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October 17, 2017

Black History Month: Celebrating Lesser-Known Heroes

Black History Month reaches its 30th anniversary in the UK this year. Once again, the occasion serves as an opportunity for us all to observe black history, honour achievements as well as celebrate black history, arts and culture.

And there is much to celebrate. Pioneers in civil rights activism include household names such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela – all of whom changed the course of history through their courage, strength and relentless battle towards equal rights.

However this Black History Month we wanted to shine a light on a few of the lesser-known heroes. Individuals who, in multiple ways, joined the fight for equality and made a lasting impact on the lives on black citizens around the world.

Image of Virginia Civil Rights Memorial courtesy of Ron Cogswell under Creative Commons License

Image of Virginia Civil Rights Memorial courtesy of Ron Cogswell under Creative Commons License

1. Daisy Bates

Journalist and activity Daisy Bates played a leading role in helping the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine African American students aged between 15-17, attend school and receive their rightful education during segregation. Initially they were prevented from entering the racially segregated school by the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus. However Bates advocated for and mentored the Little Rock Nine pupils, and through perseverance demonstrated – in the face of extreme adversity – that segregation would no longer be tolerated.

2. Dorothy Height

Dorothy Height, an educator who was president of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, was also a civil and women’s rights activist. During the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, she organised a group called “Wednesdays in Mississippi” whereby women of different races, faiths and regions would travel to the southern states to reach out to their peers. The aim was to improve racial and religious communication, end violence and, ultimately, transition towards peaceful racial integration. During her lifetime, Height received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her pioneering work.

3. Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass escaped slavery before becoming a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. He was well known for his compelling literature, dazzling speeches and antislavery writings. A firm believer in equality and open dialogue, he devoted his life to ending slavery and was noted for his willingness to form allegiances across divides in order to further the movement. Douglass wrote multiple autobiographies and was often held up as a counter-example to slaveowners’ arguments that slaves could not be intellectually independent.

4. James Farmer

Serving alongside Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement, James Farmer’s initiation of the 1961 Freedom Ride eventually led to the desegregation of interstate transport in the US. At the time, a 1946 ruling had deemed segregation unconstitutional, however Southern states ignored the ruling and nothing was done to enforce it. Thus, Farmer planned for a mixed race and gender group to ride interstate buses in the South, challenging the customs of segregation even though they knew they may be met with violence. And they were; firebombed, beaten and mobbed. However the Freedom Riders persisted and the violent reactions attracted widespread condemnation in the international media. American political leaders felt the pressure and subsequently petitioned the interstate Commerce Commission to comply with bus desegregation. Three months later, they agreed.

5. Mary McLeod Bethune

Social visionary, educator, humanitarian. Mary McLeod Bethune believed that the key to progression towards racial equality could be achieved through access to a full and fair education and as such, devoted her life to improving the opportunities of African American people. In 1904, Bethune founded a private school for African American students in Florida. Aiming to demonstrate what educated African Americans achieve, Bethune maintained high standards within the school, which eventually developed to become Bethune-Cookman University (and still exists today). She relentlessly fundraised for her school, built a network of influential trustees and advisers, and was one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.

Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school: Daytona Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Florida Memory

Mary McLeod Bethune with a line of girls from her school: Daytona Beach, Florida ca. 1905. Photo courtesy of Florida Memory.

If you’re looking to mark Black History Month within your school, speak to us about our range of cultural workshops. Our offerings range from drama workshops introducing South African Apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement, to musical approaches such as African Dance and Drumming.

However you choose to celebrate, we hope you have an inspiring and thought-provoking month. With love from us all here at One Day Creative x

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