By Christian Yosef
Elm Staff Writer
Many Americans are familiar with the accomplishments achieved by iconic black figures such as Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass. Their perseverance in the fight for equality ascended them as individuals who changed the history of not only the United States, but that of the world.
Even though the triumphs achieved by these icons are incredible, there are numerous other African Americans who have not received acknowledgement for the barriers they broke during the time of segregation and racial discrimination. To commemorate Black History Month, also honor Madam C.J. Walker and Bayard Rustin, two unsung heroes that deserve wider recognition for their work towards equality and justice for all.
For most of her life, Walker served as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a civil rights activist. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Walker was born in 1867 to parents that were former slaves. Walker was in a stressful situation during her early years, as she was an orphan at the age of six and then a widow later in her twenties caring for a two-year old daughter. However, Walker was able to overcome her difficulties through the establishment of her own hair products for African American women called, “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.”
History Channel notes that this product revolutionized black hair care through the use of lotions, scalp preparation, and iron combs. Her products became a huge success, to the point where her business was able to employ 40,000 African Americans in the United States, Central America, and the Caribbean, according to the National Women’s History Museum.
The rapid growth of Walker’s company led to her being one of the wealthiest self-made women in America, and she had networth of one million dollars by the time of her death. Walker was generous with her wealth, as she assisted her community by donating money towards the NAACP, YMCA, and numerous charitable organizations. Walker also assisted six African American students by paying for their tuitions, in addition to also being a key player in anti-lynching movements of her time.
Walker was relentless in not only finding success in life, but also assisting those that needed guidance.
Bayard Rustin was also a seldom-recognized activist born in 1912 in a small Quaker community in West Chester, PA. According to History Channel, Rustin was an active in the civil right movement, utilizing Quaker values of nonviolence and peace later in life in hopes of improving the lives of not only African Americans, but also the LGBT community, as he identified as a gay man.
Rustin impacted the civil rights movement in many ways, from encouraging Dr. King to make nonviolence the key component of the protests to organizing the march on Washington in 1963. He would continue fighting against discrimination after the end of the civil rights movement, as he spoke up for gay rights in the later years of his life. Rustin died in 1987, but his fight for equality has not been forgotten as he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama.
Countless African Americans have gone unrecognized for their work in helping the United States become a nation that values diversity. Even though I only covered Walker and Rustin, there are plenty of unsung black heroes I did not have the chance to mention. It is our job to learn more about courageous individuals and the impact they had in history as a way to not only thank them, but to also keep their fight for equality alive and strong.