Top 7 Lesser-Known Black Historical Figures Who Should Get Their Own Documentaries

Happy Black History Month, everyone! It’s the beginning of February, so this kicks off my Black Film Review project which I’ve done for a couple of years now. Close to this time last year, I made a Top 7 list involving Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. This time around, I’m going to do something involving multiple people.

If you’ve followed Iridium Eye especially over the past 3 or 4 years, I have covered multiple examples of Black History across several documentaries at this point. They involved the continent of Africa, the African-American experience, the Caribbean, and even Afro-Europeans. I have learned a lot more from these films than what I’ve learned in all my years as a student which is a shame. There is so much that isn’t taught in school especially here in America. Don’t even get me started about the stupid backlash against Critical Race Theory and how the existence of that collegiate-level curriculum really exposed a lot of racist people in this society because there’s history that would make those people “feel bad”. However, I’m doing my best to stay positive with another Top 7 list. This time around, we’ll be talking about people across the African Diaspora who don’t get talked about as much who should get their own docs. Hopefully, the right directors can come in to make these projects happen to portray things as respectfully as possible.

Let’s get educated, folks!

7: Len Garrison

This is the person I heard about the most recently, but I’ve been intrigued about the late Len Garrison when I randomly discovered him. Garrison is a Jamaican-born, English-raised educator and activist who was a godfather of documenting Black British history, let alone crafting that aforementioned identity in British society. This warrior scholar got his degrees (BA and MA) at Ruskin College, the University of Sussex, and Leicester University where he majored in African/Caribbean HIstory and Local History. Garrison challenged the educational racism at the time where he noticed that the Black students in the UK by denying their history, so he came up with the ACER (Afro-Caribbean Education Resource, not the computer company) to facilitate Black history to the community’s youth. He managed to have success with that project when he took it to Nottingham. His other work involved photography and co-founding the Black Cultural Archives to preserve the history for future generations to check out. Garrison really paved the way for other historians such as David Olusoga and John Akomfrah to a certain extent for the community to know their origins and to take pride in their identity regardless of whatever bigotry they faced.

6: Sarah E. Goode

I’m sure most of you haven’t heard of this inventor of the folding bed. Granted, it’s not the most exciting invention in the world, but people should put respect on Sarah E. Goode’s name. This Toledo, Ohio-born inventor grew up in a scary time when she was born in 1855 when the Fugitive Slave Act was in the books. Her family would eventually flee to Chicago after the Civil War ended. Later in life, she would not just invent the folding bed, but own her own furniture store. Goode has the distinction of being the 2nd African-American woman to own a patent, but the first one to actually sign her name on the forms (the first was Judy W. Reed, but she couldn’t write). Keep in mind, Black people haven’t been able to make patents for that long, and sadly their white counterparts would often steal these patents while taking all the credit even in her day, so this is a huge deal when you really grasp American history and the culture. The fact that she was able to do so much and make a useful invention should definitely be commended. I’d watch a documentary about her. Also, there would be a STEM school that would be named after her in Chicago that opened 10 years ago, so it’s good to see her namesake remembered for future generations.

5: Lloyd Hall

Illinois is getting more representation with this revolutionary in food preservation. Lloyd Hall was born in Elgin but eventually moved to Aurora (Yes, the same place that Wayne’s World takes place and was filmed in, for all you movie fans). Hall would get into chemistry later in life and he would amass a total of 59 different patents. His endeavors include curing meat, creating antioxidants to prevent rotting food, and even using a various mix of spices and chemicals to preserve various foodstuffs. If Hall wasn’t around, then the stuff you get at the supermarkets wouldn’t last as long, so think about how much money and product people saved using his innovations. A documentary could also go into the history of his life where he was the son of slaves who escaped via the Underground Railroad or how he was rejected by the Western Electric Company despite acing a phone interview only because he was Black. Yikes! I can sadly relate to that when some prospective employers heard my voice over the phone but were shocked when they saw me in person for a face-to-face interview. Going back on topic, Lloyd Hall should get more recognition for his work in chemistry and food preservation especially since this affects everyone on a daily basis even though people don’t think about it.

4: Bessie Blount Griffin

Much like discovering Len Garrison the other day, I found out about this innovative nurse not that long before hearing about that Jamaican-British educator. Bessie Blount Griffin was a nurse, physical therapist, and even an inventor in her own right. Most of her life’s work involved helping amputees, especially those who were veterans even going back to WWII. Interestingly enough, one of her patients was Theodore Edison. That’s Thomas’s 3rd son, for those scoring at home. Her inventions in the medical field involve the kidney dish which is used to store medical waste and an electric self-feeding apparatus for amputees. Sadly, America didn’t appreciate her inventions (including the American Veteran’s Association. FOR SHAME!), but Belgium and France were more than happy to use her patents to help patients. Her medical work and inventions helped save lives as well as help others cope regardless if they had limbs or not. Griffin needs to be in the same conversation as other medical innovators like Marie Curie for example, so a documentary about her needs to be made to let people know about her selfless heart.

3: George Dixon

Now here’s a big change-up from both a geographical and occupational standpoint! This and the other examples on my top 3 are people I’ve known about for a little bit now. George Dixon was a boxer from the late 19th and early 20th century who has more credibility than people give credit for. While people like Muhammad Ali and Jack Johnson get more attention in boxing history, Dixon needs to be given his flowers. He was a 2-time World Featherweight Champion and a World Bantamweight Champion. His first title run in the featherweight division had MAJOR implications on a historical level. Dixon was the first Black boxer to win a major title, the first Canadian boxer to win gold (he was originally from Africville, Halifax, NS), and the first Black athlete to win ANY championship regardless of the sport. Just really let those facts marinate in your brain for a while. I’m not knee-deep into boxing anyway, but I never heard of that former champion before. George Dixon was also an inventor of sorts since he was credited with coming up with the concept of shadowboxing. It’s sad how he lived a short life and wasn’t cared for in his later years since he died at 37 years old. Dixon was considered the #1 featherweight of all time according to Ring Magazine, is in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, and was named as a National Historic Person only as of last year, but he deserves a documentary or even a respectful biopic when given the chance.

2: Dr. Amos N. Wilson

This time, we’re going to deal with a heavy hitter in both psychology and education. Rest in Power, Dr. Wilson. I discovered Dr. Amos Wilson by accident on YouTube where I stumbled upon some of his lectures. This guy was able to pull no punches with dealing cold hard truths about several forms of racism in such an intelligent way. He was able to break down so many concepts as well as offer solutions for educating Black children as well as adults when it comes to history and intellectual survival. I was so fascinated by these videos and audio transcripts that I bought one of his books. My mind was opened up in ways where I was discriminated against and miseducated, but never realized how or why. That speech he gave about mental slavery/colonialism hit like a sledgehammer like the question of one’s native language and name as starting points. I’m surprised there isn’t a documentary about Dr. Wilson yet from any brave directors. Dr. Amos Wilson is definitely in that pantheon of grandmaster scholars who was ahead of his time and I hope his legacy can be respected with the right filmmakers out there covering his work.

1: Annie Turnbo Malone

Some of you might remember me mentioning her name in my Making It Happen review even though she wasn’t in it, but I brought up her name to prove a point. For those who haven’t read that review, Annie Turnbo Malone was a cosmetologist, businesswoman in the beauty industry, and self-made millionaire hailing from the small town of Metropolis, IL (fun fact: it’s the only town of that name in America and has a Superman Museum) before living in St. Louis and Chicago. Malone created a whole industry of beauty products especially those crafted for the Black community. She started out with door-to-door sales, mail orders, to having her own company. Not only that, but Annie Turnbo Malone started Poro College which was the first Black-owned cosmetology school in American history. She did tons of philanthropic work for the community and had several students who learned from her. One of those students would eventually get credit for ripping off her formulas and that was none other than Madame C. J. Walker! Unfortunately, Malone never got the credit (and definitely the fame) for her works. What really grinds my gears is the obscurity or straight-up slander like the Self Made series on Netflix which portrayed a villainous biracial fictionalized version of her called Addie Monroe. Seriously, Netflix?! That’s a massive historical inaccuracy especially with the documented evidence of Malone being Walker’s mentor and in the beauty industry first! There needs to be a documentary or at the very least some kind of accurate biopic “response film” to set things right because I don’t want to see people defamed or having their works plagiarized. Annie deserved so much better.

So that’s the list? Which examples did you find interesting? Do you know anyone else who should get a documentary in Black History?

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

The Pan-African flag is from Pinterest.

The picture of Len Garrison is from Ruskin College.

The picture of Sarah E. Goode is from Ohio MBE.

The picture of Lloyd Hall is from the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

The picture of Bessie Blount Griffin is from BlackPast.

The picture of George Dixon is from the University of Arkansas.

The picture of Dr. Amos N. Wilson is from Atlanta Black Star.

The picture of Annie Turnbo Malone is from Pinterest.

2 comments

  1. Am I to understand the Bessie Blount Griffin invented perfectly good devices to help treat people and care providers just plain refused to use them? Even though it’d make their work easier/better? Not sure if I am more surprised that they’d be this petty or that they didn’t try to just steal the patents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s sadly the case when it comes to your question. Never mind the fact that her invention helped lives and is still used in hospitals to this very day. If they had the chance to steal patents in America, they would’ve done so given the history of Black inventors having their patents stolen for centuries and there was a time Black people weren’t even allowed to patent anything (mainly during slavery) in this country. The more I learn about these innovators the more I want to give my flowers to all of those inventors, but at the same time I get angry about how many bigots took the credit or severely downplay the usefulness of various objects even if they can improve or save lives. I never learned how Black inventors came up with the yellow traffic light, the ice cream scoop, the concept of medical innoculation, mobile bloodbanks, carbon filaments in light bulbs (Thomas Edison stole that!), laser cataract surgery, and other things in school.

      Thanks for checking out that Top 7 list! It was one of my more educational articles out there and it was good getting some feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

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