To round out Black History Month I wanted to create a round-up of unsung heroes of the Black community. I also wanted to take the time to gush about the greatness of the Black Panther movie because it’s worth all the hype it’s receiving and more.
The Original Black Panthers
Seeing things like These Photos Of Black Kids Watching ‘Black Panther’ Highlight Why This Film Was Needed. Representation matters and when the list of Black Superhero films includes Blade, Hancock, and Steel- all of which are ten to twenty years old. It makes it abundantly clear that not only did the Black Community need this film, the world needed it.
Photo via Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters
Now, if you’re one of the few people on earth (excluding China and Japan where it’s yet to be released) who still hasn’t seen Black Panther, don’t worry. I’m not going to spoil it. The social media coverage alone probably has you aware of how important the female characters were to this film. One woman, in particular, was the backbone of the technological advances that made Black Panther such a force. The article We Need To Talk About The Significance Of Princess Shuri And Seeing A Black Girl In STEM is just the conversation that needs to be had after seeing how important Princess Shuri was to the success of the main character.
Image via Blavity
Reading the headline, Disney donates $1 million from ‘Black Panther’ to the Boys & Girls Clubs made me immensely happy. Then discovering that those funds will go towards the STEM program in predominantly Black Communities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington gave me so much joy! I know in comparison to the 700 million made that one million doesn’t sound like much. But as a child I frequented the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club, it was a safe place I could go to get away from the drugs and violence going on around me. So I know from personal experience that every little bit helps.
This Jersey girl had a passion for fashion from a young age and as a teen was encouraged to start modeling. At the beginning of her career, she worked exclusively for Black publications like Ebony and Jet. Because not only was there no Black Supermodels the only models getting booked by non-black businesses were light-skinned. When Williams moved to Paris she modeled in the ateliers of notable names like Christian Dior.
Upon her return to the States in 1961, Helen refused to take “No” for an answer. When told by an agent that they had “one black model already, thanks.” She took her complaints to the press which helped draw attention to the colorism and exclusion of Black models in the fashion industry. Soon Helen was the first Black woman to book jobs with major brands like Budweiser. Ads that were seen in the pages of The New York Times and Redbook. Making her the first Black model to go mainstream.
My mom always told me, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” Helen Williams is a shining example of knowing your worth and demanding it.
Image via Tumblr
Helen Williams for Ebony Magazine January 1959.
Loïs Mailou Jones
Loïs Mailou Jones paved a path for African American artists. At the beginning of her career the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston graduate had her work submitted to galleries by a white friend. Knowing that if she brought them in herself, she would be denied solely based on the color of her skin. She was given awards for her art that she couldn’t accept in person. Knowing that the award would be taken away if it was known that she was a Black woman. Jones was no stranger to rejection but she put her efforts in worthy places. Like traveling through Haiti, Africa, and Europe to learn and create art about the African Diaspora. Eventually going on to teach at the Historically Black University (HBCU) Howard University for more than 40 years and winning countless awards for her work as an artist.
During the Red Scare Scott was one of many Hollywood stars blacklisted. After appearing before the government, stating her case and admittedly denying any connection to the Communist Party her show was canceled. Check out this article to learn more about Hazel Scott’s Lifetime of High Notes.
Nine months before Rosa Parks famously protested segregation by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old girl went to jail in Montgomery, Alabama for doing the exact same thing. Colvin was one of five plaintiffs in the Browder v. Gayle case that ended bus segregation in Alabama.
Image via Henrietta Lacks Legacy Blog
Historical Interpreter Cheyney McKnight is making sure that historical sites are historically accurate. “I went to historical sites and I was really pissed off by the interpretation of African-Americans,” McKnight tells Racked. She’s worked at over 40 historical sites with her company Not Your Momma’s History. “Through fashion, I can connect with my ancestors, but I can also change the future.”