruiserweight Champion

Jacqueline Moore is an American professional wrestler and professional wrestling manager. During her time in World Wrestling Entertainment, she became the first African American WWE Cruiserweight champion.

Image credits: Tased23

#41 Rose Marie Mccoy – Wrote Songs For Various Artists In The White, Male-Dominated Pop Music Industry

Rose Marie McCoy was an American singer and songwriter. In the 1950s, the woman took on the white, male-dominated pop music industry, where she wrote songs for such artists like Big Maybelle, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley.

Image credits: OnThisDayShe

#42 W. C. Handy – One Of The Most Influential Songwriters In The US

William Christopher Handy was a composer and musician as well as one of the most influential songwriters in the United States. Handy was the first to publish music in the blues form, incorporating spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Source: boredpanda.com

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