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Recognizing The Unrecognized

It is Black History month — a time where we celebrate the achievements of African Americans throughout history. And there are truly many to celebrate. But a single month is not enough to honor the contributions made by an entire group of people.

We all know the fantastic achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglas, Barack and Michelle Obama, Harriet Tubman and many others who made tremendous contributions to our nation’s history, but we tend to forget many others who deserve just as much recognition.

So without further ado, I present some of the people in African American History who have not been as properly recognized for their achievements and contributions.

Claudette Colvin, 1939-Present

Many know of the story of Rosa Parks — the woman who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery. However, many do not knowClaudette Colvin. At just 15 years old, Colvin defied the laws of segregation by sitting in the middle, instead of the back, of the bus. She continued to refuse to surrender her seat to a white woman and was eventually arrested, becoming the first woman to be detained for resistance. This happened just 9 months before Rosa Parks. She had been a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement as she became a huge part of the Supreme Court ruling to end segregation on public transportation.

Bessie Coleman, 1892-1926

Bessie Coleman was the very first licensed black pilot in the world after attending flight school in France. Flying schools in the United States refused to take her, so she taught herself French, moved to France, and earned her pilot’s license in just seven months. Upon moving back to the United States, she specialized in parachuting and stunt flying, performing aerial tricks for live audiences, which also brought her to become the first ever woman of African American and Native American descent to make a public flight.

Bayard Rustin, 1912-1987

We all know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington in 1963, but not many know of one of the key figures who helped to organize the march — Bayard Rustin. He was one of MLK’s advisors and  had been active in the Civil Rights Movement, using non-violent techniques inspired by Gandhi and protesting segregation in the public transit system. He also coordinated human rights protests that had over 10,000 attendees. Though he had been a huge part of the Civil Rights Movement, many do not know him because he had been openly gay, which was not seen as acceptable at the time.This made him a liability to be on the front lines.

Oscar Micheaux, 1884-1951

In a 30 year span, Oscar Micheaux wrote and directed over 40 silent films. Not to mention he had been the first African American to make a film, and the first to produce a film that had been shown in “white” movie theatres. His films broke boundaries as they displayed white villains, mixed-race romancesa and intelligent black protagonists. He broke black stereotypes in his films and exposed the racism of the time.

Shirley Chisholm, 1924-2005

Shirley Chisholm became the first ever African American woman elected to Congress in the 1960s, and the first woman and African American to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. In government, she became known as “Fighting Shirley,” and introduced over 50 pieces of legislation fighting for racial and gender equality ending the Vietnam War, and helping the poor. She even became the first black woman to serve on the House Rules Committee and co-founded several organizations, including the National Women’s Political Caucus and the National Political Congress of Black Women.

These have been only a few of the countless remarkable figures in African American history. These people broke boundaries — they brought progression, and they still inspire us to this very day.

Annie is a senior at Michigan State University studying for a degree in Elementary Education with a focus in Social Studies. When she isn't studying, she enjoys geeking out about all things Harry Potter, snuggling with her dogs, and binge-watching "New Girl" with her friends. No matter what, you'll always see her with a smile that's wider than the Joker's.
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