When February, aka Black History Month, comes around, a lot of people tend to think of what I like to call, the “surface” Black icons, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. While they are doubtlessly important in changing the course of history and contributing lasting impacts to society, there are so many more Black icons who have done the same, and thus, need to be discussed more. So, here are ten Black history icons you need to know.
- Claudette Colvin
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man and thus, became the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Claudette Colvin did the same. The reason why she wasn’t highlighted for practicing civil disobedience is because she was 15 and pregnant at the time. Colorism is also another reason as Colvin is (yes, she’s still alive today!) a dark skinned Black woman. With Colvin being 15 and pregnant, and having dark skin, she was viewed as a threat to the road to civil rights. Despite her courage, she wasn’t accepted as the face of the civil rights movement.
- Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
If you get your period, then you know how important it is to prevent leaks on your clothes. This problem has been alleviated, thanks to the work of Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. In the 1920s, Kenner invented the sanitary belt. The belt contained a sanitary pocket to absorb menstrual blood and prevent leaks. The sanitary belt served as the precursor to menstrual pads.
- Henry Thomas Sampson
Cell phones probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Henry Thomas Sampson. Sampson worked with George H. Miley in making the gamma-electric cell. This cell was used to make electricity via the conversion of high radiation energy (gamma rays). This technology is used in cellphones, which is why Sampson is often mistaken for being the inventor of the cell phone.
- Jewel Ham
Prior to 2019, Spotify users would receive their Spotify Wrapped in the form of a link. That all changed in 2019 when Spotify Wrapped started to come in a Instagram/Snapchat story format, mixed with a PowerPoint presentation. Ever since then, Spotify users are impatient to see what their Spotify Wrapped contains so they can share it on social media. This is all thanks to Jewel Ham, who created this Spotify Wrapped format as an intern (yes you heard that right, an intern).
- Bayard Rustin
On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom occurred. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the face of the march, but the march was organized thanks to the work of Bayard Rustin. It would have been considered risky to have Rustin at the forefront of the march during that time since he was gay and held communist views-this is why most people don’t know who he is.
- Dorothy Height
It is very unfortunate how Black women are often left out in discussions of feminism. Women’s rights were advanced thanks to the work of Dorothy Height. Height is often regarded as the “godmother of the women’s movement,” as she incorporated her skills in education and social work to make progress in women’s rights. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) was blessed to have her as a leader, and for over 40 years, she served as the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
- Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters is an entertainment industry phenomenon. She was a blues singer in the 1920s and in 1962, she received her first Emmy nomination. One of of Waters’ prominent accomplishments is that she was the first Black person to star in her own TV show, The Ethel Waters Show.
- Jane Bolin
Jane Bolin is a prominent figure in the field of law. In 1931, Bolin served as the first Black woman to attend Yale Law School. In 1939, she became the first Black woman to ever become judge in the United States, and she served for ten years. She changed the course of hiring practices when she worked with private employers and urged them to hire people based on skills and not race.
- Dr. Charles Drew
The life-saving medical practice of blood transfusions exists thanks to the work of Dr. Charles Drew. His studies resulted in the knowledge of plasma, blood collection and refrigeration, the recruiting and screening of blood donors, and the methods in collecting and testing blood.
- Moses Fleetwood Walker
Although Jackie Robinson put a permanent end to segregation in Major League Baseball, he was not the first to integrate into Major League Baseball-Moses Fleetwood Walker was, and he did so in the 1880s. Despite being momentous in breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Walker’s life onward wasn’t filled with happy occasions. His performance in his first game wasn’t good, and he suffered injuries that caused him to stop playing for the major leagues, after just one season. Walker eventually went on to play for minor leagues after a failed attempt at rejoining the major league. One event changed the course of his life, as it resulted in people disregarding his contributions and thus, almost forgetting him. That event was his 1908 publication of Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America. In this book, Walker discusses how white and Black people would have a challenging time existing together in the United States.