Unsung heroes of Black History Month

Activists, writers and politicians whose work is often forgotten

Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin

Maham Zulfiqar, News Writer

When celebrating and learning about Black History, we often hear a few names: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, maybe Malcolm X at times. While these historical figures have definitely left a significant impact on the treatment of Black people and other people of color in our country, they were not the only ones who helped create change. Here are some other figures whose work deserves to be given the same light and praise: 

Claudette Colvin (1931- ): 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was the first black woman who refused to give her seat up on a bus, even before Rosa Parks. She was charged with assault and battery, as well as resisting the segregation law. Colvin wanted to fight the laws in court, however, many black attorneys believed she wasn’t the right person for it, as she was a dark skin Black woman who was also a pregnant teenager. Parks was chosen to repeat the situation due to being light-skinned and older.

Charles Drew (1904-1950): Charles Drew was a Black physician who developed the concept of blood banks, establishing innovative blood donor processes, blood collection protocols and blood method testing. He was also the director of the American Red Cross National Blood Donor Service from 1941 to 1942. Although saving many lives with his research, the United States still ruled that blood should be segregated by race. 

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): Katherine Johnson was the mathematician and physicist who helped NASA send John Glenne around the world. Johnson also helped bring digital computers to use at NASA, as well as calculated the Apollo 11 flight. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she has paved the way for Black women in the STEM field. 

Gordon Parks (1912-2006): A photographer who captured the effects of racism and poverty, Gordon Parks’ ground-breaking work was published in Vogue and Life magazines and helped portray the experiences of Black people in America during the 1960s Civil Rights movement. He was also the first Black American director of many movies, such as “Shaft” and “The Learning Tree.”

Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005): Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress in 1968, and was also the first Black presidential candidate to run for the Democratic party in 1972. Chisholm was a pioneer who helped pave the way for Black people in politics.

During this month’s celebration (and beyond) of all things Black history, don’t forget to include those who you might not find in a high school history book.