Black History Month: Unsung Black Sheroes and Heroes, Part 2

Maya Angelou once said, “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.” During Black History Month (BHM), we recognize and honor the achievements of Black Americans and other Blacks throughout the diaspora, ordinary but extraordinary heroes and sheroes whose stories of struggle, courage, tenacity, ingenuity, and purpose inspire us to be and do our best. When Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week, which evolved into BHM, his intention was to ensure that our history was taught and commemorated in homes, schools, and universities. He declared, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Ironically, many people aren’t aware that Woodson is the mind behind BHM. In a way, he is an unsung hero, someone whose accomplishments are not widely acknowledged or credited to them. Woodson is not alone. The achievements of many Black men and women—see part one for unsung sheroes—in medicine, engineering, literature, sports, the military, and other areas are not celebrated as much as others. Part two of this series focuses on unsung heroes, men who deserve more recognition for their contributions to society. Happy Black History Month!





James Forten was a wealthy sailmaker with over 40 employees who used his influence to advocate for numerous causes such as abolition, education, women’s suffrage, etc. He fought against the back-to-Africa movement. He was also known to purchase slaves’ freedom.
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Charles Deslondes led one of the largest slave revolts in history, the 1811 German Coast Uprising in Louisiana. Reportedly, around 500 slaves participated in the uprising, choosing possible death over enslavement.
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Henry Blair, an inventor who signed his patent application with an x, was one of the first African Americans to receive a patent. His invention, the corn seed planter, helped save time and labor and controlled weeds.
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Martin Robison Delany was an Army officer, physician, writer, and a forerunner of those who espoused Black Nationalism. He believed that whites would never see Blacks as equals and advocated for emigration to Africa. He stated, “We are a nation within a nation, we must go from our oppressors.”
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Alexander Miles invented a safety mechanism that automatically opened and closed elevator doors. The invention, which decreased the number of accidents and deaths, is still used today.
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William Harvey Carney was the first Black American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Civil War. He served the Union Army as a member of the all-Black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
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John Edward Bruce founded several newspapers and used that medium to fight against racial discrimination, lynching, and the “weak” legal and political systems that didn’t recognize the constitutional and human rights of Black citizens.
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Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor, like many of our heroes and sheroes, had to contend with racial discrimination. Taylor was a world cycling champion, who was prevented from competing against whites in the South. He was only the second Black person to receive an international championship status.
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Roland Hayes only had a 6th grade education when he began studying music at Fisk University. He toured for a while with the Fisk Jubilee Singers before branching out and investing his own money in private music lessons and recitals. His self-promotion eventually paid off; Hayes became a renowned concert tenor, educator, and recipient of many awards.
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Bill Spiller was a golfer who relentlessly fought against racism in the PGA. He filed a lawsuit that challenged the PGA’s illegal “Caucasians only” clause. The PGA tricked him into dropping the lawsuit by claiming they would remove the clause from their rules. They didn’t. Spiller was disappointed with the setback but continued to fight. The clause was eventually removed, but by that time, Spiller was no longer able to play due to his age.
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Frederick McKinley Jones invented an automatic refrigeration system that helped save businesses a lot of money.  Before Jones’ invention, truckers transporting food would pack the food in ice and hope to make the delivery before the ice melted. Jones received over 60 patents, most of them were for refrigeration inventions.
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William Grant Still is known as the "Dean of Afro-American Composers." In 1931 his composition, Afro-American Symphony, was the first to be performed by a major orchestra. A few years later, Still again made history as the first Black American to conduct a prominent orchestra.  His compositions have been performed all over the world.
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Hal Jackson began his career in radio as an announcer for Howard University. After his proposal for a show was refused by a local Washington D. C. station, He bought his own airtime and featured music as well as the achievements of Black Americans. The show was an instant success. Jackson bought several more stations and soon moved to New York. At one time, his radio show had the largest listening audience in the world. He was the first African American inducted into the Broadcast Hall of Fame.
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Otis Frank Boykin was a prolific inventor. One of his inventions, the improved electrical resistor, is widely used in computers, appliances, missiles, and countless other devices; a variant of it is even used in the pacemaker, a device that has improved the lives of heart patients.
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Lonnie Johnson’s invention, the Super Soaker, is one of the top selling toys in U. S. history. After the massive success of that invention, Johnson founded a research and development company and acquired nearly 40 patents.
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