A Few Black Americans You Probably Didn’t Know That Changed The World



A visual representation of Black diversity for Black History month.

Karina Shah, Photojournalist

When you think of African American history, your mind probably goes to people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks. These famous Black heroes are a part of what makes the world a better place today. But have you heard of Shirley Chisholm, Marsha P. Johnson, or Alvin Ailey? These are among some of the politicians, activists, artists, and many other impactful positions, who have been among the less recognized side of Black History. Samuel Loza (10), says “It is super important to recognize those who may not have been recognized throughout history.” So in honor of Black History Month, we take a look at these “hidden” individuals who you probably didn’t know that changed the world. 


Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005)

Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman to be elected to Congress in the late ‘60s. From New York, she represented the 12 District during a time period of racial discrimination and prejudice. She then went on to become the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination (oprahmag.com).


Marsha P. Johnson (1945 – 1992)

Marsha P. Johnson was a transwoman with a highly influential role in queer culture. She was an activist at the forefront of the LGBTQ movement, leading into her co-founding Star- an organization that helped homeless queer youth get homes and protection (marashap.org). 


Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) 

Alvine Ailey was a dancer and choreographer who helped form modern dance. He choreographed his own ballets and works. His works were unique compared to the traditional dance at the time. He traveled the world to promote talented Black dancers and give them a platform that was hard to access (alvinailey.org). 


Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler (1831 – 1895) 

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first Black female doctor in the United States medical field. She started out as a nurse for eight years and then applied to medical school. She purposefully worked as a physician in a predominantly Black neighborhood that had been known to previously receive low amounts of access to healthcare (oprahmag.com). 


Matthew Henson (1866 – 1955) 

Matthew Henson was an American explorer who went on voyages to the Arctic. Over the span of 23 years, he worked on exploring and a variety of expeditions. He is known to have been the first to reach the geographic North Pole with his partner Robert Peary. He received the Congressional Medal and a Presidential Citation within his lifetime. 


Edward Bouchet (1852 – 1918) 

Edward Bouchet was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. He was admitted to Yale after being previously limited in the number of educational opportunities available. He graduated sixth in his class but was held back by existing segregation. He became a professor for 26 years at the Institute for Colored Youth, serving as an example for the next generation of Black people (thoughtco.com).