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My vote would be for A. Philip Randolph, who was instrumental in convincing government leaders and Presdent Franklin Delano Roosevelt in particular, that African-Americans deserved equal pay with whites for working in defense industries during World War II.
With 16 million Americans participating in the war, the Home Front work force was more important than ever. To supply armies and navies on two fronts, as well as those of many of our allies, we produced a ridiculous amount of war material, and factories ran around the clock.
African-Americans and women became essential to accomplishing these goals. A. Philip Randolph organized workers and threatened strike if equal pay was not given to black workers. FDR issued Executive Order 8802 prohibiting discrimination in this area. Many historians cite this as the real beginning of the modern civil rights movement.
Don't laugh, but one of my students once did a fantastic project on Cleopatra. You may think "Egypt" and anything but African American, but he was able to make great connections to Africa, which turned the project into a great educational experience where we learned the great diversity of races that exist in the African continent, we established links as to Cleopatra's ancestry and, why not? Egypt is in Africa. So, if anyone calls himself African American, (my student rationalized) they included the whole continent, not just chunks of it. Odd, but interesting.
I think this could depend a great deal on what your interests are. For example, if you are interested in sports, there are a number of people that you could talk about that most people have never heard of.
One of the more interesting to me was a man named "Fritz" Pollard. He played for the first team to win the championship of the National Football League (1920!). He then became the first black man to be a head coach in the league. There would not be another black head coach of a major sports team until the 1960s.
Or you could do the Texas Western (now UTEP) mens basketball team from 1966. They were the first team to win the NCAA championship with 5 black starters -- this was in an era when many college teams in the South (including Kentucky, who they played in the final) still didn't allow blacks to play for them.
Of course, if you hate sports...
I think it says a great deal about an individual when they wish to take a path from which others might stray. I would offer three suggestions. Anne Moody is a very interesting case study. She is social activist in rural Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s. The promise of the Civil Rights Era fills her and she fights the battle for equality on issues of race, class, and gender. She is one of the first forces to make the argument that one category does not define a person, and that individuals consist of concentric circles of experience that alter who they are and how they shape their world. She is also very interesting because after the 1960s, she really does not assume a very public role. She would be fascinating to study. Countee Cullen is probably one of the most powerful poets who wrote. He is writing in the early 20th century, and was the son in law of W.E.B. DuBois at one point in time. He writes with a perspective of how racial division in America casts an unshakable shadow on people of color who have to experience it on a daily basis. A brilliant scholar and writer who had to endure unspeakable levels of neglect and anguish throughout his life, Cullen writes from a position of extreme agony. In reading his work, one is reminded that the horrors of social cruelty are the results it leaves on the individuals. I would finally offer up Paul Robeson as a great example of someone who is overlooked. Robeson was an artist of unspeakable talent. His singing, musical artistry, painting, and all around artistic talent is unparalleled. Yet, when fed up with American discrimination, he leaves it to go to Russia. His leaving caused the American government to slander him in terrible and highly "UnAmerican" ways. It has always fascinated me that one of America's greatest talents received its harshest of treatments for being and thinking "differently."
What about any of the African-Americans who fought in WWII? Each of these men fought both racism and the enemy. Or, you could write about one of my favorite authors, Alex Haley. Alex Haley was an author who made African-American genealogy mainstream with his novel, Roots. Alex Haley was also the author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Roots led Haley to Africa where he learned of his family's history through an oral storyteller.
How about William H. Carney? He fought in the 54th regiment from the state of Massachusetts during the Civil War. He was the first African-American to recieve the Congressional Medal of Honor.
While most people know something about the Massachusetts 54th, I think you will find that Carney is little known by the majority of people. Good Luck!
If your history project must be about an african american person you can choose Richie Havens.
Richie Havens is a folk musician who was born in Brooklin in 1941. He had the chance to be Woodstock's festival first performer where he improvised the song " Freedom " based on a traditional old spiritual song .
The three hours performance made a great impact on the audience and later with the Woodstock movie, the struggle of the african americans in the 60's for equal rights and chances will be known worldwide . This struggle made their dreams real and today even the term "black history" is obsolete and should be replaced with "african american history " because it sounds like some medieval - dark ages term which, at first made me think about Vlad the Impaler or Countess Bathory because i'm an european resident .
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