Black History = American Heroes

By Angelica Moreno

The Shoemaker Bugle honors Black History Month with profiles of these 12 American heroes.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Born on January 15, 1929, Dr. King’s goal was to relieve America of its racist values and bring unity among the races. He was the leader of the Civil Rights movement and fond of peaceful protest. The face and voice of human rights gained  national recognition with the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks declined to give up her seat in a time of segregation. After 381 days of protest, the Supreme Court ruled segregation on buses was unconstitutional, and that paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement to expand with high respectability being generated toward Dr. King. Everyone believed in him and peaceful protest to progress history. Most notably known for his “I Have a Dream Speech” on August 28, 1963, as more than 250,000 people listened, King got to deliver his speech from the steps of the Lincoln memorial for all of America, even his enemies.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bayard Rustin

Born on March 17, 1912, American leader Rustin was a popular protest organizer for social movements. Starting in his teens, he began to peacefully protest racial segregation. From there on, he would organize protests for movements anywhere he went. In its first breaths of the Civil Rights movement, in 1954, Rustin became Dr. King’s chief organizer and went onto organize the March on Washington a decade later, in 1963, which included King’s famous “I Have a dream” speech. His homosexuality was off-putting to leaders of the movement, so he didn’t get recognized for his actions until later in his life. 50 years after the Civil Rights movement, President Obama awarded him the presidential award of freedom which praised Rustin’s determination towards true equality.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”

-Bayard Rustin

Malcolm X

Born May 19, 1925, American-Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is one of the most notable symbols of black liberation in modern history. With his extremely powerful words on racial issues, he was a hard-hitter with his speech and actions, differing in his views of peaceful protest from MLK. One of America’s biggest threats during his prime of activism, he cultivated a global following. His “less-than-appropriate” manner of speech came from anger about discrimination and inequality. So for all those too scared to speak like him would be his supporters.

“The injustice that has been inflicted on negroes in this country by Uncle Sam is criminal. The government is responsible for the injustice. The government can bring these injustices to halt.”

-Malcolm X, referring to police brutality

Frederick Douglass

Born around 1818, American leader of the abolitionist movement and writer Douglass was a highly famous intellectual of his time that sought to abolish slavery. A self-freed slave, he never knew his age (as all enslaved were mostly never told of their birthday and/or maiden name to be kept ignorant of their own nature and being). On one of the many plantations he was on as a child, a slave owner’s wife took to him and taught him how to read. He was beaten for knowing how to read but gained more knowledge on his own. Then he went on to write books about his struggle and gained popularity. He would give speeches while traveling around the country and even was one of the key consultants who convinced Lincoln to abolish slavery in effort to support the civil war with more troops.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

-Frederick Douglass

Harriet Tubman

Born in the early 1820’s as “Araminta Ross,” Tubman was an American abolitionist. She freed over 300 people from slavery in the 1850’s realizing that slavery occurring anywhere in America was uncalled for. This feat in history caused her to move higher with her courage in which she became a Union Army nurse, scout, and spy during the Civil War. From these attributes, she became the first woman in U.S. history to lead a military raid and free enslaved people. Her plans to better the community of black people never stopped, from raising money to building schools and hospitals, to supporting women’s suffrage. Even on her deathbed, this prominent woman in history, continued to be of relief to America’s racism.

“I go to prepare a place for you.”

-Harriet Tubman’s last words

James Baldwin

Born August 2, 1924, Baldwin was an American writer and activist for his people. As a teen, he was a preacher and from that, he was able to develop his writing style; however, because of the limited outlook the church had for racism and the lack of support for homosexuality, he lost interest. In his early twenties, he moved to Paris and began to write his take on racism in America. One of his most famous works, “Notes from a Native Son,” depicted class, race, and sexuality and from that he became an influential prominent black writer, as well as a liaison in the Civil Rights movement. He debated Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and many others. With his uncanny ability to get respect from white people in debates and openness of his sexuality (during a time of rampant racism and homophobia), he was seen as a threat to the American government. He was ahead of his time and a path maker for the future.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

-James Baldwin

Langston Hughes

Born February 1, 1902, Hughes was an American writer, one of many leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, and an early founder of “jazz poetry.” He wanted African-American values intertwined with writing and a new form to be born in “jazz poetry.” Predominantly white people had been in the spotlight for literature since the dawn of reading literature, but Hughes gave poetry a new flow and style. Black representation could now be seen in writing and be shared in his community.

“Good morning daddy, ain’t you heard, the boogie woogie rumble of a dream deferred.”

-an example of Langston Hughes’ jazz poetry

Emmett Till

Born July 25, 1941, Emmett Till was lynched at only fourteen years old for accusations of harassing a white woman. He was brutally beaten to death by two white men who claimed to be defending a white woman from Till. Mamie Till Bradley, mother of Emmett, was so distraught over her son’s death that she needed for the world to see what they had done to her son. By sending pictures of his distorted face to magazines and newspapers, along with a public open-casket funeral, publicity was given to Emmett Till’s murder. In the three-day trail for the murder of Emmett Till, the all-white jury found the killers not guilty. Seven years after its time, one juror confessed that most of the jury did find them guilty but deemed life in prison too harsh on white men for killing a black boy.

“I thought of Emmett Till, and when the bus driver ordered me to move to the back, I just couldn’t move.”

-Rosa Parks on Emmett Till’s impact

Ella Fitzgerald

Born April 25, 1917, American jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald is known as the first lady of song. Fitzgerald was, and still is, a highly influential part of music history. Having an impeccable voice to make the world swoon with tenderness and admiration, even Marilyn Monroe couldn’t get enough of her. After winning a singing competition at Harlem’s Apollo theater, she got connected with Chick Webb and recorded one of her first songs, “Love and Kisses.” From there on out, she would collaborate with big names in the jazz business like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, The Ink Spots, and many more, which landed her as a prominent figure in jazz history forever.

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

-Ella Fitzgerald

Jackie Robinson

Born January 31, 1919, Robinson, baseball’s Civil Rights leader, was the first African-American to break the color barrier and play Major League Baseball. He made history when he was sent out to the field to play first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. A decade later he helped the Dodgers win their first World Series in 1955 (Brooklyn’s only championship). Even with his impact on cutting segregation out of the major leagues, racism still flowed through the stadiums and games. Having to endure immense bigotry throughout his character, he is a legend to have not have quit on us, history, and the black community. His number 42 is retired throughout all of Major League Baseball.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

-Jackie Robinson

Ruby Bridges

Born September 8, 1954, six-year-old Bridges made her impact on November 14, 1960, when she was the first African-American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education supreme court case ruled that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, but the school still did not comply with the ruling. Finally, a federal order was issued five years later to slowly begin segregation, starting with four black children on their first day of first grade, and Bridges was one of them. U.S. Marshals escorted the girl to school and caused an uproar so badly that almost all students and faculty withdrew their positions in the school. She and the only teacher who would teach her, Barbara Henry, went on to manage the school year alone and Bridges went onto second grade successfully. 

“My message is really that racism has no place in the hearts and minds of our children.”

-Ruby Bridges

Angela Davis

Born January 26, 1944, America leader Davis is a human rights activist, intellectual, and advocate of prison abolition. An icon for once being on the FBI’s most wanted list and facing the death sentence in California, Davis has gone on her whole life fighting for justice of black people and reformation of the criminal justice system. Seen as a threat for leading the prison abolishment movement, she was ruled as “armed and dangerous” by the FBI. After being imprisoned for 18 months for connections to a murder, all her charges were acquitted and now she had an inside look of what is is to be a criminal in America, which encouraged her activism to continue and never stop. She is now a professor at UC Santa Cruz.

“I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change… I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

-Angela Davis