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10 Little-Known Black History Figures Who Made A Big Change

Celebrate Black History with a little bit of knowledge.

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1. A. Philip Randolph

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A. Philip Randolph was an important leader in the civil rights movement. His concerns were with the common man as he fought to represent black laborers. His efforts saw the banning of discrimination in defense industries during WWII and the ending of segregation in armed services in 1948.

2. Althea Gibson

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Althea Gibson was the first African American tennis player to find international success. After breaking down color barriers here in America, she went on to win both Wimbledon and French Open titles abroad. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

3. Percy Lavon Julian


Percy Julian — born in Montgomery, Alabama — escaped the dangerous Jim Crow culture of the South and went on to become a chemist. Lauded for his work with human hormone synthesis, Julian set the stage for steroidal drug production (including cortisone and birth control pills).

4. Myrlie Evers-Williams

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Born Myrlie Louise Beasley, Williams was wife to NAACP staffer Medgar Evers, who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963. She later became a chairperson of the NAACP and then helped to restore the organization to its previous glory. In 2013, she delivered the invocation for President Barack Obama's second inauguration.

5. Matthew Alexander Henson

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Matthew Henson was the first African American Arctic explorer. Henson was a navigator and craftsman and acted as tradesman with the Inuit people. He was part of a party of explorers who are recognized as the first to reach the geographic North Pole, and in 1937, he was invited to become a member of the Explorers Club.

6. Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer was a key organizer of the Freedom Summer campaign — an event that attempted to register as many blacks as possible to vote in Mississippi (a state that historically excluded blacks from casting ballots). She is remembered as a fervent speaker who relied on her own story to reach the masses.

7. Lewis Latimer

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Lewis Latimer was an inventor who is credited for greatly improving the filament in Thomas Edison's lightbulb, helping it to last much longer than Edison's original design. Additionally, Latimer was very involved in the design for the original telephone, working with Alexander Graham Bell to help draft a patent.

8. Edward Bouchet


Edward Bouchet (son of a former slave) was born in Connecticut. His family members were big participants in their town's abolitionist movement, and Edward followed suit by becoming the first African American to graduate from Yale College. He dedicated his post-graduate life to educating students in physics.

9. Shirley Chisholm

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Born in Brooklyn, New York, Shirley Chisholm started out as an educator specializing in early childhood development. From there, she went on to become not only the first African American to be elected to Congress, but also the first woman to run for president of the United States.

10. Robert Smalls

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Robert Smalls was an ex-slave and naval hero who went on to become a congressional representative for South Carolina. In 1862, he freed himself and his crew from slavery by commandeering a Confederate ship and sailing it to freedom. His tenacity is considered to have been a chief influence in the administration's decision to accept African Americans into the U.S. Army.

Ford celebrates Black History Month.