Black History Month: National figures you should know


Photo credit: Ren Rader

Illustrations by Ren Rader

Claudette Colvin

B. 1939

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Photo credit: Ren Rader

Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, Claudette Colvin did the same thing. When the bus driver ordered her to get up, Colvin refused and was arrested by two police officers. She was only 15 at the time. After her arrest, Colvin was one of four plaintiffs in the 1956 case Browder v. Gayle, the court case that successfully overturned bus segregation laws in Montgomery and Alabama. When asked why she is little known compared to Rosa Parks, Colvin told NPR that black organizations felt Parks would be a good icon because “she was an adult. They didn’t think teenagers would be reliable.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates

B. 1975

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Photo credit: Ren Rader

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author and journalist who writes about politics, culture and white supremacy. He worked as a national correspondent for The Atlantic for a decade and has published several books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller “Between the World and Me,” a nonfictional letter to his teenage son about being Black in America. Coates has published issues of “The Black Panther” and “Captain America” comics by Marvel. He is a writer in residence at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Tarana Burke

B. 1973

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Photo credit: Ren Rader

Tarana Burke is an activist who founded the Me Too movement. Burke began to use the phrase “Me Too” on social media in 2006 to raise awareness for sexual abuse and assault. In 2017, #MeToo went viral when people started using it to tweet about the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations. Time magazine named Burke along with a group of other prominent activists as the Time Person of the Year in 2017. Burke is also the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for young women and girls.