Over time, the black community has experienced so much change and so much growth. We have gone from slaves, second class citizens, and back-of-the-bus candidates, to so much more than that. Asides the near equality we have been able to attain, blacks have gone out of their ways to become world icons, global leaders, and sources of hope to others. Even as we forge toward ending the other challenges and issues that taunt us here and there, we need to recount our successes and victories. From the many that have lost their lives in an attempt to fight for life as we know it today, to those that chose to stand out; we celebrate the great men and women, mainly dead, who have contributed to the black community one way or another. As we celebrate black history month, taking cognisance of growth blacks across the world, we celebrate these heroes and appreciate their input in the sands of time. As many as they truly are, here are just seven names who we really cannot forget, in no particular order.
1) Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was an exceptional woman like no other. She was an American poet, a memoirist, and civil rights activist. Popular for her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing” which was one of the most prominent autobiographies ever written, and her impeccable poem “And Still I Rise”; she lent her voice to causes that were greater than her. Even after going through turbulences, like being raped by her mother’s boyfriend and being a victim of racism and discrimination in the US at the time, she rose. She was the first black woman to write a screenplay for a major film release, the first female inaugural poet in U.S. presidential history, and became recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2011.
2) Malcolm X
One legend that needs little introduction is Malcolm X. The African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist would forever be held dearly and in high esteem, mainly because of his activism during his life. From threats by the Ku Klux Klan forcing his family to move, to his father being brutally murder by white supremacists, because of his highly controversial sermons; you can say Malcom X had much more than motivation to venture into a war of his own. One that cost him his life eventually. He advocated self-defence and the liberation of African Americans by any means necessary, including violence. Being imprisoned for seven years did not stop Malcolm from intensifying his advocacy speeches, and it was in the midst of one of those speaking rallies that he was shot and killed. His name remains one that depicts fearlessness, even in the midst of apparent danger.
2) Rosa Parks
Many people are quite familiar with Rosa Park’s bus encounter. By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a bus as the norms were at the time, she started one of the earliest fights against oppression and for equality. The American civil rights activist, who was later called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement” by the United States Congress; forced a bus boycott that was led by then Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as soon as she was arrested for her wittiness. In essence, she transformed a single act of defiance into a defining moment for the modern American civil rights movement. In 1999, much after the wars have been won, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor the United States bestows on a civilian and then became the first woman in history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
4) Martin Luther King Jr.
Black History is never complete without mentioning the icon, Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement at the period when the fight against racism was intensified. Unlike Malcolm X, he promulgated a peaceful approach to the fight for equality, and received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance as far back as 1964. At the age of thirty-five, he became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize as at then. He is popular for his contribution to the Selma to Montgomery marches, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Even with all peace he strived to ensure, he had his fair share of enemies and was assassinated on the balcony of his motel room. He is popular for his speech “I have a dream”. And today, Martin Luther King Jr. day is celebrated every third Monday of January.
5) Nelson Mandela
Another name that is unforgettable is Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, a politician, and a philanthropist that served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the one that led the fight on dismantling the legacy of apartheid as well as racism and even fostering racial reconciliation. Getting there, just like the others, was no easy task. In the course of his fight against apartheid, he was imprisoned for a staggering twenty-seven (27) years. He also had intra-family issues with his wife as their relationship was rocky before the final divorce. He is famous for promulgating of forgiveness and equality, and it was not in vain as apartheid was abolished in 1991, they had their first elections where blacks and whites, were allowed to vote.
6) Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, she successfully escaped in 1849 and didn’t go with the wind as any free slave would. She returned, and led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom through the route of the Underground Railroad. She also helped the Union Army during the war and eventually when the Civil War ended, she dedicated her life to helping poor former slaves and the elderly, then established her own Home for the Aged. Harriet Tubman is now set to be on the $20 bill as a recognition for her lifelong work.
7) Muhammed Ali
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Muhammad Ali is another name that cannot be forgotten. He was an African American professional boxer and activist, and is widely seen as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. He was witty, and he served as a source of inspiration to blacks and others alike, across the world. He became an Olympic gold medallist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. He also won the World Heavyweight boxing championship three times and won the North American Boxing Federation championship as well as an Olympic gold medal. He also spoke against racism a number of times and campaigned against Islamophobia in the US following the 9/11 attacks. He was a source of power to many and still continues to be.