Five Forgotten Figures of Black History Month


Austin Carlton, Staff Writer

February is Black History Month, and often showcased around this time are people like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr., and rightfully so. However, there are several unsung trailblazers whose actions throughout history should not go unrecognized. Here are five black history icons that deserve some spotlight during this month of remembrance and activism.


  • Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) 


Bayard Rustin was an openly-gay civil rights activist who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and helped him build his platform by putting his name out into the public. Rustin helped with and participated in the March on Washington Movement in 1941, which fought against discrimination in employment.  


  • Claudette Colvin (1939-present) 


Arrested at just 15 years old, Claudette Colvin refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Colvin eventually became a nurse and played a key part in the civil rights movement. Her brave actions inspired Rosa Parks to do the same thing a few months later, which began the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  


  • Robert Smalls (1839-1915) 


Robert Smalls was born into slavery, but following the Civil War he was a ship captain and politician. Smalls freed himself, his crew and their families from slavery, and he even led an uprising against slavery on a Confederate transport ship. Smalls also helped convince Abraham Lincoln to allow African-Americans to enlist in the Union army and navy.


  • Miriam Makeba “ Mama Africa” (1932-2008) 


Miriam Makeba was a South African civil rights activist and singer who campaigned against oppressive racial policies and used her platform as a performer to share messages of acceptance and unity. Her activism caused her passport to be revoked by the apartheid regime, but Belgium, Ghana and six other countries came to her aid, and she was granted honorary citizenship in 10 countries.  


  • Martin Delany (1812-1885) 


An African-American abolitionist, writer, and physician, Martin Delany was an outspoken black nationalist. He was one of the first three African-Americans admitted to Harvard Law School. He was trained as a physician’s assistant and treated patients during a cholera epidemic.