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EDITORIAL: A chance to highlight pivotal African Americans

Don’t let Jussie Smollet’s actions ruin what Black History Month can accomplish

Jussie Smollett is an American actor on the popular tv show “Empire” who staged a racially and homophobic attack on himself to boost his career. Smollett alleged attack has mountains of evidence that it was staged.

The case has left Smollett’s fans and colleagues stunned. This scandal comes out on the tail end of Black History Month, which hurts more. We should not leave Black History Month on a bad note, so we want to highlight some black individuals who left their mark in history.

Claudette Colvin was a teen in 1955 living in Montgomery, Alabama as an African American. While inside a bus, she refused to move from her seat for a white passenger, saying that it was a violation of her constitutional rights. She was arrested for the action and labeled a troublemaker by her community, leading her to drop out of school. Despite Colvin’s actions preceding Rosa Parks by nine months, little is known about what she did. She went on to be part of one of the four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, where Montgomery’s segregation laws were found to be unconstitutional.

Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman who passed away due to cervical cancer. Her cells were collected, and in a rare case they doubled every 24 hours. The aptly named HeLa cells are now used to study the effects of radiation and poisons without using human subjects, and were used for the development of the polio virus. Although there is controversy in the use of the HeLa cells, as Lacks’ family never received any recognition or compensation for the discovery. Despite this, the HeLa cells were pivotal in their medical uses.

Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to stage a public flight in America. Coleman lived in Atlanta, Texas in 1892 until moving to Chicago at age 23. She wanted to explore aviation, but due to being black and a woman she faced racial and gender discrimination. Despite challenges, she broke through those barriers and received her pilot’s license after moving to France. She had a dream of starting an African American flight school in the US, but tragically died during an aerial flight rehearsal at the age of 34. Coleman was a pioneer for other African Americans who aspired to become a pilot, and was inducted in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.

The Harlem Hellfighters were the 369th Infantry Regiment and mainly consisted of African Americans. The Harlem Hellfighters fought in the trenches of Germany during World War I for six months, the longest any American infantry regiment fought during World War I. Two of their bravest soldiers were privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, who fought off 24 German soldiers killing four during a surprise attack. Both Johnson and Roberts were awarded the French Croix de Guerre and were the first Americans ever to receive the award. This is one of many awards that the Harlem Hellfighters received.

We wanted to move away from the negativity that came from this year’s Black History Month. Instead we want to highlight these African American individuals that had a pivotal role in shaping history and inspiring others.

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