As an African-American, I appreciate Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) as much as the next person. However, in today’s modern world he has become in some ways a token African-American. Teachers claim to integrate African-American history by studying MLK for about a week. Then, they fail to instruct anything else remotely related to Black history beyond that; despite Black History Month being in the month following the activist’s annual holiday. Of course, Black History Month is celebrated in the shortest month of the year because a full month would be such an injustice to a race of people whose ancestors endured over 200 years of bondage. In addition, some people do not even recognize the influential leader’s success on his holiday in the first place. It is just seen as another day off for students, teachers, and some businesses as well. But I digress.
Let me backtrack for those of you who have been asleep in history class (even though you probably didn’t miss much, considering how little Black history is taught in schools).
Let me give you a basic lesson on Black History. MLK was an integral activist leading the Civil Rights Movement. Some of his highlights include, but are not limited to, the march on Washington, the Montgomery bus boycott, and his “I Have a Dream” speech. Although crucial to the African-American culture, there are other key people that are just as influential as MLK who remind us of the significance of black people in the world.
The founder of the weekly newspaper, The Chicago Defender, that paved the way to success for major black publishers like Earl G. Graves. He created a gateway for Blacks leaving the Jim Crow South to manufacturing jobs in Chicago. What began as a four-page pamphlet for 25 cents mainly distributed in Black neighborhoods grew into a widely known newspaper with reader numbers mirroring those of the Orlando Sentinel. Without Abbott’s contribution, there would be no Essence Magazine.
A civil rights activist like MLK who was the “backbone” of his movement. Baker not only assisted in the establishment of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference but enabled protests and campaigns. Despite the lack of gender equality, she did not let this deter her from the movement. Furthermore, she used the Greensboro sit-in as fuel for creating a foundation for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Perhaps, her greatest accomplishment was her belief in the youth and the spirit’s relevance to the movement.
A young graffiti artist took too soon from the world. Through his work, he explored themes such as the dilemmas of African diaspora and counterculture American punk. He produced vibrant and powerful pieces that drew multiple emotions to all who gazed upon them. Despite his influence, much of his work is difficult to obtain as it is privately owned. Although having a blatant perspective that is “black, urban, and hypermasculine,” his complex artwork draws the eye of many celebrities today including Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.
The first black women to be elected to the United States Congress who advocated for unemployment benefits and improved education. Furthermore, she was a champion fighter for students having the opportunity to attend college while receiving an intensive remedial education. Although facing more discrimination from gender than race, she is an inspiration to young girls everywhere, especially African-Americans reminding us that if a path appears to be blocked off, find another way.
Dr. Charles Drew
The first Black person to be awarded a doctorate from Columbia University. He revolutionized the way blood donations were approached during World War II. His research created a system of how blood was obtained and stored, how to find proper donors, and training protocols for people who collect and test blood. Drew helped acquire a plethora of pints of blood for U.S. troops as medical director of the American Red Cross National Blood Donor Service. Some historians claim him to have saved the world of Nazism with blood storage not existing before.
A musical genius whose ability cannot be matched. Noted with the title by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as “the most gifted instrumentalist of all time,” as well as other prestigious awards. The rock legend held such a peculiar style that gave him a unique charm in performance. Hendrix was not only an inspiration to other artists such as the late Prince, but jazz legends even take cues from the artist like Miles Davis. Hendrix’s handwork is not only praised for its complexity but the way it reveals who he is.
Madam C.J. Walker
A true rags-to-riches story of a poor washerwoman turned famous black entrepreneur and philanthropist who started a hair care product line that began as a way to cure dandruff and rid her bald spots. She used her role to empower women and employ them. With the more money she received, she gave back to others in the form of scholarships and funding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition, she donated funds to her local Black YMCA in Indianapolis.
As you can see, there are many African Americans who were crucial to the world's development. This MLK Day, take some time to learn the success of a new African American.