We’ll be posting weekly during #BHM
Every Sunday evening, we will be posting a thread featuring Black people in various professions whose achievements, have not received the recognition they merited.
Week 2 is activists
1 - Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Marsha P. Johnson was a gay man & drag artist in New Jersey, who was involved in LGBTQ+ activism in the 60s & 70s
At this time homosexuality was classed as a mental illness in America, and LGBTQ+ people were often attacked by the police.
In June 1969, 23 year old Marsha was there when police carried out a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. 200 people were forced into the street and beaten. Marsha stood up to the police, with many claiming that ‘Marsha threw the first brick’ when rioting began
Nicknamed the ‘Saint of Christopher Street’ (where the Stonewall Inn was), Marsha resisted arrest and in the following days, led protests and riots, calling for gay liberation and equal rights. The Gay Liberation Front was born
A month later, Marsha was in the 1st gay march in New York. A year later, on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Marsha marched in the 1st Pride parade
Marsha founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), with close friend & trans activist, Sylvia Riviera
The organisation helped gay & trans people who were homeless. In 1992, Marsha’s body was found in the Hudson River. Police claimed she had committed suicide, but many friends argued it was murder with some claiming she had been harassed by thugs in the days before her death.
In 2012, Mariah Lopez lobbied the police to reopen the case and her death was reclassified as ‘undetermined’. The Marsha P. Johnson Institute has been founded to ‘elevate, support, and nourish the voices of BLACK trans people’ everywhere: https://marshap.org/
This year, the Mayor of New York renamed East River State Park the 'Marsha P. Johnson State Park' and announced that a statue erected in her honour in 2021. To find out more about Marsha, check out their Netflix documentary here: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80189623
2 - Harriet Tubman (c.1821-1913)
Harriet Tubman helped hundreds of slaves on the Underground Railroad in America
leading them to safety in Pennsylvania. Nicknamed the ‘Moses of Her People’, she was born in c.1821 to Benjamin and Harriett Greene Ross.
Harriett was a field hand & servant. As a child, her master threw a piece of iron at her which struck her head, causing narcoleptic seizures throughout her life. She married free black man, John Tubman in 1844
She escaped slavery in 1849 to avoid being sold into the Deep South
Her husband refused to leave. She returned for him after a few months, to find he had remarried. Harriett later married Nelson Davis. She the headed to Philadelphia, where she became involved with the Underground Railroad
and developed links with black & white abolitionists.
During the Civil War she was a spy for the Union Army and on the 2/6/1863, she led 150 black Union soldiers in the Combahee River Raid. This was the only Civil War operation where a woman was in command. Tubman knew the location of Confederate torpedoes planted in the river
She led Union gunboats to safe areas where fugitive slaves were awaiting rescue. This mission liberated 750 people from slavery. After the Civil War, Harriet lived in Washington D.C. and became involved with the national suffrage movement. She died of pneumonia in March 1913.
In 2019, her life was documented in the film ‘Harriet’ & she was featured in BBC's True Stories here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p015gp0z
There is also a documentary on her on Amazon Prime video: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Harriet-Tubman-They-Called-Moses/dp/B07JQVJNCD
Find out more about Harriet on her website: http://www.harriet-tubman.org/
3 - Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895)
Frederick Bailey was born into slavery c.1818 in Maryland. His mother was of Native American ancestry and his father was of African & European descent. He took the name Douglass after he escaped slavery.
They moved to Massachusetts and took the surname Douglass, from the character in the Sir Walter Scott poem, 'The Lady of the Lake'. It was here that Douglass began attending meetings of the abolitionist movement. By 1843, Douglass was touring the country promoting the cause.
In the 1840s, Douglass toured England & Ireland, meeting Irish nationalist, Daniel O’Connell, who became an inspiration to him
Douglass began to publish the abolitionist newsletter 'The North Star' in 1847
He was the only POC to attend Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 - a gathering of women’s rights activists in New York
He then began to cover women’s rights issues in his newsletter, which changed its name to Frederick Douglass’ Paper in 1851. It was published until 1860
During the Civil War, Douglass was broadly supportive of Lincoln, but felt he fell short with the Emancipation Proclamation, by not giving the vote to ex-slaves. They reconciled before Lincoln’s death. Some believe Lincoln’s widow gave his favourite walking stick to Douglass
In 1877, Douglass supposedly met Thomas Auld, the man who had 'owned' him, and they reconciled. Douglass’ wife died in 1882, and he remarried white activist Helen Pitts in 1884. He was the first POC to receive a vote for President, at the Republican National Convention
Douglass remained an active campaigner until his death from a heart attack in 1895. A YouTube documentary on his life can be found here:
4 - Lélia Gonzalez (1935-1994)
Lélia was an intellectual & activist of the ‘Movimento Negro’ (Black Movement) in Brazil and primarily responsible for the development of black feminism in Brazil
Born in 1935, she grew up challenging the reality of social vulnerability by achieving her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology, examining racism & sexism in society.
She was a member of the Unified Black Movement (MNU), which changed the history of Black activism in Brazil in the 70s
She is credited with connecting common experiences of black women from Latin America and bringing those to a national debate about the condition of black women and colonization.
She participated in international feminist discussions and connected with organised Black women in Latin America & in the African diaspora as a whole. Her work continues to inform scholarly debate around Afro-feminist studies in Brazil to this day.
In 2010, the government of the state of Bahia created the Lélia Gonzalez Award to encourage public policies towards women in Bahian municipalities.
5 - Simon Nkoli (1957-1998)
Simon Nkoli was a gay & anti-apartheid activist who campaigned for freedom and justice in South Africa
He was born into extreme poverty in Soweto on 26/11/1957. During his childhood he lived and worked on a tenant farm with his grandparents
He enrolled in school but his grandparents and their white landlord wanted him to leave and work the farm full-time. He left for Johannesburg where he reunited with his mother & step-father and continued his education. As a teenager, Nkoli began to explore his sexuality.
When he was 20, he came out to his family who disapproved. His mother & stepfather took him to priests, healers, and psychiatrists. At 19, he met his lifelong partner, Roy Shepherd – a white bus driver
While Shepherd’s family had accepted his homosexuality, they didn't accept his relationship with a black man. The couple vowed to commit suicide if they couldn’t be together and finally Simon’s mother accepted his sexuality.
In 1980, he joined the ‘Congress of South African Students’ (COSAS), becoming secretary for the Transvaal branch. He felt that his sexuality and his beliefs in democracy were linked and revealed his sexuality to the group. It caused many debates but he kept his position.
He was a member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of South Africa (GASA)
- a predominantly white group with an apolitical stance on apartheid, who refused to support his anti-apartheid campaigning.
In 1984, at a funeral for those who died at the hands of the police during a protest against rent increases in Sebokeng, he and 22 others were arrested for their involvement and links with the United Democratic Front. He was detained for 9 months before being charged with treason
This led to the ‘Delmas Treason Trial’, one of the longest running trials in South African history, lasting 240 days. It took 2 years for him to be released on bail and another 2 years for him to be acquitted.
The GASA threw him out. His fellow prisoners discovered his sexuality. Initially this scared them - they thought they would be further condemned if he was tried with them. They soon realised that his sexuality was irrelevant & that nobody should be discriminated against.
In 1988, he founded the Gay & Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), an organisation which was instrumental in ensuring that LGBTQ+ rights were enshrined in South Africa’s new constitution
He was the first openly gay activist in South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela!
In 1990, he helped organise the country’s first Pride march and also helped found the Township Aids Project, which aimed at educating gay people about the disease and helping fight the AIDS epidemic in the 80s.
In 1994, he established the National Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality (NCGLE), helping connect gay rights organisations across South Africa. Aged 41, Nkoli contracted HIV himself and died as a result, on 30/11/1998. At his funeral, the coffin was draped in a Pride flag
Find out more about Simon’s life in the documentary, ‘Simon & I’, which was directed by friend and fellow activist, Beverley Palesa Ditsie:
6 - Bradford Lomax (1950-1984)
Born in 1950 in Philadelphia, Lomax was exposed to the Civil Rights Movement in 1963, during a visit to Alabama at the height of the state’s Civil Rights protests
Moving to Washington in 1968, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis
Eventually he required the use of a wheelchair
and he experienced the intersectional struggle of disabled black people. In 1969, he was a founding member of the Black Panther’s Washing chapter. He moved to Oakland and discovered the Centre for Independent Living
He contacted the centre’s director in 1975. Brad experienced difficulties on the city’s public transport and joined the Centre’s transport campaign. He suggested combining efforts with a local Black Panther chapter to support the mostly-black disabled community in the east
Lomax was a central figure in the disability rights movement when he joined more than 100 people in 1977, and occupied the 4th floor offices of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in San Francisco.
The aim was to persuade the government to enforce section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 was meant to prevent any recipient of US federal aid from discriminating against any 'otherwise qualified individuals with a disability'
The 504 sit-in lasted a month, and was the longest peaceful occupation of a federal building in US history, and was also supported by the Black Panthers thanks to Lomax’s interventions. The Panthers assumed responsibility for providing the protesters with hot meals & supplies
After 3 weeks, Lomax was one of 25 demonstrators chosen to travel to Washington to pressure the government into enforcing Section 504. The regulations were signed on 28/4/1977
Lomax continued to support the work of the Black Panthers up until his death in 1986, aged 33.
His efforts are credited as crucial to the eventual passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. You can find out more about him in this short YouTube documentary by @LEDERICK
here: , or in this article: http://www.rampyourvoice.com/black-history-month-2017-brad-lomax-disabled-black-panther/
But if you want to know more about the 504 sit-in, then check out this award-winning documentary:
7 - MaVynne ‘Beach Lady’ Betsch (1935 – 2005)
Environmental activist & opera singer, MaVynne Betsch, was born in Florida in 1935, to a wealthy African-American family. She graduated from university in 1955 and moved to Europe to perform as an Opera singer for 10 years
Returning to America, she settled in American Beach, Florida, which was built by her great-grandfather Abraham Lincoln Lewis. Lewis was also Florida’s 1st black millionaire
Lewis built the community as a haven for black Americans, in response to the oppressive Jim Crow laws
She would dedicate the rest of her life to the environmental preservation of the community, campaigning against attempted industrial developments & environmental dangers. Despite growing pressure from developers to renovate the community, Betsch stood firm.
Her dedication to preserving the beach earned her the name 'Beach Lady'. She donated her life’s fortune (c.$750,000) to 60 environmental causes. She was a passionate animal rights campaigner
and grew her fingernails to a 1ft to prove meat protein was unnecessary for growth
Despite a stomach cancer diagnosis in 2002, which caused the removal of her stomach, she continued campaigning, and developed plans for the American Beach Museum to showcase the history of the town. Betsch died in 2005, aged 70.
8 - Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Bomfree, a slave in New York in 1797. She was sold 4 times, endured harsh physical labour, and suffered extensive violence. As a teenager, she was united with another slave called Thomas and had 5 children
She escaped with her daughter, Sophia, to a nearby abolitionist family, the Van Wageners, who bought her freedom. They helped her to sue for the return of her son Peter, who had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. She was the 1st black woman to sue a white man and win!
In 1828, she moved to New York City and was employed by a preacher. By the 1830s she was involved in the religious revivals happening at the time and, whilst she’d never learned to read or write, she was a charismatic speaker.
In 1843, she changed her name to ‘Sojourner Truth’, declaring that the Spirit had called her to preach the truth. She met fellow abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison & Frederick Douglass, and Garrison’s anti-slavery organisation convinced her to give speeches opposing slavery
In 1850, with the help of Olive Gilbert, she wrote her autobiography, ‘The Narrative of Sojourner Truth’(which you can read online here: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/truth/1850/1850.html
She met women’s rights activists, Elizabeth Stanton & Susan B. Anthony, and temperance advocates. She became involved with both causes. In 1851, she began a tour which included a women’s rights conference in Ohio
At the conference she delivered her most famous speech, ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ (you can hear a modern recording of the speech here: https://www.thesojournertruthproject.com/
and find out more about the speech through the Sojourner Truth Project here:
In her speech, she challenged beliefs of racial and gender inequality. In the 1850’s, she moved to Michigan, where 3 of her daughters lived
When Civil War broke out, she encouraged young black men to join the Union army and helped organise supplies for the black troops.
Once the war ended, she was invited to the White House to meet Abraham Lincoln, and became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, where she helped ex-slaves find employment and start their new lives. Whilst in Washington, Truth campaigned against segregation
In the 1860s, when a streetcar conductor used violence to try and stop her riding the vehicle, she had him arrested and won the subsequent legal case. She started a petition to grant former slaves with land and collected thousands of signatures, but Congress never acted on this.
Towards the end of her life, and nearly blind & deaf, she spent her last years living in Michigan. You can find out more about Sojourner Truth in this short film: https://www.pbs.org/video/sojourner-truth-she-inspires-xml2ih/
or watch the mini PBS documentary here:
There has also been a short movie created by Kyle Portbury, which is an animation about her famous speech: https://vimeo.com/258621418
9 - Chief Albert John Luthuli (1898-1967)
Albert John Luthuli was a Zulu chief, teacher, religious leader & president of the African National Congress (ANC). He was the 1st African to receive the Nobel Prize in 1960, for his efforts in nonviolent action against racism
Albert's father died when he was 10 and he learned the Zulu traditions & duties from his Uncle, the chief of Groutville. He trained as a teacher, before marrying fellow teacher Nokukhanya Bhengu in 1927. Luthuli was elected the chief of Groutville in 1936
Luthuli became a member of the ANC in 1945 and was elected to the Natives Representative Council in 1946. At the same time, troops & police were violently putting down a strike by African miners. Touring the US in 1948, he warned of the severe test faced by Christianity in Africa
Returning home, he found that the Afrikaner Nationalist had come to power, along with their policy of apartheid.
In 1952, the ANC joined the South African Indian Congress in a nonviolent campaign to defy unjust apartheid laws – 8500 people went to prison voluntarily!
Because of his popularity, the government demanded he either resign from the ANC, or renounce his chieftainship. He did neither, and was forcibly deposed as chief by the government. This only contributed to his growing support and he was elected President of the ANC in 1952
He toured the country, until in 1956 he was arrested along with 155 others and charged with high treason. He was not convicted, and released the following year. During this time, his approach of nonviolent methods began to attract foreign praise, leading to his Nobel nomination.
In 1960, when police killed or wounded more than 250 Africans demonstrating against the pass laws at Sharpeville, Luthuli called for national mourning, and he himself burned his pass. Too ill to serve the resulting prison sentence, he paid a fine
The government outlawed the ANC and its rival offshoot, the Pan-Africanist Congress. He travelled to Oslo in 1961 to receive his Nobel prize, and praised the continuing nonviolent efforts of anti-apartheid campaigners.
On 21/7/1967, as he made a habitual crossing of a railway bridge near his small farm, Chief Luthuli was struck by a train and died. If you want to learn more, check out this short documentary on Albert here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1960/lutuli/documentary/
10 - Yaa Asantewaa (mid 1800s-1921)
Yaa Asantewaa was an Ashanti Queen. She is generally believed to have been born between 1840-1860 in the Ashanti Confederacy (present-day Ghana). She was a skilled farmer before ascending to Queen Mother
As Queen Mother, she held many responsibilities, including being the Gatekeeper of the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool is an emblem of the Ashanti kingdom. She was also chief advisor to the King, and the 2nd most powerful member of the confederacy’s leadership.
In 1896, the Ashanti peoples began to rebel against the British presence in their lands and the British attempt to construct the 'Gold Coast' colony. The British removed the king and other Ashanti leaders to the Seychelles Islands in an effort to acquire the Golden Stool.
While remaining leaders within the community debated on how to best respond, Asantewaa rallied the troops
Her leadership resulted in her role as Commander in Chief of the Ashanti army.
In turn, the Anglo-Ashanti wars’ 5th and final war against the British became known as the Yaa Asantewaa War of Independence (or the War of the Golden Stool), which began on 28/3/1900.
The conflict began when British representative Sr. Frederick Mitchell Hodgson sat on the Golden Stool. When Hodgson’s act became known, Yaa Asantewaa led the rebellion which resulted in the death of 1,000 British and allied African soldiers and 2,000 Ashanti.
Both totals were higher than the deaths from all previous wars combined. To inspire the leaders of her community, Asantewaa proclaimed that if the men of the kingdom would not defend the people, then the women would rise to the challenge, and they did
This invigorated the men and challenged traditional gender roles. She led the rebellion and became an image of strength & resistance. Unfortunately, she was captured during the rebellion and exiled to Seychelles, where she died in 1921.
In August 2000, a museum was opened in her honour in Ghana ( http://yaaasantewaahmuseum.ghana0.com/
). You can find out more about Yaa in this short BBC Africa YouTube video: or in this short animation: https://www.dw.com/en/yaa-asantewaa-the-asante-warrior-queen/a-42968725
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.