Black History Month:Those who have come before

Celebrating Black History Month allows people to learn and understand the achievements of others who have come before them. This list is small in comparison to all those researched for this article. The hope of this article is to inspire younger generations to keep researching and learn all a person can from those who have contributed to the history of African Americans, and perhaps even take it past the month of February and keep searching throughout the year. African Americans have overcome much opposition to achieve their dreams and accomplishments. More importantly, without their fight for equality, the current generations would not have opportunities that they have now. When we look at their contributions, it can inspire a person to reach their own destinations about what they want for themselves.

Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who believed in a non-violent disobedience in order to gain freedom in the Civil Rights Movement.

Malcolm X (1925-1965), a civil rights activist and spokesman for the Nation of Islam, believed blacks needed to cast off the shackles of racism “by any means necessary,” which involved violence.

Rosa Parks (1913-2005), was exhausted one day and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus, which spurred a city-wide boycott of the busing system in Montgomery, Alabama, which helped get rid of segregation.

Ida B. Wells, (1862-1931) civil rights activist, teacher, and journalist who led a crusade on anti-lynching.  After witnessing her friend and two business men get lynched, Ms. Wells wrote articles about lynching in the South.  One of her famous quotes, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Wells established several civil rights organizations. In 1896, she established the National Association of Colored Women and was a founding member of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


Arts and Entertainment

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014), a poet, writer, actress, director and activist is known for her literary work in the 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which is the first nonfiction best-seller by an African-American woman. Angelou became Pulitzer Prize-nominated for her poetry collect.  In 2011 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” —Maya Angelou

Sidney Poitier (1927- ) was the first African American Academy Award winner in 1964 for best actor in  Lilies of the Fields. He’s also a filmmaker and director and is also known for To Sir with Love. In 2009 Poitier received a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hattie McDaniel (1893 – 1952), film actress and radio performer, became the first African American to win an Oscar in 1940 for her supporting role in Gone with the Wind.



Muhammed Ali (1942 – 2016) was an athlete, boxer, philanthropist and an  Olympic gold medalist in 1960 for boxing while taking a stand against going to Vietnam. The decision would cause a suspension in boxing. Upon his return, he had famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his devoted time to philanthropy.

Jesse Owens (1913-1980) a track and field athlete, won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games during Hitler’s time as a ruler.

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) was the first African American to break the color barrier in Major-League Baseball in 1947 when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.



Alexander Miles (late 1830s -1918) improved passenger safety in 1887 when he patented automatic elevator doors. Prior to 1887, elevator doors were manually opened and closed.

Elijah McCoy (1844-1929) developed an automatic lubricator to spread oil on the train’s engine evenly while in motion. This invention increased efficienciency and enable the trains to run faster.

Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919)  specialized in a beauty product line for African American women.

Dr. Patricia Bath (1942 -) created a laser tool to help restore or improve vision in patients worldwide.

Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) publisher and inventor, had patents for a mask, improving traffic signals, a hair-straightening product and revamped the sewing machine.



Barack Obama (1961 -) a lawyer, community organizer, and U.S. Senator, became the first African – American to be President of the United States.

John Lewis (1940 -) civil rights activist and U.S. Representative joined congress in 1987 where he still represents the American people. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Arthur Mitchell (1883-1968), U.S. Representative, was the first African American Democrat elected to Congress in 1934.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) civil rights activist, lawyer and judge became the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court in 1967 where he served for 24 years.


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