Unrecognized People in Black History

Rosalind Crockett

There are many well-known figures in black history, the prime examples being Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass. Unfortunately, many other historical figures go entirely unnoticed. Here are some unsung black figures you may not know about:


Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)

Born in Pennsylvania, Bayard Rustin was a close advisor to Martin Luther King. He fought for many causes, including racial equality, workers’ rights, and gay rights. One of his most notable achievements was planning the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. 

This march is primarily associated with MLK’s “I have a dream” speech and helped clear the way for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Rustin also pitched the concept of non-violence to the movement. Dr. King later took on this strategy and made it the basis of the movement.

Even though he was an outstanding leader, he was kept out of the limelight due to his sexual orientation. But the Civil Rights Movement would not have been successful without his contributions.


Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Audre Lorde was an American writer, woman, feminist, and civil rights activist. She mostly used her writing to shed light on her personal view of the world as a black lesbian and later as a mom battling cancer. She was a prominent member of the women’s and LGBTQ rights movement.

Lorde’s writing drew attention to the complexities of identity and how people from all backgrounds could unite and become stronger. She was connected with poetry from a very young age and once said that she used to “Speak in poetry.”

During the 1960s, she began publishing her poems in magazines and anthologies and took part in the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s liberation movements. She published her first poem, The First Cities, in 1968. 


Althea Gibson (1927-2003)

Althea Gibson was an outstanding tennis player, golfer, and one of the first African American athletes to play in an international tennis tournament. She became the first black person to win the Grand Slam title in 1956. That following year, she won both the Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals and won them both again in 1958. Gibson has won over 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five single titles, five double titles, and one mixed doubles title. She was inducted into the hall of fame in 1971 and 2001.

Gibson faced many hardships toward the end of her life. Before former tennis star Billie Jean King and others intervened to save her, she was on the verge of bankruptcy. Her health deteriorated, experienced a stroke and severe cardiac issues. She later died due to respiratory failure. 


Fritz Pollard (1894-1986)

Frederick Douglass Pollard, also known as Fritz Pollard, was a football player and coach. He became the first African-American head coach in the NFL in 1921. Pollard and another player by the name of Bobby Marshall were the first two black players in the NFL in 1920. He had coached the Milwaukee Badgers, the Hammond Pros, and the Providence Steam Roller. 

An all-African-American professional team, the Chicago Blackhawks, was founded and coached by Pollard in 1928 and based in the Windy City. Although the Blackhawks competed against white teams in the Chicago area, they had the most success when they scheduled practice games against teams from the West Coast during winter. The Black Hawks rose to prominence between 1929 and 1932 when the Great Depression forced the team to disband.

Overall, there are many more unknown figures that are not listed. It should be our job to make sure that we recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of these great African-American heroes and icons. Without them, things would be quite different today.