By Gabrielle Bennett Senior Content Specialist
Updated February 01, 2024

The official Black History Month in America might be celebrated in February, but African American Heritage Month, sometimes called African Heritage Month, is celebrated in October in different parts of the world—so why not celebrate twice? This month of commemoration of African Americans and those with African heritage stems from the 1970s and has become more prevalent worldwide in the last decade or so. If you’re looking to share your pride in baby’s strong and persevering heritage daily, consider a baby girl, boy, or gender-neutral name inspired by African American Heritage Month and some of its heroes.

Meghan Markle, b. 1981

Meghan Markle was a household name long before her entrance into the royal family. She was an actress since she was eleven, and she made that time count! She is most famous for her role in Suits as a headstrong paralegal, Rachel Zane. In 2018, however, Markle became the Duchess of Sussex, using her platform to shed light on the inner workings of the royal family and its prejudices. Before beginning her career as the duchess of activism, she performed ample good deeds. When Markle was just eleven—her baby big-break—she spoke out against sexism on set and has been an advocate for women since. She became a Global Ambassador for World Vision in 2016, showing the world the Clean Water Campaign in Rwanda. And in 2019, she became an official patron of Smart Works, a charity organization that created the perfect wardrobe for working women.

Ayanna Pressley, b. 1974

A woman of many firsts, Ayanna Pressley is used to making history. She overcame her fair share of adversity, seeing her father’s journey from struggling drug addict to sober published author, and grew up to become well-educated and deeply respected. She was the first African American woman to be elected to the Boston City Council and the first African American woman to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts. She uses her platform to continue her legacy of a robust activism career, including her open advocacy of Planned Parenthood and bodily autonomy rights regarding the Supreme Court rulings in 2022. Pressley is also known for her progressive policies and advocacy of bills supporting thousands of small businesses.

Tarana Burke, b. 1973

Tarana Burke is best known for the movement she started well before its sails caught wind in 2016 and onward. She started the #MeToo movement in 2006 and has become known as a leader for sexual harassment and assault victims. She’s from Harlem and has spent decades of her career giving a platform for African Americans and other minority communities.

Laverne Cox, b. 1972

An African American actress and unrelenting LGBTQIA+ advocate, Laverne Cox is an icon. She is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy. Due to her work as Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, she gained critical acclaim. Since this life-changing role, she’s been as transparent as anyone could ask for in the hopes of saving anyone in the queer community from the hardships she faced as an adolescent. When she was just eleven years old, she had received enough backlash about being a boy with a penchant for femininity that she attempted suicide. She thankfully survived and went on to live a non-binary life for a while before embracing her mic-drop-worthy femininity and becoming the beloved actress and activist she’s known as today.

Michelle Obama, b. 1964

If you aren’t aware of the best First Lady in American history, then buckle up! During her terms as First Lady to President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama set up several initiatives to outlast her time in the White House. As the first African American First Lady, she would have made history anyways, but she has never been one to let “good enough” be her stance. She launched organizations and initiatives such as Let’s Move!, Joining Forces, Reach Higher, and Let Girls Learn. These all were designed to better the lives of Americans through wellness, health, education, and employment opportunities. But before her time in the White House, Obama worked as a Harvard-educated lawyer in city services and medical centers.

Barack Obama, b. 1961

The first African American president in history is a big enough deal that Barack Obama didn’t necessarily need to go as far as he did. He was the 44th president of the United States from the years 2009 to 2017. He was born in Hawaii but moved from the big island to the mainland after finishing high school and would eventually attend Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Obama worked in local politics and eventually became a US senator representing Illinois from the year 1997 all the way until his time as president. He is known worldwide for his philanthropy, eloquence—both written and spoken—and perseverance against all odds.

bell hooks 1952–2021

Gloria Jean Watkins, better known as her pen name bell hooks, was a feminist and defender of racial, female, and class rights. She was an author, activist, and “Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College.” She earned these titles through her works Ain’t I A Woman?, Black Women and Feminism, The Feminist Theory, and many more. She believed fully in the movement of feminism, claiming it as the method to ending sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

Angela Davis, b. 1944

Known most prominently as a Black power leader, Angela Davis has been a champion of equal rights for decades. She started her activism life young and has been fighting for women’s and African American rights for over 60 years. She has also vocally riled against the “prison-industrial complex,” being one of the founding members of Critical Resistance. Still fighting for women’s rights in the United States, Davis was made the honorary co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017.

Elaine Brown, b. 1943

Elaine Brown was the Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party during the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. She is known for this work, her activism for American prison reform, and her career as a writer and singer. Her time as a leader of the Black Panther Party is the only time a woman was in leadership with the organization, and she certainly didn’t waste her opportunity then or now. She finds today’s activism to be lackluster, remembering the decades gone when an activist was a revolutionary and surrendering your life to the cause was the minimum. She continues driving the fight for the emancipation of Black people today, writing books and giving speeches, in the hopes that someday there will be equality.

Huey Newton, 1942–1989

One of the founders of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton led the charge for Civil Rights in the 60s. Though he was at the mercy of a system dedicated to incarcerating Black people, Huey managed to pull through after serving time in prison and attending college. There he met Bobby Seale, who would become his Black Panther co-founder, during political activities on campus. This party established the Ten-Point Program that demanded an improved state of living conditions, education, and subsequent employment for African Americans. Though the party's methods were known for their violence, the organization made itself and its goals known.

Audre Lorde, 1934–1992

Known for her writing and poetry career, Audre Lorde changed the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. She was a staunch advocate for equal rights, and the subjects of her writings often pertained to addressing multiple forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. As one of the Harlem Renaissance writers, she shaped multiple historical movements and called herself “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She believed in celebrating the differences people have, rather than the erasure of cultures for the sake of “equalizing.”

Martin Luther King Jr, 1929–1968

The youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize—at age 35—Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero. As a Baptist minister and an activist, he led the peaceful charge of the Civil Rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. His “I have a dream” speech and its delivery have been studied time and again for its impassioned and eloquent message that gripped thousands. He has always had a way of winning people over; when he was studying at Crozer Theological Seminary in 1951, he won the presidential election of a “predominantly white senior class.” His life, cut horrifically short, was spent in the service of others and the freedom and peace of people throughout the United States.

Coretta Scott King, 1927–2006

A prominent figure and married to a prominent figure herself, Coretta Scott King was responsible for helping lead the charge for the Civil Rights movement. She married Martin Luther King Jr., and together they fought for equal rights. She was known for fighting for women’s equality and helped found the National Organization for Women, NOW, in 1966. NOW put the formal legal needs of women in the workplace at the forefront of the discussion.

Malcolm X, 1925–1965

Another activist whose life was cut tragically short by assassination is Malcolm X. He was an American Muslim minister who spoke out for human rights for all. Where he might be different from other African American activists at the time was his focus on promoting Islam within the Black community in addition to Black empowerment. Though he sought to promote his religion like Martin Luther King Jr., the two had opposing beliefs regarding how peaceful people should be. A derisive opinion, Malcolm X was known for stating that African Americans should defend themselves by any means necessary. Though this eventually led to his assassination, he made waves as a Black nationalist and a man who persevered against the odds.

Medgar Evers Wiley, 1925–1963

Yet another Black activist murdered for fighting for equal rights is Medgar Evers Wiley. He was an army man who enlisted after graduating high school and served for two years in World War II. After attending Alcorn State University and working for a time at Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company, he became active in the local Civil Rights movement. He organized the boycott of white-only gas stations and worked with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership to work on movements at the local level. He fought against the status quo, applying to segregated schools and investigating and supporting Black murders and causes. His work made him a target, and though he survived the first and second assassination attempts, he would, unfortunately, be shot in the back in 1963. But even after his death he was making waves when over 3,000 people attended his burial.

Whitney M. Young, Jr., 1921–1971

Fighting for Civil Rights and equality for African Americans is how Whitney M. Young Jr. spent his life. He fought in World War II and continued the fight for all when he returned home. He would eventually become the head of the world’s largest social-civil rights organization, National Urban League, for ten years. During his tenure, he would lead the charge for Black Americans’ equal opportunity in the workforce and influence the Democratic Party to implement change at a local and state level. He went on to consult President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson on racial matters, and was spreading the word at a conference in Nigeria when he passed from a heart attack.

Elijah Muhammad, 1897–1975

The first generation of his family to experience a life without slavery, Elijah Muhammad made a stand against oppression via religious pursuit. He was a Muslim minister, a human rights activist, and the Nation of Islam movement leader. He was known for his anti-white stance in his early years, but later in life, he toned back his rhetoric to assuage the potential for confrontations. Muhammad walked so others could run, though, and his most notable follower was Malcolm X. X decided to break from the group due to Muhammad’s views, but he was a pillar of the movement nonetheless.

A. Philip Randolph, 1889–1979

Fifty of A. Philip Randolph’s ninety-year lifespan was dedicated to the Civil Rights movement and his social activism. He was a labor organizer, and in 1917, he became president of the National Brotherhood of Workers of America. This union was responsible for organizing the work of the Black shipyard and dockworkers in the Virginia Tidewater area. But his claim to fame was two-fold; his work with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, of which he was the president in 1925, and his help organizing the March on Washington were instrumental to making history. He worked tirelessly, and twelve years after his presidential appointment, African American workers were experiencing better pay, working conditions, and benefits. And thanks to his help organizing the famous 1963 march, 250,000 people attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, 1868–1963

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, more commonly known as WEB Du Bois, relentlessly fought for the rights of African Americans. He was thoroughly educated and somewhat of a communication savant from the young age of fifteen. At that time, he became The New York Globe’s local correspondent; he lectured and wrote editorials imploring Black people to join the world of politics. He attended several schools, including Harvard University, where he would earn a master’s, doctorate, and University of Berlin fellowship. He took his thriving academic career and put it to work for the rest of his life, going down in history as the “Father of Social Science and Pan-Africanism” due to his work as a sociologist, historian, educator, and sociopolitical activist fighting for equal rights. He labored on through the Jim Crow laws era and beyond, eventually becoming a co-founder of the NAACP.

Mary Eliza Church Terrell 1863–1954

A well-known African American activist, Mary Eliza Church Terrell fought for women’s suffrage and equality for all Americans. She was born the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, but the fight for equality definitely didn’t end there. Terrell was a woman of multiple historical firsts. She was one of the first Black women to earn a college degree in the US and earned a Master’s degree soon after. She was the first woman to be elected president of the Bethel Literary and Historical Society. And she was also the first Black woman to be a member of the District of Columbia’s Board of Education. With her legacy and incredible track record laying the groundwork, she was also a speaker several times for the National Woman Suffrage Association, where she spoke about the issue concerning specifically Black women.
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