In celebration of Black History Month, we’re highlighting leaders that have changed the course of history in revolutionary ways. Below is a brief introduction to these fearless change-makers who worked (and are still working!) to fight adversity with bravery and resiliency, with the hope that we will all join them to make society more just.
Ella Baker was a human rights and civil rights activist that largely worked behind the scenes to promote grassroots organizing, radical democracy, and the ability for oppressed populations to advocate for themselves. Her five-decade-long organizing career and philosophy can be summed up by the phrase, “Power to the People”. She was a champion of the marginalized, and spent nearly half a century raising the political consciousness of Americans, playing a major role in three of the 20th century’s most influential civil rights groups.
“In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend its self to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.” — Ella Baker
is an American activist and poet whose work focuses on race, feminism, oppression, and the African diaspora. She was the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration when she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb"
in January 2021. In preparation for performances, Gorman repeats this mantra to herself: I'm the daughter of black writers. We're descended from freedom fighters who broke through chains and changed the world. They call me.
She is a wordsmith and change-maker, who faced her fears
to stand before us calling us to climb the hill together.
“Fear can be love trying its best in the dark. So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it. This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.” — Amanda Gorman
Dr. Charles Drew
broke barriers in a racially divided America to become one of the most important scientists of the 20th century. He was a surgeon who believe in the importance of having a constant blood supply ready for transfusion, and it was during his postgraduate work that Drew began experimenting with different methods of preserving or “banking” blood. During World War II, Drew's mobile blood banks saved the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers. After becoming frustrated with the military’s request to segregate the blood of Black donors, Drew resigned from his position and took a job as a professor and head of the department of surgery at Howard University. Read more about Charles Drew and other famous inventors in Honest History’s book, History Is Inventive
“There is no scientific basis for the separation of the bloods of different races except on the basis of the individual blood types or groups.” — Dr. Charles Drew
was enslaved, escaped, and helped others gain their freedom on the Underground Railroad, but did you also know she was a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War? She is considered the first African American woman to serve in the military. Working at a Union Army camp in 1862, she gained the trust of slaves who had run from their owners to the Union Army. She created a network of spies who mapped the South, traced the movements of Confederate troops, and collected other important intelligence. Read more about this fearless spy and activist in Honest History’s Issue 6: A Secret Mission
“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say—I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” — Harriet Tubman