February is Black History Month, so it is the perfect time to honor the many inspiring, innovative, persistent and successful black American heroes throughout history. Chances are, you may know a lot about a few select civil rights heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. All of those people are immensely important historical figures who contributed greatly to advancing civil rights and freedom from oppression for African-Americans in this country. But there are many noteworthy black figures who you probably never learned about. They were entrepreneurs, explorers, scientists, athletes, entertainers, and American heroes who left great legacies and may still serve as role models to many people. I suggest looking up more on your own time, but here are 3 such figures that you probably never learned about:
1. Bessie Coleman is the first African-American licensed pilot to ever soar the skies. Born in 1892 to Texas sharecroppers, she grew up with limited opportunities, but made the most of what she could find. She attended a Baptist missionary school on scholarship, and then studied agriculture in Oklahoma for one year, before running out of money. She later moved to Chicago to join her brothers, and found a job working in a barber shop, and became fascinated with hearing stories of pilots and their feats in World War I.
There were zero opportunities for black, female pilots in the US at the time. But Bessie didn’t take no for an answer- she instead decided to make her own opportunities, and in 1920, she traveled to France so she could earn her pilot license. She successfully completed her course, and spent a few months piloting airplanes in France before returning to the US by boat in 1921. She became a sensation, performing dangerous, brave stunts in air shows across the US, and being dubbed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.” She tragically died after crashing a damaged plane flying over Florida in 1926. She still had big dreams ahead of her, such as opening a flying school for black Americans, which she never got to accomplish. But her courage and dedication to following her goals would serve as an inspiration to black women in a time when much inspiration was needed.
Image Source- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessie_Coleman
2. Lewis Latimer was the sole black man who served as an assistant to Thomas Edison, and he played an essential role in the invention of the lightbulb. Born as a freedman in 1848, he made the most of his opportunities, and became a masterful draftsman(a person who draws plans and sketches). While working with Edison, Latimer helped design a device that made the lightbulb last longer, making Edison’s lightbulb far more advanced than others existing at the time. Latimer would go on to patent several inventions in his lengthy, successful career. He remains one of the most brilliant scientific innovators in American history.
Image Source- https://www.biography.com/inventor/lewis-howard-latimer
3. Henson is one of America’s greatest explorers, yet he does not appear to receive the level of fame he should probably have. Henson was born into poverty in Baltimore, and started working on a ship at age 11 to survive. While working on ships, Henson got the opportunity to explore the world long before that was a possibility for most people. Henson later met Robert Peary, then a famous explorer in the U.S Navy, and served as his right hand man on several expeditions in the following two decades. On an expedition to Greenland in 1891, Henson befriended the Native Eskimos, embraced their culture, and learned several tips on how to survive the harsh polar climate. After multiple failed expeditions, Henson and Peary reached the North Pole in 1909, becoming the first Americans to ever do so. Unlike Peary, Henson did not initially receive the nation’s praise for this great achievement due to his race. Over time; however, Henson has received several official honors for this achievement, and has become formally recognized as one of this nation’s greatest explorers.
Image Source- https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/02/160224-polar-explorer-matthew-henson-photos/
I recommend that you may want to do more research of your own if you are interested- There so many fascinating and inspirational stories out there!