Black History Month: Unsung Black Sheroes and Heroes, Part 1

Recently it was announced that actress Taraji P. Henson will portray NASA scientist Katherine Johnson in the film Hidden Figures.  Johnson’s story is told in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, slated for release in early September. The names of the women in Hidden Figures are not well known—perhaps not even in the STEM field—but certainly not during Black History Month (BHM). A constant complaint about BHM is that it focuses on the same few icons, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and a few others.  However, it’s questionable whether people actually know those champions or just their names and a one sentence description memorized from elementary school. But the point is duly noted.

Our BHM series (here, here, and here) featured some books that portrayed the achievements of lesser known figures. While BCBA posts books, and there are many excellent ones, written by non-black authors on our social media platforms; all of the books featured on this website are written by Black authors, see about us. Because of the small percentage of children’s books published by and about Black people, it was difficult to find books that didn’t repeat the same stories. There are countless unsung sheroes and heroes in Black history whose stories remain mostly unknown. Sadly, some are tragic, like Sweet Georgia Brown’s. But whether tragic or triumphant, our stories matter.  The fifteen sheroes featured in part one of this series are from various fields, such as literature, the military, medicine, etc. Some may have had a book or two penned about their lives, but for the most part, they still don’t get the recognition they deserve. Happy Black History Month!





Jarena Lee was the first woman preacher sanctioned by the A.M.E Church. Lee’s life mission also included advocating for the abolition of slavery and women in the ministry. 
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Rebecca Lee Crumpler, in 1883, published Book of Medical Discourses. Crumpler received her M.D in 1864 thus making her the nation's first black doctor. She took special care in servicing women, children, and the poor.
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Ellen F. Eglin: "You know I am black, and if it was known that a Negro woman patented the invention, white ladies would not buy the wringer." That was the reason given by the inventor of the clothes wringer as to why she sold her design for only $18. The invention made was very successful.. (1849)
Image Credit: myauctionfinds.com

Annie Turnbo Malone was the inventor of various hair products. She and her team of women sold the products door-to-door as well as conducted other successful sales, advertising, and marketing ventures. Malone became a multimillionaire, who at one time owned an entire city block in Chicago.
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was an artist who studied in France. She is known for her Afrocentric sculptures but later went on to create art representative of her religious and civil rights beliefs. 
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Jessie Fauset, the “Midwife of the Harlem Renaissance,” wrote extensively about African American culture as a novelist, essayist, and poet. She served as the literary editor for the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, a role which allowed her to introduce many young writers who are now well-known Harlem Renaissance writers. 
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Nannie Helen Burroughs believed in empowering Black women and girls. She founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D. C. The school blended Christian education with liberal and industrial arts studies. She preached self-sufficiency by “forming industrial clubs throughout the South teaching night classes in typing, stenography, bookkeeping, millinery, and home economics to Black women.”  
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Selma Burke received countless awards and honors, her most significant achievement occurred when she was commissioned to create bronze portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. An adaptation of that portrait still appears on the U. S. dime.
Image Credit: wikipedia.org

Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg was the first African American woman to receive a commercial pilot’s license, and was instrumental in building an airfield for Aeronautical University in order to learn to fly the $600 airplane she purchased with her own money.
Image Credit: aaregistry.org

Rosetta Tharpe, the “godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” was just four years old when she began performing with her evangelist mother. By the age of six, Tharpe was touring on a steady basis as the musical complement to her mother’s preaching. She was one of the first gospel performers to secularize religious music with her singing and guitar playing. She “pioneer[ed] the guitar technique that would eventually evolve into the rock and roll style played by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Eric Clapton.”
Image Credit: wikipedia.org

Edna Lewis is the author of several cookbooks, “her name is revered among food-world cognoscenti but less well known than your average Food Network star.” She was a chef who popularized traditional Southern cuisine. Lewis was also an accomplished seamstress.
Image Credit: gourmet.com

Jane Cooke Wright contributed to the field of medicine with her pioneering research in cancer chemotherapy. She later served as the first woman president of the New York Cancer Society. 
Image Credit: Smith College

Hazel Scott was eight when she received a special scholarship for Julliard. Her rise to stardom was meteoric, eventually landing her in Hollywood where she “successfully challenged the studios’ treatment of black actors, demanding pay commensurate with her white counterparts, and refusing to play the subservient roles in which black actors were commonly cast.” She was the first Black artist to star in her own show. 
Image Credit: wikimedia.org

Hazel W. Johnson is included in the Army’s history records as the first African American woman general. Throughout her almost thirty year career, she received numerous honors and went on to contribute to academia as a professor of nursing. 
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Patricia Bath is an ophthalmologist and the first African American woman to receive a medical patent. She invented the Laserphaco Probe, a device that treats cataracts.
Image Credit: biography.com

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