Celebrating 28 Historical Figures For Black History Month

Learn and celebrate about 28 Black people who have shaped our world


Elaine Thimyan

Each day of Black History month we recognize a range Black creators such as authors, actors, painters, athletes, to historical figures who have paved the way for a more united society. 

Elaine Thimyan and Sammy Knickmeyer

Black History Month is a special opportunity to discover and recognize the many talented individuals who have shaped our country and world for the better. Everyone should celebrate Black history every day since without Black people contributing so much to society, we would not be here today.

 1 – Malcolm X

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, we tend to think of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. While they were very important people, Malcolm X was another strong leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a Muslim and part of the Nation Of Islam (NOI), which he converted to after spending time in jail for robbery. Soon Malcolm would lead in strengthening the Black identity. He eventually ended up leaving the NOI because he believed they needed to be more involved with racial integration and the movement. Malcolm was assassinated in 1965 by members of the NOI in Harlem. Malcolm X is remembered as one of the best and most influential Civil Rights activists for his ideologies to appreciate the African identity. 

2 – Oprah Winfrey 

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most, if not the most, famous television and broadcast media hosts. She became the first African American woman to own her own production company. But she also played a very important role in passing the National Child Act, which is where each state is required to report child abuse for background checks on child care providers. She’s also a philanthropist and seeks the welfare of others and has provided assistance to schools. She also gave a very powerful speech at the 2018 Golden Globes which became very popular and well known. She talks about racial inequality and the Me Too movement. 

3 – Langston Hughes 

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. He finished college in 1930 and published his first novel “Not Without Laughter” which won a Harmon Gold Medal for literature. Hughes would write short stories, novels, poems, and plays aiming to reflect the experiences of Black people in America such as jazz and laughter. Hughes catapulted the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, which was a cultural revival of African American theater, politics, dance, music, etc. Some of his famous works include “I, Too, Am America, “The Weary Blues” and “Let America Be America Again.” 

4 – Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, or “Queen Bess”, was the first African American and Native American woman to be a pilot. Her brothers flew planes in World War 1 and they told her that the women in France could learn to fly. So Colemen started taking French classes and eventually got her flying license in 1921. In 1922, she performed her famous “loop-the-loops” and got popularity in both America and Europe. She was even in a plane accident but survived. In 1925 she would perform in Texas, but it was still segregated. Coleman said the stadium could have only one entrance otherwise she wouldn’t fly. The stadium agreed and she was known for standing up for her beliefs. Sadly, she passed away from another plane accident in 1926 and in 1931 the Challenger Pilots’ Association made the tradition of flying over her grave every year. 

5 – Leslie Odom Jr.

Leslie Odom Jr. is best known for his role as Aaron Burr in Broadway’s “Hamilton,” for which he won a Tony Award for Best Actor in A Musical, beating out Lin-Manuel Miranda. But before Hamilton, Odom was a replacement for the musical Rent at the age of 17. After Rent, he would play in a show called “Leap of Faith” in 2012. From there, he would go on to star in NBC’s “Smash.” “Smash” would have two seasons. Since retiring the role of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” Odom has been in other recent projects. He was in the 2019 biopic film “Harriet,” which is all about, of course, Harriet Tubman. 

6 – Shirley Chisholm 

Shirley Chisholm was the first African American congresswoman for the House of Representatives. In the late 1940s, Chisholm worked as a nursery school teacher and as the director of two daycares. She eventually got her BA in sociology from Brooklyn College. From there she would run for Congress. In 1968 she was up against Republican-Liberal James Farmer. They agreed on many things like housing and employment, but Farmer said the Democratic Party was taking Black voters for granted and that the country needed “A man’s voice” in Washington and Black communities. But Chisholm appealed to the growing Hispanic population. She would win with 67% of the vote. She would fight for federal funding to extend the hours of daycares. Chisholm was known as a powerful woman, paving the way for Black women. 

7 – Percy Lavon Julian

Percy Lavon Julian was a chemist and entrepreneur who specialized in synthesizing compounds from plants for important medical treatments. At the time many chemists understood that these compounds’ (steroids) potential were great but extracting them was not money efficient. While working for the Glidden Company, he learned that water had leaked into purified soybean oil. From this, it was the substance to synthesize progesterone from stigmasterol. He was able to pave a way to make these steroids, such as sex hormones and cortical hormones. Without Julian, we wouldn’t have things like birth control, poison ivy treatments, treatments for arthritis, and MtF transgender therapy. 

8 – Surya Bonaly

Surya Bonaly is a French figure skater and three-time silver medalist. She’s since retired, but she has extraordinary skill. Her trademark is doing a backflip on one foot. In 1998 she got to go to the Olympics and ended up taking home the silver medal. The first time she performed the move was when she was 12. But she hasn’t let age stop her. In 2014, at the age of 40, she was doing a tour for the 75th anniversary of Holiday on Ice. With that being her last tour she started coaching in 2016. 

9 – George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver was born into slavery a year before the end of the Civil War. He ran away to attend an all-black school. In 1894 he was the first African American to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree. He learned that years of planting soil had ruined it but it could be fixed by things like soybeans, peanuts, and potatoes. With a great turnout of using the plants, he sought to find a way to use the excess such as writing ink, paints, and edible items such as flour and vinegar. But he did other things such as travel back to the south to preach about racial harmony and even went to India to talk about nutrition with Mahatma Gandhi. After he died, president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed that Carver would have his monument, an honor nor only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had received. 

10 – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, otherwise known as the “Queen of Soul,” would go on to become the first female artist introduced to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. As a child, she was gifted and found her start in her father’s congregation. In 1967 she released a song named “Respect” off her album “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” It reached No. 1 on both pop and R&B charts, winning her first two Grammys. By 2008 she had 18 Grammys and became well-respected in terms of Grammy history. In January 2018, Franklin picked Jennifer Hudson to play her in a biopic. But after her death in August of the same year, her project with Stevie Wonder was pushed back and it will now come out on Aug. 13, 2021. 

11 – Serena Williams 

Serena Williams is one of the most famous athletes of all time. Even if you don’t watch tennis, you know her name and for good reason. Serena Williams has won more grand slams (23) than any other player in the open era. She is a 3-time double gold medalist for the Olympics and was a single gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics. Williams was also the second African American woman to win a grand slam, which she won in the 1999 US open. Williams broke news in 2017 since she won the Australian Open during the early stages of pregnancy. After she gave birth Williams went right back into playing tennis. Serena Williams is known for her determination and paving a way for all women athletes. 

12 – Arthur Ashe 

Arthur Ashe was another famous tennis player. Playing tennis when he was young, he went on to go to U.C.L.An on a full scholarship. In 1963 he became the first African American to be a member of the U.S Davis Cup. From there. 5 years later in 1968 he became the first African American Man to win the US Open and won the Grand Slam event. Tennis wasn’t the only thing in Ashe’s life. He did humanitarian work. He made tennis programs for children in the city. In 1988, however, he discovered he had AIDS. Suspected to have contracted the disease from a tainted blood transfusion from his heart surgery in 1983. Ashe would spend the rest of his time raising awareness about AIDS. In 1997 the USTA National tennis center named the new center court the Arthur Ashe stadium in his memory. 

13 – Marsha P. Johnson 

Marsha P. Johnson was an American activist for gay rights. Not only was she an activist, but she was also one of the leading forces behind the Stonewall Riots of the 1960s. Stonewall was a gay club in which police raided and it was met with backlash and protest in the weeks following. Johnson also founded the “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries” otherwise known as STAR in 1970. STAR is an organization committed to serving and supporting the homeless transgender youth in New York City. Marsha P. Johnson is remembered as one of the most famous LGBTQ icons and without her LGBTQ rights would not be where they are today. 

14 – Ida B. Wells 

Ida B. Wells was a journalist. In her writing, she expressed her views as a Civil Rights activist, feminist and abolitionist. After the Civil War, Wells’ family was very active in the reconstruction era, so they always made education important. Wells would have to take on as head of her family after her parents died of yellow fever. She did not let this stop her, however. In the 1890s, she started writing out against the lynchings in the south. She was not met with applause though. A white mob went to the local newspaper and destroyed all of her equipment, and with threats against her getting worse, she stayed in the north. Ida B. Wells faced a lot of violence along with racism and sexism. But she never let that stop her from speaking out against injustice. 

15 – Richard Allen 

Richard Allen was born in 1760. His family was sold for a Delaware farmer. Eventually, he became a Methodist convert. He was permitted to preach and in 1784 he was a candidate for the new ministry. He bought his freedom in 1786 and went on to preach for a congregation and to lead prayer meetings for Blacks because they had to be separate from whites, but only a certain number was allowed. So Richard Allen decided to leave and bought an old blacksmith shop and turned it into the first church for blacks. He was the first African American to be ordained in the ministry of the Methodist church and in 1816 the Bethel Society founded the African Methodist Episcopal church and elected Allen as the first bishop. 

16 – Audre Lorde 

Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, and Civil Rights, activist. She’s known for her passionate writings about racial issues and lesbian feminism. Being a lesbian herself, she wrote a poem in 1970 “Cables to Rage” about social injustice and her lesbianism. Her first volume of poetry, however,  was published in 1968 called “The First Cities. She was very popular amongst the LGBTQ community and was another person at the forefront of social injustices. Lorde is known for her grit and passion, standing up for what she believes in at full speed. Even to the end, when she died of cancer in 1992 and her last volume of poetry “The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance” came out in 1993. 

17 – Chadwick Boseman 

Chadwick Boseman has played a significant role in the film industry in the last few years. Starring in Marvel’s “Black Panther” breaking box office records. The movie earned $1.344 billion. Black Panther even won an Academy Award. Chadwick also starred in the movie “42” playing the role of Jackie Robinson and his story. Boseman also rejoined the avengers for “Avengers Endgame” in 2018 which also was a box office hit. Boseman is deeply loved among Marvel fans and many mourned his death in August after battling cancer.  

18 – Beyoncé

Beyoncé may be one of the most known singer-songwriters in the history of music. At age 9, she formed the girl group Destiny’s Child, originally called Girls Tyme. Her fame with her girl group launched in 1990, but by the late 90s, she was a solo artist. Some of her hit solo albums include, “Dangerously in Love” (2003), “B’Day” (2006), “I Am… Sasha Fierce” (2008), “4” (2011), “Beyoncé” (2013), and “Lemonade” (2016). Not only has Beyoncé shown her power through her music, but she has also made efforts to enlighten people all over the world. In June of 2020, she released the song “Black Parade” in honor of Juneteenth, and in July of 2020 she wrote and produced the visual album “Black Is King.”

19 – Jesse Owens  

Jesse Owens is another athlete. Legend for his win in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens made history. He was a track and field athlete, and he broke the record for the long jump that stood for 25 years. During the Olympics, he broke the Olympic record for the 100-meter run (10.3 secs), broke the world record for the 200-meter run (20.7 secs), the long jump 26.4. In the games, he became the first American to win four gold medals and shot down Hitler’s intention of using the games to show Aryan Superiority. Before his passing in 1980, Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976. 

20 – Johnnie Lacy 

Johnnie Lacy was a disabled black woman in the 50s. She grew up in the deep south before she and her parents moved to California. In 1956, she was working on her nursing practical when she learned she had polio at 19 years old. She got treatment and eventually got back to school. Being paralyzed she ran into ableism and racism. At the time, there were no regulations to protect people like her, let alone at college. Soon, Lacy became the director of Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL). There were discussions about the identity of being a black disabled woman. Without her, and others, disability rights wouldn’t be where they are today. 

21 – Jackie Robinson 

In the spring of 1947, history was made when Jackie Robinson was signed onto the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was the first African American who played in the Major Leagues of Baseball. In 1946, after he served in the war, he was put on the all-white Montreal Royals. The president of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey, wanted to introduce him slowly into the major leagues. During his season he had a .349 batting average. There was a movie “42” made about Robinson and how he overcame violence, threats, and harassment. All his achievements paid off because in 1962 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Finally, after his death, they retired his jersey number “42” in 1972. 

22 – Taraji P. Henson 

Taraji Henson is an American actress. She’s known for her roles in “Baby Boy”, “Empire”, and “Hidden Figures.” Hensen has made a name for herself in the acting industry. She graduated from Howard University getting honored in her acting, singing, and dancing talents. She also played in the recent film “The Best of Enemies” which tells a true story about Ann Atwater. Henson is one of the best women in acting, praised for her emotionally charged scenes of raw emotion. 

23 – “Blind Tom” Wiggins

Tom Wiggins was born blind, but he was a musical prodigy. Wiggins was born into slavery in 1849, and his enslaver discovered his musical talents. By 1860 he had published some of his compositions when he was only 11 years old. When he was 10, he became the first African American to perform in the White House, performing for James Buchanan. Wiggins could also play complex pieces by musicians such as Bach and Beethoven, even after one hearing. He did his last performance in 1905 and 1908 died in New Jersey. 

24 – Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes is an American comedian and actress.  In 1987 she began to do stand-up comedy. While working for her government job, she would find comedy clubs around Washington D.C. In 1995 she was opening for Chris Rock and eventually started to write for “The Chris Rock Show.” In 2005 she was named one of 25 funniest people in North America by Entertainment Weekly, getting in comedy movies such as “Evan Almighty.” She has broken lots of barriers when it comes to black women comedians and continues to make people laugh with her brilliant and witty humor. 

25 – RuPaul

RuPaul born November 17, 1960, has been a black and gay icon since the beginning of his career in 1987. His career began when he moved to New York and worked in gogo bars and on television on “The Gong Show” and MTV.  RuPaul began doing drag underground movie and nightclub circuit in Atlanta. RuPaul became known for drag in the 90s, and soon became one of the most famous drag queens in all of drag history. In 2009 Rupaul hosted and co-produced RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show where drag queens compete to earn the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. On this show he teaches each drag queen many lessons physically and emotionally, often being referred to as a role model or “drag mother”. 

26 – Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is a black queer musician and actress. Born on December 1, 1985, she has always been very artistic. She was a singer in her Baptist church. She was also a talented writer, having written a full playwright script by the time she was 12. She began her music career in the early 200’s and eventually became a contemporary R&B icon. She was even in the band FUN’s music video for “We Are Young”. In recent years, Monáe has been very open about her sexuality. Identifying as pansexual, she is very inspired by her self-love and self freedom. 

27 – Louis Armstrong

Born on August 4, 1901, Louis Armstrong was a famous trumpet player. He was raised by his mother Mayann in a rather dangerous neighborhood. He dropped out of school after the fifth grade to work, an early job is working for the Karnofsky family. Eventually, he saved up to buy his first cornet. In 1912 he was arrested and sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. There is where he learned how to play the cornet and he soon planned on becoming a professional musician. In 1922, King Oliver wanted Armstrong to be in his band. They became very popular after they began making records together in 1923. 

28 – Sojourner Truth

And finally, on our list, Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist, author, and women’s rights activist. She was born into slavery and would eventually escape with her infant daughter in 1826, but having to leave her other children behind because they were her enslavers “property”. The truth would become the first black woman to sue a white man, and win. Her win would result in her getting custody of her son, Peter. Later she joined the Northampton Association of Education in Massachusetts in 1844. Then in 1851 Truth gave her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” In her later years she continued to speak out against discrimination and worked to get freed blacks jobs after The Civil War and would speak up for black women. Truth died in 1883 and left a legacy of courage, determination, and fighting for what’s right for all people.