Black history month gives us the space to recognize figures from around the world who have made an impact on the global Black community.
The contributions of these figures, and so many others, worked to end oppressive systems, break barriers, and bring to light the challenges faced by Black people everywhere.
They’ve protested, led, marched, fought, broke barriers and should be celebrated for their sacrifice and the impact they made along the way. The legacy some have left behind has guided the paths of many leaders for generations, and some are making their mark on history right now.
Here are a few Black history makers from around the world you should know.
Born in 1909, Kwame Nkrumah served as the first prime minister and president of Ghana. He led the country from 1952 through its independence from Great Britain in 1957. Nkrumah attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1935 and was heavily involved with the development of the African Students' Organization of the United States and Canada. As a student, he also joined the Mu Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, Fraternity, Inc. Later in his political career, Nkrumah headed up the Pan-African movement, serving as a founding member of the Organization of African Unity. Nkrumah died in 1972 from cancer.
Queen Mother of the Ashanti Empire in the 1880s, Yaa Asantewaa continues to be celebrated for her bravery and leadership in the face of threats from the British. At the time of her rule, Yaa Asantewaa held the second highest position in the empire, acting as a prime adviser to King Asantehene Prempeh I and protector of the Golden Stool, which held major significance in the empire's culture. In 1896, the British expelled the king and other leaders to the Seychelles Islands in response to the Ashanti people rebelling against their presence and their desire to obtain the Golden Stool.
Yaa Asantewaa didn't back down from the threat and gathered troops to fight back. She acted as Commander-in-Chief during the War of the Golden Stool, which began on March 28, 1900. The battle ensued after a British representative disrespected the Ashanti people's culture and sat on the Golden Stool.
The battle was fierce, and there were major losses on both sides. Yaa Asantewaa was captured during the rebellion and exiled to the Seychelles Islands, where she died in 1921.
In August 2000, a museum was opened in Ghana to honor her actions and influence.
As a writer, composer, abolitionist, and shop owner during the mid-1700s, Ignatius Sancho made a deep cultural impact on England. Though some researchers dispute when he was really born, a biography published in 1782 says Ignatius was born on a slave ship that was headed to the Caribbean after leaving the coast of Guinea, West Africa.
Ignatius was eventually taken to London, where he was enslaved at a house in Greenwich. He wrote several letters documenting his experience and eventually met John Montagu, a Duke, who encouraged Ignatius to pursue an education. Montagu gave him books to read, and after the duke's death, Ignatius went to work in the household for two decades.
He married Anne Osborne, a woman of Caribbean descent, in 1758, and they had seven children together. They also opened a grocery store, and at the time, Ignatius established himself as a literary figure, penning critiques and cultural accounts. He also published a book of musical compositions.
Being an independent financial head of household, Sancho became eligible to vote and in 1774, became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election. He made this history just six years before his death in 1780.
Victoria Santa Cruz
Afro-Peruvian artist and activist Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gammara is widely considered the "Mother of Afro-Peruvian dance." She was born in 1922 in Lima, Peru, to a playwright father and a singer-dancer mother. Her parents made an impression on Victoria as a child, which she ran with. She went on to found the first Black-owned theater in Peru and directed a widely-success play, Malato. Cruz's art led her to study in Paris, garnering her attention for both her plays and traditional Peruvian costuming. In 1968, Cruz's dance troupe was offered the opportunity to perform at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, even though the group had only formed two years prior. In 1970, Cruz's most notable poem, Me Gritaron Negra, displayed a transition from shame to pride in her race.
Cruz died in 2014.
Jamaican-born activist and leader Marcus Garvey organized Black nationalist movements during the 1910s and 1920s. Garvey gained a following in Harlem, New York, and in 1916, established several chapters of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) after first organizing the group in his home country. Records are unclear, but there are estimates that Garvey's organization had two million followers at one point. During a speech at the UNIA's Liberty Hall in Harlem, Garvey spoke about a "new Negro" who was proud of being Black.
The UNIA's newspaper, Negro World, informed readers of African culture and the benefits of economic independence. He had several businesses and reached the height of success in 1920. Garvey presided at an international convention held in Liberty Hall that featured delegates from 25 countries. Following the convention, a parade was held that brought out 50,000 attendees.
His views on racial separatism and business practices are credited for his eventual downfall. In 1922, he and several others were indicted on mail fraud charges. His five-year sentence was commuted by then-president Calvin Coolidge, but Garvey was deported and never reinvigorated the movement, though his work had a lasting impact on social justice movements. He died in 1940.
Nelson Mandela, born Rolihlahla Mandela, made history as a world leader and leader of South Africa. He entered politics in the early 1940s and established himself as a leader. He, along with Oliver Tambo, established South Africa's first Black law firm in 1952. In 1964, Mandela and several of his associates were arrested and sentenced to life in prison for their political involvement and leadership in the African National Congress. The organization worked extensively to bring an end to apartheid in the nation. In 1993, Mandela and then-president FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first democratically elected president. His leadership and unwavering efforts garnered attention and respect from across the globe. He died in 2013.
Marielle Franco was a Black, gay, feminist city council member in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her tireless efforts to support vulnerable people made her a respected activist who had a clear mission. Tragically, Franco was assassinated in 2018 by two former police officers. Her murder sparked outrage and global attention to the challenges she was fighting against. Her memory and legacy are used as rallying calls for continued efforts for justice and equality.
Evelyn Scott was a civil rights activist and Indigenous Australian elder. Through her efforts, she helped create the 1967 legislation measure that officially recognized the Indigenous people of Australia. Before this, Indigenous people had no rights and couldn't own their own land. In 1971, Scott became the Vice President of the Federal Council for the Advancement for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. She worked to get access to medical care, housing, education, and employment opportunities for her people. She also helped orchestrate protection for the Great Barrier Reef.
Paulette Furacão is an Afro-Brazilian trans-woman activist, poet, and actress. She is the first trans person to hold a public office in Bahia and currently serves as the Coordinator for the Defense of LGBT Rights in the Department of Citizenship and Human Rights. Furacão's work includes addressing human trafficking in Bahia and serving as a co-founder of an organization with the mission of defending LGBT rights and citizenship.
Victoria "Toya" Montou
Victoria Montou was a Haitian freedom fighter who is credited with training the country's renowned revolutionary leader Jean-Jaques Dessalines. Montou commanded troops in battle during the rebellion against the French, which helped lead Haiti to overthrow colonial rule. At the time of her death in 1805, Montou was given a state funeral that included a procession of eight military sergeants.