Lesser-known African American leaders


by Carrieona Moncure, Reporter

Since 1976 February has been Black History Month in honor of the contributions African Americans have put forth over the years. History classes teach about well-known leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman almost every year. We rarely hear about those who have nearly the same impact as the other historical leaders. 

Ella Baker was a civil rights activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall to enforce equality in the justice system. She dedicated her life to fighting for human and civil rights.  Jim Crow laws were still in effect during her lifetime but Baker worked to abolish them. She also worked with the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and co-founded organization In Friendship with Stanley Levison and Bayard Rustinin.

 Former slave Isabella Baumfree became tired of the mistreatment that came with being an African American in a post-Civil War world. She successfully ran away from her plantation and later arrived in New Paltz, New York. After arriving, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began to promote equality for African American women. In 1851 she delivered a speech at a Women’s Convention titled “Ain’t I a Woman” — a speech that inspired others to push the demand for equality in the world and for African American women.

Richard Allen was an inspiration to leaders like Fredrick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. He would often say, “God did not segregate but humans do.” Allen was a former slave, preacher and abolitionist who had strong opinions regarding equality for African Americans. In 1870 he was the first black man to found a church, an African Methodist Eposical Church, which allowed African Americans to express their religious beliefs. His church and wish to make a safe place for African Americans to practice their religion still stands today.

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Henrietta Lacks’ tumor cells were taken for further research and have been used to help find cures for cancers and infectious diseases. HeLa cells are their formal name and they have become the most important component in today’s research for human health and diseases.

There were many African Americans who contributed to the unification of the civil rights movements. Everyone belongs in this melting pot that proves we are all created equal and thus must be treated equally. Ella Baker, Sojourner Truth, Richard Allen and Henrietta Lacks all took risks in making the world a better place for years to come.