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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Hidden Figures in Black History

Have you ever stopped to consider why our lives are the way they are? The contributions of thousands of people throughout history influenced every aspect of your life. Someone invented your favorite foods. Someone invented your favorite foods, advocated for safer conditions, wrote your favorite books, and fought for your right to vote, go to work, and go to school.

Can you imagine what your life would be like without these things? Your entire life would be radically different than it is now. Your favorite foods and books would not exist, and you would be a lot less safe. You might not even be able to vote, work, or attend school. All of these limitations would have a significant impact on your quality of life.

We still have improvements to make. However, we need to take a step back from time to time and appreciate how far we've come. Because February is Black History Month, we wanted to take the opportunity to explore the contributions of Black people around the world.

Because of school and popular culture, we know the names of many people who improved the world, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez. However, we don’t often take the time to learn about other, lesser-known activists, especially those from outside of the United States. Their contributions improved our society. Just because they’re not as famous doesn’t make their contributions any less significant.

To become a global citizen, one must appreciate the beauty of cultures around the world. One way to do this is to learn more about the accomplishments of people around the world.

Here at ReDefiners World Languages, we wanted to take the time to spotlight eight hidden figures in Black History. These people are from all over the world, and we wanted to highlight their achievements.

I. Bessie Coleman

This is a black-and-white portrait of Bessie Coleman, a Black woman. She's wearing an aviator hat, goggles, and a bomber jacket.
Bessie Coleman

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was the first African-American woman to obtain an international pilot’s license. In 1920, she was accepted at the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France, where she learned French. She was not allowed to become a commercial pilot when she returned to the United States due to discrimination, racism, and prejudice. As a result, stunt flying became her only career option. She encouraged Black people’s interest in aviation, paving the way for more diversity in the Aviation industry.

II. Nelson Mandela

This is a portrait of Nelson Mandela, a Black man. He has salt and pepper hair, and he's wearing a gray suit, a white dress shirt, and a green tie. He's standing behind a podium, and there are a couple of large flags behind him.
Nelson Mandela

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Nelson Mandela was the first Black president of South Africa (1994-1999). A member of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa-speaking people, he led the fight against the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation and ushered in a peaceful transition to democracy. His work made him a frequent target of the authorities. He was incarcerated in 1964, and he wasn’t released until 1990. He is credited with increasing the peace and unity in South Africa.

III. Chinua Achebe

This is photograph of Chinua Achebe, a Black man. The picture captures his profile as he sits at a desk. He is wearing a light colored turtleneck and dark-colored pants.
Chinua Achebe

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Chinua Achebe was a famous author and poet who grew up in the Igbo town of Ogidi, Nigeria, where the most widely spoken language was the Igbo language. His most famous work was Things Fall Apart (1958), which explored the effects of European colonialism on Igbo culture. Up until Things Fall Apart was published, western society understood colonialism as “a positive, necessary process.” His works changed the narrative on colonialism, and it gave western society a better understanding of its effects on indigenous people and cultures.

IV. Olaudah Equiano

This is an illustration of Olaudah Equiano, a Black man. He's wearing a white dress shirt and a dark jacket that reflect the style of the time.
Olaudah Equiano

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Olaudah Equiano was an abolitionist and writer who was most famous for his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789). Though there is some controversy about where he was born, it’s generally agreed that he was born in Nigeria in 1745. In this work, he gave a detailed account of his life in Nigeria, his experience as a slave, and what he went through to free himself. Experts often regard him as the originator of the slave narrative due to his firsthand account against the slave trade. His work was the first time people heard about slavery from the view of a slave, and it strengthened the fight for the abolishment of slavery.

V. Desmond Tutu

This is a portrait of Desmond Tutu, a Black man. He's pictured wearing a magenta shirt with a white Clerical collar, a black suit jacket, and a large silver crucifix around his neck. He also wears glasses and has short, silver hair.
Desmond Tutu

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Desmond Tutu is an Anglican cleric who was born on October 7th, 1931, in Klerksdorp, South Africa. He is of Xhosa and Twana descent. He is most famous for his opposition to Apartheid in South Africa, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1984. His efforts drew national and international attention to Apartheid. He encouraged nonviolent protests and economic pressure on the country. Later on, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated human rights violations that had occurred during the Apartheid era.

VI. Pelé

This is a picture of Pelé, a smiling Black man. He has short, black hair, and he's wearing a blue shirt. He's only visible from his head to his shoulders.

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Pelé is widely regarded as one of the best soccer players of all time. He was born on October 23rd, 1940 in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, where Portuguese and English are the most widely-spoken languages. He began his soccer career at age 16 after debuting for the Brazilian national football (soccer) team in 1957. His electrifying play and ability to score spectacular goals made him an international star. He went on to lead Brazil to three World Cup championships in 1958, 1962, and 1970. He was so famous that when his team traveled to Nigeria in 1967, both sides called a temporary ceasefire to pause the country’s civil war so that everyone could watch him play.

VII. Thurgood Marshall

This is a black and white portrait of Thurgood Marshall, a Black man with short, gray hair. He's wearing judge's robes and glasses, and he's standing in front of a bookcase and an American flag.
Thurgood Marshall

This image is sourced from the Encyclopedia Britannica. For more information, please visit this link.

Thurgood Marshall was a lawyer, civil rights activist, and an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He is best known for successfully arguing against racial segregation in U.S. public schools before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Because of his efforts, racial segregation in U.S. public schools was deemed unconstitutional. This victory paved the way for the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Not only did this case expand the rights of African-Americans in the United States, but the oral arguments and the ultimate decision of the case serve as valuable teaching tools for today’s law students.

VIII. Katherine Johnson

This is a black-and-white portrait of Katherine Johnson, a Black woman with short, black hair. She's wearing glasses and a light colored, striped, collar shirt.
Katherine Johnson

This image is sourced from NASA. For more information, please visit this link.

Katherine Johnson (b. Aug. 26th, 1918- d. Feb. 24th, 2020) was a mathematician who worked for NASA. She was best known for her work in assisting the orbital mission of John Glen in 1962. At the time, scientists programmed IBM computers with the orbital equations. However, since they were a new technology, they were prone to hiccups and blackouts. Wary of entrusting his life to such a new technology, he requested that Johnson run the same equations that had been programmed into the computers. Her work helped ensure NASA’s success in Glen’s flight, and it marked a turning point in the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As you can see, people of all cultures can strongly influence our way of life, even if their names aren’t as recognizable. All of their achievements radically changed our lives in ways that we often don’t consider. They changed our lives for the better. As a result, we have a higher quality of life.

That’s not to say that life is perfect. Far from it. We still have a long way to go before everyone can have equal rights. That being said, we need to take a step back and appreciate how far we’ve come. We need to celebrate all of our progress and accomplishments because they impact everyone’s lives.

During Black History Month, we invite you to continue learning about the accomplishments of Black people around the world. Millions of Black people have changed our way of life for the better, and they deserve recognition for their achievements. Celebrating the accomplishments of people around the world helps us to see our similarities. When we acknowledge our similarities, we can become better global citizens.

If you’re interested in becoming a better global citizen, consider learning a new language with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer classes in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese for kids and adults. We also offer online and in-person classes, as well as group lessons and private lessons, to suit your learning needs. In all of our classes, we teach the language, the cultures of the language, and the ways that the culture influences the language. Learning all of this will help you to navigate unfamiliar cultures, making you a better global citizen. For more information about our classes, visit our website or email us at

In addition, if you enjoyed learning more about Black History, you will enjoy our Black Heritage Expo. This event will be a celebration of Black culture, and it will help facilitate a cross-cultural dialogue. It will be on Saturday, February 27th, 2021 from noon- 5 P.M. at Westshore Plaza (250 Westshore Plaza, Tampa, FL 33609). For more information, please visit this link.


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