Many of us know the story of Rosa Parks, a Black woman who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery Alabama. However, nine months earlier, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for the same incident. Parks went on to become the face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but Colvin was actually the one who inspired Parks to stand her ground and not move seats. Colvin’s bravery and tenacity produced change.
“Once called “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South” by Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth has been a major leader of the civil rights movement for more than half a century. The dedicated minister continued to lead protests even after his home was bombed on Christmas Day in 1956. The bombing did not injure Shuttlesworth, but in 1957 he was beaten with whips and chains as he led efforts to integrate an all-white public school in Alabama,” NPS writes. Shuttleworth continued to pour into his community by helping provide housing for the poor and needy and challenged local electors for more representation to push for the betterment of all.
Bates played an instrumental role in helping to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Using her husband’s newspaper, she confronted racism by documenting the battle with the US Supreme Court to desegregate schools. She later directly helped guide the “Little Rock Nine” through their journey into the first desegregated schools and classrooms. Her legacy included extensive work and advocacy.
Bayard Rustin is an important Civil Rights Movement activist and organizer of the March on Washington. He worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. as a proponent for non-violent resistance, pacifism, and principles taught by Gandhi. Rustin was also an openly gay, Black, leader which was unheard of at the time. He risked his safety and freedom to fight for both Black and gay rights.
The Honorable Jane Bolin was the first Black woman judge. She was also the first Black woman to obtain a degree from Yale Law School, work on the NYC Corporation Counsel and be admitted to the Bar Association of NYC. Encyclopedia writes that, “from the beginning of her career Bolin was determined to fight racial prejudice in any way she could. She worked to bring about changes in the way probation officers were assigned to cases in family court. When she became a judge black probation officers were assigned exclusively to cases involving black families; through Bolin’s efforts, probation officers were eventually assigned without regard to race or religion. She also instituted a requirement that private social service agencies receiving public funds accept children without regard to ethnic background”. Bolin presided over her court for 40 consecutive years before being required to retire at age 70.
Carter G Woodson, also known as the “Father of Black History” is known for authoring several texts that documented factual and positive accounts of contributions of Black people to America. We also have him to thank for the creation of Black History Month!
Happy Black History Month!
We all know the incredible impact figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and other prominent leaders had on Black History, but what about the lesser known ones? Who was the first Black judge? Pilot? Doctor? Who kept track of the accomplishments of Black Americans and their contributions to this nation?
Join APTS as we celebrate Black History Month and share some of the heroes who are less-frequently discussed. Click on each name to read a brief summary about the individual.
Lewis H Latimer was a famous, Black inventor. As a child he taught himself how to draw mechanical sketches by watching draftsmen, and with practice, he designed and developed several inventions. Later in his adulthood, Latimer created and patented a carbon fixture for the incandescent lightbulb which helped make electric lighting practical and more affordable for the average household. He also contributed to the invention of the first telephone, according to Scholastic.
Bessie Coleman is known as the first Black woman and Native American woman to become a pilot. She went by “Brave Bessie” due to her propensity for thrill and performing daredevil-esque flying tricks. Bessie performed for crowds and fought for equality by refusing to perform where Black people weren’t allowed and dreaming of opening an aviation school for future Black pilots.
Dr. Crumpler was the first Black woman to receive a medical degree in the US. This is an incredible accomplishment during a time of intense prejudice against both women and Black people in medicine. The Women In Medicine Legacy Foundation writes, “In the post-war South, Dr. Crumpler was embraced by her patients but shunned by the medical community. “Men doctors snubbed her, druggists balked at filling her prescriptions, and some people wisecracked that the M.D. behind her name stood for nothing more than ‘Mule Driver,’” reports the book Outstanding Women Doctors.” Crumpler’s accomplishments paved the path for many Black doctors and women in medicine to follow.
According to the Marsha P Johnson Institute, “Marsha P. Johnson was an activist, self-identified drag queen, performer, and survivor. She was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969.”(a police raid on a gay bar which resulted in protests). “Marsha went by “Black Marsha” before settling on Marsha P. Johnson. The “P” stood for “Pay It No Mind,” which is what Marsha would say in response to questions about her gender”. She was a well-known and heavily outspoken gay rights advocate and popular drag performer.
Although Onesimus’s true birth name is not known, the word “Onesimus” means “useful” or “helpful”, and he most definitely was. We have “Onesimus” to thank for helping slow the spread of a Smallpox outbreak in Boston. When an influx of illness hit his city, Onesimus, a slave owned by Cotton Mather, described how the Smallpox inoculation had been administered to him. Mather took this information and promoted it, crediting Onesimus, which helped circumvent the spread.