There’s so much history we missed when attending public schools. There are so many African Americans who helped change the world that you don’t know about but should.
Bayard Rustin (1912 – 1987)
Dr. King is usually credited for the March on Washington in August 1963. But it was Rustin who organized and strategized in the shadows. As a gay man who had controversial ties to communism, he was considered too much of a liability to be on the front lines of the movement. Nonetheless, he was considered to be one of the most brilliant minds and served his community tirelessly while pushing for more jobs and better wages.
Annie Lee Cooper (1910 – 2010)
The Selma, Alabama, native played a crucial part in the 1965 Selma Voting Rights Movement. But it wasn’t until Oprah played her in the 2014 Oscar-nominated film, Selma, that people really took notice of Cooper’s activism. She is lauded for punching Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark in the face, but she really deserves to be celebrated for fighting to restore and protect voting rights.
Dorothy Height (1912 – 2010)
Hailed the “godmother of the women’s movement,” Height used her background in education and social work to advance women’s rights. She was a leader in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) for more than 40 years. She was also among the few women present at the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Ethel Waters (1896 – 1977)
Waters first entered the entertainment business in the 1920s as a blues singer, but she made history for her work in television. In addition to becoming the first African American to star in her own TV show in 1939, The Ethel Waters Show, she was nominated for her first Emmy in 1962.
Minnie Riperton (1947 – 1979)
Mariah Carey is heralded for her whistle register, which is the highest the human voice can reach. But Riperton perfected the singing technique years before and was best known for her five-octave vocal range. The whistling can be heard on her biggest hit to date, “Lovin’ You.” The infectious ballad was originally created as an ode to her daughter, Maya Rudolph, of Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live fame. However, before she could become a household name, she died in 1979 at the age of 31 from breast cancer.