Nine months before Rosa Parks’ protest, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. Maude Ballou and her family faced constant danger due to her job as Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal secretary. Bayard Rustin, King’s mentor, actively advocated for civil rights and gay causes.
We often quote King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham Jail” or hear about how Parks stood up to a white passenger on the bus. But Colvin, Ballou and Rustin are usually not the names we bring up when we discuss America’s civil rights movement that took place in the mid-1900s.
As February’s Black History Month approaches, I hope we can recognize some of these hidden figures during the annual observance of African American contributions to our country.
Influenced by what she learned in her history classes, Colvin and her fellow students found the courage to refuse their seats to a white woman on March 2, 1955, and were eventually put on indefinite probation. However, the NAACP decided to make Parks the public face of the Montgomery Bus Boycott because Colvin was an unwed mother.
Ballou, on the other hand, was King’s right-hand woman during pivotal moments of the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in Washington, D.C. Ballou’s role put her in immense danger, but she continued to work even after becoming a KKK target.
Rustin introduced to King the concept of civil disobedience, a peaceful way to disobey unjust regulations and an important aspect of King’s position in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Furthermore, Rustin was an openly gay Black man and fiercely fought for the LGBTQ community despite being persecuted and arrested.
Like in the movie “Hidden Figures,” which showcases the stories of three Black women who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, many unrecognized individuals have made an impact in the fight for equal rights. While the accomplishments of people like Parks and King are undeniably significant, we cannot forget the others working to bring change as well. Even in everyday life, there are “hidden figures” — the custodian keeping the school clean, the counselor offering mental health support and the students advocating for equal education opportunities.
What stood out to me was the issue of who writes history. For instance, Colvin’s story became less known to others when the NAACP used Parks’ story. In school, we learn about King’s leadership but not the work of his secretary or mentor.
I realized that history textbooks might not always provide the complete picture. Of course, it is nearly impossible to include everything within a single course. Nonetheless, we should try to discover and tell the stories of people like Colvin, Ballou and Rustin, who also worked to make the world more equal and accepting.
So, in honor of Black History Month, remember the hidden figures who changed society.
Grace Wu is a senior at Carlmont High School in Belmont. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at email@example.com.
A timely thought, especially now as we are seeing DeSantis and others attacking teaching Black American history. Most of us older folks came out of 12 years of public education knowing the names of only perhaps 2 or 3 Black people who influenced our history, which is a warped perception.
Westy - you are living up to being annoying. He is not blocking Black History but he is asking the school boards to remove any references to exogenous characteristics that Blacks may have. These have nothing to do with being Black but it is yet another attempt to indoctrinate our children with false information.
Thank you Ms. Wu for your informative column. Unfortunately there are "hidden figures" in all walks of life and all parts of history. Many people have contributed to the good, and in some cases the bad, of civilization throughout time without the acknowledgment they should have received.
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