Issue date: 2/18/09
Year after year during Black History Month, I see the same historical
figures being honored. We talk about how Martin Luther King Jr. led a
movement, Malcolm X spoke up against White supremacy, Jackie Robinson
showed that Blacks could hit home runs just as well as Whites,
Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom, and George Washington Carver
invented significant uses for the peanut. I believe that all these
people were and still are great historical figures, but other people
had dreams, other people fought against oppression, and many Blacks
were abolitionists, athletes and scientists. I would like to use this
piece to introduce you to less well known figures that should be
Before Dr. Martin Luther King's time, there was a woman by the name
of Ella Baker. Baker was a civil and human rights leader in the
1930s. She formed the Young Negroes' Cooperative League, in which she
helped Blacks achieve economic power. Baker worked alongside the
civil rights leaders we acknowledge today, such as King, Thurgood
Marshall, and W.E.B. Dubois.
A man by the name of W. W. Law also fought for the rights of Blacks.
Like King, he led sit-ins, peaceful protests and boycotts. He was a
leader of the NAACP and he forced city leaders in Georgia to
Stokely Carmichael was an advocate for Black Nationalism just like
Malcolm. Carmichael protested against segregation by riding on
integrated buses with other "freedom riders." He later became an
honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party. Like Malcolm, he
encouraged Blacks to form their own businesses, organizations, and to
strengthen their own communities.
Assata Shakur is a Black revolutionary. She was a writer, poet, and a
member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. Her
"radical ideologies" and views made her a target for police officers.
She was shot twice and charged with killing a police officer. She
escaped from prison and has been living in Cuba since 1986. Like
Malcolm, she stood for Black Nationalism--by any means necessary.
While Harriet Tubman led slaves to freedom using the Underground
Railroad, William Still was the founder of it. He helped as many as
60 slaves a month escape to freedom. He kept books and records on
each slave and later published the "Underground Railroad Records."
Without him,the Underground Railroad would not have existed.
Leonard Grimes was an abolitionist and an early organizer of the
Underground Railroad. Grimes was born free and owned a coach
business. He used his business to secretly transport slaves to the North.
Jackie Robinson was a talented athlete, but Nathaniel Clifton was a
talented multi-athlete. He was the first Black man to play
pro-basketball, and during the off-season he played for the Chicago
American Giants in the Negro Baseball League. On top of his
basketball and baseball careers, Clifton served three years in the
army during World War Two.
John W. "Budd" Fowler was the first Black professional baseball
player. The difference between Fowler and Robinson is Fowler was the
first Black professional baseball player before color lines were
drawn among baseball leagues. Fowler could play any position in baseball,
George Washington Carver was a great scientist, but so was Benjamin
Banneker. He was an astronomy scientist and made predictions of
future solar eclipses. He also wrote almanacs that were published
throughout the 1790s. Even though his father and grandfather were
slaves, he did not let his race stop him from his quest for knowledge.
Garrett Morgan is responsible for inventing the three-way automatic
traffic signal and the gas mask. Morgan not only started his own
business enterprises, he also published a weekly newspaper for the
All these people are significant to our past. Without them we would
not have come this far. The Black community should acknowledge and
try to learn more about all historical figures that made a
difference. Instead of remembering what history books tell us, why
not discover our own history? Because it is Black History Month, we
should honor all of our firsts, our leaders, inventors, and
scientists. Black history did not begin with Dr. Martin Luther King's
dream, and it does not end with Barrack Obama becoming president.