It’s no secret that, throughout time, the black community has been hidden from the pages of the history books. We’ve been relegated to the footnotes, meriting no more than a brief mention amongst all the words written on presidential elections, innovative inventions, and wars that have changed the world around us.

But that’s not to say we haven’t left our mark. Like those of every colour and creed, there are great Afro-American men and women throughout the ages whose heritage was the same as ours, and whose achievements have been nothing short of mighty. This article is dedicated to them.

Here are seven hidden figures who we want to deservedly bring out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

Phillip A. Payton Jr 

Beginning his professional career as a jack-of-all-trades, Phillip A. Payton Jr was a man who worked multiple jobs. Barber, handyman, and porter in one, this savvy saver used his hard-won earnings to purchase office space in Harlem in the early 1900s, and it was from here that he started managing buildings for black tenants. His venture grew by 1904 into the Afro-American Realty Company, an enterprise that went a long way towards disrupting the ‘redlining’ that had traditionally kept black New Yorkers trapped in D-rated neighbourhoods. Helping to change the dynamics of Harlem forever, Payton Jr was responsible for creating the safe space in which the Harlem Renaissance and the black culture it represented could develop and flourish.

Madam C. J. Walker

Source: Facebook via Madam C. J Walker

Madame CJ Walker

Did you know the black hair business is worth $4.2 billion per annum? It’s an astonishing sum, and it all started with Madam C.J. Walker and her mentor, self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo Malone, all the way back in 1903. Walker’s hair care products not only transformed the experiences of Afro-American women everywhere but helped to build a commercial empire for their creator, one that enabled her to open a beauty school and factory that trained over 40,000 black women in how to use and sell her products. Creating jobs for many amongst this poorest and most vulnerable sector of society, Walker went on to become the first self-made female millionaire in existence, as well as the mother of the modern-day black beauty industry.

George Washington Carver

Another name we really ought to know but so often don’t is that of George Washington Carver, who arguably transformed the entire agricultural landscape of the US. Coming up with a number of inventions that simplified and streamlined the way Americans farmed, it was his ideas and innovations that paved the way for the organic food boom we’re experiencing today. A lecturer at Tuskegee University for an amazing 47 years, Carver was responsible for teaching invaluable farming techniques to generations of black students, including various methods of crop rotation and ways and means of improving the soil. His soil consultation in the South was particularly invaluable, helping cotton farmers to vastly improve their yields.

Arthur Ulysses Craig 

Robotics is busy transforming dozens of industries across the globe, but did you know it was a black man who helped pave the way for many of the advances we’re seeing today? Born in Weston, Missouri in 1872, Arthur Ulysses Craig joined the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama as a faculty member in 1895, becoming the first black electrical engineer ever. It was he who oversaw the installation of an electric lighting plant at the university, which is reported to have been the first of its kind in Macon County. The electric lights which ran off this were installed in the school’s chapel in 1898, before gradually being extended to other buildings at the Institute. Much of Craig’s other work has also received belated recognition due to the recent renewed interest in robotics.

James Evans

As one of the greatest pool players ever to have lived, James Evans was an athlete par excellence, and yet today, his name is almost lost to us. Owner of a pool room in Harlem, this iconic figure was a direct contemporary of the great Ralph Greenleaf – and was said to have more than held his own in the many matches between them. Barred from pro tournaments because of his colour, he was nonetheless known to challenge the winners, drill them, and still walk home with the prize money. Rumour has it that it was, in fact, Evans who took a world championship in a challenge match against Erwin Rudolph in the late 1920s, and that a plaque on the wall of long-demolished Bensinger’s in Chicago proved it. What we do know for certain is this: were he alive today and had we money to gamble, we’d be finding the best bonus around on Oddschecker, heading to our bookmaker of choice, and placing our bet on him.

Annie Easley

Next up, Annie Easley. A computer scientist who worked for NASA, Easley performed the role of ‘human computer’ from 1955 to 1977, spending 22 years of her life carrying out mathematical computing by hand for the organisation’s researchers. With a brain to rival all others, Easley was determined to adapt to the many technological developments going on around her, and learned how to use intricate and complex tech including Fortran, SOAP, and Centaur. Her studies would eventually pay off, and see her become one of the organisations top programmers and rocket scientists. If that’s not an example of girl power at its most impressive, we don’t know what is.

Ira Aldridge 

Ira Aldridge

Source: Facebook via Old Black Hollywood

Last but most certainly not least, let us tell you about one of the greatest black men ever to grace the stage. Ira Frederick Aldridge was born in 1807, but fought through the racial prejudices of his era to become one of the biggest names in both American and British theatre. A stage actor and playwright, he was especially known for his Shakespearean roles. Despite the difficulties he faced, he went on to become a revered actor throughout the world, being particularly admired in Prussia and Russia, where he was awarded top honours from both heads of state. Aldridge remains the only actor of African-American descent to be honoured amongst 33 scions of the English stage at The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Talented, creative, intelligent, and ambitious, these seven inspiring figures have been largely swallowed by the mists of time, but now’s our chance to bring them back into the spotlight. The ultimate examples of how much one can achieve even when faced with the greatest adversity, they should act as icons to us all, no matter our race or religion, gender or sexuality. Their stories are and should forever be a celebration: the most perfect evidence that what is good and meaningful can never really be forgotten, no matter how much some people might want it to be.

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