Black History Month is celebrated in February in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Langston Hughes, and George Washington Carver are household names, but there are other less famous leaders to remember during the month of February.
Claudette Colvin refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955 when she was just fifteen years old, months before Rosa Parks’ historic seated bus ride. At the time, black leaders felt an adult like Parks would be a better icon for change than a teenager. Colvin was arrested and was one of four women who challenged segregation laws in court, which ultimately ended legal bus segregation in the city of Montgomery and the state of Alabama.
Guion S. Bluford, Jr. was the first African-American in space. In 1983 he was a crew member on the space shuttle Challenger. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Penn State, he served with recognition during the Vietnam War, and went on to attain a Masters degree and Ph. D. from the Air Force Institute of Technology.
Many well-known black writers including Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison and Alex Haley continue to influence and inspire new generations of authors and audiences. But it was Phyllis Wheatley who became the first published black American poet in 1767. She was enslaved in Boston by the Wheatley family who saw to it that she learned literature, mythology, Latin and Greek. Her published works continue to spark scholarly debate, long after her early death at the age of 31.
Kofi Annan was the first black Secretary-General of the United Nations and held that position from 1997-2006. He received academic degrees from Macalster College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Annan took his first job at the U.N. in 1962 and held posts including Deputy Director to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping before becoming Secretary-General. He and the United Nations were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.