7 Often Overlooked Figures in African American History

In most history classes and curriculums, African American history is still often neglected and sometimes even left out altogether. Sure, we all learn about the Emancipation Proclamation and Martin Luther King, Jr., but black history is goes far deeper than what is taught in schools. In light of Black history month, I wanted to draw attention to seven particular figures who had integral roles in the movement against racial inequality, though they are but seven people in a vast field of historic legends and accomplishments.


Sojourner Truth:

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Born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826. Then, after finding out that her son had been sold illegally by a previous slaveowner, she took the issue to court. She was one of the first black woman to bring such a case to court against a white man and after months of legal proceedings, her son was returned to her. Throughout her life, she was a very active speaker and activist and in 2014, she was named in Smithsonian magazine’s list of “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”



Harriet Tubman:


Most history books do talk about Harriet Tubman and her escape to freedom at some point, but did you know that in addition to escaping slavery and leading multiple rescue missions for enslaved people, she was also an armed scout and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War? She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the Civil War when she led a raid at Combahee Ferry, which freed hundreds of slaves. After the war, she worked in the women’s suffrage movement until her health declined.


Ella Baker:

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Ella Baker was a 20th century civil rights activist whose career as an organizer spanned over five decades. A promoter of grassroots organizing, she helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which grew to be one of the major civil rights movement organizations.


Ida B. Wells:


Born into slavery in Mississippi, Ida Wells was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation when she was young and went on to co-own a newspaper known as the The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight in Tennessee. Through investigative journalism, Wells wrote about and exposed lynching as a heinous practice of whites in the South to oppress African Americans. As her reporting was carried nationally in black-owned newspapers, Wells’ newspaper office and presses were eventually destroyed by a white mob. She left for Chicago due to repeated threats and continued to work in activism and speaking in spite of the criticism she continued to face there as a Black woman in activism.


Moses Wright:

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While perhaps not as well-known as his relative Emmett Till, who was famously killed in a brutal lynching, Moses Wright played a pivotal role in the trial that would go down in history in the Civil Rights Movement. Till’s murder trial, which resulted in the acquittal of the white men who killed him, was one of the most televised events of its time. Wright’s testimony during the trial, in which he described witnessing Till’s kidnapping and pointed out one of the assailants, was possibly the first time a black man testified against a white man in court in the South and is regarded as a historic moment of courage.


W.E.B. Du Bois:


After becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois became a professor of sociology, history, and economics at Atlanta University and established a prominent career in activism. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) protested for equal treatment of people of color outside of the US, such as those in African and Asian colonies, as well.


Thurgood Marshall:

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Thurgood Marshall was a Howard University School of Law graduate who first established a private practice in Baltimore. Later, as the founder and executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he argued many cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned racial segregation in public schools. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and as the United States Solicitor General before being the first African American to be nominated to the Supreme Court.