Celebrating The Forgotten Heroines Of Black History

Why These Influential Black Activists Were Left Out Of The History Books

Black History Month aims to celebrate the achievements of African American icons who have changed the course of history, but not all are afforded the same recognition.

Few know about the contributions of Claudette Colvin, who was just 15 years old when she refused to give her seat on the bus to a white passenger, months before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.

Treva Lindsey, a professor at Ohio State University, joined HuffPost Live on Monday to discuss Colvin’s "tremendous story." Colvin was also one of four female plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, which overturned Montgomery’s bus segregation laws. Still, Colvin is not among the well-known civil rights leaders pegged to Black History Month, and Lindsey said there are numerous reasons for that.

"We can talk about class, we can talk about color, we can talk about all kinds of politics that intersect with why she is not supported," she told host Marc Lamont Hill.

Lindsey explained that Colvin represents "tensions" in the black community that inform "how we remember, who we remember and who we celebrate" in history. Colvin, who became pregnant after her arrest, didn't fit the profile that the NAACP wanted to lead the fight against segregation.

"If we were to remember her as a symbolic mother [of the civil rights movement] ... what does that mean about what we think a historical actor can be? What would it mean to think about a possibly unwed teenage mother being … central to even a contemporary movement?" she asked. "We have so much pejorative language around certain kinds of black pathology, and I think Claudette Colvin is an excellent example of what that does in terms of how we remember and who we engage in terms of radical racial politics."

Marsha P. Johnson is yet another activist whose achievements seem to have been lost in the shuffle of history.

Johnson was an integral part of New York City’s LGBT community in the 1960s. She was photographed as part of Andy Warhol's series on drag queens and resisted police during the 1969 raid of the West Village’s Stonewall Inn. The case of Johnson’s mysterious death, which was deemed a suicide in 1992, has since been reopened, with some suspecting foul play.

Lindsey emphasized the importance of Johnson’s story and rewriting the narrative of black history from an "inclusive space."

"We start from trans inclusivity, we start from gender inclusivity, we start from the margins of the margins to really get at what that story looks like. That’s how we get through the silence. Thats how we break through the fissures," she said.

By focusing on a different set of actors, Lindsey suggested we may see a new and more complete version of black history.

"I think that Marsha [Johnson], if we were to center her … in that conversation and start from someone like her to map back this long history of activism and struggle of justice, of triumph, of creation and invention, we end up somewhere different," she said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about black history’s forgotten heroes here.

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Chermaine Nelson

Black History Month 2014 - Inspiration