Black history has been celebrated in America throughout the month of February since 1976, and 50 years prior in Negro History Week. During this time, classrooms across America typically engage in activities from plays and artwork to writing assignments that highlight the contributions of Black people.
Despite its nearly 100-year history, Black History Month often excludes the contributions of African and Caribbean-born leaders and even some American-born leaders, who get buried beneath staples such as civil rights activists Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. These leaders and activists have earned their rightful place in history, however a disservice is done to countless other leaders from around the world who too fought for Black liberation.
Patrice Lumumba was the first democratically elected leader of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lumumba was a Pan-Africanist who spoke boldly and bravely against the atrocities of colonialism and passionately about a united Congo with full political and economic independence.
The Congo, considered then to be Africa’s richest country, had been a colony of Belgium since the late 1800s, which ruled over it with brutality while plundering its natural resources. Lumumba’s vision for making the Congo the “pride of Africa” through true political and economic independence was a threat to the Belgians and the United States who were not prepared to relinquish full control of the country’s resources and labeled him a communist.
The CIA, acting under the orders of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, conspired but failed to assassinate Lumumba via poisoning. Instead, the United States and Belgium covertly funneled cash and to aid rival politicians headed by Joseph Désiré Mobutu, who seized power and arrested Lumumba.
According to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, on Jan. 17, 1961, after being beaten and tortured, Lumumba was shot and killed by a firing squad along with his newly appointed ministers Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito.
Stephen Bantu Biko, 30 (Dec. 18, 1946 – Sept. 12, 1977)
Steve Biko, regarded as an icon in the anti-apartheid movement, founded several organizations in an effort to mobilize Black people against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Biko co-founded the South African Students’ Organization in 1968, an all-Black student organization focusing on the resistance of apartheid. He later founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which would empower and mobilize much of the urban Black population, and co-founded the Black People’s Convention in 1972.
The BCM gained the most ground as it not only called for resistance to the policy of apartheid and more rights for South African Blacks, but also helped to instill Black pride among Black people in the country.
Biko was arrested many times for his anti-apartheid activism. On Sept. 12, 1977, Biko died in police custody from injuries he sustained from the arresting officers. In 1997, five officers confessed to killing Biko after reportedly filling an application for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Thomas Sankara, 37 (Dec. 21, 1949 – Oct. 15, 1987)
Thomas Sankara, known as “Africa’s Che Guevara,” became head of Burkina Faso in 1983 after leading a coup d’état against the corrupt government. Formerly called Upper Volta, Sankara renamed his country Burkina Faso, meaning “Land of Upright People.”
Sankara was a Pan-Africanist who fought to create a self-sufficient and economically thriving population by eliminating rampant corruption through the country’s political ranks, and relieving the nation from dependence on its former French colonial power and on other foreign aid.
According to Sankara’s biography, “His foreign policies were centered around anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nationwide literacy campaign, and promoting public health.”
Other Sankara achievements include environmental protection and reforestation of the Sahel, and promoting women rights by outlawing female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy. He also appointed women to high governmental positions.
Sankara along with 13 other officials were assassinated in a hail of bullets in October 1987 in a coup d’état masterminded by his former close ally, Blaise Compaoré, who was backed by the French.
Medgar Wiley Evers, 37 (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963)
Medgar Evers was an African-American civil rights activist from Mississippi, who would become the first field secretary of the NAACP in the state, and help to integrate the University of Mississippi.
Evers helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP. He became a bigger target for white supremacists after he began investigating the murder of Emmett Till and expressed his support of Clyde Kennard, a student who tried to attend the then-segregated Mississippi Southern College.
Several attempts were made on Evers’ life, including on May 28, 1963, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home; and on June 7, 1963, when he was nearly run down by a car after he emerged from the Jackson NAACP office.
Finally, in the early morning of June 12, 1963, Evers reportedly pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car carrying NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” Evers was struck in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Prince Louis Rwagasore, 29 (Jan. 10, 1932 — Oct. 13, 1961)
Rwagasore’s reign as the prime minister of Ruanda-Urundi was short-lived. Ruanda-Urundi at the time was under Belgian and Germany rule and populated by the Twa, Hutu and Tutsi peoples.
According to rwagasore.com, Rwagasore was “an emblematic figure of the anti-colonial struggle” and directly linked to the independence of Burundi through the formation of the multi-ethnic unity party, Union for National Progress (UPRONA). UPRONA urged the local population to boycott Belgian stores and refuse to pay taxes.
The country claimed complete independence on July 1, 1962, and legally changed its name from Ruanda-Urundi back to Burundi. Two weeks later, Rwagasore was assassinated in a plot organized by a Belgian-supported rival to the throne.
Rwagasore believed the Belgian colonial rule pitched the Hutus and Tutsis against each other. In an effort to play down the ethnic divisions between the groups, Rwagasore married a woman many believed was Hutu.
Harry Moore, 45 (Nov. 18, 1905 – Dec. 25, 1951) and Harriette Moore, 50 (June 19, 1902 – Jan. 3, 1952)
Harry and Harriette Moore were a husband and wife team of civil rights activists and teachers who founded the NAACP in Brevard County, Fla.
In the early 1940s, Harry Moore became an unpaid executive secretary for the NAACP. According to pbs.org, “[Moore] began churning out eloquent letters, circulars, and broadsides protesting unequal salaries, segregated schools and the disenfranchisement of Black voters.”
Harry Moore continued his political activism and reportedly investigated every lynching case in Florida until his death.
He also led the Progressive Voters League. Between 1944 and 1950, he succeeded in increasing the registration of Black voters in Florida to 31 percent of those eligible to vote, markedly higher than in any other Southern state.
Moore would later become a full-time organizer for the NAACP after both he and his wife were fired from their teaching jobs.
In 1951, the Moores were killed when their home was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. The Moores were reportedly the first NAACP members to be murdered for their civil rights activism. Moore has been called the first martyr of the 1950s-era civil rights movement.
Ruben Um Nyobé, 45 (1913 – Sept. 13, 1958)
Ruben Um Nyobé, known as the father of Cameroon’s independence was a freedom fighter and an anti-imperialist leader.
He was a key figure in the creation the Cameroon’s People Union (UPC) in 1948, which engaged in armed struggle to obtain independence and reunification of both the British and French Cameroons.
On April 22, 1955, the UPC published the “Proclamation Commune” or “Common Proclamation,” which was considered by French authorities to be a provocation and a unilateral declaration of independence.
French colonialists banned and exiled members of the UPC and over the next decade key members of the armed struggle were assassinated.
Nyobé was killed by the French army in 1958. Felix Moumié, president of the UPC at the time, was poisoned in Geneva in October 1960, by the French secret service. The UPC continued its armed struggle until the arrest in August 1970 of Ernest Ouandié, who was shot six months later in January 1971. Meanwhile another leader of UPC, Osendé Afana, was killed in the southeast in March 1966.
Walter Rodney, 38 (March 23, 1942 – June 13, 1980)
Walter Rodney was a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist and preeminent scholar, who fervently believed that intellectuals should make their skills available for the struggle and emancipation of the people. Rodney remained true to his beliefs after earning a Ph.D. with honors in African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, at the age of 24.
Rodney would go on to teach at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He actively rallied for Black liberation, debated against capitalism, and argued for a socialist development template for the Caribbean and Africa.
Rodney returned to his birthplace of Guyana in 1974 to accept a position as a professor at the University of Guyana. The government blocked the appointment and Rodney returned to his political activist roots.
According to guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com, Rodney remained in Guyana and “emerged as the leading figure in the resistance movement against the increasingly authoritarian PNC government.”
In 1979, Rodney and seven others were arrested and charged with arson. The following year he was assassinated by a bomb in the middle of Georgetown.