African American voices and achievements have too long been ignored or marginalized by our society and political system. To counteract this, there must be wider racial representation within both our education system as well as the media. As a step towards this, Redefy has compiled a list of notable African American individuals throughout history who remain relatively unknown to the general American population. This Black History Month, let’s take a moment to recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of some of history’s forgotten men and women.
Cathay Williams was a former slave who became the first African American woman to serve win the U.S. military, fighting on the Union side during the Civil War. She enlisted in the army disguised as a man under the pseudonym William Cathay and fought in New Mexico until she was discovered and discharged. She set an inspiring example for the thousands of other African American soldiers, nurses, and military officers that followed in her footsteps, from the Civil War to the last Iraq War.
A lifelong resident of Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Walker was an African American teacher and businesswoman, who became the first female bank president within the United States. She was of mixed Irish and African ancestry, born to an abolitionist mother who spied for the Union during the Civil War. She trained as a teacher, but was forced to change career paths when the sudden death of her husband and two children left her in financial ruin. Walker founded Penny Savings Bank, which eventually absorbed all other black owned banks in Richmond.
Macon Bolling Allen
Macon Bolling Allen was the first federally licensed African American lawyer and the first black man to hold a judicial position in America. Born a free man in Indiana, he passed the Maine bar exam, practicing law for many years in New England before he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1848. Following the Civil War, he relocated to South Carolina, where he was elected as a probate court judge. He is a prime example of the gains made by African Americans during the Reconstruction period, in which the number of black public officials, black-owned businesses, as well as educational institutions soared, reaching unprecedented heights.
Marian Wright Edelman
A graduate of the historically black women’s institute Spelman College, as well a graduate of the esteemed Yale Law School, Marian Wright Edelman is a children’s rights activist and the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. She was the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, where she represented Civil Rights activists. In 1973, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund to empower and advocate for poor children, children of color, as well as disabled children. Her efforts have led to the passage of legislation which improved child care, protected disabled, abused, and homeless children, as well as worked to overhaul the neglected foster care system.
Because of the lives and legacies of these black Americans, the world is a better place. It is time we end the disenfranchisement of African American citizens, and instead extend a long overdue thank you to Black America for its invaluable contributions to the world we know today.