Honoring Black American Leaders during Black History Month

02.21.23 | Food for the Soul

Throughout history, Black Americans have led the way in the fight for equitable access to housing and healthy food. Today, we’re spotlighting some of the leaders who fought for the rights of Black Americans, and especially for those experiencing poverty and homelessness. 

Bayard Rustin was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and helped organize the 1941 March on Washington to end racial discrimination. Later, he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and became an advocate for workers’ rights. In 1954, he organized a group called “In Friendship” with fellow labor leaders. They provided material and legal aid to those being evicted from their tenant farms and households. He also became head of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute and fought for the integration of unions. Throughout his career and life, Rustin fought for workers’ rights and was a strong supporter of unions.  

Barbara Jordan was a lawyer, educator, and politician. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction and the first Southern African American woman elected to the House of the Representatives. Throughout her career, Jordan supported poor communities through legislation. She supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, legislation that required banks to lend to underserved communities. She supported the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was a big supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. 

Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the best known leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. King advocated for the rights of Black Americans throughout his whole life and was also committed to fighting for the rights of poor Americans. King participated and led marches for the right to vote, desegregation, labor rights, and many other civil rights. He planned a Poor People’s March to Washington and in his final years was calling for support for the Poor People’s Campaign.  

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was an American Baptist pastor and politician who represented the Harlem neighborhood of New York in the U.S. House of Representatives. He ran for Congress on a platform promoting civil rights for Black Americans and was an outspoken critic of segregation, often visiting “Whites Only” restaurants with his constituents. 

Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm represented New York’s 12th congressional district from 1969 to 1983. She was the first Black candidate for a major party nomination for the President of the United States and was the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Throughout her life and time in Congress, Chisholm was an advocate for people experiencing poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness. She worked to expand the food stamp program and played a critical role in the creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She consistently supported increases in spending for education, health care, and other social services and was an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. 

All of these leaders and more helped to achieve the progress that was made between the 1960s and today. And Black history continues today, with thousands of Black leaders throughout the world continuing the fight and supporting missions like ours at Holy Apostles.  

Another leader who continues to inspire us today is Ertharin Cousin, a human rights advocate who promotes food security and assistance for the most marginalized populations. As Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for America’s Second Harvest, Cousin led the effort in providing more than 62 million pounds of food to Hurricane Katrina survivors. She served as the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program from 2012 to 2017, where she worked to promote sustainable changes that will help end hunger throughout the world. 

The leadership of these Black Americans inspires us throughout the year. What Black leaders have inspired you in the fight to end poverty and food insecurity? Comment below to tell us about the leaders in your community.  

Sarah Marcantonio

Sarah Marcantonio


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