Throughout U.S. history, African Americans have fought back against a system — and a society — that often didn’t support them. In honor of Black History Month, we pay tribute to their courage and the work they did to make America a better place for everyone.
HARRIET TUBMAN, SUPERSPY
Harriet Tubman is an American icon. Her death-defying efforts to rescue slaves via the Underground Railroad has secured her a spot in the history books, and, in the near future, on the $20 bill. But turns out she was also a spy for the Union Army — and a damn good one to boot.
MARSHA P. JOHNSON STARTS A MOVEMENT
The Stonewall riots kicked off the modern LGBTQ rights movement, and it was transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson who helped kick off the riots themselves. When she threw the shot glass heard ’round the world, Johnson stepped up and showed the value of protest — and of having confidence in who you are.
JOE LOUIS SHAKES UP LAS VEGAS
Las Vegas is an oasis for gamblers, drinkers and anyone looking for a good ol’ sinful time. But back in the day, not all revelers could join in, since every casino in town was segregated. That was until 1955, when boxing great Joe Louis promoted the Moulin Rouge Hotel, Vegas’s first integrated casino. Though it was open for less than a year, the Moulin Rouge pushed other casinos on the Strip to update their racist policies.
MUHAMMAD ALI FIGHTS FOR PACIFICISM
Muhammad Ali is, of course, known for his boxing prowess and “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” style. But his fight to remain a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War deserves just as much acclaim, if not more.
ROBERT SMALLS’S GREAT ESCAPE
Unlike a few of the other icons listed here, Robert Smalls isn’t exactly a household name. His story, though, is the stuff of legend — and makes for a fantastic thriller. After commandeering a Southern ship, Smalls slipped by Confederate forces to make it to the North and free himself, his crew and their families from slavery.