Five Black History Heroes You May Not Know

“Since it’s Don Cheadle month…” read a text from one of my friends, referencing one of Kanye West’s famously funny yet thought provoking lines, “Don Cheadle time, get extra black on ’em.”

Today marks America’s month long celebration of Black History. We all know Martin Luther King Jr., but the movement was not built and organized by one man. In fact, there are a hundred more leaders who deserve to be recognized as well. To keep with my top five week, I decided to include five heroes from the Civil Rights Movement that many people do not know because of various reasons. Since all these people played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, they are all tied for number one.

Five Black History Heroes You May Not Know (in alphabetical order):

1. Ella Josephine Baker

-Mentor to Stokely Carmichael, one of the student founders of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

-Worked alongside W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King Jr.

-Her positions in these various organizations limited by her gender, which highlights that Civil Rights Movement struggled with gender equality

1. James L. Bevel

-Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

-Directed the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, video and pictures of which many of us have seen where the students are sprayed with water hoses and attacked by dogs; they were terrorized by the racist commissioner of public safety, “Bull” Conner. This moment was influential because those images were broadcasted throughout the country, which shined the spotlight on the very real and often dangerous front line of the Civil Rights Movement.

1. Diane Nash

-Strategist of Freedom riders, co-founder of SNCC and lead its direct action wing, leader of various voting rights campaigns

-She was arrested and placed in jail, although she was four months pregnant with her first child, for teaching nonviolent tactics to child in Mississippi

-Like Baker, she does not receive the credit she deserves in large part because of her gender. If one only looked at the pictures in text books and such, one would ascertain that the Civil Rights Movement was only led by men, which is the furthest thing from the truth.

1. Bayard Rustin

-Promoted the philosophy of nonviolence, which he learned while working with Gandhi’s movement in India, to Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC. MLK Jr. is still recognized for his nonviolence campaigns, which Rustin taught him.

-Influential to other young activists, specifically Stokely Carmichael and Tom Kahn, founding leaders of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) respectively.

-Because of his sexual orientation as a gay man, Rustin rarely served as a public spokesperson, though he was an influential adviser to many civil rights leaders. Similarly, Rustin has been written out of many history book. As with the case with Ella Baker and Diane Nash, his case highlights that the Civil Rights movement had other issues and challenges to deal with it, namely gender inequality and sexual orientation.

1. Whitney Moore Young Jr.

-Executive Director of the National Urban League

-Fought for equitable access to socioeconomic opportunity for the historically disenfranchised.

-He drowned while swimming with some friends in Nigeria, while attending an African American conference. President Nixon, whom Young advised, flew his body from Nigeria to Kentucky, where he delivered the eulogy.

Please share in the comments below other important political figures from the Civil Rights Movement. Even if you simply write their name, it is important to acknowledge them and the sacrifices that they have made to help shape the America we live in today.

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