Lesser Known, Equally Important

Some of the most influential Black and African historical figures are the ones who have been left out of history classes.


photo courtesy of history.com

Angela Y. Davis is just one of many Black historical figures that have been overlooked.

Christiaan Titus, Staff Writer

There are certain Black leaders, like Martin Luther King Junior, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks, in history whom everyone knows about. However, focusing solely on these few great figures to capture the American struggle for Black people causes some important stories to be forgotten, or at least not as well known. Since it is Black History Month, we could all benefit from taking a closer look at some of the lesser known Black and African figures in history.

Fred Hampton


Born August 30, 1948 in Summit, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Fred Hampton dedicated the majority of his short life to empowering Black communities and oppressed groups, mainly in his hometown. He was also focused on fighting wealth inequality and addressing the issues of capitalism. A self-proclaimed revolutionary socialist, Hampton once said, “We’re not gonna fight capitalism with Black capitalism. We’re gonna fight capitalism with socialism. Socialism is the people. If you’re afraid of socialism, you’re afraid of yourself.”

He most notably became the deputy chairman of  the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and even founded the Rainbow Coalition, an organization comprised of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, and Young Patriots. He also worked with major street gangs in Chicago that celebrated multiculturalism and sought to sow unity between members of these communities. While this group was active, Chicago saw some of its lowest levels of gang violence and crime.

It is deeply saddening to imagine what else Hampton may have achieved, had his life not been tragically cut short. Clearly seen as a threat to white supremacy and capitalism, Hampton was killed by the Chicago Police Department during a raid when he just 21.

Lucy Parsons

Wikimedia Commons

Lucy Parsons was born a slave in Virginia 1851 before she was relocated to Waco, Texas. There, she would marry former Confederate soldier, Albert Parsons, and flee to Chicago, due to the South’s extreme intolerance for interracial couples.

During her lifetime in Chicago, she fought for the rights of Black people, women, and the working class. She liked to express her ideas through her incredible public speaking, in addition to writing in various newspapers. She famously wrote for The Alarm, an anarchist newspaper that was edited by her husband.

During her lifetime, she wrote for The Socialist, as well as French journal Les Temps Nouveaux. She was also given the chance to speak about anarchism, socialism, women’s rights, and Black liberation alongside Peter Kropotkin in Britain in 1888.

Later in her life, she began to become more focused on class struggles more than anything else, writing a periodical for a short period of time, entitled, Freedom: A Revolutionary Anarchist- Communist Monthly. Additionally, she helped found the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor movement and union that helped organize workers to stand up for themselves.

Parsons would eventually die when she was 91 years old in a house fire, but she continue giving impassioned speeches and fighting for liberation up until her death.

Thomas Sankara


Thomas Sankara was born in Yako, a small town in the northern region of Burkina Faso, on December 21, 1949. Referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara,” Sankara is perhaps best known for serving as Prime Minister of his country from 1983 to 1987. He also fought in the military for 21 years.

During his time as leader of Burkina Faso, Sankara was actually arrested before a group of revolutionaries seized power on his behalf. This move backed by the majority of the population.

Once in power, he took quick action to see that his people had all of their needs met. He remains one of the most prominent African Marxist-Leninist thinkers, and he was also a pan-Africanist. He was able to launch many largely successful programs that led to the prosperity of his country. Under his leadership, the country was able to vaccinate 2.5 million children against many diseases, including meningitis, in just a few weeks, redistribute land from feudal landlords back to peasants, and decrease all public servants’ salaries. He even eliminated his personal luxuries, all in an effort to benefit his people.

Sankara also opened the country’s first supermarket that was available to all citizens and improved wheat production to the point where the Burkina Faso was self-sufficient in terms of food. Additionally, he took a staunch stance against imperialism and even refused to accept international aid on many occasions.

Sankara was killed on October 15, 1987.

Angela Y. Davis


Angela Yvonne Davis was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944 — a time of intense racial and political tension in the country. Her family lived on “Dynamite Hill,” a neighborhood that was frequently targeted by bombings in order to scare away the Black people who had moved there.

Davis became an advocate for the Civil Rights movement and joined the Black Panther party, inspired by her own experience with segregation during her lifetime. Another large part of her life was the Che-Lumumba Club, an all-Black chapter of the Communist Party, who she spent the majority of her time working with.

She taught at the University of California in Los Angeles, before being fired for her association with socialism. However, she took the matter to court, won, and continued teaching there until 1970.

She became increasingly involved in fighting for the rights of Black people who had been unfairly imprisoned and targeted by police. She was allegedly involved in the attempted prison escape of George Lester Jackson and was imprisoned for 18 months before being acquitted.

To this day, she continues to educate others and spread her ideas of Black liberation, women’s rights, and class struggles. She became a professor at the University of California in Santa Cruz and wrote 12 books, including Women, Race and Class, and Are Prisons Obsolete? 

Jean-Jacques Dessalines


One revolution that is often overlooked in history classes across the country is the Haitian Revolution that succeeded in liberating slaves and abolishing the practice in Haiti. One of the leaders of this rebellion was Jean-Jacques Dessalines, or, as he would later become known, Jacques I.

Dessalines was born enslaved and would end up freeing himself and helping many others escape slavery. Earlier is his life, he had fought in the slave rebellion led by Toussaint Louverture. But Louverture was captured in 1802, making Dessalines the leader of the revolution. He would lead his troops to defeat the French army at the Battle of Vertières, leading to the declaration of Haiti as an independent nation in 1804.

This made Haiti the first country to permanently abolish slavery and allowed the nation to be ruled by those who were former slaves, rather than the colonizers. Dessalines became President and Emperor of Haiti and served until he was assassinated in 1806 at the age of 48.