Black History Month: Lesser Known but Significant in their Own Way
Posted February 2, 2000
While the spotlight usually shines on such high-profile achievers as Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, these less-famous black Americans contributed to society in important ways.
The 20th century's pre-eminent black labor leader, A. Philip Randolph is considered the father of the modern civil rights movement. Believing that economic rights were the key to advancing civil rights, Randolph helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, after a bitter struggle with the Pullman Company. He worked to desegregate the military and helped lead the 1963 March on Washington.
Dunham was an anthropologist, social worker and activist, but is probably best known as a dancer. Dunham combined Caribbean dance, traditional ballet, African rituals and black-American rhythms to create the unique "Dunham Technique." She also choreographed for Broadway shows and major motion pictures. Dunham opened the Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis to help bring the arts to inner-city children. She went on a hunger strike in the early 1990s, not eating for 47 days to help publicize the plight of Haitians.
While Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, it couldn't have happened without Lewis, who developed and patented the process for manufacturing the first carbon filament. Lewis, the son of a former slave, was the only black member of Edison's research team. His first patent, approved in 1874, was for a "water closet for railway cars." Lewis continued to invent and teach until his death in 1928.
An articulate and courageous spokesman for free expression, Riggs used the medium of experimental documentary film to challenge society's most deeply entrenched myths about what it means to be a gay, black man in America. Riggs used his camera to undermine prejudice and ignorance while boldly and eloquently celebrating diversity. An instructor for Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, he died of AIDS in 1994.