Inspiring Black Humanitarians Sojourner Truth, W.E.B Du Bois, and Daisy Bates

4 Inspiring Black Humanitarians

Feb. 13, 2024 • By Studies Weekly

History would not be the same without the inspiring lives of Black humanitarians. For Black History Month, we honor four heroes who advocated for civil rights, fought for the underserved, and spoke out for the welfare of others. 

Teaching students about these heroes can inspire them to be advocates in their communities and reach for their dreams.

1. W.E.B Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Humanitarian

W.E.B. Du Bois, Wiki Commons

W.E.B. Du Bois dedicated his life to investigating and publicizing the suppression and injustice Black Americans experienced. According to Britannica, Du Bois published 16 research monographs and the first-ever case study of a U.S. Black community. 

As the co-founder of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and editor and research director of the organization’s magazine, The Crisis, he published his opposition to the unequal treatment of Black Americans and promoted Black nationalism. He encouraged his readers to be proud of who they were and to see “Beauty in Black.” 

Du Bois’ advocacy extended across the world through many Pan-African conferences and an appeal to the United Nations to recognize the suffering of Black Americans, according to the NAACP. He believed that African Americans should embrace their heritage and culture and work together to overturn oppression. He encouraged Black Americans to work as communities to create their own system of producers and consumers to fight against economic discrimination.

To the end of his life, Du Bois never stopped his research, and he published dozens more books, essays, and articles on his own in pursuit of freedom. Eventually, Du Bois moved to Ghana to work on the Encyclopedia Africana, an ambitious project to compile everything known about the history, accomplishments, and cultures of African people.

2. Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth, Black Humanitarian

Sojourner Truth, Wiki Commons

Sojourner Truth became a fervent abolitionist after she escaped from slavery. While a traveling minister in the 1840s, she met other abolitionists like Fredrick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, who encouraged her to preach against slavery. 

Over the next years, she toured the North, speaking about the oppression of slavery. Her speeches, including her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” address, challenged the prejudices against both Black Americans and women. The National Women’s History Museum documents how Truth advocated for voting rights for all and argued that gender or race should not restrict any human rights. 

Her captivating speeches and published autobiography made Truth a household name and caught the attention of women’s suffrage leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She championed the cause for both black and white women’s right to vote.

Truth’s humanitarianism never ceased, according to During the Civil War, she worked with the National Freedman’s Relief Association to call for donations of food, clothes, and other supplies for Black refugees. Word of her service and activism made its way to President Abraham Lincoln, who invited her to visit him at the White House. She spent the rest of her life helping freed enslaved people find jobs, homes, and land.

3. Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, Black Humanitarian

Thurgood Marshall, Wiki Commons

Thurgood Marshall made monumental humanitarian impacts by arguing many civil rights cases in court. After reading the U.S. Constitution as a youth, he was inspired to help Black Americans enjoy the rights that Jim Crow laws prevented. Later, he graduated first in his class from Howard University’s law school and started his career as a civil rights attorney. 

One day Marshall witnessed a young Black American boy take a bite out of a peeled orange. The boy had never been taught what an orange was or how to eat it. Marshall realized at that moment how unequal the quality of segregated education was for Black children, prompting him and his colleague, Charles Hamilton Houston, to dedicate themselves to ending school segregation. Marshall and Houston fought and won many important civil rights cases that slowly chipped away at Jim Crow laws. In his most famous case, Brown v. Board of Education, Marshall successfully argued to the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional.

Marshall was later appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals by President John F. Kennedy, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, where he served for 24 years. Marshall’s legacy of protecting rights for all earned him the nickname “Mr. Civil Rights.”

4. Daisy Gatson Bates

Daisy Bates, Black Humanitarian

Daisy Bates, Picryl

Daisy Bates’ civil rights activism began early in her life. She started her own newspaper, The Arkansas Weekly, with her husband. It was one of the only Black news sources dedicated solely to civil rights. She used the paper to highlight prominent Black achievements and to speak out against segregation and civil rights violations. After Brown v. Board of Education ended school segregation in 1954, she publicized and reproached specific Arkansas schools that refused to integrate their students. 

As the president of the Arkansas Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Bates became a prominent household figure. She led the fight for desegregation in Arkansas schools and hand-picked the “Little Rock Nine” – the first Black students to enroll in the all-white Little Rock Central High School. She became a valuable mentor to the students by driving them to school, inviting them regularly into her home, and even becoming the president of the school’s parent organization – despite not having any children. 

Threats and backlash for Bates’ civil rights advocacy eventually shut down the Arkansas Weekly newspaper, but she never stopped her work to create a better, more just society for Black Americans, according to the National Women’s History Museum. 

Bates was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1999, and Arkansas celebrates her legacy by celebrating Daisy Batson Gates Day every third Monday in February.

Learn how Studies Weekly Social Studies can help teach students about history’s humanitarians.