Black History Month: America’s Hidden Figures

KatieAnn Nguyen, Staff Writer

It’s February! You know what that means! No, not Valentine’s Day, Black History Month! For the whole month of February, we honor African Americans, their history here, and all they do for America, for they are a core part of our community just as you and I are. 

You’ve probably heard of Barack Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Maya Angelou, and so many more famous others. However, have you heard of the hidden figures from Black history? There are so many noteworthy African Americans that deserve recognition, and in honor of Black History Month, we’ll be talking about some of America’s Black hidden figures. 

The first one of our hidden figures is Cathay Williams. She was born in Missouri as a slave and later enlisted as an African-American soldier in the United States army. She first sparked interest in the army when she served as support when the Union Army occupied Jefferson City. From there she enlisted under the pseudonym William Cathay and served in the American Indian Wars in the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Her term was for three years, but after contracting smallpox, she was discovered as a woman and discharged. Despite her discharge, her fighting spirit lived on. She then joined an emerging all-black regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Cathay Williams is recognized as an American Hero, for she is the first woman to enlist and the only documented woman disguised as a man to have served in the U.S. Army during the American Indian Wars. 

Another one of our hidden figures was Jesse Owens. He was a track-and-field athlete who set a world record in the long jump at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. He had broken the world record, landing a long jump of 8.13 meters that would stay unrivaled for 25 years thereafter. He earned four gold medals during the Olympics that year in the long jump, 100- and 200-meter dash, 100-meter relay, and other off-the-track events. Not only had he made sporting history, but he disproved Hitler’s claim of Aryan superiority with his triumphs. Hitler had planned to use the 1936 Berlin Olympics to prove Aryan superiority, but Owens had proved him wrong by setting a world record and taking home gold. Later in Owens’ life, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1976 as well as was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990. 

Bessie Coleman is another hidden figure. She had been the first African American and Native American woman to hold both a national and international pilot’s license. As a woman of color, it was difficult for her to find someone to teach her how to fly. However, these difficulties didn’t stop her drive. Instead of learning in America, Coleman went to France for her training. She was known as “Queen Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World” for her performance of flying tricks as well. Her goal had been to encourage women and African Americans to pursue their ambitions and while she died in a plane crash, her story continues to inspire others just like her. 

While these are just a few of America’s African American hidden figures, there are so many others that need to be studied. This year, our 2021 Black History Month theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” which explores the spread of Black families all across America. Happy Black History Month everyone!