The forgotten heroes of our time

Anne Shaffer
Associate Features Editor

Philip Emeagwali’s work with computer communication allowed for the invention of the Internet.
Philip Emeagwali’s work with computer communication allowed for the invention of the Internet.

Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all have many things in common. One thing that might not come to mind, however, is that everyone remembers them. Their doings have been recorded in history books, written down in biographies, and recorded on audio files. They are heroes to many people whose lives have been affected by their actions and sacrifices.
But what about the heroes we’ve forgotten?
As part of the celebration of Black History Month, in 2012 President Obama invited six African American senior citizens to come to the White House to be honored as unsung heroes, according to the White House website.
“There are many untold stories that reveal the best of Americans who stepped up when duty called, broke color barriers, or quietly made their communities better one person at a time,” said Joshua Dubois in an article highlighting the ceremony.
One hero was Theodore Peters, one of the first African Americans to join the Marines, and another was James “Alley Pat” Patrick, who served during World War II and who was a bail bondsman during the Civil Rights movement, freeing many activists during the time, including Martin Luther King, Jr., according to Dubois.
There are, however, a number of other heroes that the rest of the population knows nothing about, extending back to American Revolution.
James Armistead was a Patriot spy in 1781, according to Madison Gray of Time magazine. He worked for the Marquis de Lafayette, posing as an escaped slave working in Benedict Arnold’s camp and reporting back to Lafayette. Armistead was one of the first double agents, also acting as a British spy and sending them false information about the Patriots’ movements. After the war, he was forced to petition for freedom but received assistance from Lafayette. He even adopted the Frenchman’s name out of gratitude.
In the 1860s, Rebecca Lee Crumpler broke several barriers by earning her medical degree in 1864: she was a woman and was also African American. Gray stated after the Civil War, Crumpler moved to Virginia to care for freed slaves, and “her experience there…led her to publish the now-renown[ed] Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts, one of the first medical writings by an African American.”

George Haley graduated after much hardship from the University of Arkansas.
George Haley graduated after much hardship from the University of Arkansas.

Gray goes on to mention several other African Americans who made significant contributions to American society and who also go unnoticed: Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, one of the original doctors who worked with Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1904 to research what would be called Alzheimer’s Disease; Eunice Hunton Carter, an African American lawyer who was hired as an assistant district attorney and helped bring down prostitution rings in New York City; and Philip Emeagwali, a mathematician whose work allowed multiple computers to communicate at once and thereby helped to create the Internet.
In 1949, George Haley, a World War II veteran, turned down Harvard University to attend the University of Arkansas School of Law. According to an article written by his brother, Alex Haley, for Reader’s Digest in 1963, Haley was one of the first African Americans to attend an integrated college in Arkansas.
Haley was forced to stay in a room in the basement of the school at all times to prevent extra hostility, but during his lectures he met with the “shock, disbelief, then choking, inarticulate rage” of the white students with whom he was supposed to work. It was not until he received the highest grades in his classes that people began to realize that he was worth it.
Unsung African American heroes are still at work today. In 2004, sisters-in-law Derrica and Natalie Wilson founded the Black and Missing Foundation to help locate the hundreds of African Americans who go missing each year and whose cases are not investigated as thoroughly as the cases of whites. To date, they have helped solve 113 cases, according to People magazine. Of those cases, 71 ended in finding the missing victim alive.