Black History Month celebrates American heroes and activists

But who are some of the lesser known?

Marjorie Hsu, Co-editor in Chief

February is Black History Month where we recognize many great black heroes or activists such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and more. Individuals such as Malcolm X and W.E.B. Du Bois have also been brought up more in recent years for their efforts for racial equality. However, there are still a lot of unknown heroes that have impacted society that have helped the U.S. develop into the country it is today. And, some of the many heroes are:

Marsha P. Johnson holding a protest sign saying “Power to the People.” Credit: Timeline

Marsha P. Johnson 1945-1992

Johnson was a black, transgender woman who was one of the two people who started the Stonewall Riots in 1969. This is marked at the start of the LGBT movement that continues to this day. Despite being poor and often homeless she tried starting a group called STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) which was made to house the homeless and young transgender people. Johnson often also spoke out for sex workers and the thousands of people who were dying from HIV/AIDS at the time. Unfortunately, STAR only lasted a few years and Johnson’s death still remains mysterious, but many pride parades nowadays praise her for helping start a movement against LGBT discrimination, and HIV/AIDS awareness.

W.E.B. Du Bois 1868 – 1963

Famous for being the first African American to earn a Ph. D. from Harvard, Du Bois is also well known for co-founding the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.) He used his knowledge and skills to publish multiple literary works that advocated why black people should have the right to education, how discriminatory practices still remained in the justice system, and clarified why poor black communities were not at fault for the failure of the Reconstruction Era. Among many other achievements, he used his large platform to bring other Harlem Renaissance artists to advocate their own voice for equal rights. Du Bois may not have made a legal radical change, but he was one of the major links that began spreading awareness of black rights. 


Lewis Latimer 1848 – 1928

Born from freed slaves, Latimer grew up in Massachusetts and received help to buy his freedom. Years later he got an honorable discharge after the Civil War and taught himself mechanical drawing and eventually got an electrical engineering degree. After rising through ranks with his talent, he ended up working with some of the most influential inventions used still today such as the telephone and the light bulb. Although he did not invent either of them, he made Thomas Edison’s incandescent lightbulb last much longer and affordable. Latimer helped adapt newer technology for many more people which improved their lifestyles by being able to do work until darker hours. 

Mary Kenner 1912 – 2006

Kenner invented the sanitary belt in the 1920’s which was the first design of a much more absorbable pad. This helped make female sanitary products more comfortable and efficient. Many companies took notice and wanted to sell her product, but strayed away after finding out that she was black. Thirty years later she fortunately managed to patent the product along with other inventions such as the carrier attachments on walkers for disabled people and tissue holders. ‘

Soledad Brothers 1970 – 

The Soledad Brothers were not brothers, but they were three close prison inmates George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Cluchette who were wrongly convicted for killing a white prison guard. The previously led a hunger strike to address the violence that happened behind the bars on black prison inmates. Fortunately, after a year with the trial and publicity, the inmates were acquitted for the false charge. Although Jackson was eventually shot in the jail allegedly from trying to escape, others have speculated otherwise. 


A high electric microscope look into HeLa cells. Credit: National Institute of Health

Henrietta Lacks 1920 – 1951

Lacks was a young black mother who went to John Hopkins Hospital in order to receive help for a tumor caused by her cervical cancer. A sample of her tumor went to Dr. George Gey as he conducted studies with samples of cervical cancer in order to better understand the virus and to find a better way to treat it. However, Lacks’ tumor cells kept growing continuously whereas other cells often died out in a matter of days. These cells are used until this day “to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans and are called HeLa cells in order to honor Henrietta Lacks. 

There are lists and lists of many other unknown black heroes in history that can be found in history books or the web. Black history month also exists to help recognize influential individuals that are not as well known. Additionally, it is also a good chance to learn the different ways people have impacted society or their communities to help develop where we are today. Were it not for some of these people, we would not have the technology, equality, or medicine that we have today.