Important People in Honour of Black History Month 2022

October 26, 2022

It’s Black History Month in the UK, a time where we celebrate the successes of black people whilst remembering the hardship they have endured. And what better way to do so than to learn about some of our greatest black individuals? 

Read our list that celebrates an important person in each educational field. From self-taught mathematician Benjamin Banneker to bright artist Faith Ringgold and many more. 

Maths: Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806)

Benjamin Banneker was a pioneering mathematician and astronomer, who built America’s first clock - that struck hourly - at just 24 years old. He also had an in-depth understanding of trigonometry that helped him predict a solar eclipse in 1789. 

Banneker was passionate about civil rights, and convinced many, including the president at the time, Thomas Jefferson, that black people were intellectually equal to white people. He’s a great inspiration to all of us on what people can achieve, despite what others may believe, and paved the way for many others to come. 

“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.” -Benjamin Banneker

Art: Faith Ringgold

Faith Ringgold’s artwork encompasses everyday experiences that influenced and shaped the world around her - from the people she met to her favourite songs. A lot of her artwork centres around the racism, sexism and segregation she had to deal with going up during the Great Depression-era in Harlem, New York. 

Faith uses bright and vibrant colours to paint children’s picture books as well as quilted narrations of her political beliefs. One of her most well-known books is ‘Tar Beach’ which communicates the dreams and hopes of a young African American girl, Cassie. At age 92, she continues to make art today. 

English Literature: Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah left school aged 13 unable to read or write. This however didn’t stop him to become the powerful poet he is today. His work is incredibly authentic, with its roots in Jamaican music and politics, representing what he calls ‘street politics’. He performs his poems in a concert-like atmosphere, bringing poetry to new audiences. 

However, he is just one example of the many black people in literature that have shaped our lives. Read about many other great writers who featured in our list last year on top books to read for Black History Month.

Science: Alice Ball (1892-1916)

Alice Ball was an African American chemist, who in her early 20s, developed the first successful treatment for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy). It was named the “Ball Method” and was used to treat infected patients for over thirty years. Alice was also the first African American woman to graduate with a Masters degree in chemistry. 

Unfortunately, Alice died in a tragic accident at the young age of 24, and did not get to see the full impact of her discovery. We are sure she would have continued to contribute and impact science today. The Former Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii has declared February 29 “Alice Ball Day” in honour of her great work and memory. 

History: Toussaint Louverture (1743 – 1803)

Toussaint Louverture is one of the most interesting and important historical figures you may not have heard of. Born a slave in the French colony of Saint-Domingue he was the most prominent figure responsible for capitalising on the chaos of the French Revolution, leading his homeland to independence and creating modern Haiti. 

Not only was he a key leader in the world’s only successful slave rebellion, but he combined military smarts and political prowess to manoeuvre the highly complicated world at the turn of the 19th century. Today, he is celebrated around the world, but particularly in his native Haiti as well as in France, where he died and is remembered through a plaque in the iconic Pantheon in Paris.

Music: Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018)

Soul music has been an important part of Afro-American culture and the civil rights movement. Aretha Franklin’s work was at the forefront of this. She helped define 1960s soul music and became known as 'The Queen of Soul’. Aretha won 18 Grammy awards which made her one of the most successful female Grammy award artists to date.  

From growing up gospel singing in her local churches to becoming the first woman to be added to the rock and roll hall of fame, Franklin continued to involve herself in helping the civil rights and women's rights movements. Some of her most popular songs, including “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, became the anthems of campaigns for social change. 

Physical Education: Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016)

Muhammad Ali was a professional boxer and activist from Louisville, Kentucky. He won his first gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics, at the age of 18, and became one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century. 

Ali was also an important activist, despite US demands, he bravely refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War which made him an icon for the larger counterculture in the 1960s. He also highly supported racial pride for African Americans during the civil rights movement as well as throughout his career. Nicknamed ‘The Greatest’ Muhammad Ali is a true inspiration for all sports men and women. 

Drama: Hattie McDaniel (1893 – 1952)

Hattie McDaniel was an American actress and singer, who became the first African American to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939), the first  film in colour and still the most commercially successful film when adjusted for inflation. She was also one of the first Black women to sing on the radio in the US. 

Hattie's life and career highlights the racial injustice of the first half of the 20th century and beyond. She was only credited for 83 of her 300 film appearances and was unable to attend the premier for Gone with the Wind in Atlanta due to it being in a whites-only theatre. The segregation of the period forced her to sit on a coloured table at the side of the room during the Oscar ceremony and even her final wish of being buried in Hollywood Cemetery was denied. Her career reminds us of all the hardships endured by many people of colour during this era.

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Sadiyah Zaman

Sadiyah is our Senior Content Writer who combines her background in design and writing to create compelling educational content for Tutor House. When she's not managing her foster cat's mischievous antics, she can be found with a warm cup of coffee, meticulously crafting her next written masterpieces.

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