Hidden Figures of Black History


Olivia Craft, Managing Editor

Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman. While these people were very impactful people, many others get looked over. We thought it would be interesting to compile a list of lesser-known, but equally as influential figures from black history. 


Cathay Williams (1842-1893) — Williams was the first and only African American woman to serve as a Buffalo soldier in the United States Army. She enlisted by her facade of being a man. She eventually got sick which revealed her true gender leading to an honorable disability discharge. 


Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) — Coleman was the first African American to fly a plane in the sky as well as the first Native American woman. She now has an aviator club named after her for African American women pilots. 

One of her most famous quotes says “The air is the only place free from prejudices.” 


Robert Smalls (1893-1915) — Smalls liberated a Confederate ship full of slaves during the Civil War. This was no easy task considering he was a prisoner on said ship, but he did it and sailed them to safety. 

One of his famous quotes says “My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be equal of people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” 


Claudette Colvin (1939-Now) — Before there was Rosa Parks, there was Colvin. At the age of 15, she had been sitting in seats that were designated for her and when asked to give her seat up for a white person, she refused. She ended up being one of the four cases in the court case that ruled the Montgomery segregated bus system unconstitutional. 


Benjamin O. Davis Sr. (1877-1970) — Davis was the US Army’s first black general. When he retired, he was decorated with a Bronze star and the Distinguished Service Medal. 

One of his famous quotes says “The privileges of being an American belong to those brave enough to fight for them.”


Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) — Walker was an advocate for black women’s economic independence. She also changed the game for black women cosmetics by founding the National Negro Cosmetics Association. She created the method known as Walker’s system which consisted of specific hair care rituals involving scalp preparations, lotions and iron combs. This system helped many black women prevent hair loss and scalp disease. 


Garrett Morgan (1877-1963) — Morgan was actually the inventor of the three-light traffic light. 

One of his most famous quotes says “If you can be the best, then why not try to be the best?”


These figures are lesser known even though their impact on society was monumental. The individuals taught about in classes are worth learning about, but as you can see there are so many others that made lasting impacts.