The Forgotten Heroes of African-American History

By Fred Foster – February 19, 2021
Image by Getty

African-American history is full of pioneers who have been at the forefront of developments in the Civil Rights movement, technology, politics, sport and so many more areas of society, yet a lot of these trailblazers did not get the recognition they deserve.

Jesse L. Brown

Jesse L. Brown wanted to fly for his country, and he wrote to President Roosevelt to ask why African-Americans weren’t doing this. It was thanks to his letter that this changed, and he became the first Navy pilot of color in 1947.

In 1950, at war in Korea, Brown was shot down and died from his wounds. He was posthumously awarded the Flying Cross and a vessel was named after him in the 1970s. 

Bessie Coleman

Like Brown, Bessie Coleman also wanted to fly. She was held back by her gender as well as her color, but not her steely determination. Amazingly, she learned French, then traveled to France where she learned to fly, then returned home as the USA’s first black female pilot. 

Using her status to draw attention to racial inequality, Bessie performed at air shows nationwide. She died in a tragic accident at a show in Florida in 1926. 

Earl Lloyd

A giant man, Earl Lloyd was one of the first three players of color to be drafted by the NBA, in 1950. His team, the Washington Capitals, were the first of the three’s teams to play, so Earl became the first black player in the association’s history. 

After less than ten games, he was sent to fight in Korea. On his safe return, he made further inroads in basketball, this time as a renowned coach. 

Fran Ross

The canon of Fran Ross’s work is not huge, but that doesn’t diminish its importance. Her one novel, Oreo, is a hard-hitting examination of race, written in a style that few other writers were prepared to put their names to the 1970s.

Ross later had work published in other publications and even wrote jokes for famous comedians, but Oreo remains her standout piece and its appreciation has increased with the story’s age.