Above: William Ball (left, with pistol) may have shot a British officer and saved the life of Lt. Col. William Washington at the 1781 Battle of Cowpens.
ON THE ANNIVERSARY (April 13) of the student-led walkout of all-black Moton High in Farmville, Virginia, I’m thinking about other African Americans who, like Barbara Johns, did so much and are mentioned so little. Here are 22 young black individuals we should recognize and honor (including that scurvy pirate, John Julian):
1. Stephen Bishop. At 17 in 1838, this mixed-race slave began investigating Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. He is considered to be America’s first great cave explorer as well as a first-rate guide.
2. George Dixon. Nicknamed “Little Chocolate,” Dixon won the bantamweight title to become the world’s first black boxing champion in 1890. A great innovator, he is credited with inventing shadow boxing and the suspended punching bag.
3. Mildred Loving. Married to a white man, she and Richard Loving were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-mixed-race-marriage law in 1958. In 1963, the Lovings challenged the Virginia law in court and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down laws requiring separation of the races in marriage.
4. Henry O. Flipper. He entered West Point at age sixteen in 1873 and became the first black man to graduate from the military academy. During his years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993), Colin Powell kept a photograph of Flipper on his wall.
5. Susie King Taylor. She took charge of a school for ex-slaves in Georgia at age 14 in 1862 and would be the first laundress attached to an all-black Union Army regiment, the first black Army nurse, and the only African American woman to publish a memoir of her Civil War life.
6. A.P. Tureaud Jr. He registered for classes at Louisiana State University in 1953 and became the first African American undergraduate to attend a Deep South state university.
7. Josephine Baker. The “Black Venus” first danced at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris at age 19 in 1925. Within a year, Baker would be the highest-paid entertainer in Europe.
8. Milton Olive. He sacrificed himself and saved the lives of four fellow soldiers by smothering a hand grenade in South Vietnam in 1965.
9. Billie Holiday. In 1933, she made her first recordings at Columbia studios in New York City. This is regarded as a turning point in jazz music.
10. William Ball. At fourteen in 1781, he saved the life of Lt. Col. William Washington (George Washington’s second cousin) at the Revolutionary War Battle of Cowpens.
11. Willie Reed. In 1955, this 18 year old risked his life by appearing for the prosecution in the trial of the white men who killed Emmett Till. The defendants, acquitted, would later admit their guilt.
12. John Julian. He piloted the pirate ship Whydah in 1717 at the age of 16. He is the first black pirate known to have operated in the New World.
13. Charlotte Forten. In 1854, the 17 year old began a journal that would describe her life before, during, and after the Civil War. In 1856 she wrote, “Oh, that I could do much towards bettering our condition. I will do all, all the very little that lies in my power, while life and strength last!”
14. Ophelia DeVore. At age 16 in 1938 she became, by many accounts, the first African American model.
15. Henry Lewis. At age 16 in 1948 he debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, making him the first African American instrumentalist with a major American orchestra.
16. Alice Coachman. In 1938, she won the first of 10 straight amateur high jump titles. In 1948. she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
17. Bobby Cain. In May of 1957, he became the first black person to graduate from a formerly segregated public school in the South. A 1956 Colliers article had called him “a victim of some of the most angry racial vituperation in recent American history.”
18. Paul Laurence Dunbar. At age 16 in 1888, he had his poem “Our Martyred Soldiers” published in The Dayton Herald (Ohio).
19. William Kamkwamba. At 15 in 2002, he built a windmill to help power his Mali village.
20. Nina Mae McKinney. In 1927, she appeared in Hallelujah. She was the first African American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film.
21. Charlotte Hawkins. In 1902, she opened the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute, a school for African Americans in Sedalia, North Carolina. While most schools for blacks offered only vocational classes, the Palmer Institute would provide a full liberal arts curriculum.
22. Ina Ray Hutton. In 1934, this mixed-race musician became bandleader to the Melodears, a group of female performers.