Every February, Black History Month gives people all over the country the chance to remember the contributions of African-Americans to the history of all aspects of the nation — from civil rights and politics to music, culture and science. While many people may first associate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Black History Month, here’s a look at five other African-Americans who made significant contributions to civil rights in the U.S.
1. Rosa Parks
Parks’ decision in 1955 to refuse giving up her seat on a bus to a white passenger is often credited with sparking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
McKay Lindsay, a member of BYU’s Divine Comedy troupe, sees Parks as an inspiration not only to Blacks, but to women as well.
“What Rosa Parks did, no matter how menial it seemed, meant so much to blacks, as well as women,” Lindsay said. “She’s a hero, and she has given the rest of us strength and courage as women.”
2. B.B. King
The blues musician, widely considered one of the best guitarists of all time, put such an indelible mark on the modern music that his influence is still felt even today.
Local musician Mimi Knowles looks to King’s work regularly for inspiration as a songwriter.
“His style is just electric,” Knowles said. “Some of my best guitar work can come when I’m listening to B.B. King.”
3. George Washington Carver
Born into slavery in 1864, Carver grew up to become a renowned scientist, botanist and inventor. His research and work with crop alternatives to cotton including peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes led to many scientific developments, including the manufacturing of peanut butter in America and the practice of crop rotation.
4. Muhammed Ali
Originally born Cassius Clay, the legendary boxer rose to prominence in the 1960s, eventually becoming the first and only lineal World Heavyweight Champion. He is considered one of the greatest boxers of all time by historians around the world.
Brent Kamba, vice president of activities for BYU’s Black Student Union, said he admires Ali’s strength of character as much as his athletic prowess.
“He was an incredible boxer, and he always stood up for himself and proved a lot of people wrong,” said Kamba. “Even though he was a little on the extreme side in some of his personal beliefs, he was always behind the Civil Rights Movement.”
5. Barack Obama
The nation’s current leader just began his second term as president and represents the Civil Rights Movement coming full circle into the 21st century.
Kamba said that, regardless of political ideology, Obama’s journey to the White House serves as motivation for young African Americans everywhere.
“The idea of going from slavery to having a two-term black president is pretty incredible, regardless of whether you like him or not,” said Kamba. “He really represents that ideal to black people everywhere, that if you work hard enough you can accomplish anything.”