By Taylor Gardner
Each year Americans flock to the history books in search of stories about great Black heroes in time. From important scientists and their discoveries to civil rights icons and artists, we can recite the list of names that have been ingrained in our memory over the decades: George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harry Belafonte and so many others who have stood in the spotlight of time. But what about the lesser-known change-makers? The men and women who broke barriers in the small towns of America and countries abroad. This week, the AFRO is taking a look back at some of the people who made history — but missed some of the history books.
Have you heard of these great Black men and women? Do you know of a “great Black first” that we should write about? Find us on social media and let us know!
Just last month, Andrea Campbell was sworn in as attorney general in Massachusetts, making history as the first Black woman to serve as the state’s top lawyer. She is also the first woman of color to hold statewide office.
“Today, I stand on the shoulders of all those who came before, far too many to name,” Campbell said during her historic inauguration address on Jan. 18.
“Today, I stand on the shoulders of a beautiful and resilient Black people who stood up for civil rights, freedom, inclusion, love including interracial love; Who fought to integrate our public schools, our higher education institutions, our law schools; Who testified and were beaten while fighting to ensure our political system represents all of us; A people who were enslaved, picking cotton to build the wealth and prosperity of this country; A people who started businesses in the face of significant financial discrimination and exclusion to build wealth in their communities; A people who became lawyers at prestigious law firms and fought hard to become a partner; A people who invented the most beautiful artistry, music and culture; A people who are the epitome of resilience!”
Campbell has set an agenda that includes protecting elders, creating gun safety enforcement and expanding women’s rights to access abortions and reproductive care.
Alice Coachman became the first Black woman to win an olympic gold medal.
Shortly after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Coachman competed in the Olympics. She took home the gold medal and wrote herself into history with her high jump at the London Games in 1948.
Baroness Valerie Ann Amos
Baroness Valerie Amos made history across the pond in 2003 with her appointment as leader of the House of Lords. With this title, she became the first Black woman to serve in a British Cabinet, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Cabinet is the main body of people that controls policies and coordinates activities of governmental departments in the United Kingdom. Her appointment to the position included hopes of inspiring young Black and Asian voters, who report feeling cut off from British politics.
Wendell Scott was a racing legend who passed away on Dec. 23, 1990. He was the first Black driver to win a major NASCAR race, which he accomplished on Dec. 1, 1963. Scott was also the first African-American team owner in NASCAR to compete at the sport’s highest level.
He paved the way for Bubba Wallace who, according to information released by NASCAR, became only the second African-American driver to win a race in 2013
Mark Williams is the first Black male to lead a major North American orchestra. In April 2022, Williams went to work as the CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra after serving as the chief artistic and operations officer for The Cleveland Orchestra.
Robert McFerrin Sr.
Robert McFerrin Sr., father of the world-renowned artist Bobby McFerrin, was the first Black man to sing a solo at the New York Metropolitan Opera. In 1953, he was the winner of the Metropolitan Opera national auditions and made his debut as the first Black male with this company in 1955. McFerrin is also known for providing vocals in the 1959 movie, “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” for Sidney Poitier.
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