By Gabrielle Bennett Senior Content Specialist
Updated February 01, 2024

Black History Month might only be February of each year, but commemorating Civil Rights activists could happen every day with a Black History Month-inspired baby girl, boy, or gender-neutral name. February was chosen for this month because of the history-making change that was the ratification of the 13th Amendment. If your darling little one is due to arrive in February then a name plucked from the pages of history will inspire them all lifelong.

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.

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.

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.

Alice Walker, b. 1944

Responsible for shaping political movements, literature, and musical culture, Alice Walker has shaped lives for years. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel The Color Purple, published in 1982. She was the first African American woman to receive such an accolade, but this was long after she helped influence a nation. Her work during the Civil Rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr impacted hundreds of lives. She went on to work with—yet another feminist icon—Gloria Steinem as an editor for Ms. Magazine and a teacher of African American women’s studies at prestigious universities around the country.

Julian Bond, 1940–2015

Julian Bond was a Georgia House of Representatives seat and a Civil Rights leader throughout many decades of social turmoil. For over ten years, Bond served as chairman of the NAACP, and for eight years as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. His political work was outstanding from the very beginning of his career, even having been nominated as Vice President of the United States when he was just 28 years old. After finishing his political career, Bond took to education; he taught at multiple universities, such as Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, and more.

Barbara Jordan, 1936–1996

A powerhouse from Texas, Barbara Jordan was a US Congressional Representative. She made history with her victories as the first Black congresswoman from the Deep South and first woman ever elected to the Texas Senate. Like many of her contemporaries, Jordan was a lawyer and a teacher, but uniquely, she was unafraid to call out injustices. She abided by a strict moral compass and was known for leading the national fight amidst the Watergate scandal. Jordan fiercely fought for her American Dream, and though she didn’t become US attorney general, she accomplished everything she did even while trying to manage her multiple sclerosis.

Rosa Parks, 1913–2005

You can’t mention Black history in America without mentioning Rosa Parks. Her name has been synonymous with Civil Rights activism for since 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus. Her refusal would ignite a giant movement that would relentlessly fight for the rights of Black Americans. But Parks’ action wasn’t spontaneous; just days before this monumental moment, she learned that the murderers of 14-year-old Emmett Till were acquitted and her outrage fueled her defiance. She kicked off the famous Montgomery boycotts, and as a result, Martin Luther King Jr. became a prominent leader.

Charles Hamilton Houston, 1895–1950

The hill Charles Hamilton Houston would die on was the notion of “separate but equal.” He demonstrated this as an empty platitude and led the charge for the outlawing of school segregation. He dismantled this way of life after serving as a First Lieutenant in World War I in France in a racially segregated army. After his service, he studied law at Harvard and indeed exceeded all expectations. He became the first Black student to serve on the editorial board of the “Harvard Law Review.” Houston’s prowess at Harvard helped kick off a life of further study and history-making, eventually earning the nickname “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow.”

Oscar Micheaux, 1884–1951

An independent filmmaker that made it big in Hollywood, Oscar Micheaux is an activist known for directing and producing 44 films throughout his career. He started in the silent film era and moved on to rewriting the narrative forced upon Black citizens. Micheaux took it upon himself to change the public depictions of Black characters, showcasing the complexity and nuance of contemporary black life. Accomplishing this within the first few decades of the 1900s helped Micheaux make history and helped Black Americans make strides toward equal human rights.

Mary White Ovington, 1865–1951

Mary White Ovington was the epitome of an ally, fighting for the rights of her fellow people for the betterment of society as a whole. She was a Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage activist, thanks to her parents who fought for the abolishment of slavery and women’s rights. Ovington joined the fight as a young woman and educated herself on the state of living inequality in employment and housing situations during her time at the Greenwich House Committee on Social Investigations. After reading an article calling for aid post-race riot in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown in 1908, Ovington dedicated herself completely to the cause and never looked back.

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 in 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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