Important Black Figures Who Influenced the World

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Allison Kim and Aurora Delgado

Did you know that February is Black History Month? It’s the month where we celebrate and honor the contributions of black people to society. Even though there are tons of important black figures that influenced the world, most people recognize only a few. This article will introduce you to three important black figures that contributed to society. 

 Bessie Coleman

Picture of Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first African American pilot to fly in the sky. She is well known for her flying tricks which gave her the nickname “Brave Bessie”. She was born in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892. Coleman has 12 brothers and sisters. Her mother was an African American maid and her father was a sharecropper. When Bessie was 18, she had saved up enough money to go to Colored Agricultural and Normal University, which is now Langston University, in Langston, Oklahoma. She dropped out of college after attending one semester because she could not afford it. 

In 1915, she became a manicurist in a local barber shop but soon wanted to become a pilot. She applied to many flight schools but no one would accept her because she was both a woman and an African American. Soon enough after lots of hard work, she was finally accepted to the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France. She earned her international pilot’s license on June 15, 1921. Coleman’s dream was to own her own plane and open her own flight school.  

In 1922, she piloted the first public flight by an African American. She was famous for doing “loop-the-loops” and making a shape of an “8” in an airplane. She soon became popular in the United States and Europe. On April 30, 1926, Bessie Coleman and a pilot named William Wills died due to a tragic plane crash. Her death was heartbreaking for thousands of people. In 1977, African American women pilots formed the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club. In conclusion, Bessie Colman was a great pilot who really contributed to society, so let’s all honor her. 

Garrett Morgan

Picture of Garret Morgan by the US Department of Transportation

Garrett Morgan was born in Claysville, Kentucky, on March 4, 1877. He was an inventor and businessman from Cleveland. He is best known for inventing a device called the Morgan Safety Hood and Smoke Protector in 1914. The invention was later called the gas mask. Garrett’s mother was an African American and his father was a minister named Rev. Garrett Reed. Garrett was the seventh of 11 children. In his early childhood he went to school and worked on the family farm. When he was a teenager he left Kentucky and moved north in search of [more] opportunities. 

In 1985, Morgan moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he went to work as a sewing machine repairman for a clothing manufacturer. While there he taught himself as much as he could about sewing machinery and experimenting. In 1907 he opened his own sewing equipment and repair shop. Then in 1909 he expanded his enterprise to include a tailoring shop.

Morgan married two times. First to Madge Nelson in 1896; they were divorced by 1898. Their marriage only lasted for 2 years. Then in 1908 he married Mary Anna Hasek, a seamstress from Bohemia. They had three children, John P, Garrett A., Jr., and Cosmo H. Morgan.

In 1914, Morgan was awarded two patents for the invention of an early gas mask, the Safety Hood and Smoke Protector. He manufactured the mask and sold it nationally and internationally through the National Safety Device Company or Nadsco. At that time entrepreneurs sold inventions by doing live demonstrations. Morgan appeared in these events to the public. 

In 1920, Morgan went into the newspaper business when he established the “Cleveland Call”. Soon after that he witnessed a collision between an automobile and a horse drawn carriage. Morgan decided to take his turn at inventing the traffic signal. He was one of the first people to apply for and acquire a U.S patent for an inexpensive way to produce a traffic signal. He was granted the patent on November 20, 1923. His traffic signal was a t-shaped pole unit that featured three positions: Stop, Go, and an all-directional stop position. His traffic signal was really popular and used throughout North America. 

Garret Morgan died on August 27, 1963, at the age of 86. He lived a long and wonderful life and really contributed to society. Let’s all honor him during Black History Month.

Katherine Johnson

Portrait of Katherine Johnson by NASA

“Everything is physics and math.” Katherin Johnson said in 2019. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician in NASA who played a significant role for the U.S. in the Space Race by using her calculations. Even though she faced a lot of conflict by being a black woman at that time, she proudly accomplished amazing things and contributed greatly to the world. 

Katherine was borned on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia from Joshua and Joylette Coleman. Because she was really intelligent, she graduated West Virginia State High School at the age of 13 and West Virginia State College when she was 18 years old. In 1953, she got a job that analyzed the data from flight tests and worked on the investigation of a plane crash caused by wake turbulence in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) Langley laboratory.

After the success of the Soviet’s launch of the satellite Sputnik, Katherine was in charge of trajectory analysis for Alan Sheperd’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. Then in 1962, when the mission would actually begin, the astronauts wanted to check the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule calculated by the electronic calculating machine. Glenn, the first American to enter space, called Katherine to run the same calculations made by computers hands by hands and the launch became successful after the check. She also helped Project Apollo to safely land on the moon in 1969 by calculations that helped sync Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module. On February 24, 2020, Katherine died of natural causes at the age of 101. 

Conclusion 

In the world, there are tons of hidden figures that greatly impacted the world that we should all know about. However, these black figures in the article are just an enormously tiny portion of countless significant figures that contributed to the world. We need to respect those who spent a huge amount of time and effort to develop this world and we can start by researching for more information about them. Through this article, I hope that you learned something and gained interest to study black history. Happy Black History Month!!