Black Americans in History We Should Know | Part 1

Black Americans in history have been an integral part of this country. We disservice our kids and ourselves greatly when we restrict the education and celebration of Black history to just a month in the year. Educating ourselves about our country and its vital history should be a lifelong pursuit.

As a non-Black woman, there are many Black Americans I’ve only read about (a long time ago) or heard of. However, in this new age of listening and learning, I’ve made it necessary to educate myself and learn more. Join me as I learn more in this first in a series highlighting the remarkable life and legacies of Black Americans we should all know and celebrate.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tops among the most recognized Black Americans in history, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. as a civil rights icon every year in January. But there is so much more to Martin Luther King, Jr. MLK was a scholar and minister that led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which drove to the civil rights movement against segregation in the 1950s. He led the March on Washington and was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. His speech in 1963, famously remembered as the  “I have a dream” speech is taught in schools across the country and remembered as a call to action on MLK Day (also known as Day of Service).  His vision and hope for a better America still resonates today.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” —MLK, Jr.

Learn More:

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is famously known for her refusal to give her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. It was this refusal that ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. She was a civil rights leader whose courage launched an effort throughout this country to end racial segregation of public facilities. She was the granddaughter of slaves who attended segregated schools, and she grew up to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired…the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” —Rosa Parks

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Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass was a leader in the abolitionist movement. He was recognized as a famous intellectual of his time who advised on women’s rights and other human rights causes. Frederick Douglass was a human rights leader in the anti-slavery movement. He was born into slavery that eventually escaped dressed as a sailor. Douglass taught other slaves to read. He was also the first Black American to hold a high rank in the U.S. as an advisor to presidents and as a lecturer. He eventually ran as a vice-presidential candidate. 

If there is no struggle there is no progress…power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” —Frederick Douglass

Harriet Tubman

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Leading abolitionist Harriet Tubman escaped and helped bring hundreds of other enslaved Black Americans to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Famously known as the “conductor,” she risked her life for eight years as she led other slaves from plantation systems through an intricate network of safe houses. She was also a Civil War spy who would later receive a military-honored burial when she died.

I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” —Harriet Tubman

Thurgood Marshall

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Thurgood Marshall was the first Black American justice for the Supreme Court. He had a pivotal role in ending legal segregation. “In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools,” according to He served as a justice for 24 years. 

Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.” —Thurgood Marshall

Book | Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams 

Kids Book | Thurgood by Jonah Winter

Movie | Marshall

Barack Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” As the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted, Black Americans have been fighting for a very long time for justice and equality. As we stand with them today for the end of systemic racism, let us bring change by educating ourselves about these and many other Black Americans in history who have been vocal, pivotal, and revolutionary in their tireless effort to not only fight for themselves but for those to come after them. Let us charge forward knowing more and being the force of change that we seek.

To read more check out for Part Two and Part Three of Black Americans in History We Should Know.

To help with continuing education for kids and adults, check out Ten Books to Talk to Your Kids and Teens About Race or Podcasts to Listen to on Confronting Racism. We at Lansing Mom believe this is some of the most important work we can all be doing right now!



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