Unrecognized Black Leaders


Aundrea Gresham, reporter

Without looking it up, how many influential black people can you name? I’m sure you named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Rosa Parks but what about Marsha P Johnson, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and so many more that are constantly overlooked. Being that it’s Black History Month, I want to take the time to teach you about some of the unrecognized influential Black people that schools don’t talk about.

Marsha “Pay it no mind” Johnson was a Black transgender activist most commonly known for the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 where she helped take action and speak out against the police brutality towards members of the LGBTQ community. She established the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970. The purpose of this group being to support homeless transgender youth in New York.

Malcolm X was a Black leader and prominent figure in the Nation of Islam (who stood for Black nationalism in the early 1960’s). He helped to organize temples for this nation in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and cities in the south. He was named the National Representative of the Nation of Islam by Elijah Muhammad. In contrast of Dr. Kings nonviolent campaigns, Malcolm wanted his followers to defend themselves “by any means necessary” in order to fight for Black identity, integrity, and independence.

Maya Angelou was an American Author, poet, actress, screenwriter, dancer, and civil rights activist widely known for her 1969 memoir I Know Why Caged Birds Sing which made literary history as the first bestseller of a nonfiction novel written by a Black woman. She received many awards in her life including two NAACP image awards in the outstanding literary work category in 2005 and 2009.

Robert Smalls was an escaped slave and a Civil War hero who went on to serve five terms in the U.S House representing a South Carolina District described as a “Black Paradise.” Smalls went through violent elections and even a short jail term in order to achieve internal improvements for coastal South Carolina.“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere,” Smalls asserted. “All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.

Pullquote Photo

“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere,”

— Robert Smalls

These are just a few examples of Black people in history that have been consistently overlooked and deserve more recognition. As much as we celebrate Dr. King and Rosa Parks and their amazing contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, we should also appreciate the lesser known Black heroes of history.