African American Heroes: For Black History Month and every month, we need to remember the contributions of African-Americans to American history and to celebrate their achievements. These icons, most of which were missed there at time and will continue to be overlooked today, shaped our country’s identity. They are still overlooked today. Unknown heroes, particularly those of African-American descent, should be given the recognition they deserve. The women featured here are only a few of the many African-American women who worked tirelessly but never received the recognition they deserved.
African American Heroes: In 1939, Jane Bolin became the first Black woman judge in the United States. On New York City’s Family Court for four decades she was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School. She also tried to prevent probation officers from being assigned to cases based on their skin color. She also collaborated with Eleanor Roosevelt on a programmed to deter young boys from committing crimes during her tenure.
Alice Allison Dunnigan
As the first African-American female White House journalist, Alice Allison Dunnigan made history.(new window or tab opens) Also, she was the first Black woman in the press galleries of the U.S. Congress, both in the Senate and the House. When she was 13, she started writing for the Owensboro Enterprise, where she submitted one-sentence essays. Later that same year, she rose to become the first African American woman to cover a presidential campaign on the road after joining the Associated Negro Press. John F. Kennedy’s election gave her the recognition she deserved after having to pay her own way to cover Harry S. Truman’s Western campaign path. She was a member of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity until 1965, when she stepped down.
Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in Kenya. She was also the first female doctoral student in East and Central Africa. For six years, Maathai served as chairman of Kenya’s National Council of Women (opens in new tab) and pioneered the Green Belt Movement, Africa’s largest tree planting effort. Since its inception in 1977, the organization has planted more than 51 million trees throughout Kenya.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was among the first drag queens to enter the Stonewall Inn as an LGBT activist and transgender woman. According to CNN, Johnson and Sylvia Rivera co-founded a Street Transvestite Actions Revolutionists group in addition to performing as a drag queen(opens in new tab) (opens in new tab). According to (opens in new tab)USA TODAY, the charity housed and fed homeless children who identified as queer as well as sex workers in lower Manhattan. (new window or tab opens) For five years, Johnson worked with ACT UP as an HIV/AIDS activist and model for Andy Warhol. She also performed in the drag ensemble Hot Peaches.
At just 15 years old, Claudette Colvin also refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama. According to NPR, Colvin was forced to give up her seat by the bus driver on her way home from high school on March 2, 1955. (opens in a new tab). By stating that she had paid her fee and had a right to reject, Colvin was arrested by two police officers. For his part, Colvin later testified for Browder v. Gayle, which outlawed segregated public transportation in Alabama.
Irene Morgan Kirkaldy
And Irene Morgan Kirkaldy came before Claudette Colvin & Rosa Parks. For refusing to let a white passenger on her bus take her seat, Morgan Kirkaldy was imprisoned in Virginia in July 1944. An appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court and then to the United States Supreme Court was successful in overturning her conviction. Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers helped the Supreme Court rule in favor of Morgan Kirkaldy on June 3, 1946(opens in new tab). Morgan Kirkaldy’s lawsuit was a civil rights pioneer, despite the fact that other Southern states ignored it. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Morgan Kirkaldy the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman
A champion for the civil rights movement, Hedgeman collaborated with religious organizations as well as the government. In 1922, Hedgeman graduated from Hamline University as the school’s first African-American student. The Young Women’s Christian Association was among the many religious groups for which she later served. While working on Harry S. Truman’s re-election campaign in 1948, Hedgeman became the first African-American woman appointed to the cabinet of New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, a position she maintained for two years. Hedgeman also played a key role in the 1963 March on Washington, which went down in history.
Amelia Boynton Robinson
African American Heroes: Although Boynton Robinson has already been widely praised for her diligent civil rights activism in recent years, many may not be aware of just how significant a role she played. It wasn’t until the 1930s that Boynton Robinson began her civil rights advocacy, when she became one of Selma, Alabama’s few African-American female voters. She helped Martin Luther King Jr. prepare the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1965, also known as “Bloody Sunday,” and was the first African-American woman to run for Congress in Alabama in 1964. Terrorist state policemen used tear gas, billy clubs and whips on Boynton Robinson and the about 600 protesters. After the march, Boynton Robinson was taken to the hospital and a photo of her injuries was widely shared. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act at the White House in 1965, and in 1990, Boynton Robinson was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal.
In addition to her advocating for the rights of the Little Rock Nine, Bates was a prominent civil rights activist. Bates and her husband started the Arkansas State Press, a black weekly newspaper that fought for equal rights for African-Americans in the state of Arkansas. He became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP in 1952 and championed the desegregation of schools on behalf of a Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African-American pupils who were being forced to attend an all-white school. Arkansas(opens in new tab) celebrates Bates’ birthday on February 3rd as a way to thank him for his role in accompanying and advocating for the students against fierce opposition.
African American Heroes: Nash’s most well-known contributions to civil rights advocacy are the Freedom Rides and sit-ins she organized and led throughout her lifetime. In 1959, while Nash was a freshman at Fisk University in Nashville, she became active in the city’s growing civil rights movement. She was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in April of 1960. (SNCC). As part of the 1961 Freedom Rides, Nash helped organize the Nashville Student Movement Ride with her fellow students, the media, and the Justice Department. Sit-ins were a part of her life, and she even spent time behind bars in February 1961 in support of the “Rock Hill Nine,” nine students who were arrested following a sit-in. In 1963, Nash was instrumental in the desegregation drive in Birmingham and got a Rosa Parks Award from the SCLC with her husband.
There are many organization’s to which she contributed during her life as a civil rights fighter. The Young Negroes Cooperative League was founded by Baker after he graduated Shaw University in North Carolina as valedictorian and relocated to New York City. In 1940, she began working for the NAACP, and in 1955, she co-founded the anti-Jim Crow group In Friendship. MLK Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference begged her aid, and she did, as did the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which went on to become the country’s largest human rights organization(opens in new tab).
As a leader in the civil rights struggle, Height has been referred to as the “matriarch.” At New York University in the 1930s, Height earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in public administration. He worked for New York City’s welfare department before becoming the assistant executive director of a Harlem youth centre. She participated in anti-lynching demonstrations, raised awareness about the abuse of African-American women working in “slave markets,” and accompanied First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the National Council of Negro Women, where she served for more than 40 years as a council member.. On school desegregation concerns in the 1950s, she lobbied(opens in new tab) President Eisenhower. When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” address in August 1963, Height was on the stage with him.
African American Heroes: Chisholm was a trailblazer in the advancement of African-American women in government. Prior to his election to the New York State Assembly in 1964, Chisholm worked as an educational consultant for the New York City Bureau of Child Welfare. When she was elected to Congress in 1968, Chisholm became the nation’s first African-American female representative and one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus. As the first African-American woman to run for a major political party’s nomination, Chisholm made history again in 1972.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
African American Heroes: Rosetta Tharpe was a black lesbian from Arkansas who influenced Brittany Howard. Singer Katie Bell Nubbin and her mother Willis Atkins were cotton workers in Chicago in the early 20th century, when they presented religious concerts. Predecessor to both Johnny Cash and Little Richard in terms of popularity, she spent the late 1930s and early 1940s developing a unique guitar technique that incorporated elements of blues, jazz, and gospel. After two marriages, Tharpe met Marie Knight in the 1940s and the two cooperated extensively together, but they ultimately parted up. Tharpe, the “Godmother of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” had a profound impact on a generation of musicians, including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Aretha Franklin.