Though surrounded by much debate as to whether it should even exist, Black History Month allows us to recognize the historical contributions black people have made worldwide, as well as the effortlessly awesome figures that show that black history is full of ... well, BAMFs.
In no particular order, here are 10 BAMFs of Black history:
1. Dr. Ben Carson: The director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins — a process he now describes as casually as if he was talking about baking a cake.
2. Neil deGrasse Tyson: Astrophysicist, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, and the reason children are taught that there are eight planets (sorry, Pluto). deGrasse Tyson also coined the term “Manhattanhenge,” referring to the two days a year that the sun lines up with the main East-West streets in New York City. He essentially makes science cool, and he’s one of my favorite people I follow on Twitter —follow him @neiltyson.
3. Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba: 17th century African queen who resisted Portuguese slave traders’ attempts to invade her land for over thirty years, and constantly proved her worth in the face of gender discrimination. When a Portuguese governor requested she sit on the floor during negotiations, she instead sat on the back of her servant for the duration of the meeting so as to remain at eye level with her peers.
4. Mansa Musa I: The richest person of all time, with an inflation adjusted worth of $400 billion. The African king truly proved his BAMF status with the most extravagant pilgrimage to Mecca known to mankind, including 12,000 slaves holding bars of gold, 80 camels lugging between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust, and his entourage of heralds holding staffs made of — you guessed it — gold. Much of the gold was given to impoverished passersby or exchanged for souvenirs, officially shaming every rapper who throws money around in clubs.
5. Josephine Baker: The Beyoncé of the mid-20th century — well, only if Beyoncé was the first Black female to star in a motion picture, integrate a concert hall, serve as a French spy during World War II, or be offered leadership of the Civil Rights Movement by Coretta Scott King after Dr. King’s assassination. Even Baker’s kids were awesome: she adopted 12 orphans of different ethnicities and called them “the Rainbow Tribe.” Blue Ivy, who?
6. Tommie Smith: Olympic gold-medalist who broke the record for the 200-meter dash in the 1968 Olympic Games. He took part in one of the most famous political gestures in Olympic history: after being awarded, he bowed his head and raised his fist while facing the American flag. The Black Power salute still remains one of the most iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement, though Smith asserts that it symbolized support for all human rights.
7. Mary Fields: Six-foot, whiskey-drinking, pistol-wielding, freed slave, and the first Black woman to work for the United States Postal Service. At 60 years old, Fields was hired as a mail carrier because of the speed with which she could hitch her horses, and for her reliability, often delivering mail by foot in the snow. Although it was illegal for women to enter saloons in Montana, like a true BAMF, she was the only woman granted exception to the law.
8. Bob Marley: Though widely known for the spread of reggae music and Rastafarian culture, few realize the extent of Marley’s influence, and how much of a BAMF he truly was. During his performance on the night of Zimbabwe’s independence, distraught attendees who were unable to see the show released tear gas into the audience, causing everyone to evacuate —except for Marley, who remained singing on stage the whole time.
9. Elizabeth Eckford: A member of the Little Rock Nine, the first Black students to integrate Little Rock Central High School. Though a safe route to the school was designated for the students on their first day, Eckford’s lack of a telephone left her unaware, and she ended up having to navigate through mobs of angry racially discriminatory parents all by herself. Despite being jeered at and spat on, photos of the event show the 15-year old donning sunglasses with her head held high.
10. Eugene Bullard: The first Black American military pilot. His nickname was “Black Swallow of Death”, which alone should tell you how much of a BAMF he was. After World War I, Bullard lived in Paris as a nightclub worker, becoming besties with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. Like Josephine Baker, he helped the French during World War II, as his German fluency allowed him to spy on German agents who frequented his clubs.