Three Black revolutionaries your history books haven’t taught you about

Black History Month is a time to commemorate and reflect on African American history and the achievements of Black individuals in every endeavor. Glenbard West history teacher Mr. Landi states, “Anytime a student researches a historical figure and can relate their accomplishments to course content, it is always a great way to further a person’s legacy.” In celebration of Black History Month, here are the stories of three Black revolutionaries who deserve greater recognition.

Marsha P. Johnson was an activist who was transgender and who fought for LGBTQ+ rights. The P stands for “pay it no mind,” which Johnson would reply when questioned about her gender identity. Marsha moved to New York on a path to self-discovery following her teen years. There, Johnson would be known for aiding homeless LGBTQ+ youth in the midst of their struggles. She was also known for speaking up for LGBTQ+ rights, being famously quoted that there is “no pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us.” This liberation proved to be something she vehemently fought for, as Johnson went on to co-found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her friend Sylvia Rivera. STAR was an organization that provided shelter and other forms of care for struggling LGBTQ+ people throughout New York, Chicago, California, and England. The organization is now obsolete, however, their lasting impact has inspired other groups of the same nature. Johnson leaves a legacy not only of courage and ambition but also of unlimited kindness.

Another very prominent activist is Ella Baker, a former president of the New York chapter of the NAACP. Baker commonly worked alongside infamous figures in the civil rights movement such as Dr. King. She was the backbone of the civil rights movement, yet there is an absence of discussion regarding her significant work. Throughout the 1940s, Baker traveled across the United States attempting to provoke a discussion regarding the inequities Black Americans were forced to endure. Baker fought for Black rights by working with politicians on campaigns and forming alliances with other groups with the same agenda. Baker also reportedly established the ground-plan for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group with Martin Luther King Jr. as its figurehead, though Baker was the one tirelessly organizing many protests and campaigns. This persistence was shown when Baker notably said, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until that happens.” The civil rights movement would not be the same without her dedication to the constant struggle for equality.

A final prominent Black individual to be highlighted is Claudette Colvin. Colvin was just 15 years old when her heroic actions were the catalyst for a new era of the civil rights movement. On March 2, 1955, Claudette was riding the bus with her schoolmates in Montgomery, Alabama. The bus driver requested the three of them to move to the back so a white woman could sit in the empty row. The two others dolefully obliged, while Claudette took a stand by staying seated, resulting in her forceful removal from the bus by two police officers, and staying a brief stint in jail. If this story sounds familiar, you may have the infamous Rosa Parks in mind, however, Claudette just so happens to be her predecessor. A continuum of opposition to segregated public transportation followed this event, eventually leading to the Montgomery bus boycott. In a TIME interview, Claudette admits that she “wanted the young African-American girls also on the bus to know that they had a right to be there, because they had paid their fare just like the white passengers,” so she decided to take action, even in face of adversity. The now 81-year-old pioneer is now retired and still resides in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. Claudette’s admirable actions were not given the notoriety they deserved, so it is important to highlight the actions she took to inspire change. 

Marsha, Ella, and Claudette are just a few examples of the extraordinary Black individuals who have inspired change throughout history. These revolutionaries and their stories should be discussed, yet there are still many more revolutionaries whose stories have been forgotten or left out of the narrative. Search them out. Listen to their stories, and let them inspire you to stand up for change today.