There are plenty of people to honor during Black History Month, but there are some whom everyone should know.
Black history in America is tied with horrific stories surrounding slavery, segregation, and the fight for civil rights. However, these stories also highlight triumph amongst adversity and racism.
I do not wish to dwell on the suffering. However, it is not something to ignore. There are some aspects of history that everyone should know. They might not know it as well as the lyrics to their favorite song, but these facts should exist somewhere in everyone’s memory to be pushed forward when necessary.
I believe everyone should know the following twenty prominent figures in black history – “The Classics.”
1. Martin Luther King Jr.
He was a minister and civil rights activist who spread his message of equality using antiviolence tactics. He is most known for organizing the march on Washington and the Montgomery bus boycott and his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
2. Malcolm X
He was a minister and human rights activist. He was a member of the Nation of Islam and used his position to preach about Black identity, integrity, and independence. He often challenged Martin Luther King’s ideas of peace and nonviolence, stating that black people should protect themselves by any means necessary.
3. Rosa Parks
She was a civil rights activist best known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She refused to vacate her seat in the colored section of the bus for a white passenger and was arrested. Her defiance was one of the catalysts for the boycott, helping her become a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.
4. Harriet Tubman
She was an escaped slave best known as the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, where she helped free many slaves. She used her knowledge of the South to become the first African American woman to serve in the military.
5. Maya Angelou
She was a poet and activist who made history with her memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” as the first nonfiction best-seller by an African American woman. One of her best-known poems is “Still, I Rise.”
6. Langston Hughes
He was a writer famous for his poems, plays, and novels. During the Harlem Renaissance, he became prevalent in writing about the African American experience.
7. James Baldwin
He was a writer and playwright best known for writing about race and humanity.
8. Fredrick Douglas
He was a former slave turned activist, public speaker, and author best known for his autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.”
9. Phillis Wheatley
She was an educated slave who became an internationally renowned poet.
10. Madam CJ Walker
Often referred to as the first self-made billionaire. She was an inventor and entrepreneur who created and sold hair products specifically for black women. She used her wealth to advocate for the betterment of African Americans.
11. George Washington Carver
He was an inventor and the first African American to receive a Bachelor of Science. His most notable inventions are those he made using peanuts.
12. Barack Obama
He is the first African American to hold office as the President of the United States. He had a long political career and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
13. Michelle Obama
She used her position as Frist Lady to support military families and campaign to end childhood obesity. She authored “Becoming,” his documentary on Netflix, and hosts a podcast.
14. Nelson Mandela
He accomplished many firsts in South Africa, including the first black President. He was imprisoned for treason but was later released. His writing and speeches were often against racial division.
15. Thurgood Marshall
He was a civil rights lawyer best known for fighting Jim Crow Laws and segregation. His most famous case was Brown V. the Board of Education, a landmark case ending segregation in schools. He became the first Black in Justice in United Stated Supreme Court.
16. Ruby Bridges
The first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school. She is an activist for racial equality.
17. Marsha P. Johnson
She was an LGBTQ activist and drag queen best known for starting the Stonewall Riot when police decided to raid a gay bar. She started the Street Transvestite Activist Revolutionaries (STAR) to provide a safe place for transgender youths.
18. Henrietta Lacks
A mother of five and a cancer patient whose cells were harvested without consent. Her HeLa cells are now used for medical research preventing experimentation on humans. Her story continues to raise awareness about patient rights.
19. Jackie Robinson
He was the first African American to play on a Major League Baseball team, starting the end of racial segregation in professional baseball.
20. Muhammad Ali
He was a professional boxer best known for winning the Heavyweight Championship three times. He was also an activist who promoted black pride.