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              gif of black and white photos of African American heroes from history

              Parental Arts

              10 Black Heroes Your Children May Not Know About

              Share the stories of these astronauts, inventors, and athletes with your children. Their contributions include Arctic exploration, being the first African American woman in congress, and ending bus segregation.

              Written By
              Marnie Schwartz

              Lewis Latimer

              Thomas Edison may have invented the lightbulb, but inventor Lewis Latimer’s creation—the carbon filament—made electric lights accessible and affordable. Latimer, a Civil War veteran who was self-taught, was also instrumental in the invention of the telephone with Alexander Graham Bell. Learn more about Latimer by exploring the website for the Lewis Latimer House Museum in New York City, which currently features virtual programming for kids.
              black and white portrait of inventor Lewis Latimerblack and white portrait of inventor Lewis Latimer

              Mae Jemison

              A doctor, engineer, astronaut, professor, Peace Corps member, entrepreneur, and author, Dr. Jemison has held (and continues to hold) many impressive roles. In 1992, she became the first Black woman in outer space when she traveled with 6 other astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavor, which orbited earth 127 times. Preorder the new edition of her autobiography, out this month, which is geared towards kids and teens – from grades 3 and up.
              portrait of astronaut Mae Jemisonportrait of astronaut Mae Jemison

              Matthew Henson

              “The lure of the Arctic is tugging at my heart,” wrote Matthew Henson, a Black explorer who, along with Robert Peary, were the first human beings to stand on the North Pole. The pair finally succeeded at this feat in 1909 after 18 years of attempts together. (According to Henson, he was the first of their group to reach the destination.) Your kids can learn more about Henson and Peary and their impressive adventures. with this short video from PBS World Explorers.
              portrait of explorer Matthew Hensonportrait of explorer Matthew Henson

              Rebecca Lee Crumpler

              The first African American female M.D., Dr. Crumpler cared for freed slaves who would otherwise not have had access to medical care. In 1883, she published her Book of Medical Discourses, which shared details about her life and experience and also advised on health issues for children and mothers. She dedicated her book “to mothers, nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the afflictions of the human race.” Dr. Crumpler is featured in Vashti Harrison’s children’s book Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History.
              title page of Rebecca Lee Crumpler's A Book of Medical Discoursestitle page of Rebecca Lee Crumpler's A Book of Medical Discourses

              Bessie Coleman

              The first African American and first Native American female pilot, Coleman was known for her performing tricks and earned nicknames such as “Brave Bessie” and “Queen Bess.” Due to her race and gender, no American flight schools would accept her, so she went to France to learn to fly, learning French first so that she could write her application. In 1921 she earned her international pilot’s license, and quickly thereafter, a loyal following. Coleman refused to perform for segregated audiences and was known for standing by her principles. Sadly, in 1926, at just 34 years old, she died on a test flight with a mechanic. Share more of her story with your kids with this new picture book about her.
              portrait of pilot Bessie Colemanportrait of pilot Bessie Coleman

              Shirley Chisholm

              "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair," said Chisholm, the first African American woman in congress and to seek the nomination for the U.S. presidency from a major political party. An advocate for women and minorities, she served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, starting in 1969, and was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus. The picture book about her, Shirley Chisholm is a Verb, will teach your littles more about this dynamic doer.
              portrait of first African American woman in congress, Shirley Chisholmportrait of first African American woman in congress, Shirley Chisholm

              George Coleman Poage

              The star runner from Wisconsin was the first African American on the University of Wisconsin varsity track team. He was the first Black athlete to win a race in the Big Ten track championships. And in 1904, he became the first African American to win an Olympic medal. (He earned two, both bronze.) After his short but successful running career, Poage, who had been an excellent student, became a high school principal, and then worked as a teacher, and later, a U.S. Postal Service clerk. His accomplishments went largely uncelebrated until 50+ years after his history-making races.

              signed portrait of athlete George Coleman Poagesigned portrait of athlete George Coleman Poage

              Claudette Colvin

              Your kids have likely heard of Rosa Parks. But nine months before Parks’ protest, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to vacate her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus while on her way home from school, and was arrested and jailed. The idea of a bus boycott was already in the works, but Colvin’s arrest accelerated interest. She eventually became a plaintiff in the lawsuit that successfully challenged bus segregation. Learn more about Colvin with your kids by reading Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice.
              portrait of activist Claudette Colvinportrait of activist Claudette Colvin

              Josh Gibson

              Gibson was considered the best power hitter of his era, in both the Negro and Major leagues. While records are incomplete, experts consider him baseball’s greatest home run hitter. Gibson played in the Negro Leagues in the two decades leading up to integration. Sadly, in 1947 at the age of 35, he died of a stroke related to a brain tumor, just three months before Jackie Robinson played in the Major Leagues for the first time for the Brooklyn Dodgers, beginning the integration of the sport.

              portrait of baseball player Josh Gibsonportrait of baseball player Josh Gibson

              Marian Wright Edelman

              The founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Edelman has spent her life working to give a voice to children, who can’t vote or speak up for themselves. The Children’s Defense Fund—with Edelman at the helm from its beginnings in 1973 until she stepped down as President to become President Emerita last year—has worked tirelessly on behalf of children in poverty, children of color, and children with disabilities and to ensure that all kids’ needs—from healthcare to education to a moral foundation—are met. Work your way, along with your children, through her list of essential reading for kids or read her book I Can Make a Difference.
              portrait of Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelmanportrait of Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman