As you may have learned in school, read in the news or saw in an ad campaign, February is Black History Month in the United States and Canada. We all know of a few famous black heroes that have altered American history – Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Barack Obama – but there are so many more who don’t always make it to the forefront of national memory.
So how about learning some new names in honor of Black History Month?
8 African American heroes you didn’t know about
The records on Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806) are not the clearest, but what is known is that the man was a free African American astronomer, mathematician, surveyor, almanac author and farmer. Not a combination you find every day, especially in the 1700s.
Mae C. Jemison was the first female African American to travel into outer space. On June 4, 1987, she was the first black woman admitted into the U.S. space training program, and flew into outer space on September 12, 1992 with a crew of seven aboard the Endeavour.
Mary McLeod Bethune
The founder of the National Council for Negro Women, Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was one busy woman. She was an unofficial adviser on African American issues to both presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Her focus on education and social activism makes her a hero not only in the United States, but worldwide, as she has been honored in Haiti and Liberia and served as a consultant to the United Nations.
Talk about multitasking: Alan Page managed to get himself into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a career in the NFL and admitted as a judge in the Minnesota Supreme Court. Page received his BA in Political Science in 1967 and later his JD in 1978. While attending the University of Notre Dame, he achieved the status of college football All-American. After his graduation, Page was drafted into the NFL, playing for the Minnesota Vikings until 1978 and then the Chicago Bears until 1981. Throughout his entire football career, he amassed multiple honors and awards. While playing football full time, Page also attended law school at the University of Minnesota.
While there are many who claim to be it, here’s another real McCoy: The Canadian-born son of American fugitive slaves, Elijah McCoy (1843?-1929) made strides in locomotive design and development. Lucky enough to have family connections to Britain, McCoy was able to work for a time as an apprentice in mechanical engineering in Scotland. When the family returned from Canada to the United States, McCoy worked and eventually filed for multiple patents concerning locomotive lubrication.
In 1975, Detroit celebrated Elijah McCoy Day, made his home the site of a historic marker and named a street after him.
Clara Hale, (1905-1992) was also known as Mother Hale – and for very good reason. Hale became a humanitarian through watching poverty and misfortune take its toll first-hand. Widowed with three children during the Great Depression, Hale struggled to get by and keep her kids close. She opened a daycare in her home that led her to become a foster mother and help other parents in dire need. Eventually she opened the Hale House and specialized in caring for drug-addicted babies and later babies infected with AIDS. Hale realized her life’s calling and became the mother to those who had none.
Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige
Leroy Paige (1906-1982) was a pitching legend. He had quite the career in the Negro leagues before he was drafted to Major League Baseball in 1948. Paige set records on two fronts: He was the first MLB player to be inducted from the Negro leagues and he was the oldest rookie to play in the major league – at the ‘ripe, old’ age of 42. Paige played in the MLB until he was 47.
His nickname was “Satchel,” supposedly from a boyhood job when he carried luggage for train passengers.
Garrett A. Morgan
Garret A. Morgan (1877-1963) is credited for a quite a few achievements. He was an inventor who created a respiratory protective hood that did a similar job as the modern gas mask. He also invented the first human hair-straightener, as well as patented a kind of traffic signal. Morgan reached heroic status for the role of his respiratory hoods in saving workers trapped in a fume-filled tunnel system.
On a different note, Morgan is also known to be the first African-American in Cleveland who owned an automobile.
Oh, were those not the kind of heroes you thought I meant? Then check out The Museum of Black Superheroes.