There are certain names we hear every Black History Month, and thern there are names we should know, but don't. Their anonymity does not mean their contributions to Black history were any less significant. In fact, some of the efforts of the unsung heroes and heroines we celebrate today changed the course of human history. Read and learn.
Day 21 - U is for Unsung Heroes & Heroines
Henrietta Lacks (1920-1951)
Henrietta Lacks: After being diagnosed with cervical cancer at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951, a sample of Lacks's cancer cells were taken without her consent by a researcher. And though she succumbed to the disease at the age of 31 that same year, her cells would go on to advance medical research for years to come, as they had the unique ability to double every 20-24 hours. "They have been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and played a crucial role in the development of the polio vaccine," Johns Hopkins said.
Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831-1895)
Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female doctor in the United States. she worked as a nurse for eight years until applying to medical school in 1860 at the New England Female Medical College. she worked as a physician for the Freedman’s Bureau for the State of Virginia. She later practiced in Boston's predominantly Black neighborhood at the time, Beacon Hill, and published A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts.
Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)
Alvin Ailey was an acclaimed dancer and choreographer who earned global recognition for his impact on modern dance. Ailey wished to choreograph his own ballets and works that differed from the traditional pieces of the time. This inspired him to start the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958, a multiracial troupe that provided a platform for talented Black dancers and traveled around the world.
Eunice Hunton Carter (1899-1970)
Eunice Hunton Carter earned a law degree from Fordham University Law School, the first black woman to do so. In 1935, she was appointed by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to study situations in Harlem. She was hired as an assistant district attorney under the special prosecutor, and her work resulted in evidence that led to New York's most powerful mob figure — Charles "Lucky" Luciano being confirmed as a crime boss. "This was the beginning of the end for organized crime and the way it operated."
Philip Emeagwali (1954- )
Philip Emeagwali: It's hard to say who invented the Internet. There were many mathematicians and scientists who contributed to its development; computers were sending signals to each other as early as the 1950s. But the Web owes much of its existence to Philip Emeagwali, a math whiz who came up with the formula for allowing a large number of computers to communicate at once.
Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
Gordon Parks was the first African American on the staff of LIFE magazine, and later he would be responsible for some of the most beautiful imagery in the pages of Vogue. He also was the first Black director of a major film, Shaft, helping to shape the blaxploitation era in the '70s. Parks famously told LIFE in 1999: "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera."
Bessie Coleman (1892 -1926)
Bessie Coleman: Despite being the first licensed Black pilot in the world, Coleman wasn’t recognized as a pioneer in aviation until after her death. Though history has favored Amelia Earhart or the Wright brothers, Coleman—who went to flight school in France in 1919—paved the way for a new generation of diverse fliers like the Tuskegee airmen, Blackbirds, and Flying Hobos.
Jane Bolin (1908 - 2007)
Jane Bolin was the first Black woman to attend Yale Law School in 1931. In 1939, she became the first Black female judge in the United States, where she served for 10 years. One of her significant contributions throughout her career was working with private employers to hire people based on their skills, as opposed to discriminating against them because of their race.
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (1880-1970)
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first Black general in the American military. He served for 50 years as a temporary first lieutenant at an all-Black unit during the Spanish American War. Throughout his service, Davis Sr. was as a professor of military science at Tuskegee and Wilberforce University, a commander of the 369th Regiment, New York National Guard, and special assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
James Armistead (1748-1830)
James Armistead: Arguably, the most important Revolutionary War spy was a slave named James Armistead. He was a double agent, used by both American and British intelligence. In 1781, he joined the army and was put in service under the Marquis de Lafayette, who was desperately trying to fight the chaos caused in Virginia by turncoat soldier Benedict Arnold. He gained access to Arnold's camp posing as a slave. One day, he discovered that the British naval fleet was moving 10,000 troops to Yorktown, Va., allowing the American army to take preemptive action that brought the end of the war.
- 26 Black Americans You Don't Know But Should
- Black History Month: Unsung Heroes
- 40 Unsung Heroes of Black History We Should Learn About This Month
Click Here for Day 22 - V is for Veterans
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