As Black History Month comes to an end, our acknowledgement toward the struggles of African Americans should not. We must continue to appreciate and honor those in the African American community who have fought and continue to fight tirelessly for the basic rights of personhood within our societal fences of white supremacy. It’s my personal belief that we need to learn from black voices not just during this month but all year long.
In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of 12 stories, one for every month of the year, from African Americans, past and present, whose achievements I’d like to acknowledge for their unabashed commitment to civil rights. Many of their accomplishments have gone underreported in the media. We have a lot to learn from the black experience in America and these are just a few of their stories.
1. Claudette Colvin – The First Rosa Parks
Colvin, 15, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was taking the bus home from high school when the driver ordered her to give up her seat, according to NPR. Colvin refused, saying she paid her fare and it was her constitutional right, but was then arrested by two police officers. Colvin later became the main witness in the federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.
(Original biography Marie Claire).
2. Ella Baker – The woman who propelled MLK into the national spotlight
Baker was a civil rights activist who worked for a number of civil rights organizations throughout her lifetime. In 1957, she was asked to help organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and also helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, which became one of the biggest human rights advocates in the country. “You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me,” Baker said of her role in the civil rights movement, the Times reports. “The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come.”
(Original biography Marie Claire).
3. Miss Mary Hamilton – The Honorific Leader
In the Supreme Court Case, Hamilton v. Alabama, the court held that an African-American woman, Mary Hamilton, was entitled to the same courteous forms of address customarily reserved solely to whites in the South and that calling a black person by his or her first name in a formal context was a form of racial discrimination. Miss Hamilton was the spearhead for the way our court system was to use honorifics for all persons.
(Original Biography Wikipedia.)
4. SIDNEY POITIER – The Award Goes To…
Born to poor farmers in the Bahamas but later moving to New York, Sidney Poitier came from nothing, but achieved the unimaginable for black actors of his day he became a leading man in Hollywood. Sidney was determined to make opportunities for African-Americans and did so by performing outstandingly as an actor, gaining a respected reputation. Eventually he went on to become the first black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role in “Lilies of the Field.”
5. Daisy Bates – The Little Rock Nine + Ms. Bates
Bates became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and played a crucial role in the fight against segregation. In 1957, she helped nine African American students to become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. The group first tried to go to the school on September 4. A group of angry whites jeered at them as they arrived. The governor, Orval Faubus, opposed school integration and sent members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Despite the enormous amount of animosity they faced from white residents of the city, the students were undeterred from their mission to attend the school.
6. TA-NEHISI COATES – The 21st Century Leader
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans. His raw and engaging essays about the black experience in America sets him up to be a James Baldwin in the making.
7. JAMES BALDWIN – The Writer
Baldwin, an acclaimed writer and novelist, broke literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his works. He was known for his essays on the black experience. As a child, he cast about for a way to escape his circumstances. As he recalls, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” By the time he was fourteen, Baldwin was spending much of his time in libraries and had found his passion for writing.
8. SHIRLEY CHISHOLM – The Congress of the United States of Shirley
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm was the first African American woman in Congress in 1968 and the first woman and African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties in 1972.
9. Fannie Lou Hamer – The Summer of Ms. Fannnie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist whose passionate depiction of her own suffering in a racist society helped focus attention on the plight of African-Americans throughout the South. In 1964, working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer helped organize the 1964 Freedom Summer African-American voter registration drive in her native Mississippi. At the Democratic National Convention later that year, she was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an integrated group of activists who openly challenged the legality of Mississippi’s all-white, segregated delegation.
10. THURGOOD MARSHALL – The HonorablE Judge Marshall
Thurgood Marshall was an American lawyer who was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1967. He was the first African-American to hold the position and served for 24 years, until 1991. Marshall studied law at Howard University. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools.
11. JESSE OWENS – The One Who Humiliated Hitler
Jesse Owens also known as “The Buckeye Bullet,” was an American track and field athlete who won four gold medals and broke two world records at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. When Owens finished competing, the African-American son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves had single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy.
12. RICHARD PRYOR – The Comedic Relief
Pryor was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and social critic. Pryor was known for uncompromising examinations of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed vulgarities and profanity, as well as racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time.