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12 Black Hidden Figures You Probably Didn’t Learn About In School

We all know about the greats out there like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Madam C.J. Walker, and so many more. You see them in the history books, everyone quotes them, and I’m sure you wouldn’t have any room left on your hands if you counted how many school projects you did on them.

But what about the ones you don’t hear about often if at all? What about the ones who probably aren’t going to end up in the history books because they’re sitting behind the shadows of others? The movie Hidden Figures gave us a lot of information about three amazing women who were once sitting in the shadows, but it also showed us that there are other hidden figures out there that should also be recognized.

Today, I’m shedding a light on twelve hidden figures that you probably have yet to see in the history books. Of course, I couldn’t touch on them all, so I would suggest looking them up as I did to find more great hidden figures or even just look up more in-depth information on the ones that I touched on today.

Matthew Henson

Our first hidden figure is Matthew Henson. Although not widely recognized, He was not only the first African American, but one of the first people period, to successfully set foot on the North pole. Can you say amazing (and cold)!? He traveled alongside Robert Peary on the blistering journey, and though he wasn’t the one in the spotlight, he contributed a lot that managed to get them both there. He may not have gotten the spotlight then, but he’s getting his spotlight now!

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Phillis Wheatley Peters

Next up is Phillis Wheatley. I had to include her because of what she’s known for, and that would be her poetry! She was known for, not just being a poet, but one of the BEST-KNOWN poets of her century. You go Phillis! Though she was a slave, that didn’t stop her from being educated and becoming the first African American poetry book author *snaps fingers*. If only she was here today, I can only imagine the works she would’ve created!

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Martin Robison Delany

This hidden figure has a couple of things that deserve recognition. First, he was the first African American field officer in the United States Army. Alongside that, he was one of the first African Americans to encourage the end of slavery. Now that’s epic! Martin Delany has a list of accomplishments that, honestly, deserves its own post. He was a physician, abolitionist, writer…the list goes on. If you’ve never heard of him, read about all of the things he’s done and prepare to be amazed!

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Ella Baker

Ms. Ella Baker was a busy woman and deserves to be taken out of the shadows. She was an activist that worked alongside some of the names that you hear about often such as Dr. King, W.E.B. Du Bois, and many more. She has been the key in many giant organizations. If you name it, she probably organized and took part in it. She also mentored some activists you may have heard of, including Rosa Parks. Two amazing women side by side? We love to see it!

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Gordon Parks

We’re not shutting our mouths on this one, we’re talking all about Parks! Gordon Parks was an amazing photographer and humanitarian. Alongside that, he also composed music, painted, directed films, wrote books…the list goes on. In other words, he was a bad mother…shut your mouth! But, I’m just talking about Gordon Parks! Not only did he do these things, but he was the first African American to write and direct a major Hollywood feature film. There’s also another film he directed that is well known and has formed into many different sequels. Can you guess what it is? It’s Shaft! Can ya dig it? I certainly can!

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Marsha P. Johnson

You can’t talk about black lives and the LGBTQ+ community without mentioning Marsha Johnson. This hidden figure has been pulled out of the shadows recently, and I am loving it! Marsha was a gay liberation activist, drag queen, and a very prominent figure in the Stonewall Riot in 1969. She’s known for many acts during the riot, but my favorite would have to be her going up a lamppost and dropping a weight on a police car…You go girl! Alongside her daring acts, she also cofounded what was one of the first transgender rights organizations in the country. All hail the queen!

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Charles Follis

If you don’t know him by Charles, then maybe you learned about him by his nickname “The Black Cyclone”. He was clearly nothing to mess with, and it’s not just because of the nickname, it’s because he was the first black professional American football player! He was six feet, two-hundred pounds, and full of speed. It’s no reason why cyclone was his nickname!

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Marian Anderson

There are hidden figures in many different areas, including music. Meet Marian Anderson, who was the first African American singer to perform at the white house. Now that’s monumental! Not only that, but she also was the first African American to sing with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. If that somehow doesn’t amaze you enough, she gave seventy concerts in five months and traveled 26,000 miles making it the longest tour in concert history. Can you imagine how tiring that must’ve been!? Not only was she beautiful, but she clearly was the boss in the industry of music. I, personally, am going to look up her music and I highly suggest you do the same and enjoy what others were blessed to hear in her time!

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Jerry Lawson

Calling all of my video game lovers! If you love to play video games or even if you used to play them back in the day, then you’ll love this hidden figure. Jerry Lawson, also known by Gerald Anderson, was an electronic engineer who designed the Fairchild Channel F gaming consul. Why is that special? It’s special because it was the first home gaming consul that used interchangeable cartridges! Take a moment and just think back to when you had video games with the cartridges that you had to blow on to fix. Feel old yet? Don’t feel bad if you do, you were able to experience a product of his work!

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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

This woman absolutely has no business being a hidden figure and the reason why is right in her name. This amazing woman was not only a doctor, but she was the first black woman to earn her medical degree in the United States! If you’re reading this, stand up right now and give this woman a round of applause because she absolutely deserves it! Not only was she a doctor, but she also wrote a book discussing her experiences in the field. I think it’s easy to not look at how significant that is, but to be black AND a woman in the medical field at that time? All I can think about is all the challenges that she probably faced. She paved the way and showed other black women that it’s possible and for that, thank you Dr. Crumpler.

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Ralph Bunche

Of course, we all know the great Dr. Martin Luther King and his honor of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s believed that he’s the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, but in fact, he actually wasn’t the first. This honor goes to the hidden figure, Ralph Bunche. Bunche was the first African American to receive this prize in 1950 for being a mediator in Palestine in 1948. Not only was he a mediator, but he pretty much stopped a war which also led to the state of Isreal being created. This man is amazing and most certainly deserves to be plastered on history books everywhere!

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Claudette Colvin

I love and am amazed by each and every person I’ve touched on, but this woman does it for me! Let me introduce you to hidden figure, Claudette Colvin. We all know Rosa parks and the story that we’ve learned in school. Well, you can’t (or you shouldn’t) read about that story without first reading about Ms. Colvin. We were taught that Rosa parks was the first to challenge the law of blacks sitting in the back of the bus, but in fact, it was this woman right here. Actually, she INSPIRED Rosa Parks to do the same! Just at the age of fifteen, Claudette refused to give her seat up to a white person which caused her to get arrested. FIFTEEN! I could never be so bold at that age, but I’m glad we have bold women (teen at the time) like her. My favorite part of this is that…she’s still alive! If she’s the true starter of the movement, you may wonder why she’s hidden. According to Claudette herself, the NAACP and other organizations thought Rosa Parks had the right hair, right skin texture, and was the better age to be the face. This is unfair, Claudette deserves every ounce of recognition, and I hope she gets it while she’s still alive. Thank you Claudette.

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I, honestly, have learned so much just by writing this for you guys, so I hope that you learned a lot as well and also had fun learning! If you had a favorite hidden figure or discovered something that really shocked you, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.

oprah winfrey

Comments

    • Thank you for reading! I’m so glad I could shine a light on people you don’t hear about all of the time, if at all♥

    • I’m glad that I was able to help educate! I really loved learning about these people myself. Thank you so much for reading and commenting ♥

  1. This was such a great read and I am glad that you are bringing lights to hidden figures! I heard just of Marsha P.Johnson and Martin Robinson Delany before. I am going to check out more about Miss Colvin and Miss Anderson’s music! Thanks for sharing x

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I was actually listening to Miss Anderson’s music last night and I was just astounded. I’m glad I was able to help you discover more amazing people! Thank you for reading and commenting ♥

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