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Inspiring and Powerful: 5 Unsung African American Heroes Your Kids Should Know About

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It’s important that children learn about the contributions of African American leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama, but there are many unsung heroes who’ve also earned their place in history, even if they aren’t as well known. Whether your little one is already showing a penchant for politics, a love of sports, an interest in baking, or something else, these are five unsung African American heroes your kids will want to know about.

For The Budding Baker in Your Family, Georgia Gilmore

Georgia Glimore, via Encyclopedia Of Alabama

For Georgia Gilmore, cooking was always a passion. At the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held meetings during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Gilmore was famous for her fried chicken sandwiches. But beyond that, with help from fellow churchgoers and other home cooks, she started the Club From Nowhere, a secret group that prepared and sold meals to raise money for what turned out to be a nearly 400-day resistance. Together they helped fund an alternative transportation system that would help black residents get around during the bus boycott. After testifying on behalf of King in a conspiracy trial, she lost her job. Never deterred, she converted her home kitchen into a restaurant and was able to support herself for years after. 

The next time your kiddo wants to bake cupcakes, tell them about Gilmore, whose cooking skills helped her play a crucial role in moving the civil rights movement forward — and who knows? It might inspire them to host a bake sale for a favorite charity.

For The Speedster Who Loves Sports, Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph winning the women’s 100 meter dash at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, via GPA Photo Archive

Do you have a sports star in your family? Tell them about Wilma Rudolph, who became the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s. Born premature, she was stricken with pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio as a child. She had so many problems with one of her legs she had to wear a brace for part of her childhood and didn’t walk on her own until age 12. But almost as soon as she learned to walk she started running track and field, and she never looked back. She became the first black woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games, plus a slew of world titles. Whether your child is headed to the Olympics themselves one day or they’re just headed out to tee-ball practice, they’ll be inspired by the barriers Wilma Rudolph overcame to achieve greatness.

For The Kid Who Loves To Take Things Apart, Lewis Latimer 

Lewis Latimer, via National Park Service

STEM-loving kids who are always keen to build and fix things will love hearing about inventor Lewis Latimer. While working as a draftsman after the Civil War, he collaborated with several notable inventors, including two of America’s most famous: Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. Soon after Edison designed the first light bulb, it was Latimer who truly perfected it, increasing its longevity so it lasted more than just a few days and lowering its price; Latimer is credited as the reason we have streetlights and electric lights in our homes. He also supervised the first series of public light installations in American and international cities, made contributions to Bell’s invention of the telephone, patented improvements to elevators, and more. Quite an inspiration for young inventors and innovators!

For The Storyteller Who’s Always Asking Questions, Alice Allison Dunnigan

Alice Allison Dunnigan, via Kentucky Commission on Human Rights

Does your child take a notebook everywhere? Do you have a curious, inquisitive child who dreams of being a novelist or reporter? Introduce them to Alice Allison Dunnigan, the first black female White House correspondent and the first black female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press corps. When she was just 13, she wrote for her local newspaper, the Owensboro Enterprise. After several years of working her way up at various jobs, she eventually became the chief of the Associated Negro Press in 1947. While in that position she became the first female African American to follow a president on the road (though she was forced to pay her own way). She went on to cover the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations and wrapped her distinguished career as a consultant on President Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. 

For The Pint-Size Politico Who Dreams Of Being President, Shirley Chisolm

Shirley Chisolm, via Library of Congress

If your child wants to run for office one day, have them get to know Shirley Chisholm. After spending years as a daycare worker, she became the first black woman to run for Congress, joining the US House of Representatives for New York. She worked tirelessly for poor and working families, helping to expand the food stamps program in her state and co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus. In 1972 she ran for president as the first African-American to be a major-party candidate.

Introducing your kids to these unsung but incredibly important real-life heroes not only keeps history alive, it teaches important lessons about perseverance, overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal, and the power of staying dedicated to your dreams. Inspire your family today, starting with these five amazing trailblazers.


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The former Content Director at Parenting, parenting.com and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.