IN HONOR OF BLACK HISTORY month, I have counted down 28 — because there are 28 days in February — young African Americans (or groups of African Americans) who played significant roles in breaking racial barriers and/or fighting injustice before and during the Civil Rights Movement. Here are the top four:
4. JOSEPHINE BAKER, 19, made her debut at Paris theater and became a European dancing sensation in 1925. Called “The Black Venus,” she became the highest-paid entertainer in Europe, a French heroine of World War II, and the only woman to speak at the March on Washington in 1963. Her success as an international entertainment star broke racial barriers, but she is just as memorable for her lifelong crusade against racial injustice.
CHECK OUT: http://www.biography.com/people/josephine-baker-9195959
3. THE LITTLE ROCK NINE, average age 15, integrated Central High in Arkansas in 1957. The students entered the school protected by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. Three weeks earlier, the Arkansas governor had deployed the National Guard to prevent the integration of the Little Rock school. Despite violence and verbal abuse, eight of the nine black students lasted through the school year.
CHECK OUT: Warriors Don’t Cry (1994) by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine.
2. THE GREENSBORO FOUR, all 18, protested segregated seating by refusing to leave a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960. Franklin McCain, David Richmond, Ezell Blair Jr., and Joseph McNeil took seats at Woolworth’s lunch counter, ordered coffee, and — as expected — received no service. On the sixth day of the Woolworth’s sit-in, 1,000 protesters, many of them white, crowded into the store, and the anti-segregation sit-in movement spread to 70 other Southern cities that had whites-only seating and service arrangements. “What is new in your fight is that it was initiated, led, and sustained by students,” Dr. Martin Luther King said. “You now take your honored place in the world-wide struggle for freedom.”
CHECK OUT: http://www.sitinmovement.org/history/greensboro-chronology.asp
1. BARBARA JOHNS, 16, organized a high school walkout to protest separate-but-unequal conditions in her all-African American Virginia school in 1951. She and four other students lured the Moton High principal away with a false report that students were causing a ruckus downtown, and then forged a note bringing the school together in the auditorium, where she implored the 456 students to join them in a walkout. This resulted in a NAACP lawsuit that was bundled into the Brown v. Board of Education suit.
CHECK OUT: http://www.motonmuseum.org/biography-barbara-rose-johns-powell/